There was a time when the world of electronic music was an all-inclusive affair that attracted boogie-down crowds in search of little more than a beat, a bass line, and a good time. Then subgenres and sub-subgenres appeared and the big, all-together-now parties and mishmash club nights went cold. Darkstep, glitch, 2-step, hard NRG: the depths electronica has sunk to are both astounding and annoying. It’s little wonder, then, that a DJ-producer from the cultural melting pot of London, who was raised on equal parts reggae, rap, rave, and rock, doesn’t have time for exclusionary labels when it comes to music.
“I think subgenres are silly, really, and I think they ruin what dance music is because you are put off by it all,” says James Boyle, aka Breakage, on the phone from his home in southwest London. “I wanted to get into house for a long time, but I couldn’t understand—and still can’t understand—what kind of house I like because there are so many different bloody kinds. I’ve come to realize that I like a bit of everything. I like progressive house. I like deep house. I like French house. I like this house, but I just don’t like that kind of house, whatever it’s called.”
While his latest album, Foundation, is technically dubstep, there’s more to Boyle’s sophomore full-length release than his trademark bottom-feeder bass lines and complex high-hat arrangements. With its genre-defying flashes of dance, reggae, hip-hop, and rock, Foundation brings together all the styles of music that have influenced the 27-year-old since his early days back at performing-arts school in London, a school he was sent to because he was good at playing guitar and was a bit of a juvenile delinquent. It’s also where he laid down his first electronic track.
“One day at school,” Boyle recalls, “a friend made a jungle tune and I was like, ”˜How did you do that?’ It was very random: it had a bass line, and he showed me how to do it and that was it. I was hooked after that. Then one of the sound engineers at the school introduced me to a sampler, and within a week I had learned how to use it. Over the course of a few months, I had totally forgotten about the guitar.”
Shortly afterward, Boyle was picked up by a record label, and by the age of 17 had cemented his place in the jungle and drum-’n’-bass communities with his guttural remix of Nasty Habits’ “Here Come the Drums”. His early days spent memorizing Slayer, Metallica, and Sepultura riffs, however, have not been forgotten. They’re still so much a part of what he does today that Boyle decided to make his musical history permanent with a large tattoo of Led Zeppelin’s four symbols on his inside forearm.
“It took years to pluck up the guts, you know, because I kept thinking, ”˜Do I really want to get a rock band for my first tattoo? Should it be that big and visible?’ And then I just thought, ”˜Yeah, I should.’ People ask me all the time what it is and when I tell them it’s Led Zeppelin they are always like, ”˜Whoa, you like Led Zeppelin?’ Little do they know I have the first four albums on vinyl.”
Breakage plays a DJ set at the Biltmore Cabaret on Friday (May 21).