20 April 2005


One thing you didn't hear much of at Subloaded was breakbeats. Not that I'm complaining, 'cos I generally prefer the 'stiffer' artificial step-time riddims of Grimey Garage. The breakbeat is essentially a means of adding 'human' funkiness to sequencer-driven music, but you can sound funky as hell with a bloody metronome if you get the arrangements right. But I do love the ol' breaks, especially the more grungy sounds coming from old Rare Groove cuts which is probably why I still like the junglist/breakcore and some of the old hip-hop and Big Beat stuff (and check the Rum & Black tune at the Gutterbox for some classic early Shut Up & Dance ruff-rave breakage). But a lot of the modern breakbeat (or 'Nu Breaks' if you prefer) leaves me cold. The breaks generally sound too clean, digital and formulated - where do they come from? Surely not lifted from the drum-breaks on ancient '70s funk obscurities? Are they the sort of things you can get on those sample CDs? An endless supply of prefabricated grooves to suit any desired tempo?

Freakaboom13Prior to my dubstep epiphany, the last time I delved into the world of 12 inch dance music was around 2002-03 when I got curious to hear some of this nu breaks style; just picking up random releases from labels like Functional Breaks and Freakaboom. I thought some of it was okay, up to a point, but mainly just fairly boring in an amorphous, trancey sort of way. I'm sure much of it sounded great in the clubs, but probably not the sort of clubs I would attend. Been listening to a few tunes again today and can't really say that view has changed, although tracks like Starfire's "Freq Out" still sound quite pleasing with the prescient warped bassline and bleepy arpeggios. These days, with high-speed internet connections, it's much easier (and cheaper!) to get a flavour of what's happening in the Breaks scene. If you fancy it, check out iBreaks. Go to the archives section where you'll find plenty of DJ sets to download for free.

It's interesting that, even though Nu Breaks has a much broader fanbase than Grime, I rarely read anything about it in this little corner of the blogosphere. Nor will you see any mention of it at places like Dissensus. Is it just generally perceived as music for the clubbing masses, of no artistic merit? Some sort of snobbery coming into play? Or is it because it really is shit? Despite having the inclination,I haven't had the time to investigate this scene thoroughly enough to say with any authority what is actually worth hearing . I'll occasionally read some intriguing little article in DJ magazine, like the one back in January about how the Breaks scene is supposedly splitting in two between the Housier 'girly' sound and the 'laddish' Dark Bass sound. Lots of labels and artists get mentioned, but I know nothing about any of them!

Storm002With the borders between Grime, Dubstep, Sublow, 8-bar etc still a bit blurry in places, the issue is confused even more when you take into account that the Breaks sound must also be factored into the equation. I find it odd that artists like Jammin (not to be confused with Grime MC Jammer!) are classed as dubstep when, to my ears at least, they sound like (what I perceive to be) Breaks. Is it something about the basslines being a bit darker? Yet none of the artists or labels in the dubstep scene get mentioned in that DJ article - so what are the people who wrote it classing as 'Dark Bassline'? Another so-called dubstep artist is Dub Child, who's "Voodoo" EP came out on Storming Productions a while back. His sound is very breaky and, on the title track, very commercial-sounding with a sensual female vocal and glossy production. Yet in that very same issue of DJ, the EP is reviewed in the UK Garage section! What are my ears missing that makes Dubchild a UKG producer? Okay, so admittedly "Roll Dat Shit" is fucking grimey, but the other two tunes sure sound like what I would imagine to be dark-bass Breaks, although it should also be noted that Dub Child prefers using grungier, metallic breakbeats, which give his tracks some much-needed edginess. At the very least, I think it's important to distinguish this sort of style from the 'pure' dubstep of DMZ, Hyperdub etc, so I guess the term Breakstep is appropriate. Interestingly, new label Destructive Records have circumnavigated the whole issue by calling their first release simply "Our Sound". It is what it is!

The just-released third offering from Storming is Toastyboy's "Too Hot/Guesswork" which, like his previous excellent release on Hot Flush features some ingeniously experimental, dark atmospheric Breaks material. Toasty also likes his breakbeats a bit 'earthier' - some of these tunes remind me of mid-90s Metalheads cuts from people like J Majik. I think I even detected a bit of the old 'Apache' break on "Too Hot" as well. In fact, most of Hot Flush's output touches on Breaks, with Eric H's "The Lights" being another prime example. Slaughter Mob's "L'Amour" is an accessible breaky tune that sounds nothing like the tracks they released on "Grime 1".

Search & Destroy and Mark One will also mess with Breakstep too. Like many artists in this scene, Mark One started out making d'n'b (back when he was living in Sheffield) so I guess it's natural for him to work in that style. Some of his tunes like "Get Busy" and "Turn It Up" sound a million miles from the material on "One Way" - all soaring, club-orientated strings and infectious breaks. He's definitely a bit of a split personality as evidenced by his recent release on the Southside Dubstars label. Whilst "Life Support" is seriously stripped-down and grimey (you could almost be fooled into thinking it was a Plasticman tune!), "The Bomb" is full-on funky breakage. Even Vex'd, currently making some of the most advanced beats on the planet, have a background in breaks. Check their track "Function" (plus remix by Bristol-based breaks producer 30Hz) on the Drum & Breaks label for proof (if you can find a copy..).

As I said at the start, it's the 'pure' grimey beats that really excite me the most, but I'm still taking a keen interest in the Breakstep stuff, too. Although I love my Shitmat and Bizzy B, their music is all wrapped-up in nostalgia for the old Junglist sounds. Breakcore has gone to such extremes that it's hard to believe there's any mileage left in the genre. Ditto Broken-beat. To understand where breakbeat is going next, we have to keep our ears open to the Breaksteppers.

Check Blackmarket for the recent output from Storming Productions , Hot Flush and new labels Southside Dubstars and Destructive.