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Drums and bass: oh-so-cool drum grooves with a bit of squawky bass sprinkled in. I'd describe it as clean, sophisticated and grown-up. Not to mention cold, boring and starchy. Yet high-speed dance music wasn't always so dry. Drums and bass is only the most recent descendant of a style of music called breakbeat rave. Breakbeat lived a short but colorful life during the early 90s. Like drums and bass, it's fast. Unlike drums and bass, it's full of funky drum grooves, quirky samples of cartoon cats and soap opera dialogues, beats overlapping beats, and melodies inspired by Martian encounters. In a word, breakbeat rave was chaos.

This chaos endures happily in my heart, and I want to share this feeling of glee with you. To this end, I will explore breakbeat's history, (one of) its important figures, and a device used to create it - all right here in this tiny space. Read on!
The History of Breakbeat
Breakbeat rave was born in 1990 from a diverse musical parentage. Club-goers of the time were beginning to tire of the formulaic house tracks that had dominated dance floors since the mid-80s. Seeking to incorporate the up-and-coming sound of hip-hop into the dance scene, DJs began to build double-speed rap drum patterns, or breakbeats, into their repertoire. Coupling these breakbeats with peculiar vocal tidbits played on digital samplers, dance producers had developed a quirky and infectious style of music that eventually came to be known as "breakbeat."

Sources: DeCreator's Drum and Bass Resource Center, Drum N Bass History
A breakbeat device: the analog synth
I couldn't be satisfied with just listening to breakbeat - I also had to try my hand at making it myself, And if you're going to make your own music, why not build your own musical instrument to produce it? It was with this philosophy that I built my own analog synth from a kit. It generates satisfying chirping noises, as well as bass that bothers the neighbors. You can build one, too. Check out the Fatman kit for yourself at the PAIA web site.
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Biography: Liam Howlett
born August 21, 1971 in Braintree, Essex, England
Howlett was the brains behind the Prodigy, the (only?) group that managed to put several breakbeat tracks into the European top 20. Interestingly, dance music was hardly Howlett's first exposure to music. Having been trained in classical piano as a child, he became a rather accomplished musician at a young age (hence the group's name "prodigy," meaning child genius). Before joining the Prodigy in 1990, Howlett tried his hand (and legs and head and butt) at breakdancing, and established his musical reputation by performing in a hip-hop ensemble called Cut to Kill.

Sources: The Prodigy's Biography on Angelfire, The Prodigy Biography at Excite