The mighty breakbeat. That funky, syncopated rhythm which is the backbone of so many dance-oriented tunes; culled from dusty crates of old funk and soul records where the drummer is given a moment to shine in a drum solo, a song intro or a rhythmic bridge. These moments of funk bliss were intitally looped by hand on the turntables of the early hip hop DJs. Once samplers became available, finding these breaks, sampling, looping and cutting them up became an art form all unto itself.
The use of breakbeats in hip hop music and drum & bass has been well documented and it is relatively easy to find lists breaking down which breaks were used on which songs on the web. When it comes to finding such lists for oldskool techno, it’s a bit more challenging. This list is an attempt to document several of the more common breaks used in techno. Many of these breaks are breaks also frequently used in hip hop, although typically pitched up or played at a faster tempo. I’ve always found it fascinating to hear the original songs, some of which are so different from the pieces in which their drumbreaks are sampled. The following list indexes the original source of a break and several of the techno tunes which used it.
This can easily be called the granddaddy of all breaks. The genre of drum & bass, and its pre-cursor Jungle, owes heavily to this beat and there are literally thousands of tunes which feature this break in some form. This breakbeat plays such an important role in the evolution of electronic dance music, a gentleman named Nate Harrison recorded an entire video devoted to the history of this breakbeat which you can watch here. I am sure many people who are even passingly familiar with electronic music have seen this video, but if not, it is highly recommended viewing. The original source of this break is from a 1969 B-Side by The Winstons called Amen, Brother.
One of the earliest uses of this break in the dance music arena was Success-N-Effect’s Roll It Up:
Roll It Up was caned by Carl Cox in the well-known tune I Want You (Forever):
Other tracks featurning the Amen Break include: First Prodgect – Right Before, Atomic Brain – Atomic Brain, Skin Up – A Juicy Red Apple, 2 For Joy – Let The Bass Kick and Sys’tem X – Wind It Up (Bumpy Mix) (No YouTube Clip Available).
The Think Break
Think (About It) by Lyn Collins is a treasure trove of breakbeat goodness. This 1972 funk song was produced by James Brown and featured his backing band The J.B.’s. Probably the most well-known use of a Think loop is in the popular 1988 hip hop track It Takes Two by Rob Base and DJ E-Z Rock. There are actually 5 separate sections of the record where breaks have been sampled from:
Here is the entire song, for context:
One of the earliest variations of a think break is on the acid house track Hip This House by Shadows J (and their particular edit of this loop was further used by DJ Splix in Nasty Rhythm and Rhythm Section in Perfect Love (2 AM):
Here is another techno classic using one of the Think loops, Da Juice – C’mon C’mon (Mental Bass Mix):
All of the various Think loops have been pitched up and down, cut and otherwise manipulated to the point of being barely recognizable. For example, Isotonik’s Different Strokes, in which the Think break is somewhat difficult to spot due to the layering of other drum hits:
Finally, here’s a list of other classic techno tunes, all using some variation of one of the Think breaks: Greed – Give Me (Quadrant Mix), Bass Construction – Dance With Power, E-Lustrious - Ragga Tip, Petra & Co – Just Let Go, Blow – Cutter (Acid Mix), Rabbit City #1 – Cutter Mix, The Gonzo – Lost and Smart Systems – The Tingler (State Side Swamp Mix)
Bobby Byrd is a funk and gospel artist and is credited with “discovering” James Brown. An instrumental dub of the track Hot Pants is the source of the final break we will be looking at in this episode:
This beat was actually featured in the song Fool’s Gold by alternative britpop band The Stone Roses; their drummer Alan “Reni” Wren played live with the Hot Pants loop in the background, as heard here:
This particular version of the break, with the live over-dubbed drummer, was actually lifted and used by The Ya Yas on their 1991 techno track Looove (Quadromania Mix):
However, there are a number of songs that feature the original raw Hot Pants break, most notably The Prodigy’s Charly:
You can also hear a heavily reverb-drenched version of this break in Meat Beat Manifesto’s Radio Babylon, which itself became a heavily sampled tune:
Other tunes featuring the Hot Pants Break include: Addis Posse – Let The Warrior’s Dance, Nebula II – Seance, Lab Technicians – Sweet Perfection, Bizarre Inc. – Plutonic and The Future Sound of London — Papua New Guinea.
These three songs, in and of themselves, form the basis for countless techno tunes. In Part 2, we will examine several other important breakbeats which provided the rhythmic glue for many other oldskool techno classics.