With the advent of digital samplers, a new musical genre was born in the early 1990s. The style, known as breakbeat comprises of looped samples - concentrating heavily on the drum beat, but including bass lines and other effects. Other samples - many of the spoken word, robot effects, and sci fi sound effects - are layered over the basic beat. They can be repeated in a similar manner to the beats, or inserted ad lib.
The very early roots of breakbeat lie in the improvised and protracted drum breaks of jazz musicians, but the style as we know it began its life on a pair of turntables. The analogue form, known as Beat Juggling, was developed by DJ Kool Herc, a Jamaican. He would place identical records on the two decks, and on reaching the break would loop it by winding back the non-playing deck crossfading and repeating.
Other DJs took on the idea and the style moved into the digital domain, where creation of loops took less skill, and the DJs efforts could be spent on finding suitable breaks and accompaniments for them.
The style took off greatly in the European rave scene of the early and mid 1990s, with nearly all loops being created digitally. The evolution of Drum and Bass from the style is quite apparent.
Using a precise, digital version of mixing, breakbeats tend to be created within a computerised sequencer. The result is more accurate than vinyl mixing - as mistakes cannot happen. However, on the downside, tracks are more clinical and perhaps lack some of the warmth and art of true mixing.
The samples themselves tend to be taken of 4/4 drumming, typically from funk tracks. The name derives from the fact that many rhythms are sampled from the drum break in a track - that is the point where all the instruments and vocals stop, and the drummer performs a one-bar solo. The resulting rhythm tends to have a strong snare on beats two and four, and may be syncopated or not.
Early pioneers include DJ Kool Herc, Grandmaster Flash and Afrika Bambataa. More contemporary figures include Fatboy Slim, The Chemical Brothers, The Prodigy, Rennie Pilgrem and Adam Freeland. With a few exceptions, dancefloor success and commercial success tend to be mutually exclusive.
Record companies carrying a large proportion of breakbeat artists include Botchit & Scarper, Skint Recordings and Fused and Bruised.
Within the breakbeat genre, there are several substyles. Big Beat, as exemplified by Fatboy Slim fuses rock and hip hop with breakbeat. The sound is large, the drums are imposing, and energy is high. The Funky Breaks style takes its influences from the original roots of breakbeat - with funk and soul in the equation. Progressive Breaks are a hybrid of breakbeat and trance.