By James Gui Art by Emma Shore April 20, 2022
If the sound of nostalgia in the early 2010s was the chopped and screwed muzak of vapor wave, its parallel in recent years might be what some call “breakcore”. Inspired by artists like machine girl and shit, a contingent of internet musicians have made a habit of speeding things up rather than slowing them down; the Amen pause and the aesthetics of cartoons and video games are their tools of choice to prepare for the year 2000 sentimentality.
However, using breaks does not breakcore. Some feel that the term has been diluted to the point of pure aesthetic; throwing breaks on atmospheric synths, slapping some Serial Experiments Lain fan art on the album cover, and boom, you’ve got a “breakcore” banger. “Bending the breakbeat, glitching it or incorporating different sounds,” says Mike Hollis, aka x.nte. “It feels like it’s been lost.” Much of the confusion revolves around breakcore’s nominal similarity to hardcore breaks, a subgenre whose musical lineage is related to but parallel to that of breakcore. Machine Girl’s 2014 album WLFGRL straddling both (with footwork and jungle), and was perhaps the start of this elision of genres; when people were calling controversial Producer Sewerslvt’s musical breakcore, the term seemed to have swallowed everything atmospheric with fast breakbeats within its reach.
According to a 2006 documentaryBreakcore’s origins date back to the mid-90s, the “bastard child of hate” of an alphabetical soup of genres including jungle, happy hardcore, ragga, grindcore, punk and IDM. Venetian collars popularized the sound in the mid-2000s, with labels like Peace off who pushed the sound in France. Emerging alongside digital hardcore with Alec Empire Atari Teenage Riotbreakcore was often explicitly anti-fascist and politics in its ethos. Compared to the colorful Y2K aesthetic and cookie-cutter drums and bass that characterize some contemporary “breakcore,” this was a completely different genre. “Internet culture has captured the genre, making it less of a statement and more of a meme,” says Hollis.
“Internet culture isn’t a huge problem on its own, but it does bring toxicity,” he continues. Miya Lowe, whose genre-hopping music like evaboy immersed in breakcore, had to take a step back from the nascent scene because of this toxicity. “I have no regrets about leaving and getting away from it,” they say. “There was so much stressful and horrific drama.” But as Andrew Whelan’s ethnographer work suggests, internet culture, with its baggage of “nervousness” and toxicity, was still bubbling over the corners of breakcore. Like the hardcore punk that preceded it, breakcore’s existence at musical extremes has sometimes led to political and personal contradictions within its scene.
Nevertheless, there are breakcore artists who use the subcultural nods of anime and video games to push the style forward at the same time. URLs and IRL evenings. Labels and collectives like Death by sheep, kitten on fire, 909 in the world, body of standards, Fixed Collective, Suck Puck Records– to name a few – have been at the forefront of this revival, often bringing together hardcore and breakcore breaks in a convergence of parallel subgenre trajectories. Here are some highlights.
I never wanted this to happen
Paris Alexander, alias golden boy, was a singular force in the breakcore revival. Artists and fans mourned his tragic passing last year; “I felt like she was the de facto leader of a new generation of ravers across the United States,” Machine Girl said on social media. Publish. His tracks connected new fans to the medley sound of breakcore’s origins, sprinkling bits of internet culture and video game references between gabber kicks and curved breaks. Founder of the Norm Corps label, she took the breakcore revival from URL to IRL with 909 Worldwide during a secret show in Portland with Lil Kevo 303, 99jakes, Deejay Chainwalletand other leading producers.
X.NTE & ELEVATION
Elevation and x.nte, both based in Atlanta, have been close collaborators and friends ever since they bonded over a noise show the latter was doing. Gluing on towers of tekkenthey collaborated in Angel 993 for Never normal recordingsan afrofuturist project that included a MUGENfootball-based fighting game and tournament.
On their latest album, they bring edgy, jazzy breakcore to Death by Sheep. “I met Sweet (A&R of Death By Sheep) recently on local show Machine Girl. We started talking about music and eventually it happened,” says Hollis. Singularity Fallout is a glimpse of the creativity erupting in the Atlanta underground, with covers from no top and contributions from NO EYESamong others.
Casper McFadden and MANAPOOL
ABYSS CHASERS: HOLLOW MEMORY
A must-have for those who spent their childhood immersed in the muted cathode-ray environments of 90s JRPGs and the pixelated worlds of mid-2000s MMOs. 909 Affiliates Worldwide Casper McFadden and MANAPOOL chew through old game soundtracks and spit them out with pauses and kicks that sometimes push 200 BPM. “Another World” recontextualizes the marine atmosphere of Chrono Cross’ “Dream Of The Shore Near Another World”, while “secret of the forest” revamps Yasunori Mitsuda’s earlier work in Chrono Trigger for a 600 AD rendition of 2300 AD. Rounding out a three-hit combo of nostalgia, “MissingYou” is a remix of the sylvan songs of maple storyEllinia Dungeons.
body of standards
ESTATE BODY 2
A breakcore revival sampler in 23 tracks. Organized by Golden Boy before his death, ESTATE BODY 2 describes the shape of breakcore to come, featuring new artists alongside veterans. With pieces like CDRis mutilated Think about breaks in “VacuumPro x Breaks”, bye2machine gun kicks and Central Asian samples in “kötü tavşan”, and NANORAYThe 4×4 rave anthem “Bikkuri!”, this compilation demonstrates the range of the breakcore-hardcore-breaks continuum in the 2020s.
Fixed Collective embodies the nostalgic side of the breakcore revival scene. Made up of VAPORCHROME, Window shopping, DJ KLAPTRAPgoodbye2, dizziness, NANORAYs0cky and purity://filter, Landline Collective deals with sounds that dive in and out of the breakcore spectrum: jungle, footwork, juke, hardcore, noise, ambient. As heard on VAPORCHROME’s “Ether”, the compilation’s opening track, they often use distortion and lo-fi styles to accentuate a sense of twisted nostalgia, like playing Mega Man Battle Network on a Game Boy Advance with its cracked screen and LCD fluid leaking around the cracks.
By partnering with Landline last year, 5ubaruu juxtaposes aggressive break slices with shimmering synth swells, creating a unique atmosphere that oscillates between happiness and unease. This tension is highlighted in the final track “nihilism and sublimity”, which interrupts an ambient progression with shattering 200 BPM gabber kicks.
Label based in Mexico CRAZY BREAKS cataloged some of the new players in the breakcore revival, having released their first compilation in the middle of 2021. This compilation sees new musical fusions, including Harmful logicthe incorporation of carioca funk beatboxing and bass line in “CC-Come On” and Sophiaaaahjkl;8901The high-octane chatter and K-pop-inspired footwork in “1 JUST W4NN4 B YR D0G!!!”