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Rescuing the electronica community from a near fall off the edge of its experimental fringe, Big Beat emerged in the mid-'90s as the next wave of big dumb dance music. Regional pockets around the world had emphasized the "less intelligent" side of dance music as early as 1994, in reaction to the growing coterie of chin-stroking intellectuals attached to the drum'n'bass and experimental movements. Big beat as a distinct movement finally coalesced in 1995-96 around two British labels: Brighton's Skint and London's Wall of Sound. The former -- home to releases by Fatboy Slim, Bentley Rhythm Ace, and Lo-Fidelity Allstars -- deserves more honors for innovation and quality, though Wall of Sound was founded slightly earlier and released great singles by Propellerheads, Wiseguys, and Les Rythmes Digitales. Big beat soon proved very popular in America as well, and artists attached to City of Angels Records (the Crystal Method, Überzone, Lunatic Calm, Front BC) gained a higher profile thanks to like-minded Brits. Other than Fatboy Slim, the other superstar artists of big beat were the Chemical Brothers and Prodigy, two groups who predated the style (and assisted its birth). Both the Chemical Brothers and Prodigy were never tight fits either, given productions that often reflected the more intelligent edge of trip-hop, and rarely broke into the mindless arena of true big beat.

The sound of big beat, a rather shameless fusion of old-school party breakbeats with appropriately off-the-wall samples, was reminiscent of house music's sampladelic phase of the late '80s as well as old-school rap and its penchant for silly samples and irresistible breaks. Though the sample programming and overall production was leaps and bounds beyond its predecessors, big beat was nevertheless criticized for dumbing down the electronica wave of the late '90s. Even while recordings by the Chemical Brothers, Prodigy, and Fatboy Slim hit the American charts and earned positive reviews -- granted, from rock critics -- worldwide, many dance fans rejected the style wholesale for being too reliant on gimmicky production values and played-out samples. Big beat lasted a surprisingly long time, given the constraints of a style reliant on the patience of listeners who've heard the same break dozens of times, as well as the patience of DJs to hunt local thrift stores to find interesting samples on old instructional records.

Funky Breaks

An amalgam of trance, hip-hop and jungle, Funky Breaks became one of the most widely heard styles in electronic music thanks to its popularity as the sound of choice for those wishing to make some noise on pop charts and television commercials during the late '90s. Pioneered by the Chemical Brothers plus James Lavelle's epic-stature Mo' Wax Records stable, funky breaks really came into the fore in 1997, the year music-industry experts predicted would finally break the new electronica in the mainstream. Of the artists picked to spearhead the revolution, almost all -- the Prodigy, Death in Vegas, the Crystal Method, Propellerheads -- had that sound. That's also a significant reason why the electronica revolution failed, at least commercially, since the highly-touted acts all sounded similar.

Nu Breaks

A hard-edged dance style developed late in the '90s with the convergence of techno and drum'n'bass as well as a few elements of the earlier rave scenes, Nu Breaks was led by artists and DJs including Brits Adam Freeland, Dylan Rhymes, Beber, Freq Nasty, and Rennie Pilgrem plus a bare few Americans like BT. From drum'n'bass the style borrowed two-step breakbeats and chilling effects, from techno its smooth flow and machine percussion, and from early-'90s rave/hardcore some of the crowd-pleasing bells and whistles (figuratively as well as literally) that in some cases had not been heard for years. Freeland was probably the best-known of the nu breaks crew (especially since most producers concentrated on singles output), as rock-steady mix sets like Coastal Breaks and Tectonics earned acclaim with dance fans around the world.


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