The description of the new four track EP on Eglo Records from Dego and Kaidi Tatham caught my eye when it came out this month. "Broken beat" is not a term that gets used too often these days, and Dego and Kaidi Tatham may not be the first names that come to mind when talking about underground pioneers, but they should be. I had a chat with Eglo Records founder Alexander Nut about how he came to release the record, and his thoughts about the broken beat scene. He's in no doubt about the influence it's had on UK music.
"It was a very niche little movement compared to drum and bass or techno, which had people all around the world, but in terms of how much it influenced people, Dego has had a massive impact on the sound of contemporary music. From hardcore into drum and bass, and into broken beat, especially as far as people using the term bass music, it was a huge catalyst in all of that stuff."
Does he think that the legacy of broken beat had been forgotten in some ways, and not given the credit other genres get when people talk about the history of UK music? "I think Reinforced and Dego, and later on Bugz in the Attic, it made an impression worldwide. It's a bit written out of history. You have theories about 'hardcore continuums' and all sorts of stuff, but some stories will always get left out." Dego, along with Mark 'Marc Mac' Clair, was one half of 4hero. 4hero is just one of the many projects that Dego has been part of throughout his career, but it's the work that has had the most influence with broken beat. Nut insists that he's always paid attention to Dego's output over the years:
"I've definitely always been a big fan. I remember hearing 4hero back in the day. I would have been about 16. I don't know if you remember the chart show that was on ITV then? I recorded them off the TV! I used to have a VHS ready at all times to record stuff, just waiting for shit to happen. I obviously didn't know it was Dego, I just knew it was 4hero. Around the same time I was into Goldie and Metalheadz, and so was around then that I put two and two together about the history of Reinforced Records."
4hero's disography seems as broad as they come. On the one hand, you'll have people who remember them for their hardcore anthems - tracks like 'Mr Kirk's Nightmare' - whilst others credit them for laying the foundations for drum and bass as we recognise it today. Their imprint Reinforced Records played a major part in setting Goldie on the path towards creating Metalheadz; allowing him to come into their studio, and releasing one his first tracks, 'Darkrider' under his Rufige Kru moniker.
If you listen to 4hero's first album, In Rough Territory, and compare it to their third Two Pages, the stylistic differences are striking: the first a seminal drum and bass album, the latter a Mercury Prize-nominated, MOBO-winning album that looking back, perhaps owes more to jazz than any other genre. Even listening to the soulful, down-tempo 'Another Day' featuring Jill Scott and the rough, bass-heavy 'Combat Dance', the breadth of 4hero's work is palpable.
Their discography sums up how open to experimentation and new ideas they were at the time, and if there's one overarching theme to the music that was going to become known as broken beat, freedom from other genre's boundaries was what set it apart. That's not to say the ideas sprung out of nowhere, though. They were all part of a lineage of musical influences that played heavily into the broken beat scene. As Alex Nut points out:
"It wasn't like he joined something that already existed. Dego was constantly reinventing things, but there was an evolution in it. If you listen to 4hero's albums in chronological order they 'make sense', but if you listen to the first and then the last, you might miss that sense of their work building into something. What I've always enjoyed in music is the lineage. Hearing the progression. From blues into jazz, disco into funk. If you appreciate those styles, you can pick those bits up within that music." Dego, IG Culture, Seiji and Bugz in the Attic's output was centered around the idea of not being confined by definitions. Domu, real name Dominic Stanton, was also an integral part of what came to be known as broken beat. In an enlightening interview witn Red Bull Music Academy, he remarks that:
"I was lucky to be around at that time when people from lots of different genres were breaking away from whatever 'their genre', was because of the close mindedness of it. You had people like IG Culture, who was in an acid jazz and hip hop thing, working with Young Disciples. You had Phil Asher, who was a UK house producer losing his way a bit. You had Marc and Dego, also losing their way a bit. They were elder statesmen. They all had had big deals and knew how the business worked, but they were starting to talk about doing something else."
The term broken beat was then perhaps a term born out of awkward, collective frustration. Despite it becoming an outlet for these artists, it was never a label that many involved in it were comfortable with. "There was no umbrella, there was no name for it", insists Domu. "Now, if you want to know what it is, it's called broken beat, but I look back at that period around 1998 and 1999 and much prefer it then. It wasn't called anything, and people were just making music. You had to go and find it."
It seems like this spirit lives on through Eglo Records: a label that's not afraid to put out a genuine variety of music that appeals to this spirit. Listening through their back catalog, I mention to Alexander Nut that it was refreshing to see music that was so broad being pushed by one, independent label. Interestingly though, he saw it differently. "I don't see our releases as being massively diverse!" he interjects. "Maybe if we put out a some Polish traditional folk music, I might think 'Fucking hell, we're going in a different direction here!', but so far I've not really felt that. It's that idea of lineage more than anything. When you've moved through those different styles and sounds, you have an appreciation for all of it. It doesn't seem like a giant leap for me, or for Eglo."
It's a refreshing point of view to hear. We've become so used to labels being very genre specific, and catering to narrow tastes, that sometimes it can be difficult to take a step back and realise the more intricate, innate connections. When it comes to how Nut sees the progression between releasing a tough Funkineven track followed by a Fatima track, recorded with a live band, he responded:
"I guess it goes back to the idea of broken beat. It's the same in that someone like Dego was making acid house at one point, and then fast forward five years and he's making a track with Roy Ayers! I just don't try and describe the music we put out. Terminologies are generational; they're always shifting. It all moves around." Nut is keen to emphasise that the latest Eglo release isn't intended as some resurgence. Dego's been very active running his own label 2000black, and Nut doesn't believe broken beat ever really went away.
"Personally I don't think there's any reason to make label it a comeback, or for the new records to be a retrospective. It's ever present. If you listen to UK funky, when the biggest records of that moment kicked off in clubs, I honestly believe that you can hear broken beat in that. Especially with producers like Fuzzy Logic. At the time I was like, 'Wow, someone's made a really new killer broken beat record!'"
He makes a solid point. Broken beat never went away. You still have nights like IG Culture's Holy Roller taking place, and Dego and Kaidi have been as prolific as ever with their productions. Seeing a record of theirs come out on Eglo isn't a comeback, but it might open up a few eyes and ears to people who haven't previously paid attention to its history. As for Eglo Records? 2014 sees bigger projects on the horizon. With albums from Kirkis, Fatima and Shafiq from Sa-Ra all planned for release this year, as well as fresh stuff from Floating Points. Looks like it's going to be a good year.
You can follow Patrick Carnegy on Twitter here: @patrickcarnegy