Eddy Says

Eddy Says: Big beat – There’s nothing to be ashamed of

By | Published on Monday 5 September 2011

Midfield GeneralI do get stopped by people quite regularly. Sometimes in the street, or mostly at gigs, in clubs, or at festivals.

It’s always positive, and I always appreciate people reaching out and letting me know how they feel about me or my show (or even this column – I was massively chuffed to be enthusiastically accosted in Leicester Square by a charming man who ignored all the usual strings to my bow and bigged me up for ‘Eddy Says’ – a first for me).

Amongst the random things I’m told on these occasions, the thing that crops up the most, and I’m utterly delighted every time I hear this, is: “You opened my eyes to dance music” or “I didn’t think I liked dance music til I listened to your show” or “I thought I was a rocker, now I’m a rocking raver!”

You get the picture. I never get bored of hearing this, and there’s something else I keep hearing, not as much as the above, but I do hear it frequently, and I think the two things are definitely linked:

“Big beat turned me on to dance music”.

I hear it again and again, and I find it fascinating. While helping persuade Jon Carter to reform Monkey Mafia, I made a few comments about it on Twitter, and had a deluge of big beat love from so many people, including some real heavy-hitters. The likes of Alex Metric, Hervé, Infadels, DJ Nerm, Pathaan, Tomb Crew and lots more all professed a love for the ‘breezeblock beats’, as we used to call them in the roaring 90s, with a doff of the cap to Pete Tong, who coined that phrase.

I remember being a fresh faced 20-something at Radio 1, loving my rock music and being suspicious of house music in general. In those days I didn’t really see drum n bass as coming under the umbrella phrase ‘dance music’ – it rocked so much that I didn’t consider it part of what was defined as ‘dance music’ back then. At that time, ‘dance’ was largely inhabited, both at the cutting edge, in journalism and in its consumption, by purists. Almost all of these people were part of, or had witnessed first hand, the rave explosion of the late 80s and 90s, and their tastes were locked into that four to the floor kick-drum pattern.

Those of us outside this bubble felt excluded, there was nothing there for us. Until big beat came along. Suddenly, there was a type of dance music that crossed boundaries, that didn’t feel like it was the exclusive domain of the chosen few. Suddenly indie kids and rockers started feeling included, and started buying vinyl from Mo Wax, Wall Of Sound, Skint, and the like. Labels like Heavenly started to become known as ‘crossover’ labels. Club nights like The Social and The Big Beat Boutique were suddenly THE places to be.

I remember some of the dance purists at the time mocking the scene and calling it ‘student music’, as if that was somehow disparaging. They missed the point totally. Of course it was student music – ie young people’s music. This was music for all the students, not just the few doing an advanced degree in electronic music production. It was happy music, drinking music, good times music, and people like myself and Alex Metric were drinking it in!

We’d missed out on acid house, mostly by choice, but here was a hybrid of acid house, hip hop, hip house, feelgood soul and punk. Who’d have thought?!

So, what was the first big beat record that set all this in motion? [Cue heated debate]. If my memory serves me correctly, the first big beat tunes I got on vinyl were probably ‘Santa Cruz’ by Fatboy Slim, ‘Devil In Sports Casual’ by Midfield General and ‘Hey You, What’s That Sound?’ By Les Rythmes Digitales, but you’d have to go back much further to find the progenitors, the likes of – whether they like it or not – Andrew Weatherall, Jagz Kooner, Liam Howlett, Depth Charge, Dust/Chemical Brothers, Justin Robertson. And let’s not forget the great contribution from the yanks, in the form of The Crystal Method and Jack Dangers/Meat Beat Manifesto.

While the purists sneered from the sidelines, big beat’s open armed inclusiveness and hands-in-the-air attitude to the sound quickly pushed the scene from underground to mainstream. Purists tend to hate anything vaguely enjoyable, but while they disapproved, we danced and we drank and we laughed, listening to Lo Fidelity Allstars, The Propellerheads, Cuba, Indian Ropeman, Kahuna Brothers, The Freestylers, Cut N Paste (who became Plump DJs), Apollo 440, Lunatic Calm, Mekon, Deadly Avenger, Akasha, Wiseguys, Derek Dahlarge, Headrillaz, etc etc…

We laughed and we danced and we smoked spliffs and we danced some more, right up until the tune that brought the whole scene crashing in on itself. It was a brilliant tune, one we’d loved for ages, from the Wall Of Sound label. But when the masterful ‘Ooh La La’ by The Wiseguys was synched to a Budweiser advert, you could hear the purists sharpening their knives while shouting from the rooftops that this would be the record that killed big beat.

The backlash became unassailable. By this point, LRD, Chemical Brothers and FC Kahuna had all gone flat four-four, the four year student cycle was over and the newbies were searching for something new to call their own, so it petered out, and while the UK breaks scene kept the flame burning for a while, it too became, like Voldemort, “they who cannot be named”.

But now, twelve or so years later, I can feel a little change of wind direction. The long dead corpse of big beat is starting to twitch, because we’re talking about it again. UK garage has come back, and it’s great! Even better than the first time round, and MJ Cole, its greatest exponent, is still making amazing records. So it’s only a matter of time before the wheel turns full circle and we get a proper big beat revival.

I have a feeling that artists like Theo Wiseguys have tried to distance themselves from the genre, for obvious and totally understandable reasons. If EVERYBODY knew that Fake Blood was Theo, then maybe his reincarnation or reinvention would not have been so successful, but to Theo and anybody else who feels in anyway ashamed of their involvement in big beat, I say feel no shame! Hold your heads high! You were involved in one of the best movements dance music ever.

Without you there would be no me, no Alex Metric, no Justin Robertson, Jon Carter or Hervé, and probably no you – the chances are most people reading this will be people seduced into dance by big beat, hence my opening paragraph about the welcome feedback.

I can feel it coming – Monkey Mafia have reformed, I’m even getting whispers from one or two very cool contemporary producers that they are working on big beat tunes (“Shhhhhhh”, they always say) and when it comes, I shall welcome it with open arms, as it welcomed me all those years ago.