History Sessions: Hardcore Breakbeats (1990 – 1991)

Although Hip-House was the first attempt at combining house tempos with breakbeats, it proved to be a short lived fad that had completely fizzled out by early 1990. It wouldn’t be until UK producers began experimenting with drums that the potential for breakbeat based warehouse music was properly explored.

UK Hip Hop acts such as Gunshot and HiJack were already producing tough uptempo Hip Hop which was much faster than anything coming from the US, and soundsystem crews were speeding up 33rpm hip hop instrumentals to 45rpm for the MC’s to toast over. So it would only be a matter of time before bedroom producers started experimenting with up-tempo breakbeats of their own to create a new style of music.

One group that epitomises this transition from the soundsystem to the studio is the legendary Shut Up & Dance. Formed in 1986 by four friends (Smiley, PJ, DJ Daddy, and DJ Hype), SUAD had been on the soundsystem circuit for some time trying their best to secure a record deal. After many knockbacks they decided to start their own record label (also titled Shut Up & Dance). Early releases on the label threw together House beats, techno stabs, hip-hop breakbeats, East End raps, and incredibly cheeky samples to create a unique sound which is the clear ancestor of Drum & Bass.

Sampling was a huge aspect of the label, and SUAD were liberal in their use of it. They performed their thievery with a knowing wink and a cheerful grin at a time when there was no legal precedent for sampling. This sampling combined with a breakbeat undertow made their music revolutionary in the grand scheme of things. In no time at all, other bedroom producers were following suit by lifting huge samples of anything they could get their hands on, whether it be Enya, The Eurythmics, Kraftwerk, Old Children’s Stories, Horror Films or whatever…

Of course producers could not continue lifting huge sections of other people’s work without permission forever, and as the industry lawyers caught up with the new technology, it was to be the very thing that made SUAD successful in the first place that would land them in trouble. When they sampled Mark Cohn’s ‘Walking In Memphis’ for their 1992 hit “Raving I’m Raving” Cohn was less than happy about it. The singler/songwriter threatened legal proceedings and only eventually agreed a limited release on the proviso that all profits go to charity. The MCPS ordered any remaining copies to be removed from the shelves, making this one of the most sought after records at the time with reports of the last copies changing hands for £25-£30.

Not content with the removal of that one release, the MCPS started digging through the SUAD back catalogue for more uncleared samples, of which there were many. SUAD eventually had to settle out of court with others including Suzanne Vega and Ryuichi Sakamoto which effectively bankrupted the label and sent it into a two year hibernation. They eventually returned with cleared samples and high profile record deals but failed to generate the same excitement of old.

However their cavalier formula for sampling along with other originators such as Rebel MC was now well established amongst underground producers who were already digging through their parents record collections to find obscure samples in order to revive them into something new. As far as sampling was concerned, the horse had well and truly bolted. An exciting new underground scene built almost entirely from snippets of other people’s music was flourishing and would go on to become what was known as breakbeat hardcore.

The tracks selected in this mix are pure-proto jungle riddims and a nod to the early breakbeat pioneers such as SUAD and Rebel MC. I have deliberately stayed away from any Rave influenced tracks in this mix – This one is all about the beats…

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