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