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Downtown Beats

Sample Library By Oli Bell
Published October 2001

Downtown Beats

(POWER FX AUDIO CD) Rating: **** 4/5 Stars

It's all about the beats. However well‑constructed the track, today's urban styles, from R&B's smooth flavours to rugged hip‑hop anthems, can fall flat without a sturdy foundation of the right beats. So to help us along the path to beat Nirvana, and to partner their excellent Downtown Strings collection (reviewed SOS July 2001), Swedish company Power FX have put together a CD of hip‑hop and street‑soul loops.

After the obligatory demo, the next 55 tracks are split into loops covering a wide range of tempos, from a jiggy 120bpm to a very laid‑back 60bpm. Each track in this section features the full drum loop followed by a variation with no kick and then no snare. This allows the easy insertion of new or favourite kicks and snares into the pattern, for extra flexibility. The remainder of each track is then comprised of the drum‑loop's component sounds. Another nice touch here is the inclusion of whole hi‑hat and shaker patterns, rather than just single hits — a real time‑saver when you're customising the loops.

These tracks are then followed by another 15 containing a further 134 complete loops (no variation loops this time), once again grouped by tempo. With this amount of beats on offer, there should be something to please even the choosiest urban producer, but it's a shame that this second set of loops hasn't been given the same exhaustive 'sound breakdown' treatment as the previous set.

The CD is then rounded off by two tracks of scratching and turntable trickery, thoughtfully sorted into their relevant tempos. Although not groundbreaking enough to win a DMC final, the scratches included are well executed, clean and extremely usable. It's nice to see a real DJ being used here and not just a handful of cheesy samples. Other CD producers please take note!

As I said at the beginning of this review, though, what matters here is the beats, and overall the quality of what's on offer is top notch. All the samples are well chosen, containing the correct quota of booming kicks and crisp snares. Sound quality is excellent and not too bright and clean; the producers have included some well‑judged hip‑hop dirt and the resulting loops sound all the better for it.

Programming is good and reasonably varied, with both old‑and new‑school styles covered, and the many excellent‑sounding patterns are helped along by the occasional well‑placed hit or scratch. Although some of the loops have been processed, the effects used are, on the whole, pretty subtle. However, a few of the more 'stadium rock'‑style reverbs used on some of the snares are not to my taste.

On the downside, it would be extremely difficult to produce a collection of this kind without some tracks sounding slightly 'samey' from time to time and, as a consequence, some of the drum sounds begin to crop up a little too often. However, these are minor quibbles with what is overall an extremely professional and well thought‑out collection of rock‑solid loops that is a doddle to use. If you're an R&B or hip‑hop producer still searching for the perfect beat, you could do a lot worse than beginning your search here. Oli Bell