The Amen Break

The Amen Break:
1 Drumroll in 2.500 tracks

Panel discussion, musical intervention & sound art installation
at the thematic weekend 100 Years of Beat


Nate Harrison (artist & writer, New York)
Christine Lang (DJ & researcher, Berlin & Stuttgart)
Jens Gerrit Papenburg (musicologist, Berlin)
André Luth (music critic & journalist, Hamburg)

Holger Schulze (sound studies scholar, Copenhagen; moderator)

Sound art installation:
Anke Eckardt (sound artist, Cologne)

Musical intervention:
DJ DSL (DJ & producer, Hamburg)


Haus der Kulturen der Welt
John-Foster-Dulles-Allee 10
D-10557 Berlin




The piece Amen, Brother by the soul band The Winstons from 1969 has been sampled, accelerated, slowed down, split and reassembled since the early 1980s – or more precisely: a 6-second drum roll from this piece that covers 4 bars. Everyone has listened to this sample countless times, danced, marvelled and rejoiced, and more than 2,500 documented tracks use this drumroll or parts of it. Genres such as hiphop, drum’ n’ bass, jungle and breakbeat in general would not exist or would at least sound completely different without this one sample resource. Gregory Coleman, who played this break in 1969, died in poverty in 2005; a crowdfunding action supported at least the remaining Winston musicians in 2015.

In our discussion on the Amen Break we like to explore the complex history of this drum roll and its richly evolved use, the editing and transformation techniques, the significance of analog and digital sound processing, and the nuances of the genres based on it, their dance styles and the respective stylistic sound worlds: How did the soul of the Winstons and of Gregory Coleman affect and shape Jungle and Drum’ n’ Bass? How do new genres emerge out of such microscopic sound particles? How are sound, listening and dance cultures choreographed through the technical operations applied to samples?

The contributions to our discussion range from historical case studies, from music technology and cultural history on the one hand to new musical performances, that stage this drum break anew – almost 50 years since its first release and 30 years since its first wave of appropriations.


THE AMEN BREAK (on Spotify)


David Goldenberg, It Only Takes Six Seconds To Hear The World’s Most Sampled Song, in: Fivethirtyeight, 22. September 2016

Nate Harrison, Reflections on the Amen Break: A Continued History, an Unsettled Ethics, in: Eduardo Navas, Owen Gallagher, & xtine burrough (eds.), The Routledge Companion to Remix Studies, Routledge: London 2015, 444-452

Nate Harrison, The Amen Break (Video, 2004)

Andrew M. Whelan, The “Amen” Breakbeat as Fratriarchal Totem. In B. Neumeier (Eds.), Dichotonies. Gender and Music (pp. 111-133). Heidelberg: Universitatsverlag Winter.