Styles & Forms | Gabba | Dance

Growing out of Belgian ‘Hoover’ tracks (seemingly featuring the sounds of insanely trumpeting harmonic vacuum cleaners) by the likes of T99, and old hardcore tunes such as Beltram’s ‘Energy Flash’, a Dutch strain of rave added an absurdly fast Roland 909 drum machine to the music.

This shuddering, rapid kick-drum sound took off in Rotterdam, which was attempting to distinguish itself from the tasteful house music scene in Amsterdam, and echo football and other rivalries.

Gabba literally meant ‘hooligan’ or ‘ruffneck’, but youth in Rotterdam reclaimed the derogatory word as a distinguishing badge of pride. Appropriately enough, Euromasters (a.k.a Paul Elstak) ‘Where The Fuck Is Amsterdam?’ was the first gabba anthem to hit big. Another early gabba Euro-wide hit was ‘Poing’, by Rotterdam Termination Source. Sounding like a demented ping-pong ball let loose in a wind tunnel, ‘Poing’ was an early example of pushing music-making equipment to the extreme. Moby also experimented in his song ‘Thousand’ by pushing the tempo up to 1,000bpm, although most gabba tracks found their feet at about 200bpm.

Gabba is more than just the living embodiment of the generation gap. Not only would your parents detest its pneumatic drill syncopation, your brothers and sisters probably would, too. As would many of your friends. With samples from heavy metal guitars, apocalyptic preachers or other doom core sounds, the gabba scene echoes the death metal strain of rock with the knobs turned up to destroy.

Gabba’s nihilism and blood-and-guts imagery is evident from the names of some of the record labels feeding the scene. Bloody Fist, War, Killout and Napalm all sprang up as the 1990s progressed. One gabba act, Ultraviolence, trailed their Psycho Drama LP with the promise of ‘10,000 Nagasakis in your head’. This sound is not for the faint-hearted or squeamish.

Gabba Gabba Hey Hey

Gabba began to get a bad reputation as the 1990s progressed. Its pseudo-skinhead regalia, combined with tracks such as Sperminator’s ‘No Women Allowed’, seemed to echo bellicose Nazi machismo. Most Dutch gabba labels were aware of this possible perception, however, and took care to wear their antiracist credentials on their (record) sleeves.

One DJ/producer, Paul Elstak, deserted the dark, noise core faithful to record chart hits in a happy-gabba style. His ‘Life Is Like A Dance’ track cracked the Dutch Top 10, and the follow-up, ‘Luv U More’, reached No. 2. Other happy-gabba tracks, such as Technohead’s ‘I Want To Be A Hippy’, dented the pop charts. These were largely dismissedby the Nasenbluten-loving hardcore faithful, who would claim that ‘Happy is for homos’ – preferring, perhaps, the nosebleed thrash-gabba of DJ Smurf.

‘The apocalyptic, sci-fi and horror movie imagery in gabba is ... very similar to the way heavy metal uses the imagery of death, destruction and anti-religion.’
Michael Wells, Technohead

Leading Exponents

Rotterdam Termination Source
Paul Elstak
DJ Smurf
Agent Orange

Gabba Style

An extremely fast version of hardcore/techno, with a frantic drum line and...

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Source: The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Music, general editor Paul Du Noyer


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