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Big Beat

Big Beat/Chemical Beats

'Big beat' fuses the sped-up break beats of older American hip hop with zany samples and more traditional harder rock guitar sounds. Instrumental pioneers The Dust Brothers (Tom Rowlands and Ed Simons) started DJing at Manchester's nightclub Naked Under Leather in 1991. They were heavily influenced by the eclectic mix of the Balearic DJing style which fused together early house music, Italian disco, rare-groove jazz and funk, Northern soul, hip hop and alternative dance. This style had been popularise by DJs like Trevor Fung, Paul Oakenfold and Mike Pickering in Ibiza's[1]night clubs and then later brought back to indie-clubs in London and Manchester.

The Dust Brothers set up their own recording studio in their bedroom, and released a limited independent pressing of their debut single 'Song to the Siren', which received strong support from Britain's top DJs and was soon licensed to Junior Boy's Own Records for national release. In 1994 the Chemical Brothers released 14th Century Sky which featured the song 'Chemical Beats' - the song that has been credited with being the inspiration for the term 'big beat'. The EP earned them widespread respect and they rapidly became recognised re-mixers - with a client list which including Primal Scream, Prodigy and the Charlatans[2].

At this time the rave scene was beginning to fragment into small sub-genres, as DJs (who had always controlled the music's evolution) seemed to be pushing in diametrically-opposed directions. 'Intelligent' techno was becoming too experimental, leaving many ravers disenchanted with dance culture, feeling that the 'coterie of chin-stroking intellectuals attached to the drum'n'bass and experimental movements' seemed to have forgotten the general ethos behind dance music; fun!' Although many have criticised Big Beat for 'dumbing down' the electronica wave of the late 90s, others have seen it as 'rescuing the electronica community'[3]from destruction.

By 1996 the Dust Brothers had undergone a name change, after a threatened lawsuit by the American group of the same name. The now 'Chemical Brothers', released their debut album Exit Planet Dust, which went on to sell over a million copies worldwide. Teaming with Oasis' lead singer Noel Gallagher, they released Setting Sun which went to the top of the charts in the United Kingdom in 1996. Subsequent releases continued to build on the band's already considerable success, making them one of the most successful electronica acts of the decade.

It is an undeniable fact that bands such as The Chemical Brothers and the Prodigy were instrumental in the development and evolution of big beat, although some critics have argued that their productions 'often reflected the more intelligent edge of trip-hop [rather than the] mindless arena of true Big Beat'[4], and instead identify the two British labels, Brighton's Skint and London's Wall of Sound as the true home of big beat (with bands such as Fatboy Slim and Propellerheads). Big beat has also been fostered and promoted in the United States - predominantly on the City of Angels Records label with groups like the Crystal Method, ÜÜberzone, Lunatic Calm and Front BC[5]. The Propellorheads also pioneered a sub-genre called 'spy beats' - a more sinister, dramatic spy movie-influenced style with the release of Spybreaks (1997)[6].

[1] Popular island holiday destination in Spain for young English people, famous for its night clubs and party atmosphere

[2] Offical Chemical Brothers Website 'The Chemical Brothers : biography', [Online] http://www.caroline.com/astralwerks/chemical/history/bio02.html [1999, August 28]

[3] AMG All Music Guide, 'Big Beat', [Online] http://allmusic.com/cg/x.dll?p=amg&sql=C4546 [1999, August 28]

[4] AMG All Music Guide, 'Big Beat', [Online] http://allmusic.com/cg/x.dll?p=amg&sql=C4546 [1999, August 28]

[5] AMG All Music Guide, 'Big Beat', [Online] http://allmusic.com/cg/x.dll?p=amg&sql=C4546 [1999, August 28]

[6] jrvart@hotmail.com, 'electronica', [Online] http://www.syntac.net/mmm/dock-c/yard-3/electronica.html [1999, August 28]