Styles & Forms | Hardcore | Dance

As the 1990s began, dance music was really only subdivided into house or techno. However, another genre was forming alongside the explosion of big outdoor raves – hardcore, where extreme hedonism met a kind of underclass desperation.

Hardcore has meant different things at different times. In the early 1990s, different parts of Europe had different words for hardcore dance music, such as the Belgian skizzo (schizophrenic) and the German bretter. UK hardcore was less acceptable to the media than electronic sounds such as house, because it was the preferred choice of the sweaty, drug-gobbling working class. Hardcore ravers seemed to be pushing the boundaries of sensation, and producers and DJs made a virtue out of doing the same with the music-making or -playing equipment.

Hardcore was what sounded good at big raves, on one level, but within the new sound several distinct strains developed. At varying times in the early 1990s, hardcore could mean the bleep’n’bass of Sheffield-based Warp Records acts such as LFO and Nightmares On Wax; the hip-house/ragga techno sounds on the north London Shut Up & Dance label; the pop-rave of N-Joi and K-Klass; Belgian (and German) brutalist outfits such as T99, with their Hoover noises and ‘Mentasm’ stabs; and, by 1993, the proto-jungle sound of breakbeat hardcore.

In the more segregated USA, the hip hop and house scenes were poles apart. In the UK, however, they were more or less part of the same continuum – street beats derived from America. Both the black and white youth got involved in mutating techno out of all recognition. The Detroit pioneers were horrified at Europe’s unruly bastardization of techno.

Raving In Toytown

Using the new technology – a great leveller in terms of access and affordability – British youth particularly began experimenting with sounds such as increased sub-bass frequencies. Some, like Tthe Prodigy, Shut Up & Dance and Liquid on ‘Sweet Harmony’ began looping breakbeats to add a scuttling oomph to the metronomic 4/4 house sound, and started seeking out and grabbing cheeky samples from the most unlikely sources. Police sirens, public information film snippets, classical string sweeps, and the theme tunes to half-forgotten kids’ TV programmes were all fair game.

One act, Altern8, had an image that inverted the hardcore raver’s pseudo-military get-up. Their chemical protection jump-suits and gas masks, not to mention standing-for-Parliament stunts, won them brief acclaim. But when Shut Up & Dance based ‘Raving I’m Raving’ on the old ‘Walking In Memphis’ standard, the might of the record industry came down upon them and, effectively, shut them down. Sample royalties was still a grey area, and the fresh naivety of the sampler as instrument led to a rash of ‘obvious’ sampled hits. ‘Sesame’s Treet’ by Smart Es, ‘Trip To Trumpton’, ‘Charly’ and ‘Roobarb & Custard’ all used references from children’s television. These were humorous, quite innovative tracks taken on their own, but as a simultaneous glut, hardcore was starting to seem increasingly toytown...

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


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