Big beat

For other uses, see Big beat (disambiguation).

Big beat is a style of electronic music that typically uses heavy breakbeats and synthesizer-generated loops and patterns common to acid house. The term has been used since the mid-1990s by the British music press to describe music by artists such as The Prodigy, The Chemical Brothers, Fatboy Slim, The Crystal Method, Propellerheads, Cut La Roc, Basement Jaxx and Groove Armada.[2]


In 1989, Iain Williams from the English electronic duo Big Bang coined the musical term big beat to describe the band's musical style. Williams explained the concept during an interview with the journalist Alex Gerry in an article published 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?[3] The band were promoting their first record, an Arabic-inspired dance version of ABBA's "Voulez-Vous" and their instrumental track "Cold Nights in Cairo"[4] that had just been released on Swanyard Records. The single was produced by Big Bang and Steev Toth. Big Bang are 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.

The name came from our club, the Big Beat Boutique, which I'm tremendously proud of. I always thought the formula of big beat was the breakbeats of hip-hop, the energy of acid house, and the pop sensibilities of the Beatles, with a little bit of punk sensibility, all rolled into one. People like the Prodigy and the Chemical Brothers – we saw it as very similar to the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, who grew up listening to soul records and blues records and then sold an English version of it back to America.

Norman Cook, a.k.a. Fatboy Slim[5]

At the beginning of the 1990s, against the backdrop of several popular musical subcultures, including the English rave scene, British hip hop, chillout or ambient, gestating subgenres such as trip hop and breakbeat, plus the emerging Britpop movement – a process of hybridisation and a taste for eclecticism was developing within English dance music generally.[6] Early purveyors of this approach include influential artists such as The Orb, Depth Charge, Meat Beat Manifesto, Transglobal Underground, and Andrew 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 acid house singles, introducing DJ-turned-artists such as The Chemical Brothers (known then as The Dust Brothers[7]) 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,[6] 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.[8] 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, among others.

Big beat later gained popularity and commercial success in the American market, largely due to the alternative rock elements and influences cited in the work of The Chemical Brothers and The Prodigy, who were featuring loud and distorted guitar sounds and heavier drum programming 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-oriented 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 rise in popularity of electronic dance music included "Setting Sun" by The Chemical Brothers, "Battle Flag" by the Lo Fidelity Allstars, and "Ooh La La" by The Wiseguys. The genre was one of the main musical subjects on BBC Radio 1's The Breezeblock, presented by Mary Anne Hobbs. 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 gradually decline in popularity by 2001, due to the novelty of the genre's formula fading.[9] The genre's most successful acts would alter their sound further, for example, The Chemical Brothers releasing more material with direct house and trance characteristics (including "4 to the floor" beats which resemble those of house and synthesizer sweeps and noises, marking a departure from their big beat sound consisting of syncopated breakbeats & hip hop samples) 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.[10]


Big beat tends to feature heavy and distorted drum beats at tempos between 120 and 140 beats per minute, TB-303 synthesizer lines resembling those of acid house, and heavy loops from 60s and 70s funk, soul, jazz, rock, and pop songs. They are often punctuated with punk-style vocals and driven by intense, distorted guitar-style synthesizer basslines with conventional pop, house and techno song structures. Big beat tracks have a sound that includes crescendos, builds, drops, extended drum rolls, and sounds such as spoken word samples, dialogues from film and TV, additional instruments such as Middle Eastern or Asian strings, explosions, air horns, sirens (usually police sirens) and gunshots. As with several other dance genres at the time, the use of effects such as filters, phasing, and flanging was common in the genre.

Celebrated pioneers of the genre such as Fatboy Slim tend to feature heavily compressed loud breakbeats in his songs, 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.

List of 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. "Old Hit Won't Outgun Prodigy Disc". Miami Herald. 10 September 2004.
  3. Gerry, Alex (9 June 1989). "Big Bang in Clubland: Could big beat be the 1989 answer to acid house?". Metropolitan (132): 9.
  4. Arabic Circus // The Dawn Rising by Big Bang - The EP contains Voulez-Vous and Cold Nights In Cairo' (retrieved 18 October 2014)'
  5. "How The Major Labels Sold 'Electronica' To America". NPR.
  6. 1 2 "Big Beat". Allmusic. Retrieved 26 September 2011.
  7. "Big Beat/Chemical Beats". NciMusic. Retrieved 13 January 2014.
  8. "Newsday". Newsday. 19 July 1998.
  9. Damian Harris (9 April 2008). "Big beat: creating a dancefloor monster". The Guardian. Retrieved 26 September 2011.
  10. Reynolds, Simon (1998). Generation Ecstasy. Little, Brown and Company. p. 384.
  11. id:Garasi (grup musik)
  12. The Sables (electronica band)

External links

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