By James Gui Illustration by Emma Shore April 20, 2022
If the sound of nostalgia in the early 2010s was the chopped and screwed muzak of vaporwave, its parallel in recent years might be what some are calling “breakcore.” Inspired by artists like Machine Girl and goreshit, a contingent of internet musicians have tended to speed things up rather than slow them down; the Amen break and anime and video game aesthetics are their favorite tools for whipping up Y2K sentimentality.
However, using breaks does not create breakcore. Some feel that the term has been watered down to the point of pure aesthetics; throw breaks over atmospheric synths, hit some Serial experiments Lain fan art on the album cover, and boom, you’ve got a “breakcore” stunner. “Bending the breakbeat, glitching, or recording different sounds,” says Mike Hollis, aka x.nte. “It feels like this has been lost.” Much of the confusion revolves around breakcore’s nominal resemblance to hardcore breaks, a subgenre whose musical lineage is related to but parallel to that of breakcore. Machine Girl’s 2014 album WLFGRL straddled the two (along with footwork and jungle), and may have been the start of this genre breakdown; by the time people called controversial producer Sewerslvt’s music breakcore, the term seemed to have included everything atmospheric with fast breakbeats in its scope.
According to a 2006 documentary, breakcore’s origins date back to the mid-’90s, the “bastard-hate child” of an alphabet soup of genres including jungle, happy hardcore, ragga, grindcore, punk, and IDM. Venetian Snares popularized the sound in the mid-2000s, along with labels like Peace Off pushing the sound in France. Breakcore emerged alongside digital hardcore with Alec Empire’s Atari Teenage Riot, and was often explicitly anti-fascist and political in its ethos. Compared to the colorful Y2K aesthetic and cookie-cutter drum & bass that characterize some contemporary “breakcore”, this was a very different genre. “Internet culture has taken the genre by storm, making it less of a statement and more of a meme,” says Hollis.
“The internet culture stuff isn’t a big problem per se, but it does cause toxicity,” he continues. Miya Lowe, whose genre-hopping music plunged into breakcore as evaboy, was forced to step back from the burgeoning scene as a result of that toxicity. “I don’t regret leaving and stepping away from it,” they say. “There was so much stress and terrible drama.” But as Andrew Whelan’s ethnographic work suggests, Internet culture, along with its baggage of “edge” and toxicity, has always been bubbling at the corners of breakcore. Like the hardcore punk that preceded it, breakcore’s existence in musical extremes has at times led to political and personal contradictions within the scene.
Nevertheless, there are breakcore performers who use the subcultural characters of anime and video games to bring out the style at both URL and IRL parties. Labels and collectives such as Death by Sheep, Kitty on Fire, 909 Worldwide, Norm Corps, Landline Collective, Suck Puck Records – just to name a few – have been at the forefront of this revival, often releasing hardcore breaks and bringing breakcore together in an amalgamation of the parallel trajectories of the subgenres. Here are some highlights.
I never meant for this to happen
Paris Alexander, aka Golden Boy, was a unique force in the breakcore revival. Artists and fans mourned her tragic passing last year; “I felt like she was the de facto leader of a new generation of ravers in the US,” Machine Girl said in a social media post. Her tracks introduced newer fans to the potpourri sound of breakcore’s origins, sprinkled with bits of internet culture and video game references between gabber kicks and bent breaks. Founder of the Norm Corps label, she brought URL’s breakcore revival to IRL with 909 Worldwide on a secret show in Portland with Lil Kevo 303, 99jakes, Deejay Chainwallet and other prominent producers.
X.NTE & ELEVATION
Elevation and x.nte, both based in Atlanta, have been close collaborations and friends since the two got together on a sound show the latter did. Bonding over rounds of Tekkenthey collaborated on Angel 993 for Never Normal Records, an Afrofuturistic project featuring a MUGEN-based fighting game and tournament.
On their latest record they bring a skittish, jazzy brand of breakcore to Death by Sheep. “I recently met Sweet (A&R from Death By Sheep) at the local Machine Girl show. We started talking about music and eventually this happened,” says Hollis. Singularity Fallout is a glimpse into the creativity that erupts in the Atlanta underground, with album covers from nohighs and contributions from the likes of NO EYES.
Casper McFadden and MANAPOOL
ABYSS CHASERS: HOLLOW MEMORY
A must-listen for those who spent their childhoods immersed in the muted cathode ray environments of ’90s JRPGs and pixelated worlds of mid-aughts MMOs. 909 Global affiliates Casper McFadden and MANAPOOL chew up old game soundtracks and spit them out with them with pauses and kicks that occasionally push 200 BPM. “Another World” recontextualizes the seascape vibe of Chrono Cross’s “Dream Of The Shore Near Another World” while “secret of the forest” reimagined Yasunori Mitsuda’s earlier work in Chrono Trigger for a 2300 AD rendition of 600 AD -sounds. “MissingYou” is a remix of the Sylvan songs in a three-hit combination of nostalgia. MapleStory‘s Ellinia dungeons.
BREAK CORPS 2
A sampler of the breakcore revival in 23 tracks. Compiled by Golden Boy before she died, BREAK CORPS 2 outlines the shape of breakcore to come, featuring newer artists alongside veterans. Featuring tracks like CDR’s mangled Think-breaks in “VacuumPro x Breaks”, bye2’s machine gun kicks and Central Asian samples in “kötü tavşan”, and NANORAY’s 4×4 rave anthem “Bikkuri!”, this compilation demonstrates the reach of the breakcore- to -hardcore-breaks continuum in the 2020s.
Landline Collective embodies the nostalgic side of the breakcore revival scene. Consisting of VAPORCHROME, Windowshopping, DJ KAPTRAP, bye2, vertigoaway, NANORAY, s0cky and purity://filter, Landline Collective deals in sounds diving in and out of the breakcore spectrum: jungle, footwork, juke, hardcore, noise, ambient. As can be heard on VAPORCHROME’s “Ether”, the compilation’s opening track, they often use distortion and lo-fi styles to emphasize a sense of twisted nostalgia, such as playing Mega Man Battle Network on a Game Boy Advance whose screen is cracked and LCD fluid is leaking around the cracks.
Last year, 5ubaruu joined forces with Landline, combining aggressive break-slicing with twinkling synth swells, creating a unique atmosphere that oscillates between bliss and unease. This tension is evident in the final track “nihilism and sublimity”, which interrupts an ambient progression with crushing gabber kicks at 200 BPM.
Mexico-based label MAD BREAKS has cataloged some of the newer players in the breakcore revival, having released their first compilation in mid-2021. This compilation sees some new musical fusions, including Harmful Logic’s integration of funk carioca beatboxing and bassline in “CC-Come On” and Sophiaaaahjkl;8901’s high-octane gabber and footwork-inflected mangling of K-pop in “1 JUST W4NN4 B YR D0G!!!”