Big beat

Big beat
Big beat
Stylistic origins Breakbeat, acid house, techno, hip hop, psychedelic rock, alternative rock
Cultural origins Mid-1990s United Kingdom
Typical instruments Synthesizer
Electric guitar
Bass guitar
Drum machine
Drum kit
Digital effects
Mainstream popularity Late 1990s – early 2000s

Big beat is a term employed since the mid-1990s by the British music press to describe much of the music by artists such as The Prodigy, Fatboy Slim, The Chemical Brothers, The Crystal Method, and Propellerheads typically driven by heavy breakbeats and synthesizer-generated loops and patterns in common with established forms of electronic dance music such as techno and acid house.



Big beat tends to feature distorted, compressed breakbeats at moderate tempos (usually between 120 to 140 beats per minute), acid house-style synthesizer lines, and heavy loops from 60s and 70s funk, jazz, rock, and pop songs. They are often punctuated with punk-style vocals and driven by intense, distorted basslines with conventional pop and techno song structures. Big beat tracks have a sound that includes crescendos, builds, drops, dramatic sound effects, such as explosions or sirens, and extended drum rolls. As with several other dance genres at the time, the use of effects such as cut-off, phasing, and flanging was commonplace.

Big beat is also often characterized by a strong psychedelic influence comparable to a wide range of artists, from Serge Gainsbourg and Jean-Jacques Perrey to Funkadelic and the acid house movement of the late 1980s. Celebrated instigators of the genre such as Fatboy Slim tend to feature heavily compressed loud breakbeats in their tracks, 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.


In 1989, Iain Williams from the London, England-based electronic duo Big Bang coined the musical term "big beat" to describe the band's sound. He explained the band's concept during an interview with the French journalist Alex Gerry for an article 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?"[1] The band were promoting their first record, an Arabic-inspired version of the B-side to the ABBA's "Voulez-Vous" single, "Cold Nights in Cairo", that had just been released on Swanyard Records. The single was produced by Big Bang and Steev Toth. Big Bang consisted of 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.

At the beginning of the 1990s, against the backdrop of several popular musical subcultures – including the rave scene, UK rap, chillout or ambient music, gestating subgenres such as trip hop and breaks, plus the emerging Britpop movement – a process of hybridisation and a taste for eclecticism was developing within British dance music generally.[2] Early purveyors of this approach include influential artists such as The Orb, Depth Charge, Meat Beat Manifesto, Transglobal Underground, and Andy 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 techno 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,[2] held on Fridays 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 to name but a few.

Big beat later gained some popularity and commercial success in the American market, largely due to the "rock-like" qualities and influences cited in the work of The Chemical Brothers and The Prodigy, who were featuring loud and heavy guitar sounds more and more in their material at the time. Madonna introduced a live video performance by The Prodigy at the 1997 MTV Video Music Awards, having signed the band to her Maverick Records label for the American release of their third album The Fat of the Land. "Firestarter" was The Prodigy and big beat's first number one single in the UK and became their biggest hit worldwide at the time. The band played several rock-orientated festivals, opening a gateway for other acts associated with big beat (including The Chemical Brothers, Fatboy Slim, and Death in Vegas) to follow suit. Other big beat singles that enjoyed varying degrees of success in the USA on account of the "Electronica invasion" include "Setting Sun" by The Chemical Brothers, "Battle Flag" by Lo-Fidelity All Stars, and "Ooh La La" by The Wiseguys. Meanwhile, by the end of 1997, several big beat tracks had peaked within the UK Top 40, with both The Prodigy and The Chemical Brothers achieving two number one singles each. Fatboy Slim himself reached the top of the UK charts early in 1999 with "Praise You", becoming Norman Cook's fourth number one single, albeit under or involved with a different band on each of the three previous occasions.

The big beat scene had started to decline in popularity by 1999, due to the novelty of the genre's formula fading.[3] The genre's most successful acts would alter their sound further, with, for example, The Chemical Brothers releasing more material with direct techno and trance characteristics (including "four to the floor" beats instead of syncopated breakbeats) inspired by the success of the Gatecrasher club and the trance movement, which would reach a commercial peak between 1999 and 2002. However, big beat had left an indelible mark on popular music as an indigenous progression from rave music, bridging a divide between clubbers and indie rock fans. Without this connection, some have reasoned that it would not have reached the heights that it did, or resonated with as many listeners as it did.[4]

Notable big beat artists


  1. ^ Gerry, Alex (9 June 1989). "Big Bang in Clubland: Could big beat be the 1989 answer to acid house?". Metropolitan (132): 9. 
  2. ^ a b "Big Beat". Allmusic. Retrieved 26 September 2011. 
  3. ^ Damian Harris (9 April 2008). "Big beat: creating a dancefloor monster". The Guardian. Retrieved 26 September 2011. 
  4. ^ Reynolds, Simon (1998). Generation Ecstasy. Little, Brown and Company. p. 384. 

External links

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