Before hearing ‘Block Rockin’ Beats’, electronica and dance music and I weren’t too close. Most of the stuff I’d heard up until then was thin, lifeless backbeats deviod of any real sonic depth. It was meant to be functional, not listened to. It’s hard for me to say a lot of the time why I love or hate a certain piece of music or even entire genres, but nine times out of ten, if the music is designed to do something without having a life of its own outside of that thing, it sucks. Music is its own thing. It doesn’t need to be for something other than itself.
But, when I heard ‘Block Rockin’ Beats’ I was forced to reassess my preconceptions about what electronica and dance music actually is, and how to judge it as music in relation to my rockist point of view.
The piece is a collection of samples, yet the juice from the performance (Schooly D’s “Gucci Again”, among others) once removed is retained. That central riff is a bass guitar played high up the neck, and the beats are borrowed from real drums. The Chems left something of the warmth of a real performance in. And where the raver kid doesn’t notice perhaps, the rockist like me does. I think this is a part of what made them such a prominent force in dance music from the mid-90s onward. They understand subtlety, and attention to detail.
And this may explain why someone like Noel Gallagher – a bigger rockist you’ll never find – worked with them on their subsequent single ‘Let Forever Be’. They knew that sampling is as much a part of rock history as the blues is, and Noel Gallagher knew this from being a Beatles fan, the band that made the song to which the Chemical Brothers owe a debt – “Tomorrow Never Knows” – created it using tape loops.
‘Block Rockin’ Beats’ opened things up for me, and where I’m still a boring old rockist for the most part, this track and many like it from outfits like Underworld, Orbital, Royksopp, and others still have the ability to give my ear something to chew on while I’m shaking my butt embarrassingly around the room.
For more about the Chemical Brothers, check out the Chemical Brothers Website.