Big Beat

With a funky breakbeat swagger, Big Beat reinvented pop as a rave'n’roll beer bust

Big Beat
WRITTEN BY
Chuck Eddy

Techno had turned too prissy and subtle for the average earthling. So, informed by hard rock, old-school rap, hip-house, and '80s sample-collage volume-pumping, Big Beat brought the crass back in the mid- to late '90s. To this day, you can still hear its inebriated revelry reverberating in video games and at sporting events all over the world.

The Prodigy
The Fat of the Land
Maverick, 1997
Ravers in the know figured these hardcore U.K. clowns had peaked years before with '94’s Music for the Jilted Generation, but that mattered not to American teens first hearing them hey-hey-hey about starting fires and smacking up bitches. The sound, courtesy of producer Liam Howlett, was '80s planet-rock rap pushing and biting like Killing Joke art-metal, with Middle Eastern and classical parts, Breeders riffs, and an L7 cover, plus silly slogans shouted Mark E. Smith–style. Almost no '90s "rock" rocked this hard.

The Chemical Brothers
Singles 93–03
Astralwerks, 2003
Alphabetapsychedelicfunkin' loops of fury from two faceless and seemingly interchangeable Mancunian record collectors who became stars despite themselves (Ed Simons even ended up in British tabloids as Lily Allen's beau). How'd they do it? Basically, by sounding like when you're riding your bike and a car passes by really fast blasting hip-hop really loud. Though this one-disc summation of their career reminds us that they weren't averse to reeling druggy drones toward the setting sun (with Noel Gallagher), their true talent was rock 'em-sock 'em-robot beats that, yes, rocked the block.

Various Artists
Brassic Beats
Skint, 2000
From the Brighton, England imprint Skint — run by Damian Harris, who goes by the jocky moniker Midfield General — this is a cross section of stomping hands and clapping feet. According to the liner notes, Dr. Bone "is the schizophrenic alter ego of a very bitter jazz musician," and Indian Ropeman "fuses the Eastern twang of the sitar with his love of funk-driven hip-hop beats." Regardless, they, and others, make the music go bang.

Fatboy Slim
On the Floor at the Boutique
Astralwerks, 2000
Ex-Housemartin takes his turn on the ones and twos for this DJ mix (from the seaside Brighton club that was the scene's ground zero), spotlighting his fattest hits, including one built from an old Michael Jackson cartoon. But first, the RPM-boosted chant "Just lay back and let the big beat hit me" introduces the Incredible Bongo Band. Then all sorts of songs by excellently named unknowns — Clockwork Voodoo Freaks, DJ Tonka — culminate in the inevitable climax: "Right about now, the funk soul brutha."

Lo Fidelity Allstars
How to Operate With a Blown Mind
Skint, 1998
Though also known for killer DJ gigs, the Leeds-to-London-to-Brighton ensemble were a full-on band, and this debut album was their peak. Listing a vocalist, bassist, and drummer, plus one guy each on "decks/samples," "engineering/keys," and "additional keys," How to Operate is industrial funk holy-rolling down the center church aisle, with enough kick to spawn a U.S. semi-hit ("Battle Flag").

Various Artists
Wall of Sound Presents Bustin' Loose
Ultra, 1998
The cover of London indie Wall of Sound's wham-bam sampler looks just like a comic book: Riddlers, skate punks, sax players, and businessmen soaring through the city sky. But the label's real superheroes were the Wiseguys and Propellerheads, who later conquered radio and Mitsu-bishi ads with lesser songs. Funkiest drums come from E-klektik, seemingly by way of Africa; funkiest vocals from Mekon guest Schoolly D. Most indelible hook: "Say ooh! La la! Sassoon!"

Hardknox
Hardknox
Jive, 1999
The most adorably pulverizing of myriad cute opportunists who tried unsuccessfully to ride Prodigy's oi!-lectronica bandwagon, this co-ed Brit duo made only one album, but it's a hoot. And at least once — on "Come in Hard," which also samples Schoolly D — they made Prodigy seem ambient by comparison. "I don't love rock'n’roll," Schoolly contradicts himself. "Gonna rock this show." Sledgehammer riddims get a dubble-bubble bounce.

Various Artists
White Noise
City of Angels, 1997
Hey, Americans could have the Big Beat too, right? Even Billy Squier said he had it! Well, Squier's 1980 track "Big Beat" is sampled on this comp by somebody British. But careerists Crystal Method came from Vegas, and Afrika Bambaataa buddy Überzone hailed from Anaheim. The label was based in Los Angeles, and they want you to know this sound is gonna take over the globe! For a short time, it almost did.

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