In my book, there are few things quite as satisfying as a good breaks mix. So much dance music these days is dedicated to the proposition that the funk should be kept to an absolute minimum, almost as if they were afraid that a surplus of funk would infect them with a strange disease. Well, the disease is here and it’s groovy—Meat Katie always brings the funk, and the latest installment in the Fabriclive series proves no exception to this rule.
Meat Katie’s been around for a while, and in that time his characteristically action-packed style has become synonymous with the very best in modern nu-skool breaks. Meat is actually Mark Pember, a former punk rocker turned electronic producer who has recorded under the Meat Katie moniker since 1996. The list of his collaborators reads like a who’s who of modern breaks—Rennie Pilgrem, Arthur Baker, BLIM, Dylan Rhymes, Elite Force, Lee Coombs and more. Many of these names—plus some others like Koma & Bones and Atomic Hooligan—make appearances on Fabriclive 21, making the mix one of the best and most comprehensive breakbeat compilations in years.
By nature, breaks is an elastic category. Although the basic elements of the genre are similar to house—the 4/4 or 4/8 rhythm, the same general tempo—breaks owes more, structurally, to drum & bass. Whereas in house, the bass drum recurs regularly on every beat—or sometimes every other beat—of the measure, the bass drum in breaks recurs in an irregular fashion, usually on the first, third and fourth beats or the first, second and fourth beats in a measure of four. It gets more complicated than that—lots more complicated, especially if you have to count out the beats for mixing—but that’s the basic gist. The difference makes breaks, as a rule, more kinetic, and more prone to bust out with the funk.
The mix gets off to a strong start with Lee Coombs & David Phillips “Banned Practice”, with a mood slightly reminiscent of hard ‘80s electro like Yello. The Lee Coombs remix of Virtualmismo’s “Mismoplastico” resurrects an early ‘90s acid synth riff along with some warped jazz samples to create a slight time warp. Abe Duque swings by to represent the forces of funky house with his remix of Tim Wright’s “Oxygen”. It’s a canny bit of pseudo acid that manages to evoke a slightly psychedelic vibe without succumbing to a full-on freak out. It gives way to Meat Katie’s own “Nu-Tron” (produced with Elite Force), which offers a good example of Pember’s aggressive, unrestrained musical style.
My favorite trick on the disc has to be the combination of Infusion’s “Better World” with the a capella of UNKLE’s “Reign”, sung by Ian Brown. It’s an effectively spooky, slightly ominous vocal that fits well with Infusion’s imposing techno-influenced breakbeats. From the ominous to the funky we pass onto Jem Stone & JC’s “Disco Daze”, surprisingly the only track on the disc from genre stalwart Finger Lickin’ records. (If this disc had been compiled three or four years ago, half of the tracks or more would probably have been Finger Lickin’.)
The mix continues on a fairly hard track, peaking with the transition from Meat Katie’s remix of Dylan Rhymes’ “Salty”, a barnstormer built on what sounds like a ‘50s or ‘60s R&B sample, into the punishing hard techno of Koma & Bones’ “Get Down”. The latter is especially effective, with slowly morphing synthesizer refrains that run through the entire track to almost trance-like effect. Vandal’s “Mad As Hell” gets extra bonus points for sampling the infamous “I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take it anymore” speech from Network. They come close to losing those points, however, on the basis of the fact that the bassline is nearly a carbon copy of Underworld’s distinctive “Dirty Epic”. Atomic Hooligan end the mix with the Introspective mix of “Shine A Light”, which summons an appropriately celebratory mood before disappearing in a haze of swooshing synthesizers and echoey percussion.
As a DJ, Meat Katie has impeccable taste. I can’t help but liking even the more predictable tracks on Fabriclive 21, simply because the whole mix has been constructed with such a clear eye towards sheer propulsive fun. Breaks haven’t gotten a lot of attention lately, which is a shame because the best producers in the genre right now are some of the best producers in all of dance music. A compilation like this is a perfect excuse for any listener to get acquainted with the hardcore funk of today’s breaks scene.