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Neo-Breakcore: A Primer

Scenes And Sounds

A guide to the next generation of shredded post-rave music.

By leah


Amen brother! Breakcore heads are passionate. What else could explain this tattoo of an Amen break, the genre’s cornerstone element? Or that last year, someone made a Breakcore Iceberg chart, which maps out their particular sense of the genre’s many layers? It was posted to r/breakcore, the subreddit devoted to the genre that boasts 23K members. @memesbreakcore, an account that posts random videos accompanied by breakcore soundbites, has over 310K Twitter followers. There’s even a whole book: Andrew Whelan’s 2008 hyper-academic sociological study investigates how this weird world emerged and took to transforming on the internet, largely by way of chat rooms. Whelan uses the scene to theorize about forms of online connection, and how computer-based interaction has shifted ideas around sociality and identity. He argues that breakcore as a “decentralized scenic institution” was an early prime example of how music can evolve in digital spaces.

Named for its origins as a hybrid of breakbeat and hardcore techno, breakcore emerged in the late 90s. Alec Empire of the legendary German digital hardcore band Atari Teenage Riot is generally credited with the “invention” of the genre—his chaotic sound-mashing 1996 track “Tötenposse Rides Out” is said to be the first entry in the breakcore canon—while Canadian Aaron Funk, aka Venetian Snares, is noted as the biggest artist, both early on and possibly of all time (any introduction to breakcore post will have him at the top). Through his use of specific rhythms, loops, and chopping methodologies, he is frequently credited with the cementing of breakcore as a style. His music is still held up by many as the genre’s idealized form.

Breakcore is loosely defined, but the basics hinge around hyper-fast manipulated and processed drum experimentation, often based on the aforementioned Amen break. Your archetypal track is manic and cut-up, like Naked Lunch on speed. The samples can be anything: video game sonics, strange audio clips, pop culture noise ephemera; the feeling is chaos. It is often aggressive, even abrasive. Sometimes listening to a breakcore track feels like descending into coils of fraying wires that whip and sting. One Reddit user stated on r/breakcore that New Year’s celebrations are “really cool,” because “all the loud-ass noises and explosions kinda sound like breakcore.” A 2006 documentary, Notes on Breakcore, refers to it as the “bastard hate child” of various electronic genres—gabber, dub, acid, grindcore, speedcore, etc.—with some industrial, metal, and punk thrown in. A scene that was at its origin antifascist (and “anti-rave”), it is music that is not only violently energetic, but tears things apart and puts them back together. 

Though some may resent the term “new” or “modern” breakcore, averring it never lapsed, there has been some evolution. A noted 2020s breakcore resurgence exists on the edges of a more general drum ‘n’ bass revitalization—“the kids are making dnb cool again,” asserts a YouTube mix posted in February, aptly captioned “Pseudo-nostalgia.” It’s certainly part of recent Y2K nostalgia, perhaps a yearning for the kind of connection born in that time, both on and offline, something to do with a desire to return to the “old internet” on which breakcore initially proliferated. Even in its earliest iteration, breakcore thrived in virtual environments—a key aspect of Whelan’s study was artists’ use of peer-to-peer networks—and as a result, the sprawl is sprawling, and even breakcore’s offshoots have offshoots. Now, we’ve got a whole contingent of Furry breakcore (this tracks, considering the genre’s extreme digital trappings, and which some have called cringe), which is as bright and cartoony as one might expect Furry music to be. Browse YouTube and you might come across something like “breakcore mix to dissociate” or “snowy breakcore” or “breakcore to vibe to,” languid subsets that share a mood with beats to study to, and are, according to one commenter, “really good to listen to while studying math and programming.” An entire new book could be written.

There’s a breakcore for everything, it seems, even if aficionados and purists might call that bogus, because breakcore is breakcore—end of discussion. What’s cool, to my ears, anyway, is how this agitated sonic vibe has wriggled and sliced its way through and around to the point that if someone says something tagged breakcore isn’t truly breakcore, it hardly even matters. Is this, technically, a drum ‘n’ bass track? Sure, what do I know? [See: “Why are people obsessed calling their music breakcore and not drum and bass/experimental dnb?”] When it feels kinda like everyone is yelling and everything is distending, threatening to burst, it follows that music—against placidity, against stoicism—should sound like that, too.

Golden Boy - "My type of girl"

On the cover of Golden Boy’s 2001 release I NEVER MEANT FOR THIS TO HAPPEN, the late artist sits in a chaotic pile of CDs, video games, and plushies, a Sonic the Hedgehog poster on the wall. It’s a relatively accurate representation of what one will find inside: a tumult of music and pop culture, 90s rap, industrial rock, and Nintendo sounds, furiously and carefully whorled, crimped, and innervated into a beautiful beast.

My favorite is album opener “My type of girl.” The track announces itself with the beginning snippet of Ronnie Gee’s 1980 “Raptivity” (“Warning: The surgeon general of Chilltown, New York has determined that the sounds you're about to hear, can be devastating to your ear”) and proceeds into “You're the type of girl that got class and style” from LL Cool J’s “Back Seat,” which is then sped up at increasing velocities, layered with one insane beat after another, crashing ahead at full tilt into further vocal samples. At one point, an extended “tinkle tinkle tinkle tinkle—guilty!” slides along Tim Dog’s message to N.W.A.: “No matter how hard you think you are / This what the whole world thinks about you.” It culminates in a line from 90s anime Mobile Suit Gundam Wing: “Heero, I am right over here so come and kill me!” It’s a perfect introduction to what this album does—churning samples and references from all over the map into one hard as hell piece of music. Go further and find one phrase from Ministry’s “TV II” in a tangle punctuated with porno clips; shattering glass; bits of early ‘00s game Jet Set Radio Future; and on and on. It’s a modern classic of the genre. 

Golden Boy was also responsible for Portland label Norm Corps, which, along with Brooklyn’s Death By Sheep, have been carrying the new breakcore torch for the past several years.

LustSickPuppy - “Ego Bruiser”

I came to breakcore by way of Tommy Hayes, better known as LustSickPuppy, who credits their musical awakening to a breakcore show, where, they told me last year, they found their community of “outcasts and weirdos.” That awakening was not only part of the reason Hayes began making music seriously—and subsequently amassing a cohort of fervent fans—it also snuck its way into the LustSickPuppy sound. While LustSickPuppy makes music that is generally something more like industrial-digital-noisecore, that the tireless Brooklyn artist has been heavily inspired by breakcore is a prime example of where the genre has been landing. Onstage at one of their infectious shows, Hayes might play an unreleased, vocalless breakcore track they’ve been messing around with. And in the recorded repertoire, which Hayes self-produces, the influence is sneakily rampant. “Ego Bruiser,” their rager from 2021, is where you can hear it the most.

Machine Girl - Splatter

Matt Stephenson and Sean Kelly of Machine Girl can be credited with vaulting the breakcore sound to slews of new ears with 2014’s WLFGRL. On what would become an emblematic example of their maniacal sound, the duo melded a variety of high-velocity genres and caused a craving for more—one that had fans reaching at once back into the 90s and the contemporary sphere. This is the starting point for many genre newcomers, and arguably the starting point for the revitalization of both sound and scene. It’s 2020’s U-Void Synthesizer, though, and especially “Splatter,” (and other like-minded tracks such as “Status,” from The Ugly Art), that epitomizes Machine Girl’s particular melding of breakcore—and jungle, footwork, drum n’ bass—with punk.

Govlink - “En Ex Solve”

As Govlink, Philly-based artist Heather DiStefano makes some of the subtlest and most fun stuff within the contemporary breakcore contingent. The description for her 2022 record WEAPONS sums it up: “The stupidest music is always what you have the most fun making.” (WEAPONS features a chopped and screwed version of Young Money’s “BedRock” that revels in the 2009 song’s ridiculousness. And it’s called “Have Some Prozac!!!” There is also a lo-fi noise situation called “The Words ‘Hot n' Spicy McChicken’ Have Four C's, Twice As Many As The Word ‘Raccoon.’" This pleases me.) Her most recent is 2023’s Psychic Warfare, from which “En Ex Solve” stands out. It sounds so simple, but there’s so much going on: pulsing background sounds, a squeaking beat that careens into abstract pop vocals that set themselves on fire, a ball of wires that is also a collage. 

Femtanyl - “GIRL HELL 1999”

There’s a bunch of breakcore that sounds like something that would be played at a basketball game—think The Movement’s “Jump” or Kernkraft 400’s “Zombie Nation,” only sped up. That’s how Femtanyl’s “GIRL HELL 1999” is punctuated, with this amp-you-up sound that pops its head up between staticky walkie-talkie vocal transmissions. They sound so far away you can barely hear that Femtanyl’s screaming things like “I got cellophane wrapped along the lining of my throat” and “pull out all my blood vessels and lay them out like vines.” The rest of CHASER, the EP the track is taken from, bangs equally, with the staticky sound running throughout, like the record is being broadcasted live from a party inside a PC hard drive running Windows ‘99. 

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