As the Drum and Bass scene birthed in the USA during the mid 90’s, so did one of its most valuable assets. In a small shop located in the East Village of Manhattan, Breakbeat Science opened its doors in 1996 becoming the country’s first, and only, dedicated DNB record store. One year later the shop launched BreakbeatScience.com which offered home delivery of records direct from their shop. This movement would change the game of DNB in the United States and kick off a frenzy in cities all across North America.
We spoke with DB, co-owner and one of the founders of Breakbeat Science, about the store and the nationwide revolution it helped to fuel.
In 1996 you along with Dara, Paul Morris and Sean Shuter kicked off one of the prolific movements in US DNB with Breakbeat Science. What was the vision you all shared in opening up the label and record store?
Not a vision really, as much as the simple desire to be the first shop to specialize in DNB. I was a partner in Temple Records, with German dudes, Air Liqude. Dara worked in the Temple shop also. Both of us were exponentially losing interest in Techno, House and all other forms of electronic music at the time. Dara and I just kept fantasizing about the idea of an all DNB record shop, and wondering if it would work. We were selling more and more Jungle at Temple every week, till we just went for it. Sean was originally hired as our manager and we made him a partner after a few months. Paul was a silent partner, but actually started his booking agency AM Only in the back room of the little shop on 9th St. I’m still best friends with Dara and Paul and work with Paul every day at the agency.
The iconic store at 9th Street, and then later on at Orchard Street, became home to junglists all over the eastern seaboard and became a place UK artists had to stop at while in the states. Did you ever imagine things would pick up as massively as they did?
We actually were at the 9th St location longer than we were at the bigger and better Orchard St shop. Most of the time we were at Orchard was post 911 and were were just trying to stay afloat, with the huge increase in rent for the huge shop. Just proves perception is everything. Yes, we were doing great but after the economy crashed, our overheads were too high once we’d moved. As far as predicting how big things had got, I guess when you’re really “init” you don’t see whats happening.
Many may or may not know but BBS had a sister label called Orgone which showcased American DNB. Can you tell us more about this sister label and how it became about?
Dara and Sean were A&R for the labels, but my memory is that it was more for harder, or more experimental, or one-off projects. I might be completely wrong. My role was very much on the visual side of things. I came up with the design concept for the shop, basing it on an art gallery, with mock art works by Damian Hirst, Dan Flavin and Jenny Holzer. I’m also very proud of the work we did with artists for our t-shirt line, selling them all over the world!.
Before BBS, US DNB dj’s had to order their records from the UK or know someone who knew someone who could get them the records they wanted. The store, which also offered online sales, changed the game for american dj’s by opening up the selection. Do you think DNB would be as big as it is now in America if not for Breakbeat Science?
We definitely made it much easier. All the dance shops of the time had little sections of DNB/Jungle. We just had incredible amounts of back-stock, and also we’d stay on the phone for hours playing new releases to people all over the states. Visiting guys from London couldn’t believe how deep our back-stock was. No shops in the UK had anything like it! Hard to say if it would have gotten as big without BBS. We definitely felt like we were ground zero for the movement here and the community that it spawned.
In 2004 the store closed down and the remaining stock moved to a store in Dumbo, which I understand has closed. What lead the demise of the BBS store?
We simply couldn’t survive the high rent with the crashed economy, so we turned BBS into BBlessing, a men’s lifestyle boutique, selling the records in a secret room in the back. The hipsters thought the room was dead cool but never bought any DNB and the Junglists hated BBlessing. Eventually we were forced to move the BBS records to Halcyon Records in Dumbo. Halcyon is not gone but I’m not sure how much DNB they stock.
Do you have any most memorable moments at the store that you can share?
Yes. Roni Size and the Bristol crew just hanging out; Rob Playford also. I always got a thrill from UK guy’s visiting us and being blown away by how great a shop it was.
Have you thought about reopening the shop or label?
Yes, every few months Dara and I have another conversation about kick starting the label again but not really about a brick and mortar shop.
Do you have any final thoughts that you’d like to share?
Its easy to see in retrospect how great something was and also where you maybe made mistakes. I believe the single biggest mistake we made was not investing in BreakbeatScience.com becoming a digital distributor and shop for music. We could have been the Beatport for DNB. Was still a great ride and I’m incredibly proud of what we achieved.
Mike is the Editor-In-Chief and co-founder of the DNB Vault who, notably, was a long time writer for the now defunct KMAG while covering music and events from Warp Tour, NOFX, Dirtyphonics and Benny Page.