Big beatBig beat is an electronic music genre that usually uses heavy breakbeats and synthesizer-generated loops and patterns – common to acid house/techno. The term has been used by the British music industry to describe music by artists such as The Prodigy, The Chemical Brothers, Fatboy Slim, The Crystal Method, Propellerheads, Cut La Roc, Basement Jaxx and Groove Armada.
Big beat achieved mainstream success during the 1990s and early 2000s with the mainstream success of artists like The Prodigy, The Chemical Brothers and Fatboy Slim. Big beat began to decline in 2001.
Big beat features heavy and distorted drum beats at tempos between 100 and 140 beats per minute, Roland TB-303 synthesizer lines resembling those of acid house, and heavy loops from 1960s and 1970s funk, soul, jazz, and rock songs. They are often punctuated with punk-style vocals or rappers and driven by intense, distorted synthesizer basslines with conventional pop, house and techno song structures. Big beat tracks have a sound that includes crescendos, builds, drops, extended drum rolls, and sounds such as spoken word samples, dialogues from film and TV, additional instruments such as Middle Eastern strings or sitars, explosions, air horns, sirens (usually police sirens) and gunshots. As with several other dance genres at the time, the use of effects such as filters, phasing, and flanging was common in the genre.
Celebrated pioneers of the genre such as Fatboy Slim tend to feature heavily compressed loud breakbeats in his songs, which are used to define the music as much as any melodic hooks and sampled sounds. Based on the primary use of loud, heavy breakbeats and basslines, big beat shares attributes with jungle and drum and bass, but has a significantly slower tempo.
Origins (late 1980s and early 1990s)In 1989, Iain Williams from the English electronic duo Big Bang coined the musical term big beat to describe the band's musical style. Williams explained the concept during an interview with the journalist Alex Gerry in an article published in the London magazine Metropolitan (issue 132, page 9, 6 June 1989) under the heading, Big Bang in Clubland – Could Big Beat be the 1989 answer to Acid House? The band was promoting their first record, an Arabic-inspired dance version of ABBA's "Voulez-Vous" and their instrumental track "Cold Nights in Cairo" that had just been released on Swanyard Records. The single was produced by Big Bang and Steev Toth. Big Bang are Laurence Malice (Trade nightclub founder) and Iain Williams (writer). The band's sound consisted of various experimental musical elements, including heavy drum beats and synthesizer-generated loops as well as an added suggestion of European influences that at times had a trance-like quality. The band used session vocalists on all their recordings. The concept of the big beat sound was later picked up on and adapted by many club DJs and went on to become widely used by many successful musicians throughout the 1990s.In the early 1990s, in the midst of several popular musical subcultures, including the English rave scene, British hip hop, chillout or ambient, gestating subgenres such as trip hop and breakbeat, along with the emerging Britpop movement – a process of hybridisation and a taste for eclecticism was developing within English dance music generally. Early purveyors of this approach include influential artists such as The Orb, Depth Charge, Meat Beat Manifesto, Transglobal Underground, and Andrew Weatherall's Sabres of Paradise.
Sampling had become an integral part of dance music production and the fusion of genres appealed to DJs, producers, and fans keen on continued experimentalism within dance music. Record labels such as Junior Boy's Own and Heavenly Records demonstrated this broader-minded approach, releasing slower breakbeat-based music alongside house and acid house singles, introducing DJ-turned-artists such as The Chemical Brothers (known then as The Dust Brothers) and Monkey Mafia in 1994. Norman Cook and Damien Harris first became associated with the term "big beat" through Harris's label Skint Records and club night The Big Beat Boutique, held on Friday nights at Brighton's Concorde club between 1995 and 2001. The Heavenly label's London club The Sunday Social had adopted a similar philosophy with resident DJs The Chemical Brothers and their eclectic approach. The term caught on, and was subsequently applied to a wide variety of acts, including Bentley Rhythm Ace, Lionrock, The Crystal Method, Lunatic Calm, the Lo Fidelity Allstars, Death in Vegas, and the Propellerheads among others.