Monday, October 23, 2000
My current playlist of house, house and er, more house continues (more on that later), but I've still had to time to notice how interesting Fatboy Slim's new single "Sunset (Bird Of Prey)" is. Not because of the Jim Morisson samples, which serve as a handy marker for the song and little else, but because of, duh, the music. All the reviews suggest that this is Cook's big break from big beat, being more of a trancey nu-skool breaks excursion. I guess they're right -it definitely reminds me of the work of Hybrid, recent BT, etc. - although we'll have to wait for the album to know if this is anything more than a red herring.

What ties all these disparate "nu-breaks" styles together is a curious sharpness to the breaks that is reminiscent of jungle, only at far too slow a tempo. This was something I first noticed at a rave about a year ago, and at the time the only comparison that came to mind was The Prodigy circa. "Voodoo People". Big beat always struck me as slightly sped-up hip hop, with which it shares a sort of blunt, heavy funkiness in its breaks (at least pre-Timbaland). Meanwhile "Sunset" and tracks like it have more of a smarter, midtempo hardcore rave sound, emphasising rush over funk; hence the Prodigy comparison.

Where nu-breaks falls down for a lot of people is in the anal-retentive technicality of its programming which has nothing to do with hardcore or big beat and everything to do with post-techstep jungle. Artists like Hybrid arrange their beats and breaks with a roccoco flair for complexity, but in the wrong musical setting this has the potential to come off dry and rigid, not to mention a tad smug. Luckily Cook, like Hybrid, has realised that this trap can be avoided by seizing on the most egalatarian dance style around - trance.

Not that "Sunset" is breakbeat trance really - it takes its cues more from the trancier aspects of The Chemical Brothers' last album and Cook's own "Right Here, Right Now" than from Paul Van Dyk or Jam & Spoon - but it's certainly a dramatic shift towards melody, away from the break-and-hook-line sparseness of more typical Fatboy fare such as "Rockafeller Skank" or "Gangsta Trippin". It's nice and absolutely necessary, because the break Fatboy has used, with its bizarre syncopated fourth beat (as opposed to the usual second and/or third) makes dancing to it incredibly difficult. I know this because when I was out on Thursday night I saw the whole dancefloor flounder in confusion. The gambit is defiantly anti-populist and in its Timbaland-style syncopation very similar to a lot of breakbeat garage - not something I expected at all.

It's an interesting direction for Cook, and I'm certainly looking forward to finding out whether it's just an amusing diversion, or if he really has decided to try and leapfrog The Chemical Brothers in the increasingly panicky flight from big beat.


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