Back in the late 1970’s, New York DJ’s such as Kool Herc and Afrika Bambaataa had developed a novel way of extending the percussive breaks of popular songs by using two copies of the same record and two turntables to create a continuous loop of the beats. Not only did this create a platform for MC’s to rap over, and for B-Boys to breakdance, it also formed the fundamental principle of modern DJing by creating extended sets of music without any gaps between the songs.
This groundbreaking development in the art of DJing coincided with the time that early drum machines and samplers became available on the market, which allowed music to be produced in people’s homes without the need for hiring expensive studios. The Roland TR808 was one of the first pieces of kit to be adopted by DIY producers and gave early electro tracks their distinctive percussive sounds like handclaps, high-hats, and cowbells, whilst the Roland Jupiter 4 provided the futuristic sci-fi pads. Early 80’s electro was heavily influenced by the Godfathers of electronic music Kraftwerk, who’s robotic and emotionless demeanour may seem like an odd inspiration for a scene that promoted energetic release and expression. Yet the groundbreaking track ‘Planet Rock’ By Afrika Bambaataa sampled a section of Kraftwerk’s 1977 track ‘Trans Europe Express’ and was highly regarded as an iconic moment in the electro scene.
I was still in nappies when all of this was happening, so I’m not the best person to be talking about it – the history of Hip Hop has been well documented elsewhere by people who know their onions far more than I do. What I did want to do was focus on just how much the original electro sound influenced the development of breakbeat-based music here in the UK.
A guy called Gerald, DJ Crystl, Danny Breaks, DJ Hype, and Goldie are all jungle/drum & bass pioneers that originally came from an early Hip Hop/electro pedigree and their musical heritage was evident in all corners of the scene. From the original B-Boy mentality of bringing people together, to the graffiti artwork on labels such as Suburban Base and Deejay, to the way DJ’s incorporated cutting and scratching techniques… electro’s influence could be found everywhere. Of course the biggest influence was to be found in the music itself. Listen to any DJ set from 91-93 and it will be awash with samples that originally came from Electro, whether it be a whole riff, a vocal snippet, or a simple sound effect.
By combining the repetitive rhythms and grooves of early Detroit House and Techno with the energetic breakbeats of electro, UK producers would eventually find their own sound. The building blocks had been put in place and the sophistication with which breakbeats and basslines would eventually be manipulated all originated from these humble beginnings.