These Are the Breaks
It's the challenge DJ Simply Jeff loves. Perhaps the leading authority on the dance-music genre known as breakbeats, the California native just won't let electronic music sink in a 4/4 sea. Instead the prolific DJ spreads around the recognizable styles of house and techno and slices the known into a swirl of high-velocity percussion and break samples. The result sounds a lot like his most recent release, BreakBeat Massive (Moonshine), a hectic mix of drum and bass back beats finely cut with layers of old-school breaks that creates a more accessible version of the most eclectic form of electronic music.
"The thing that's been hurting the breaks scene is only a handful of DJs were making it and without enough stock you couldn't really expect anyone to plan a set around this sound," says Jeff from his Phonomental studios in Los Angeles. "Every other style, like house and trance, has their own areas in record stores. But breaks is coming around. DJs like Sasha and Paul Oakenfold are now releasing tracks that are primarily breaks."
It's been an obstacle-filled course for the breaks scene. The mere mention of the word conjures images of shiny Adidas pants, Kangol hats, and the ominous specter of hip-hop, a mixture that does not go over well with the dance community. Jeff himself concedes he's had problems bringing his sound to the clubs.
"When people hear the word breaks they immediately think of scratch DJs and hip-hop," he says. "I'm not like that. I'm a club DJ, and when I spin for a crowd I play everything. I think hip-hop scares a lot of people, and when it's associated with breaks, that keeps it from gaining acceptance."
The social aspect aside, breaks has also had the unenviable task of educating a brainwashed audience to the infinite possibilities of electronic music. Clubs across the world continue the Jurassic trend of a pounding 4/4 beat, and anyone who strays from the party line often finds an empty floor in front of him.
"I would define breaks as good dance music with broken beats," Jeff explains. "Instead of the usual 4/4 it has different variances of percussion, which makes it more interesting."
Interesting yes, danceable maybe. Many DJs have stepped into the breaks field only to see their tracks become an incoherent mess of cardiac drumbeats and obtuse samples. Skillfully tweaking the beat while maintaining a groove worthy of a club floor is the trick Jeff is beginning to master.
"Breaks isn't instant brain candy," he concurs. "People that are really into it are those who like hearing new sounds. But too many up-and-coming break DJs think they have to play the too-cool-for-school set and forget what the crowd came for. People are standing around going, 'Yeah, that's cool but I'm not dancing.'"
On BreakBeat Massive Jeff at once makes a push to assimilate while staying true to his roots. Though the compilation is littered with jump breaks and jungle-like foundations, the synth samples and occasional vocal as instrument provide an edgy but movable mix. From the opening track "Funkengruven," produced by Jeff, the fury begins as BPMs are upped steadily and the listener is challenged to find the groove. This game becomes easier when standout tracks like Bassbin Twins' "UFB2" and Player One's "Ha Ha" roll through with recognizable rhythms and made-for-dance-floor chants. Though some material is strictly for the breaks at heart, the overall effect is a digestible feast of future electronica.
"Breaks is starting to incorporate a lot of other influences now," Jeff says. "Whether it's techno, nu skool, house, or trance, DJs are starting to mix it all together. When this does eventually become popular it probably won't be called breaks due to the amount of other styles being added."
Persevering with his agenda, Jeff made a name for himself in the Southern California club and radio scene, even landing an appearance on MTV's 1997 Video Music Awards. West Coast techno, a style more fast and furious than East Coast house or European trance, made the transition that much easier for breaks to crash the gates and soon the guest-gig requests started coming in from the international market.
"Crowds in Europe are a little more open to new stuff," Jeff observes. "London is well aware of the breaks sound. But even in places like Germany the crowds would just assume I was playing a variation of house music."
It didn't hurt to have the Crystal Method and Uberzone along with him to convince the curious that this was indeed a legitimate form of dance. But the task now is for Jeff to fly solo into the fickle world of Miami's club scene, where tolerance is a foreign concept.
"I've played South Florida before but it was always during the Winter Music Conference in Miami, so it was easier to get away with a different sound," he says. "It's not an area I play regularly."
Orlando has carved out a decent breaks scene, but anywhere south of Disney dance fans still gauge DJs by the standards of European trance and the occasional U.S. house guest. Of course such a challenge is just what Jeff enjoys.
"This show is going to be very crowd-oriented," he says of his game plan. "I'll be DJing live and my engineer will be on hand to work in samples. We'll also have a team of dancers to really get the crowd involved. I like having a big production to work with so we can present more of a show atmosphere than just one guy spinning records."
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