Wednesday, November 22, 2006

A Personal History of Breakcore

I had been looking at creating a personal history of breakcore and what might be considered 'must-have' breakcore albums:

Delete Yourself! - Atari Teenage Riot (1995)

I don't really listed to Atari Teenage Riot (ATR) much these days, but back in the day – they were rarely of the stereo. I tended to listed to more bootlegs of band member Alec Empire's DJ sets that their studio albums, but their first album, Delete Yourself! Is great. The opening track 'Start the Riot!' with its totally OTT super-fast drum sample was a clear announcement that this sound was going to take no prisoners. The album was a tour-de-force for it's time, and while it sounds a little tame by todays standards, it set a benchmark of mashup that would, for me, open the story of breakcore. It was not just the sound I identified with, I was also taken with their strident anti-Nazi stance and the mixture of punk/metal/techno sounds. It was punk with electronics and I liked it and wanted more. When I finally got the see them play live (in the Bristol Bierkeller supported by Lolita Storm) it was amazing. The band gave it their all and the gig was not only loud and proud, but was as full on as I had imagined. My ears were ringing for days afterwards. I now have tinatus – thanks ATR!

Bomb20 – Field Manual (1998)

This is a definitive album in the evolution of the breakcore sound. Keeping with the punk vibe, its young, angry and rough around the edges. More that rough around the edges, its rough through and through. At the time of creation, Bomb20 was 19, angry and it shows in his sound. A lurching mishmash of samples, beats, breaks and turns - great stuff! I feel it began to define the breakcore sound by establishing the broken beat structure, the frenetic jumping from one break to another that is at the center of true breakcore. Its a great album and an essential part of any breakcore collection.

Parasite – Baby 9mm (2001)

Ok, so the guy is a mate of mine, but that does not diminish the impact of his sound. I pick this on it's quality and nothing else. Period. This was Parasite's first 'proper' album (as in not a CDR) and was released by Peace Off. Until now, the breakcore sound was quite a blunt instrument - it was a big sound that came at you pretty fast. What Baby 9mm shows is that it can be subtle, yet distorted. It can sound almost laidback while still being broken. Parasite brought a lot of hip-hop and jungle influences into the mix while aided the evolution of the sound.

Venetian Snares – Higgins Ultra Low Track Glue Funk Hits 1972-2006 (2002)

So I was listening to breakcore and pretty much exclusively listening to DHR to get my fix. But after a while it stopped giving me the same buzz. It was as if the sound, while dynamic and exciting had stopped moving forward. Then I heard Snares – and boy, was it a revelation. Track one of Higgins Ultra Low Funk... begins with an opera singer effusing, "Junglist!" while the breaks crash and smash around her. This sound was a revelation. It took breakcore to a new level. Set it fully apart from other forms of dance music. It also meant that the sound was still alive and had plenty of places left to go.

Various Artists – Ballroom Blitz (2003)

Not the work of one artist, but a compilation of many. There is a tendency to look down on compilation albums as a lesser work than the original setting. Not so here. The whole was definably greater that the sum of the parts. Death$ucker (Parasite's label) gather together some amazing performers – some know and some unknown, and crammed them together. Its got lots of different styles, the anthemic sound of Parasite's own 'Strong Like a Lion' to the irreverent and wonderfully OTT 'Bohemian Crapsody' by Sickboy. I think it set a strong standard for the scene that, as a result, forced to to rise higher in response. Plus it's great to masup to!

I posted this to the Choke and Hijack forums, where lots of vital suggestions were added:

* DHR's Harder than the Rest compilation
* Bomb20 - The Flip Burgers or Die!!! 12"
* DJ Scud & Nomex's "Total Destruction"
* Bloodclaat Gangsta Youth's "Kill or Be Killed"

All good stuff and worth considering. DJ Sarah Wilson added an additional slant on the debate:

I quite like breakcore; it would've been difficult not to when I lived with Mr. Punksi (the breakcore Tony Wilson). However, I get the feeling that the elements of the genre that I enjoy are completely distinct from those praised by Mr. Six-Hundred-And-Six. My impression is that he is partial to its intensity and noisiness, while I am more fond of its intricacy and comedic potential.

Thusly, to redress the balance, I present a further five alphabetised records that you should "must have":

Jason Forrest: "Shamelessly Exciting" (2005)

It's disco, but made out of prog rock samples. David Grubbs plays piano on it, Maja Ratkje sings like a woman possessed, and there's a quasi-country song about John Peel. There's a two-minute track called "My 36 Favorite Punk Songs" which totally Ronseals. Jason Forrest should still be called Donna Summer, 'cos that's a great name to give yourself. He is stocky and bald, has a manky laptop-cosy, and dances like an uncle.

Hrvatski: "Swarm & Dither" (2002)

Keith Fullerton Whitman has a degree in computer composition, and did a residency at Harvard with Matmos. He seems to quite resent making dance music. This record includes cover versions of "Paint It Black" by the Rolling Stones and the theme from "Marble Madness", as well as some thoroughly excellent krautrock and a sixteen-second dictaphone journey from his studio to the street. Also, a computer does ragga toasting about Kid 606's Hyperprism mods.

Shitmat: "Full English Breakfest" (2004)

Absolute proof that breakcore is the musical equivalent of "I <3 the 1980s"; an unfulfilling snippet from some half-remembered pop cultural nugget followed by an unnecessary deconstruction thereof, and repeat. Henry Collins was the first person in a long while to make me stop thinking and dance. The title is a funny pun. Actually, I reckon Shitters can do better than this: hopefully, now I've taught him about musique concrète and serialism, he will.

Venetian Snares: "Rossz Csillag Alatt Született" (2005)

Aaron Funk is really called Aaron Funk. He is the king of seven-time rave music. He's made ridiculous versions of the theme from "Coronation Street", "Herbie: the Love Bug", that "One Two Three Four Five Six Seven Eight Nine Ten Eleven Twelve" song from Sesame Street, and "Please Please Please Let Me Get What I Want" by the Smiths. All very well, but then he goes and samples Billie Holiday's version of the Hungarian Suicide Song, and loads of wonderfully mournful string ensembles, and makes perhaps the only coherent modern classical breakcore album that will ever exist. SJ Esau likes it, I think.

Otto Von Schirach: "Escalo Frio" (2001)

"Are your musical instruments frustrating you? Would you like to be a superstar without any hard work or fuss? And wouldn't you like to be on the cutting edge of mainstream music innovation? Only on this special TV offer, you have the opportunity to have your very own Mr. Otto Von Schirach microchip. This authentic Mr. Otto Von Schirach microchip not only gives you the power to unleash your inner musical genius within, it also lets you tell time, takes call waiting messages, balances your chequebooks; also with built-in nosehair clippers and make-up kit. This is no hoax, folks, this is the official, authentic Mr. Otto Von Schirach microchip. Don't take my word for it, folks, just ask some of our satisfied clients: 'Like, yeah, I ordered my authentic Mr. Otto Von Schirach microchip, and, like, not only is my music on the cutting edge, my personal life is great. Before, I used to sound like this — [wailing, mouth-fart] — now, I sound like this — [Max/MSP squelchfest].' And here are some others: 'Oh, he does wonders for life: wonders, wonders.' 'He's the real McCoy!' 'If it wasn't for him, man, I don't know where I'd be [shorter mouth-fart].' With everything you just heard, Mr. Otto Von Schirach will also throw in a lifetime's supply of McDonald's Happy Meals [another fart] free of charge with proof of [squeaky fart] microchip implementation, if you order now." Fucking genius.

There are also lots of aaahhhs and ooohhss from the old-skool for the days of ATR:

Image (above) ATR's Nick Endo



Blogger Dan said...

For the record, and rather than waffle about this in the Hijack or Choke threads, I'll add my personal story here. I'd call myself a late comer to breakcore, only coming across it and deciding to investigate after reading a revue of Songs About My Cats in Sound on Sound, I went to Imperial looking for it and found instead the newly released Higgins. I was hooked by the time I was half way through Dance Like Your Selling Nails. I quickly ordered Cats and Doll Doll Doll (which remains my favourite Snares release) from Normans.

At this point I started shopping the same way I always do for music; by browsing and hunting down everything by artists I like, then the rest of the output of each label, then picking the artists I like from those and hunting down their other output etc. It's like the shopping equivalent of the seven degrees of separation.

By now I had become infatuated with Planet Mu. I had a scattering of releases already but from this point on bought everything Mike released and filled in all of the gaps in the back catalogue. When Aaron posted a request for UK live dates on the forum I tried to organise something for Bristol only to find out someone else had already arranged something. That person turned out to be Parasite, who after a bit of pleading and arm twisting agreed to add Gusset to the line-up. It was also at this gig I first met the Anarchic Hardive guys and Tom D'Kat, and suddenly became aware how viberant the Bristol Breackcore scene was.

Thus followed a manic couple of weeks as we prepared for our first gig for six years, with a borrowed laptop, the demo version of Traktor and a surround Hi-Fi amp that weighed a fucking ton as a digital to analogue converter. The demo version of Traktor made a horrible echoy thud every 20 minutes to remind you it hadn't been paid for but fortunately our material was so noisy and distorted it didn't notice during the set. It also crashed completely half way through but some hastily lined up distorted porn samples in a dodgy copy of Soundforge saved the day and filled the gap. Two industrial tracks that my band mate Sean had written on his Amiga 1200 when he was 11 also got an outing, along with a bunch of mash-ups that are since long forgotten. It was also our first attempt at both playing the same "instrument" at the same time, and in the process Sean accidentally gave me a painful cigarette burn on my forearm. I can still see it now. My first experience of playing at a breakcore gig and I literally have the scars to show for it.

Despite all of this I was still naive enough to book Doormouse and Baseck to play a month later and managed to round up about 40 people for the gig at the Louisiana. Dan's (Doormouse) set was hilarious and Baseck remains to this day the best DJ I have seen (better than Q-bert, Shadow, Cut Chemist and all the big hip-hop names). The gig was fairly shambolic and I lost what seemed like a fortune on it but I have stayed in contact with Dan ever since and have played at every Bristol gig he has played to date. I bought a ton of Addict and Distort vinyl off of him afterwards and its here that I discovered one of my favourite producers of the genre: Ablecain. His tracks on the early Addict releases and his 12"s on Low Res and Zhark are to my mind some of the best material out there. For me, Marty's Faust EP, Playing With Knives 12", Six Stigmata EP and all his Davros material are all essentials. (If anyone has a spare copy of the For the Gods 12" I'll pay handsomely for it btw.)

There are other moments when I was introduced to new stuff that blew me away, like the first time I saw Duran Duran Duran playing live, or Shitmat, or Cursor Miner, or Exile, or Bogdan. I could go on. I often find it's the live performance of this material where the energy it possesses best comes across and I could write another whole essay about the evolution of the live performances and how software developments and peer one-up-man-ship has driven this on. I think I'll save that for another day.

6:36 AM  

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