“A Ubiquitous Piece of the Pop Culture Soundscape”
This is how Nate Harrison describes the Amen Break drum loop in the introduction to his 2004 audio documentary (listen below).
When we came up with the concept for our “Amen Break Re-recorded” loop pack, we did a fair bit of research into this extraordinary 6 second piece of audio. We couldn’t quite believe the wealth of material out there, and the depth of study that has been carried out to try to understand what makes the Amen Break so special.
So we’re not even going to attempt to summarise it all here… but we have collated a few clips, videos and links and provided some pointers should you desire to dive down the Amen Break rabbit hole.
“Amen Brother” is an upbeat funk instrumental by the soul band The Winstons, a humble B-side on their 1969 single “Colour Him Father”.
At 1 minute 26 seconds, drummer Gregory Coleman performs a 6 second 4 bar “solo” – this is The Amen Break.
The Amen Break has been sampled and used in literally thousands of songs and recordings spanning many different genres, but perhaps is most famously credited as being the foundation of Jungle and Drum & Bass.
WhoSampled.com currently lists the Amen Break drum loop as being sampled in 6,081 commercial releases.
The tragic part of the Amen story is that neither Richard Lewis Spencer (the bandleader) nor Gregory Coleman received any royalties despite the extensive use of the sample. Gregory Coleman died homeless and destitute in 2006.
However, since the advent of sample culture, laws have been changed to protect copyright holders. There are many valid arguments as to wether this is a positive or negative change. This is discussed more fully in the links and videos below.
Sample Culture – The Amen Break in Hip-hop, Jungle, Drum & Bass
During the rise of hip-hop in the 1980’s, The Amen Break featured on the “Ultimate Breaks & Beats” compilation and became a staple for DJ’s looping drum beats on turntables for MCs to rap to. Salt-N-Pepa‘s 1986 single “I Desire” is one of the first commercial releases to use the Amen Break.
When used in early hip-hop the break tended to be used as a full 2 or 4 bar loop, but by 1988 DJ’s and producers began making the break “chopped up, layered and processed so that the drums became central to the track rather than simply a rhythmic bedding“, as exemplified on “King of the Beats” by Mantronix (listen below).
In the early 90’s with the advent of UK-based jungle and drum & bass the chopping and processing of the Amen Break became it’s very own art form.
Could the Amen Break drum loop even have Golden Proportions?!
So what could make this short drum solo so immensely popular? Could the loop be an example of the golden ratio breaking into the music scene? Michael Schneider, author of “A Beginner’s Guide To Constructing The Universe” says “yes” in his article “The Amen Break and the Golden Ratio.” Others, such as Sean Barrett, say no, in “The Amen Break does not involve the Golden Ratio” and that this is just another golden ratio myth to be debunked.
The Amen Break Re-recorded
Here at The Beat Shed we created a loop pack of 75 BRAND new versions of the Amen Break using every combination of 3 kicks, 5 snares and 5 rides. We were fascinated by the different effects we could get by mixing different drum tones to create entirely new versions of the break.
The Amen Break Re-recorded revises, revisits and reinvents the undisputed heavyweight drum loop of all time…
The Academically Comprehensive Study
We’ll hand over to Ethan Hein here – he really gets under the bonnet of the Amen Break drum loop…
An Audio History
Nate Harrison’s 2004 video is a meditation on the ownership of culture, the nature of art and creativity, and the history of the remarkable Amen Break drum loop.
Pete Canon makes extrodinary music using original vintage equipment. This is an SOS video so be warned, it gets pretty nerdy! (Which we love BTW).
To see how he uses the sampler triggered by an Atari running OctoMED is just incredible…
Just a few examples of the Amen Break drum loop…
The sheer breadth of musical style and genre in which the Amen Break has been used is vast. Here’s just a few examples…
Ethan Hein – The best, most comprehensive and academic article about the Amen Break. Check out the rest of his blog too!
BBC World Service – Article feature about the Amen Break
Wikipedia – Amen Break Wiki
WhoSampled.com – Listings and directory about Amen Break drum loop usage.
Financial Times – Yes, even the FT has something to say about the Amen Break