A slew of significant albums all came out in 1997 – Sam Walton is revisiting each one on its 20th anniversary
Big beat had a bad name. Literally, its nomenclature is flawed: emphasising the size of the genre’s rhythm missed its most defining characteristic entirely, which was its attempt to carve rock songs out of dance music ingredients. Instead of accentuating repeated grooves and synthetic texture like house or techno, big beat’s tracks emphasised beginnings, middles and ends – even pseudo-choruses – which inevitably caught the attention of those raised on rock and pop (and those instinctively suspicious of electronic music’s facelessness), and began to lead them to the rave.
And because of this impurity, acting as [a] halfway house, big beat also had a bad name: in 1997, Mixmag disparagingly referred to it in a review of ‘Dig Your Own Hole’ as “pub techno” implying an ersatz dance music sullied by lager-lager-lager that lacked the intensity, dynamism and virtue of its club-based cousins. Nearly two decades on from its heyday, too, big beat is still something of a punchline, remembered as a vehicle for zany, disposable and slightly irritating novelty hits full of samples from kid’s TV and drum machines that went boing.
On one level, it’s easy to understand how ‘Dig Your Own Hole’ earned the Chemical Brothers their tag as big beat trail blazers – after all, two of its four singles topped the UK charts, a feat at the time reserved only for the likes of Blur, Oasis and manufactured pop acts. Large parts of the album, too, reject the heads-down introspection of techno in favour of rock and psychedelia operatics, and, of course, one’s appeal to the mid-90s guitar masses is much improved by getting a Gallagher brother on board.