We all love reveling in the sounds of our favorite songs, bobbing our heads with merriment as we vibe to the beats that define them. The skill of beat making and recreating is one that we have grown to admire, and it is this very prowess that has cultivated electronic music from its very inception. EDM is a genre of music that closely parallels who we are as a society—electronically driven and constantly searching for new ways to improve what already exists. Always on the hunt for the latest and greatest, we spend much of our time obsessing over how far music has come and trying to put our finger on where it will go next. This fascination with the future sometimes causes us to forget or ignore where music comes from all together. Today, we take a moment to celebrate a drum-solo that not only played a heavy impact in the development of the EDM sub-genre drum & bass, but music as a whole.
The Amen Break, a six second drum loop performed in the 1969 song “Amen Brother” by Gregory Cyclvester “G.C.” Coleman of the funk and soul group The Winstons. The full song was released as a B-side of the 45-RPM 7-inch vinyl single “Color Him Father” in 1969. The song is an up-tempo instrumental interpretation of Jester Hairston’s “Amen,” which was initially written for the film Lilies of the Field.
The Amen Break’s claim to fame came in the ‘80s when the four-bar, six second sample became a signature drum loop in breakbeat, hip-hop, breakbeat hardcore, hardcore techno, breakcore, digital hardcore, jungle, and drum & bass. It was most popular in early hip-hop music on tracks like “Straight Outta Compton” by N.W.A, sampled and recreated in several songs before being widely used in jungle music. Breakbeat Lenny, a former Downstairs Records employee, featured the Amen Break in his 1986 “Ultimate Breaks and Beats” bootleg for DJs, where he edited the four bars and played them at a much lower speed which allowed DJs to extend the beat to be played on two separate turntables, making it much more danceable. Breakbeat Lenny’s compilation was a huge success, giving the Amen Break a large spectrum of attention and massive support, where it soon made its way to the U.K. and European dance music scenes. The Amen Break can also be heard sampled in rock music- like in the Nine Inch Nails song “The Perfect Drug” or Rammstein’s “Sehnsucht” and many of its sub-genres such as the alternative rock song “D’You Know What I Mean” by Oasis. The drum loop has forever impacted the rhythm of music and continues to even today.
DJs decided to speed up the original sample, leaving the slower edited version to fall off the map. But, this sped up version is arguably the most sampled drum beat of all time and one of the most sampled loops in contemporary electronic music. This then leads us to the ‘90s where the British rave scene quickly flourished and the rest is beautiful history. Today, the Amen Break, descended down through many years of strong development in breakbeat, hip-hop, acid house, reggae, ragga and jungle, thrives heavily in the EDM genre drum & bass.
While many of us are huge drum & bass fanatics, those of us who aren’t have probably heard the Amen Break at some point in our lives. The drum loop is still used largely in mass media as the soundtrack to various television commercials, or behind the stapled theme songs of many of our favorite shows, like Futurama and The Powerpuff Girls.
The Amen Break has made a paramount imprint in music that will undoubtedly last forever. DJs and producers of dance music continue to incorporate this beat in many eclectic forms in the music we currently listen to. Upcoming artists will follow in the footsteps of their forefathers by learning to reinvent this historical beat in their own works moving forward and the cycle will recommence. As we marvel over the genius of the talented artists before us, we can look to the future of music with hope and excitement. Mind-blowing beats are here to stay!
By Bree Melero