Electronic Music 101: What Are Breakbeats?

From Hip Hop to Jungle this is one of the most influential beats in electronic dance music
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David Ireland
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From Hip Hop to Jungle this is one of the most influential beats in electronic dance music
Jamaican Sound System

Early Jamaican Sound System

It all started in the Bronx back in the 70s when early block parties gave birth to the amazing culture we call Hip Hop. There was one guy that can be credited with literally starting it, DJ Kool Herc. At a time when gang violence ruled the troubled NYC borough Herc (a Jamaican immigrant) was bringing good vibes with his block parties that were heavily influenced from the Jamaican sound system culture of Kingston. 

The sounds of early Funk and Soul music powered these legendary parties and there was something in particular that really got the crowd going, the drum break aka "the Breakbeat."

Herc understood this and played two copies of the record so that when the breakbeat came on he could back cue the second record and drop it just as the break was ending on the first copy, thus extending the breakbeat to bring up the energy. 

This technique was the beginning of turntablism as we know it today, shortly there after the scratch was invented and the rest is history. 

The breakbeat becomes a legendary part electronic dance music moving forward, and a genre in and of itself simply called Breaks or Breakbeat. The breakbeat pattern is also used in UK Garage, Drum and Bass and Hardcore, but we will talk about those in another E Music 101 post.

DJ Icey

DJ Icey (Orlando Breaks)

There have been many varieties of breakbeats from the more downtempo and heady hip hop stuff from guys like Kid Koala to the more aggressive breaks from guys like the Stanton Warriors. 

Downtempo Breaks - These were used in headier and chilled out compositions and continue to be popular to this day. Guys like Bonobo, Kid Koala and Blockhead made them famous. 

Orlando Breaks (Florida Breaks) - Orlando and Tampa became known for the breakbeat sound with producers like DJ Icey, DJ Baby Anne, DJ Stylus & D-Xtreme, etc. 

West Coast Breaks & Funky Desert Breaks - This was a big West Coast sound in the mid-nineties made popular by DJs like Simply Jeff from Dr. Freeclouds Mixing Lab and DJ John Kelly of Moontribe. 

Electro or Electro Breaks - Coming from guys like Mantronix favored a more electro feel that became popular with guys like Dave Clarke, DJ Assault, etc. 

Nu Skool Breaks - Came on the scene in the late 90s with guys like Adam Freeland, Plump DJs, Tipper, Stanton Warriors and Hybrid

Today, breakbeats continue to be extremely influential across many genres of EDM as beat patterns and as the genre itself. There is no doubt they are here to stay and will continue to evolve.