I’ve been categorising my breakbeats folder by tempo for an upcoming project (more on this another time). The process involves selecting certain breaks, importing them to Logic, cropping them to exactly one, two, four or eights bars and detecting the tempo.

Below is the results. I’ve re-rendered these with their tempo rounded to a whole integer. While I wouldn’t normally bother with this in my own production, for speed and simplicity of categorisation this is far easier.

*OOPS! The Funky Drummer is actually at 101 bpm. My error.

All the usual candidates are here, Worm, Think, Mardi Gras, Amen, Big Beat as well as some slightly lesser known ones. Hopefully, before any of the trainspotters point out some blatantly famous break I’ve omitted it was either a) intentional as I didn’t need it for this project or b) a genuine accident because I put this list together in a hurry.

(On a second read through I’ve definitely missed some classics by Funkadelic, Sly and Family… and some others. Peep WhoSampled’s 20 Most Sampled Breaks of all time for the big hitters).

Like most people of a certain age, I’ve amassed a tonne of breaks from classic soul, funk, disco, jazz, latin and rock records. Most people just download a huge .zip file rather than sampling them themselves, which is, of course, fine, but there’s something quite nice about spotting an isolated portion of drums and sampling them yourselves.

Most of the above breaks are the most used ones in classic jungle (left), rave/oldskool (middle), hip hop and miscellaneous (right) from the late 80s and early 90s. These are the breaks that spawned most of what other breakbeat orientated genres that came after used. We haven’t hugely contributed to it since then!

You can see there’s a heavy bunching of tempi too – There’s a lot of breaks around the 114 bpm mark (~16) and there’s a lot around 94 bpm too (~14). If I think back to my early piano lessons, these would be described as Allegretto and Andante, but looking these terms up on Wikipedia it showed they have quite a broad classification, so beats per minute are far better.

For some context, here’s a selection of the 114 bpm tempo tracks:

N.B Fools Gold actually samples Hot Pants, so it’s no surprise the tempo is similar. It’s a rare example in this list of a second generation break, where the resampled version is almost as popular as the original.

Before the days of Ableton Live and other DAWs that have made time stretching blissful – getting samples and breaks to work at different tempos meant transposing them. 114 happens to be almost exactly 1 semitone lower than 120, 2 lower than 128, 3 lower than 135 and so on. To get to the DnB/jungle territories of 160+ bpm we’d have to transpose at least 6 semitones. This is one reason those genres have idiosyncratic pitched up break sounds. Of course, Propellerhead ReCycle partly did away with this using transient detection slicing, but the sound of a good break pitched up is unparalleled.

And here are some of the tracks in-and-around 94 bpm:

N.B Keep on Movin’ is also a resample, as it samples The Jam, of all people. Also, Synthetic Substitution appears not to be on Spotify but someone’s made a comprehensive playlist of tracks that sample it.

I can’t see any obvious relationship between these two. My guess would be that 94 is a slightly slow walking tempo but I’m yet to test this hypothesis. 114 is roughly 1.2 times the speed of 94, or one fifth the speed again. I wonder if slower and faster songs in this genre(s) bunch up at other tempos? There’s some evidence for 120 and 130 bpm too.

Most of these records almost certainly relied on a drummer or do conductor’s internal pulse rather than a metronome or other synchronisation device, so while they might deviate, it’s still noteworthy that so many fall into such small parts of the tempo scale. So it’s without-doubt that these are natural tempos, especially when dealing in the funk idiom.

So by my entirely non-scientific logic, 114 bpm is the funkiest tempo. Goodnight.

I may add more razor-sharp analysis to this at a later stage once I’ve done some more editing.