In depth Happy hardcore article

from ID Mag – Originally written in 1995, just re-released.

 

Well worth a read – original post here . Also worth clcikign that link to see teh worst ever attempt at a happy hardcore playlist or Spotify. Obviously the 2016 intern that made it didn’t actually read the article.

 

Saturday Night at Club Labrynth in Dalston, London E8, and there’s an eerie sense of time travel in the air. There’s the music, for a start – old skool ‘ardkore, all frenetically staccato synth-stabs and octave-skipping piano oscillator-riffs that flicker like the aural equivalent of a strobe, topped with soul-diva histrionics and even the occasional, sped-up ‘Mickey Mouse’ vocal (one tune sample-accelerates “life is a mystery” from Madonna’s Like A Prayer).

Dancing, they make the kind of geometric hand-moves you haven’t seen in London clubs for years, and during the rinky-dinky fairy-tale keyboard interludes they outstretch their hands to the heavens. A few kids even sport white gloves! And there’s the MC exhorting the crowd in an east London accent with not a trace of junglist patois, asking “Can you feel the rush?”, chanting “Oi oi! Oi oi!”

It’s like we’ve gone back to 1992, like jungle never happened and the rave dream never died. Except there’s these subtle differences that betray the fact that hardcore is three years older. The music’s faster, for a start: a palsied 165-beats-per-minute (92′ hardcore was about 140 bpm). And the atmosphere is different – luv’d up but not mental, friendly yet reserved. People smile, ask for a sip of your Evian, gently pat your shoulder as they push through the crowd. But the eye contact is ever so slightly guarded. It’s like the scene is tentatively feeling its way back to the effervescent euphoria of hardcore’s golden age.

For it’s 1995, and this is happy hardcore – a bunch of kids across the UK who are trying to re-ignite the rave fantasy of love, peace and unity. Some are very young, teenagers who missed 1991/’92, who are only now going through the honeymoon period with Ecstasy and require the appropriate rush-activating soundtrack. Others are ’92 veterans in their early twenties, who were alienated when ‘ardkore turned first ‘dark’ and then jungalistic, who drifted odd into progressive house or garage for a while, but are now getting back into it.

Hardcore, the story so far
Once upon a time, hardcore was just hardcore, no prefix. And all hardcore was happy, in so far it was designed to enhance and intensify the Ecstasy experience. Almost all of the leading lights in today’s experimental drum’n’bass scene were making luv’d up loony choons back in ’92. Take Moving Shadow, now purveyors of ambient-tinged ‘audio-couture’. Back then, their roster was firmly on the happy tip, from Blame’s Music Takes You, with its percussive blasts of hypergasmic soul-diva vocal, to the near- symphonic elation of Hyper-On Experience tunes like Assention and Imajicka. As late as 1993, Moving Shadow put out some fiercely happy tracks, like Foul Play’s Open Your Mind and Finest Illusion. Even Goldie, the pioneer of dark-core, started out making deliriously, disturbingly blissed-out tunes like Rufige Cru’s Menace, complete with helium-shrill sped-up vocals.

So what happened? Well, partly in a violent swerve away from the commercialisation of hardcore (ie, the spate of kids’ TV theme-based chart hits like Sesame’s Treet and Trip to Trumpton that followed The Prodigy’s Charley), and partly as a reaction against the cartoon zany-ness of squeaky voices, producers began to sever the musical ties that connected hardcore to rave culture. They focused on breakbeats and bass (ie, the hip hop and dub elements), and removed the uplifting choruses and piano riffs (ie, the housey/disco aspects). A trace of techno persisted, but only in the form of sinister atmospherics. Emergent by the end of ’92 with tracks like Metalheads’ Terminator and Satin Storm’s Think I’m Going Out Of My Head, this new style was called ‘dark side’. It was almost like the scene’s inner circle had consciously decided to see who was really down with the programme, to deliberately alienate the ‘lightweights’. “It was mostly DJs who were into dark,” remembers Slipmatt. From his early days in SL2 (who scored a number two hit in ’92 with On A Ragga Tip), through to his current status as top happy-core DJ/producer, Slipmatt has pursued an unswervingly euphoric course. “All I heard from people at the time,” he recalls of the ‘dark’ era, “was moans.”

In retrospect, dark-core’s anti-populist head-fuck self-indulgence can be seen as a vital prequel to the astonishing ambient-tinged directions that drum’n’bass pursued through late-93 into 1994. But at the time, it turned people off, big time. It was no fun. Exuding bad-trippy dread and twitchy, jittery paranoia, dark-side seemed to reflect a sort of collective come-down after the E-fuelled high of ’92. Alienated, the punters deserted in droves to the milder climes of house and garage.

But not all of them. A tiny fraction of hardcore fans, who wanted celebratory music but weren’t prepared to forsake funky breakbeats for house’s programmed rhythms, stuck to their guns. Through ’93 into ’94, this sub-scene – derided within the drum’n’bass community, even as jungle itself was scorned and marginalised by the outside world – continued to release upful tunes. There was Impact, the label started by DJ Seduction, creator of the ’92 classic Sub Dub (with its enchanting sample of folk-rock maiden Maddy Prior) and idol of happy hardcore fanatic Moby. There was Kniteforce, the label founded by Chris Howell using the ill-gotten gains of Smart E’s Sesame’s Treet. And by early ’94, there was Remix Records, the Camden-based shop and label started by DJ/producer Jimmy J, with funding from Howell (who also records under the names Luna-C and Cru-L-T).

Seduction, Howell and Jimmy J are just three of prime movers in a happy hardcore scene that operates in parallel with its estranged cousin, jungle, but has its own network of labels, its own hierarchy of DJ/Producers, its own circuit of clubs. Labels like Hectic, Slammin’, SMD, Asylum and Slipmatt’s own Universal; DJs and DJ/artists like Vibes, Dougal, Brisk, Sy & Unknown, Force & Evolution, Poosie, Red Alert & Mike Slammer, Norty Norty, DJ Ham, Ramos & Supreme; venues like The Rhythm Station in Aldershot, Die Hard in Leicester, Club Kinetic in Stoke-On-Trent, Pandemonium in Wolverhampton, and, solitary bastions of the happy vibe in the heart of junglist London, Club Labrynth and Double Dipped.

Late last year, the tide started to turn for happy hardcore, as breakbeat fans started to recoil from jungle’s moody vibe. A massive boost came when happy anthem Let Me Be Your Fantasy by Baby D unexpectedly shot to Number One – a full two and half years after its original release. The song’s creator, Dyce, had stuck with the euphoric style right through the dark era; churning out happy classics like Baby D’s Casanova and Destiny, The House Crew’s Euphoria (Nino’s Dream) and Super Hero. But “Fantasy” is especially beloved, Dyce believes, because “it was inspired by the hardcore scene itself”; the lyrics sound like a love song, but it’s really a tribute to the culture of luv’d upness. Fantasy struck a chord with a growing current of rave nostalgia, expressed in ‘Back To 1991’ reunion events and in ‘old skool’ sessions on pirate stations. For younger kids just getting into the scene, it was nostalgia for something they never actually experienced – but such wistful wishfulness can be a potent force.

Right now, happy hardcore is big pretty much anywhere the white rave audience predominates: i.e. not London and Birmingham,where the heavy concentration of hip hop, soul and reggae fans means jungle has more appeal. Even in Scotland, whose rave audience has hitherto been hostile to

breakbeat-based hardcore, happy is taking off. “Impact and Kniteforce sell well here,” says Mark Smith, who was voted top DJ in Scotland two years running. “But I couldn’t play a pure breakbeat set just yet.”

There’s a widespread feeling that jungle has peaked, and that as ragga-jungle gets ghettocentric and art-core drum’n’bass gets increasingly esoteric, the punters are turning to happy hardcore. “At Dreamscape last year, the main floor was 60 per cent jungle, 30 per cent happy,” says top happy selector DJ Vibes, referring to the raves at the Sanctuary, Milton Keynes, which – at 6000 strong – are now the UK’s biggest events. “This year, it’s 60 per cent happy, 30 per cent jungle.” According to Josh Lawford, who co-runs Double Dipped, “it’s come full circle. Last year you could book the top happy DJ’s up to two weeks before the event. Now they’re all booked up six months in advance.” Jimmy J says that when he opened Remix Records a year ago, “we were selling

DJ Sy

Great interview with a man like DJ Sy over at Ransom Note

Shouts out for Ark, shame the dates are wrong (shoudl eb 91-97), Fantazia, Obsession etc

Check the whole interview out here   Dj Sy

 

Tell me how you got into music

I’m originally from Croydon, and it was through radio stations that I got into the music. One night I was tuning across the radio and I came across Invicta Radio– I think it was Mastermind Roadshow on, they were a couple of guys, Mad Max and Dave VJ, and they were playing New York New York by Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five. Up to that point I’d been quite heavily into ska, the Specials and all of that, but when I came across this track I’d never heard anything by it. It was funky, it was a rap, immediately I was hooked. I stayed in every night tuned into that radio station for months and months, listen to rap. I ended up getting Technics decks a couple of years after that through a Saturday job

That was quite a commitment in those days

Yeah. There was no one else in my school into the music- maybe two blokes in a thousand kids. So yeah it was really rare to be into it. It wasn’t the normal thing to do – it was even really difficult to find out what the decks were that the hip hop DJs were using cos there was no internet back then

How did you find out what the decks were?

I went to a hip hop night with an MC I used to do demo tapes with, and that was the first time I saw a DJ in front of me live. I remember staring at them for the whole show, I must have been about 14, 15, staring at these two decks thinking I want them, I want them. I did a little scratching before then, but when I got the Technics it transformed what I could do.

What was the show?

I can’t remember the name, but it was in Brixton, and all the British guys who were around then played; Hijack, Cookie Crew – I think Mastermind were DJing there which is how I knew about it.

So finding the decks must have been hard – learning to scratch must have been harder

That’s the thing, it sounds like I’m trying to big myself up, but I had to work it out myself. There was no digital support, no videos I could watch – that hip hop show I mentioned was one of only a very few I went to and you couldn’t really see what was going on because you couldn’t get up close. So I was completely self-taught.

And the scratching became such a feature of your sets

I bought it from my hip hop grounding, then carried on doing it even when I played house music. I’m a bit gutted about that whole thing, because to keep on top of it you’ve got to practice 5-6 hours a day, and at the start I used to do that. But I got so pissed off with turning up to clubs and the set up not being right, the mixer being a weird mixer with no cross fader, or the decks being 10 feet apart, I kinda lost faith in it, so I didn’t keep up the practice. It’s a bit of an excuse, but I’d get to a gig after having practiced a new technique or pattern, and I just couldn’t do it. I’d get so pissed off – it’s something I’ve always done but I didn’t follow through because of that fact. But still, I got known for scratching, and people started tagging me as ‘the UK’s number one scratchmaster’ which bothered me a bit. I mean it was flattering, but you look at some of these guys, these proper hip hop guys who live and breathe hip hop scratching and they’re a million miles further advanced than what I do. I just use it as an addition, I use it to augment the music – if there’s a flatter bit of a track I’ll try and give a bit more rhythm to it – it’s not a main feature, I try and keep it subtler.

Yeah, very true. That’s a good way of putting it – a very political way of putting it hahaha… DJs who scratch all over a vocal are twats, you want them to shut the fuck up..

So when did you take it out and start playing

I went to university in Nottingham and got together with a load of like-minded people who were into urban music, hip hop, soul and all of that, and we put a night on for students, and then that was pretty popular. Because of that there was a wine bar in the centre of Nottingham that my mate managed to sweet talk us a gig in. It went well the first night, and within two weeks it was rammed. The owner of that wine bar owned a club in town, and he put me on there – that went well, he then moved to a club called Venus in Nottinghma that’s quite famous, and it all kicked off there. That was just at the time of tracks by LFO and Nightmares on Wax, and the rave scene really started. The hip hop had been good, but it wasn’t really club music back then, and with the summer of love of ’88, and house music coming over to the UK, I really loved it. So this fella bought Venus and it went mental – I caught it right at the right time with those tracks coming out. The manager wanted to keep it a trendy sort of London Balearic club, but because I don’t really like that sort of stuff I stuck to the proper underground hard rave stuff, and it went mad. There were queues around the block. The owner got rid of me in the end because the clientele was too rave based and he didn’t like it. He was very fashion conscious, and he wanted to be right on the cusp of every changing trend – rave has always been a bit of a bastard niche, it’s always been a bit looked down upon and he didn’t want to go down that path. I mean, of course with the drugs that are associated with it you can understand it from a certain point of view – you don’t want 2000 kids off their faces in Nottingham city centre, the national press were against it. Crazy times.

How did you get from there to a national stage?

The start of that was through DJ SS. He booked me for an event in Leicester, for one of his Nemesis gigs, which was 2-3000 people. They were awesome raves, really really good. I played that and that got my name out into record shops on flyers. Then I was booked to play in Amnesia in Coventry which was massive back then, and it went from there really. Once Gideon from Obsession – or Fantazia as it was known back then – booked me, he took me down to Exeter, down to the South coast.

There are so many stories of people getting stitched for payment, or encountering gangsters, is this something you came across?

I never did. To be honest, I never had time to hang about in raves. At that time I was really getting busy – I’d do Newcastle, over to Carlisle, then over to Exeter in the same night. It’s a bit gutting really, I would have liked to experience it a bit more, to soak up the atmosphere rather than just turn up and play, but that’s the way it was.

What were the tunes that came out around 1991 – 92 that really sounded to you like the sound was being pushed forward?

That’s easy – Edge #1 – well, it’s called Compounded and the artist is Edge #1. I remember I was at an Ark night in Leeds – it’s something I was doing from 91-95. They were wicked nights, and I remember one night Grooverider was on, and at last I had a chance to check some other DJs out. He pulled that tune out, and it was something that I’d never heard before. Most of the other stuff was pure breakbeat then, but this had the kick to it, and that synth line. I went up to him and said ‘what the fuck is that!?’ I think that’s a real seminal track.

What point did you get into the production?

That was about ‘94. Heavy breakbeat stuff had split off into jungle, but there were a few DJs who still liked the four/four kick – it was noticeable in 92 – 93 hardcore that there were tracks that had the 4/4 kick running through, but in ’94 it branched off into a genre of just that, a lot happier as well, lots of piano breaks in there. ‘94 was when I still had a full time job, but I had so many gigs that I thought I just can’t carry on working 7 til 5 or whatever it was – I’d end up having to cancel gigs because I was so tired. So I thought, everywhere I was DJing was busy, it was a really good time for raves, so I made the decision to quit the day job and start producing. It was crazy times – I think Slipmatt’s SMD #1 did about 20,000 copies. For something that’s not being advertised on radio that’s not bad for a day’s work.

And you were pursing the happier 4/4 sound – was that a conscious decision to move away from the breakbeats?

To be honest it was forced, which is unfortunate. My favourite era, which is probably 87-90, the tunes I really liked were the bass heavy breakbeat tunes, really dark tunes like Unique 3, Nightmares on Wax, LFO… I dunno. I really liked the early 90s as well, up to 94, because there was the mixture, you could play a piano track, and then follow it with the darkest thing you’ve heard in your life and the crowd would lap it up. But when it split you kinda had to make a choice. I remember in 94, the jungle stuff was just a bit too dark and monotonous, it was all amen breaks and I wasn’t really inspired by it, but then it bothers me that the happy scene was a bit too happy – there wasn’t much variation in it. So I tried to introduce a bit of darkness into the tracks, but it split so much. It was amazing how it split so immensely. Within the space of a year happy hardcore was a million miles away from jungle. It was ridiculously popular and the atmosphere at happy hardcore raves was out of this world, but it always bugged me that there wasn’t more variety and that if you did do something a bit different it didn’t get as good a reaction as the really happy stuff.

Then in the late 90s and early 00s there was a period where vinyl stopped selling and record shops started closing down. How did you react to this? Was there ever a point where you were worried?

There’s been a few occasions like that. Around 98-99 happy hardcore had run it’s course a little bit, and the scene started to take a bit of a dip. That was a worrying time, but luckily the trance element was introduced, that gave it another kick up the balls as it were – that style is still around 16 years later. That got popular, and by 2005-06 it was absolutely massive again, it picked right up. That coincided with the decline of vinyl – vinyl sales were a big chunk of my income and I had to adapt to the digital market which at the time was nowhere near as big. That’s the reason I stopped producing, you’ve got to support yourself and now there’s just not the financial reward in producing hardcore. It’s a shame but that’s how it’s gone.

 

So you’ve got another job?

Yeah I’m in property development now, I’ve been doing it for about 10 years – with the decline in record sales and downloads I had to branch out and do something else. It’s good – Djing now I’m not doing it just for the money, I’m doing it more for enjoyment than having to pay the bills.

Are you a naturally manic person? Because to me, 180 bpm is manic. You seem pretty laidback to be honest..

Hahaha, I’m very laidback I’d say – the thing with hardcore is you get the half tempo feel to it – it sounds like 90 bpm to me, it’s the way you interpret it I suppose. I remember when the tempos started to creep up and Ellis-D put out a track called something like ‘keep rave at 140 bpm’ – and you’d hear tracks faster than that and be like Jesus Christ it’s too fast! Now we’re at 180 bpm and I don’t even bat an eyelid. It’s crazy how you get used to it.

OK, finally what’s the greatest rave you played at?

I think the 1992 Fantazia at Matchams Park in Bournemouth. I was doing a very late set, 4 til 5 or 5 til 6 or something. I drove down and it was a beautiful morning. The sun was coming up, and it was dead quiet where I parked. I walked up 500 yards, walked round the corner into this huge crowd of 10 or 15,000 people going mental as the sun came up. It was absolutely wicked.

 

 

So did you enjoy it then?

Report from Melody Maker, 20 April 1991:

808 State/N-Joi
Brixton Academy, London

808 State

WHAT I would like to see one of these days is one of these purposely-built dance bands cutting free and going full out for it. Hell, heaven knows rock is dead now and all that, and 808 State put on about the best stage show I’ve seen since that delirium opus from Madonna last Autumn, but both 808 and N-Joi are still too rooted in rock tradition, too hidebound by the conventions of the last four decades to attain mythical status yet.

Both bands (collectives? No. And that’s somewhere else they fall astray- I mean, those other chaps you have in your gang may be great blokes and all that, Graham, but aren’t they somewhat limiting?) still resort to the tired old mannerisms of having someone front them. Sure, I love it when that guy waggles his fan round his and, boy, aren’t those keyboard players sexy when they punch the air and blow their klaxons between each segment, but is it really necessary? Aside from such distractions, both the stage-shows of N-Joi (lasers – bright green ones, which splatter their name all over the Academy’s front) and 808 State (lasers – banks and banks of them through which Massey and Pricey stride as if through fields of corn; crystal balls used to scatter effect; cumulus cloudbanks of smoke) are truly hypnotic, the music likewise. And what’s worse is they bring guests on to sing.

Why? The mesmerising pulse and repetitive drone of “Nephatiti” is enough to induce instant paralysis in 95 per cent of the jubilant revellers here, the sensual sweep of the synths on “San Francisco”, by rights, should stop the world in its tracks. Show me just one rock band who’ve ever released three such diversely brilliant singles in a row as “Cubik”, “In Yer Face” and “Ooops” and I’ll show you my resignation (done!-Ed).

So why spoil the effect by introducing human bluster and male braggadocio halfway through the set in the shape of the intensely annoying MC Tunes? I mean, “Tunes Splits The Atom” and “The Only Rhyme That Bites” are certainly wicked tunes, man, but MC Tunes seems determined to fill in every last space of 808’s stroppy backbeat with pointless verbiage impossible to hear. Surely it’s these very spaces and jerky electro-pulses which give 808’s sound its allure? And what’s all this crap air-punching? The KLF is one thing, but this brings to mind no one so much as U2.

N-Joi

Likewise, with N-Joi. Often they’re very stunning indeed – big, chunky-knit rhythms, gaps you could lead a camel through, but when they introduce she-who-sings-just-like-her-out-of-Black-Box to sing their two chart hits, “Anthem” and “Adrenalin”, plus that other one whose title escapes me right now but sounds identical, they lose it completely and the revelling pretty much stops. And also, unlike 808, they don’t innovate, they merely follow. Otherwise, I see no evidence to refute Paul Lester’s rather grandiose claim that 808 State are now bigger than Jesus. Worship certainly falls their way; whistles blaring, teeth gnashing, everyone lazily wagging their bums and lifting an arm every other second -all those accolades the kids lavish only on those they love the most. The set passed as if in a trance- one-and-a-half hours becomes 90 seconds – and the insistent beat never ceases.

And everyone was participating, raving, dancing till six in the morning! Beat that, you tired old thing called rock’n’roll, you.

EVERETT TRUE