Midfield General

On the Floor at the Boutique, Vol. 3

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It takes a lot of courage to stick to your guns after the world says you're wrong. Here, with the third installment of Skint Records' On the Floor at the Boutique series, Midfield General (aka Damian Harris) hunkers down, goes to the decks, and metaphorically plants a plaque on the stage that says, "Big Beat is dead. Long live Big Beat." Because instead of relying on the overused and mind-numbingly predictable set of big beat "rules" (i.e., famous breakbeat + amusing sample = success), this latest installment goes from hip-hop to jungle to French house to old-school soul so effortlessly that one instantly feels ashamed for ever counting out such a delightfully unpretentious subgenre. In a way, Harris has created a turning point in big beat. The first and most surprising aspect of this effort? It actually takes its time. Starting with a handful of relative underground hip-hop shouts, the beats are slow and the pace is patient. It's only until Mulder's "Don't Give a Damn" and Prisoners of Technology's "Breakdance" -- where Harris seamlessly flows into outright groovy drum'n'bass -- that the album's exceptional character truly blooms. Harris subsequently bounces from Wax Assassin's '80s electro beats to LFO's delightful club salvo of "Tied Up" to Kevin Saunderson's Detroit techno moves to even Harris' own, wonderful Midfield track -- all without batting an eye. There are no regulated bpms here. No adherence to repetitive tricks. No regurgitated formulas. The mix is even bookended by Gwen McCrae and Natalie Cole. All this coming from a big beat personality? This shouldn't be too surprising for anybody who really understood the scene. Yes, like most dance subgenres, big beat had its own rise and fall from mainstream grace. However, knowing that acid house, ambient, jungle, or even disco can have a resurgence of importance in the world of dance music, it is oddly difficult to dismiss a style like big beat just because the world often demands it. More significantly, one realizes that Midfield's On the Floor... effort is what the big beat scene was truly about in the first place: a belief to stop thinking long enough to scatter usual classifications into the four winds. Well, just as long as it all still makes you dance.

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