Mark Coleman

Mark Coleman is the author of Playback: From the Victrola to MP3, 100 Years of Music Machines and Money (Da Capo). A former senior editor at Rolling Stone, he moved to New York City in 1981 and began writing for New York Rocker and The Village Voice not long after. He still lives in New York, thirty years later.



"These Are The Breaks: How a few dozen obscure records transformed the world of pop music"

As the legend goes, the children of The Bronx in the 1970s couldn’t afford extravagances like pianos, guitars and drum sets; so they turned their turntables and records themselves into musical instruments. The objective for the new musician – The DJ – was to find the “breakdown” or “break,” the brief moment in many works of music where the instrumentation strips down to just the beat, in service of the party people in the rec rooms, parks and playgrounds, some who came to dance, some who came to rhyme. It became a contest of sorts – the quest to find these often painfully short nuggets of music. Most were obscure – here-then-forgotten r&b singles, album filler, deep cuts from movie soundtracks, experimental music, foreign records. They were songs like “Apache” by the Incredible Bongo Band, “Hihake” by the Lafayette Afro-Rock Band, and “Synthetic Substitution” by Melvin Bliss.

In the mid- to late-1980s, these breaks actually started showing up in rap tracks, first “scratched” in from turntables and then “looped” through digital samplers and sequencers.Within a few years, this small “canon” of break records not only powered the increasingly popular genre of hip-hop, they began showing up in the music of the biggest, mainstream pop stars of the day: Madonna, U2, REM, Janet Jackson, Mariah Carey, Limp Bizkit, Moby, and more.What this meant, essentially, is that a select group of sounds familiar only to a small group of folks within a few square miles in The Bronx of the mid-1970s became the rhythmic foundation of global pop music for the next two decades. How and why did this convergence of urban geography and music history happen? What were the consequences and odd fallout from the “breaks” breaking worldwide – beats that are still on the charts and on TV commercials at this moment, even if the records that spawned them never saw that kind of success.

My Speakers Sessions

Friday, March 23

11:15am EDT