Styles & Forms | Happy Hardcore | Dance
In the UK, hardcore split into two camps in the early 1990s. One half would lead to jungle, but within breakbeat hardcore, a faction of DJs and ravers felt that the music was getting too gloomy. Producers and DJs such as Slipmatt, Seduction, Vibes, Brisk and Dougal effectively led an exodus of white ravers away from what they saw as a too-moody jungle scene.
The sound largely stemmed from the antics of Slipmatt, a.k.a Matt Nelson. As one half of SL2, DJ Lime being the other half, Slipmatt took Jimi Polo’s old house anthem, ‘Better Days’, and created the happy blueprint using techniques evident in the ‘On A Ragga Tip’ hardcore hit. Selling 10,000 copies on the underground scene, ‘SMD#1’ led to Slipmatt forming his own Universal label to release productions by other DJs/artists such as Hixxy, Sy and Force & Styles.
Essentially running at about 170bpm with sped-up breakbeats alongside the 4/4 stomp, happy hardcore made a virtue of the elements of hardcore that had been derided as too ‘cheesy’ – the piano chords borrowed from Italo-house, searing synth stabs, wailing divas, quick and easy samples, and absurdly catchy choruses. The juvenile, toytown vibe that had, for some, signalled the death of rave seemed to be maximized in happy hardcore. Witness the success of ‘Toy Town’ by Sharkey and Hixxy, a track that celebrated the playtime antics of children’s cartoons.
The peace-and-love vibes prevalent in happy hardcore were undoubtedly boosted by the continuing presence of ecstasy. Many clubbers at jungle raves preferred marijuana and alcohol to ecstasy, but happy hardcore was always very much an ecstasy scene. At clubs such as Kinetic in Stoke-on-Trent, or the Labyrinth in Dalston, clubbers wore white gloves, waved glo-sticks and sported comedy clubwear. For them, raving was still about fun and being happy – hence the emphasis, in case anyone had any doubt, on the genre’s prevailing mood.
Apart from Slipmatt’s show on the London radio station KISS FM, the sound was largely ignored by the mainstream, although it did find an unlikely ally in the UK’s maverick Radio 1 DJ John Peel, a long-time champion of misfit embryonic musical styles. ‘People often say to me, “Why are you playing happy hardcore? It’s crap”,’ Peel ‘That just makes me want to play more of it.’
In the mid-1990s, Sharkey and his colleague Hixxy released the ‘Bonkers’ triple-mix CD on compilation specialist label React. Amazingly, it sold a quarter of a million copies, propelling the sound into the homes of dance-music types who would otherwise not have known about the underground sound. As well as ‘Toy Town’, other happy tracks, such as ‘Rainbow In The Sky’ by Paul Elstak (on loan from happy-gabba), ‘Wonderland’ by Force & Styles, and ‘Is This Love?’ by Fade & Melody, would follow. But producers such as Billy Bunter, Ramos and Sharkey himself soon moved away from the happy sound.
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