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    Propellerheads and Shirley Bassey published in Canada, May 1998

    Is big beat the next big thing? Well the answer is not really, if you understand the sentiment behind the Propellerheads' time travelling tune "History Repeating". Knowingly sung by veteran Bond theme belter Shirley Bassey, who returns to the pop charts for the first time since her collaboration on Yello's "Rhythm Divine", the tune quotes swinging '60s sass and John Barry-ish horns to make its point about the recycling of musical history that is the modus operandi of DJ culture.

    The DJ/multi-instrumentalist duo rock the dance floor while paying homage to the '60s on their long-playing manifesto Decksandrumsandrockandroll (DreamWorks/Universal). Their hit indie singles "Dive", "Take California" and "Bang On!" were released by London's Wall Of Sound label, which was developing the big beat style on compilations like the Give Em Enough Dope series. The Propellerheads' sound stars producer Alex Gifford (who was an engineer for the Grid) and the hard funky drumming of Will White (whose previous band Junkwaffle was remixed by Portishead).

    "At our first gig in 1996 we got [Monkey Mafia's] Jon Carter down, and we put on this beats night on a Saturday, which was normally a real cheesy house night, and it went off, you know," remembers White. "Carter was really shaping things at that time and he still is now. He had the same attitude as us about playing some mad shit and knowing when to drop it. At that time he had a lot to do with Wall Of Sound so he took a tape to the owner Mark Jones, and within two weeks Mark gave us an offer."


    Contemporary to the Chemical Brothers and the artist/DJs on labels like Skint and Athletico, Propellerheads built on the freestyle philosophy of the post-rave movement that grew in reaction to the increasingly commercial house scene. At these parties a variety of DJs would mix up breaks from old skool hip-hop, electro, hip-house and the newer Mo Wax sound.

    "The Chemicals were shaping things right from the beginning. They were the DJs who really weren't giving a shit, and just playing things they knew rocked. Their first release definitely shaped what we were doing, but I think as a comparison now, what everyone is doing is very different. You compare a Norman Cook track to a Chemicals, or a Propellerheads to a Chemicals, and you can really hear the difference. However to somebody who's into listening to song-based bands it probably all sounds the same shit to them."

    Surrounding the Propellerheads' loud beats are the signature sounds of big beat: noisy electronics and fun samples from documentary records. Their sound also includes an element of '60s R&B-ish jazz and funk when Alex begins to play his Hammond organ. If they do sample things, it's from their own jam sessions, which produced the live-sounding tracks "Bigger?", "Oh Yeah?" (which now sports a "frozen style" rap from De La Soul for the North American version) and the groove that became "History Repeating".

    Named after Californian slang for computer geeks, the Propellerheads are anything but - as you will see when they appear live in Canada in August.

    "It's a lot of running around on stage and plate spinning going on, really. It's a cross between a DJ set and a live set, what we're doing on stage. We've got two sets of decks, I've a got a drum kit and Alex has got his Hammond and a bass guitar. The thing is for us, we really enjoy sitting in studios and working but when it comes to taking it out on the road it's not really visually exciting to watch people behind banks of mixing desks and samplers, and we won't feel happy doing it like that anyway, so we try and fuse the two together as much as possible."