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1992 hardcore

The Wire 300: Simon Reynolds on the Hardcore Continuum #1: Hardcore Rave (1992)

original post here – https://www.thewire.co.uk/in-writing/essays/the-wire-300_simon-reynolds-on-the-hardcore-continuum_1_hardcore-rave_1992_

Written by the man behind Energy Flash – which you should definitely get a copy of 

Originally published as “Technical Ecstasy” in The Wire #105 November 1992.

“See my face, not a trace, no reality/… I just speed/It’s all I need” – Johnny Rotten/Sex Pistols, “Seventeen”, 1977

“Rush your fuckin’ bollocks off” – MC Scallywag/Spiral Tribe, “Doet” , 1992

“Too much speed is comparable to too much light… we see nothing” – Paul Virilio, Pure War

The Aesthetic Of Disappearance

When British youth first encountered the term Acid House they misconstrued it. In Chicago, acid came from ‘acid burn’, slang for ripping off someone’s idea (by sampling it). But in Britain, it was assumed that ‘acid’ meant psychedelics. So acid house became the soundtrack to the Ecstasy rave-olution, and another classic example of British youth misrecognising and remotivating a black American music. Hardcore Techno has reversed the drugs/music nexus: after four years of rave culture, the music has evolved into a science of inducing and amplifying the E rush. The vibe has changed (from trance-dance to mental-manic) as Ecstasy has become adulterated with amphetamine, or replaced by pseudo-E concoctions of speed, LSD and God knows what. Chemicals have directly altered the subculture’s metabolism, with the beats per minute (last count: 140-150 bpm) soaring in sync with pulse rates and blood pressure levels.

E and LSD activate the fight or flight sector of the brain. In combination with amphetamine, the result is an edgy exhilaration on the borderline of panic reaction: “are you feeling w-w-w-wobbly???”, Xenophobia’s “The Wobbler” enquires rhetorically. Ardkore is just another form of fin de siecle ‘panic culture’: hence the frequent samples of sirens, the ambuscades of sound, the MC chant “comin’ at ya!”. There’s even a track titled “Start The Panic”. But then in Greek, panic’s original meaning was a transport of ecstasy. Speedy E has changed the whole vibe of rave culture, from celebration to a sort of aggressive euphoria. The urge to merge and the urge to surge fuse in a raging oceanic feeling. Dancers’ faces are contorted with weird expressions midway between a snarl and a smile, or glare with a crazed, blazing impudence.

It’s the most brazenly druggy subculture in eons, even less coded than acieed. Pirate DJs send out a big shout to “all you nutters rushing out of your heads, speedfreaks out there, you know the score” or holler ”yes London town, absolutely flying in the studio, 100 mph”. Are drugs essential to get into this music, as Ardkore’s detractors claim? Well, they certainly help hype your metabolism to the necessary frenetic pitch. But once your nervous system has been re-programmed, you can listen to this stuff ‘on the natural’. On its own, it’ll induce memory rushes, body-flashbacks.

Speed has mutated (some say, perverted) rave music’s development, unbalancing it at both the top and bottom ends of the sound-spectrum. Ardkore is all ultra-shrill treble and bowel-quaking bass. Voices are sped up to a 78 rpm, Pinky & Perky shriek, whether they’re samples of ethereal girls like Kate Bush, Lisa Gerrard, Liz Cocteau or Stevie Nicks, or helium-ised eruptions of black voice. Closer to fireworks than ‘soul’, these vocals have been hurtled beyond expression into the realm of abstract urgency, outside the syntax of desire. Sampled and modulated on a keyboard, they become a barrage of intensities without pretext or context, shudders and shivers that are not so much inhuman as infra-human. Incantations from roots reggae are snatched from their cultural context to become animated hieroglyphs. Ragga chants add a grainy insolence that’s perfect for Ardkore’s ruff and tuff uproar. Dub bass impacts your viscera, its alien metre placed outrageously amid accelerated hip hop breakbeats at twice reggae’s pace. Having ‘swallowed hiphop whole’, Ardkore’s syncopation is a radical break with the programmed machine rhythms of early UK Techno. The electronic side of Techno has degenerated into stray smears of acieed bass, pulsation-loops derived from Joey Beltram’s “Energy Flash” and “Mentasm”, fucked up concatenations of blaring samples, and octave-skipping synth riffs whose function is not melodic but textural. And of course, the sheer speed of their oscillation accentuates the sense of headlong RUSH.

At raves and clubs, or on pirate stations (like Touchdown 94.1 FM, Defection, Pulse, Rush), DJs compact rough and ready chunks of tracks into a relentless but far from seamless inter-textual tapestry of scissions and grafts. It’s a gabbling fucking mess, barely music, but as it swarms out the airwaves to a largely proletarian audience, you know you’re living in the future. ‘Trash’, but I luvvit.

It’s a mistake to appraise Ardkore in terms of individual tracks, because this music only really takes effect as total flow. Its meta-music pulse is closer to electricity than anything else. Ardkore has abandoned the remnants of the verse-chorus structure retained by commercial rave music. At the Castlemorton Common mega-rave in May, MCs chanted “we’ve lost the plot”. Ardcore abolishes narrative: instead of tension/climax/release, it offers a thousand plateaux of crescendo, an endless successions of NOWs. It’s an apocalyptic now, for sure: Ardkore fits only too well the model of terminal culture that Paul Virilio prophesies in The Aesthetics Of Disappearance: “a switch from the extensive time of history to the intensive time of momentariness without history”. This emergent anti-culture of instantaneity will be inhabited by a new breed of schizophrenic subject, whose ego is “made up of a series of little deaths and partial identities”.

No narrative, no destination: Ardkore is an intransitive acceleration, an intensity without object. That’s why the MC patter sounds more appropriate for a rollercoaster than music – “hold tight”, “let’s go”, “hold it down” – and why Techno is all you’ll hear at fairgrounds these days. Does this disappearance of the object of desire, this intransitive intensity, make Ardkore a culture of autistic bliss? Certainly, sex as the central metaphor of dancing seems remoter than ever. Rave dancing doesn’t bump and grind from the hip; it’s abandoned the model of genital sexuality altogether for a kind of polymorphous perverse frenzy. It’s a dance of tics and twitches, jerks and spasms, the agitation of a body broken down into individual components, then re-integrated at the level of the entire dancefloor. Each sub-individual part (a limb, a hand cocked like a pistol) is a cog in a collective desiring machine. Which is why dancers so readily pick up moves from each other. The dancefloor’s like a primal DNA soup. It’s pagan too, this digital Dionysian derangement whose goal is to find asylum in MADNESS. (Hence the slang of “mental” and “nutty”, sound systems with names like Bedlam, groups with names like Lunarci, MCs chanting “off my fucking tree” – pejoratives turned into desirable states of mindlessness).
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It’s emotionally regressive too (as all the musically progressive genres of the last decade – rap, oceanic rock, Noise – have been): hence the infantilism of ravers sucking on dummies, or bubblegum chart hits like “A Trip To Trumpton”, “Sesame’s Treet”, The Prodigy’s “Charly”. But then Virilio reminds us that “child-society frequently utilises turnings, spinning around, disequilibrium. It looks for sensations of vertigo and disorder as sources of pleasure”. He cites Jacques-Henri Lartigue’s childhood game of spinning round and round, in order to create “a dizziness that reduced [the] environment to a sort of luminous chaos”.

Virilio’s book is a jeremiad about an emergent culture based around ‘picnolepsy’, his term for frequent, incredibly brief ruptures in consciousness. ‘Picnolepsy’ is a take on epilepsy, which Webster’s defines as a disorder “marked by disturbed electrical rhythms of the central nervous system and typically manifested by convulsive attacks usually with clouding of consciousness [my italics]”. Epilepsy was a sacred malady for the Greeks. Ardkore is poised somewhere on the brink between picnolepsy and epilepsy. We all know how strobes (the staple of rave lightshows) can cause convulsions. Ardkore is the aural analogue of a strobe, a sequence of frozen stop-gap soundbites that have been artificially re-animated with E-lectricity.

Virilio could be writing about the rave scene in 1992: “with the irregularity of the epileptic space, defined by surprise and an unpredictable variation of frequencies, it’s no longer a matter of tension or attention, but of suspension pure and simple (by acceleration), disappearance and effective reappearance of the real, departure from duration”. This is the feeling that The KLF caught with the title (if not the sound) of “3 AM Eternal”. Speed reproduces the effects of picnolepsy, a “perpetually repeated hijacking of the subject from any spatial-temporal context”. You’re gone, totally out of it. And there’s more: a warning sign for epileptics of an imminent attack was “a special state of happiness, a juvenile exhilaration”. “Sublime”, wrote Dostoevsky, a sufferer, “for that moment you’d give your whole life… At that moment I understood the meaning of that singular expression: there will no longer be time”.

This juvenile ‘nihilism’ is the reason why Ardkore perturbs so many. This music is best understood as a neurological, not cultural phenomenon. It abolishes the role of cultural mediators. Textless, it offers little to interpret in itself (its subcultural ‘text’ resides in its effects). Critics who like to deal with rock ‘n’ roll as a surrogate form of literature are the most threatened by this anti-humanist noise, which is closer to a power source or intoxicant than poetry. But Ardcore also challenges those who’ve seized on the more musicianly participants in rave music to argue the case for House and Techno as art forms. There is a prejudice against one-dimensional music. It’s both amazing and amusing to see how exactly the same rhetoric used by detractors of Fifties rock ‘n’ roll, recurs as a knee-jerk tic amongst rock fans when they’re faced by a new ‘barbaric’ ‘non-music’. Along with the racist notion of ‘jungle music’ (by happy coincidence, one of Ardcore’s big sub-genres this year was ‘Jungle’), one of the things most feared about rock ‘n’ roll was its extreme repetitiveness. Which is exactly what the anti-Ardkore enclaves bemoan. Repetition is a psychoactive agent in itself, of course. Anyway, to those who insist that Ardcore “just isn’t music”, I won’t argue. I couldn’t care less. But I do know that every new development in pop – from punk to rap to acid House – has initially been greeted with such spasms of fear and loathing.

The New Heavy Metal

In the late 1960s and early 70s, British groups bastardised the blues, and their American imitators bastardised their bastardisation, and between them they spawned Heavy Metal. In the late Eighties, black Europhiles from Chicago and Detroit took Teutonic electronic music and turned it into acid House and Techno; in the early Nineties, British youth took these styles and birthed a mutant, bastard form called Ardkore. Veterans of 1988’s First Wave of Rave denounce Ardkore in exactly the same language that counter culture vets decried Metal – as soulless, macho, bombastic, proto-fascist, a corrupt and degraded version of a once noble tradition. They’ve even called Ardkore “the new Heavy Metal”. With the same piety that people once harked back to Cream and deplored Sabbath and Led Zep, similarly, rave cognoscenti mourn Derrick May and flinch from the brutalism of Beltram and 2 Bad Mice. In an unfortunate echo of Prog rock, some have even erected the concept of ‘progressive House’ (The Future Sound Of London, The Orb, Guerilla Records) as a bulwark of good taste against the hooligan hordes of Ardkore. Well, history shows us that the despised Black Sabbath subsequently went on to be perhaps the biggest influence on alternative rock in the Eighties and Nineties (from Black Flag through Butthole Surfers to Seattle grunge), while Jethro Tull, ELP and Pink Floyd went on to influence practically nobody.

‘Maturation’ was always only one possible route of development for the music of the post-acieed diaspora. Like Heavy Metal did with blues rock, Ardkore has taken the essence of Acid House and Techno – mindless repetition, stroboscopic synths, bass-quake frequencies – and coarsened and intensified it. As with Metal, bad drugs (barbiturates then, dodgy E now) have helped them focus on that essence. To an extent, Ardkore does present a spectacle of degraded avant-gardism, of arrested futurism: headless chickens running wild with avant-garde techniques (timbral/textural/spatial invention rather than melodic/harmonic development, drone theory, extreme repetition/extreme randomness, musique concrete etc) but not really knowing how to build with them. But Ardkore advances not through the innovations of auteurs, but rather evolves through mutation: inspired errors and random fucking about produce new riffs and noises that succeed in the dancefloor ecosystem and then enter the gene pool. Which explains why, whenever someone does come up with a new idea, it’s ripped off a thousand times. Anyway, I wager that those looking for the next revolution would do better to watch for what crawls out of the Ardkore morass than to carry a torch for Detroit, LFO or Orbital (as inspired as they’ve all been in their day).

The Politics Of Disappearance

Ardkore is really just the latest twist on the traditional contours of working class leisure, the latest variant on the sulphate-fuelled 60 Hour Weekend of mod and Northern Soul lore. With Ardkore, the proletarian culture of consolation has become a culture of concussion: hence amnesiac/anaesthetic slang terms for a desirable state of oblivion such as “sledged” (as in “sledge hammered”), “mashed up”, “cabbaged”, “monged”, and song titles like “Blackout” and “Hypnoblast”.

There’s a sampled slice of rap at large in Ardkore that goes: “Can’t beat the system/Go with the flow”. On one level, it’s just a boast about how much damage the sound system can inflict. But perhaps there’s a submerged political resonance in there too: amidst the socio-economic deterioration of a Britain well into its second decade of one party rule, where alternatives seem unimaginable, horizons grow ever narrower, and there’s no constructive outlet for anger, what else is there left but to zone out, go with the flow, disappear?

But retreatism is just one side of the rave scene. There’s an inchoate fury in the music that comes out in an urge for total release from constraints, a lust for explosive exhilaration – captured in titles like “Hypergasm”. The Ragga chant of Xenophobia’s “Rush In The House” kicks off “E come alive! E come alive! E come alive!” Ardkore frenzy is where the somnambulist youth of Britain snap out of the living death of the 90s, and grasp a few moments of fugitive bliss. Ardkore seethes with a RAGE TO LIVE, to cram all the intensity absent from a week of drudgery into a few hours of fervour. It’s a quest to reach escape velocity. Speed-freak youth are literally running away from their problems, and who can blame them?

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Labba Labba Labyrinth

Original post here – https://thump.vice.com/en_uk/article/labyrinth-dalston-feature

 

We spoke to Joe Wieczorek, promoter of the legendary Dalston club night.

Joe Wieczorek is feeling a bit rough. The man behind Labyrinth, one of rave era East London’s most respected clubs, is recovering from a mate’s 60th.

Wieczorek is an odd name for someone with such a south London lilt. He tells me it’s Polish: “I was adopted. My [adoptive] father was demobbed at Edinburgh in 1945,” having served in the Polish Free Army. “[He] came down to London, met my mum, she had a bad accident, they couldn’t have kids, I was adopted. There you go. That was it, 1957.”

He tells me his birth mother left him at a convent in Ealing before she “dived off back to Ireland,” but adds he really hasn’t chased it up and can’t expand much further.

It’s hard not to crack up at the confusion he faces when people delve into his heritage, as if his cockney speech patterns were an elaborate put-on. “Yeah, yeah Polish mate. I’m the most unlikely Pole you’ll ever come across. You know what I mean? One or two people… when they find out my name, they see my persona and stuff like that, wow, you know what I mean? I’m not really Polish mate.”

But when he was 11, Wieczorek tells me, his parents took him to Auschwitz in a rather dark attempt to connect him to his roots. He wasn’t allowed on the tour, as he was under 15, so he was sat down with steak and chips at the Auschwitz hotel and told to wait instead. Trouble is, the food was wolfed down, and an 11-year-old Wieczorek “bunked into Auschwitz” alone.

He followed the route the tour party took into the camp, walking the majority of the way round on his own, before catching up with his parents. They had just found his grandfather’s photo on the wall, among the pictures of all the Poles that had been executed.

“It was the most surreal holiday ever,” Wieczorek says. “They took me to Poland and [then] we went to Berlin, [then] all these obscure Eastern Bloc places, and certainly then it was horrible. I lived on bread and jam and cornflakes out of the American dollar shop, I couldn’t eat none of that food they eat.

“Never ever really had the wish to go back, you know? After my dad died, the Polish side of it sort of dropped off, and I never really heard too much of them again to be honest.”

As a teen, partly due to this outsider upbringing, Wieczorek fell deeply into music and the subcultures of the time, flirting with skinhead culture before eventually working security backstage at concerts: Pink Floyd, Bruce Springsteen and The Faces among them.

In 1987, he came across the nascent rave scene while working at a venue called Clink Street, when, at the height of his fame, Boy George held a party in which all the partygoers were given T-shirts as invites with the ubiquitous mascot of acid-house, the yellow smiley face, emblazoned on them, cordially inviting them to the “boy’s” birthday—quite an induction.

He then started to put roving illegal raves on under the banner of Labryinth in the late 80s, having forged a fire certificate, which he stole from under the fire officer’s nose. It worked.

One night in October 1988, when an inspector from Haringey police came to inspect his night with the SPG [Special Patrol Group] with him, Wieczorek assumed the worst. With his folder of papers and real and forged certificates in hand, the officer, after having walked round the venue said: “Well done son, congratulations on a well run party, have a nice weekend.”

“That really was our green light. And then after that, I thought, you know what, if we can blag him, we can blag anyone. About another year or so left right and centre we were taking liberties. Ferry Lane, Homerton High Street, you know, we were putting thousands in places, but after a while, they [police] came and had a chat with me.

“‘See you son, carry on, we’ll bury you, you’re going.’ That was all the warning I needed, you get that from Old Bill… time to have a little think. And that was how we went to Dalston Lane, it weren’t out of choice mate.”

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The iconic Labryinth, based in the The Four Aces Club on Dalston Lane, is the reason we’re talking in the first place. Pressure from a combination of the police, the acid squad, and what we’ll euphemistically refer to as “local characters”, meant securing warehouse space was difficult, so Joe was forced into looking for a licensed premises.

After a year or so, the club grew on them. “In the end, even virtually a decade later, we didn’t want to go. We really did like it there. It was our place, we ran it, and we pretty much did it our way. Yeah, you could never repeat that, when I look back I think we were very fortunate, to have been there at that time. Most definitely in comparison to how it is now, because it’s nothing like it.”

Rave culture was fostered and embraced at Labryinth, where, under the stewardship of Wieczorek, acid house, hardcore, and jungle ruled the soundsystems. The crowd was mixed: black and white, gay and straight, all raving under one roof. Wieczorek tells me he’d see a true enemy in the dance and, thanks in part no doubt to the ecstasy, he’d no longer be a foe.

The number of nightclubs in London has almost halved since 2010, and things aren’t looking great across the rest of the country either. You’ve got to wonder, does Joe almost feel sorry for the younger generations now?

“Of course, absolutely, you know I’m very fortunate. I was a little sort of herbert when I was young, I copped the skinhead times of 69′ and 70′ and 71′, and I went to Tamla Motown and Trojan clubs and places like that, and I’ve seen two or three changes of culture. I’ve got to be honest with you, this one [rave] really has lasted longer than all of the others put together. But the one downside is now, after all these years, it’s taken a massive step backwards, clubs are returning to the sort of era of carpet and chrome, where Sharon and Tracy dance round their handbags.”

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Wieczorek finds himself “horrified” by some of the practices he’s become privy to in contemporary clubs—with a promoter charging punters a pound for using the smoking area being a particular bugbear. The influence of gentrification, and increased security measures have, Joe says, made clubs comparable to prisons.

After a long spell in Dalston, Labyrinth took up residence in Tottenham for two years. This was followed by an eight year hiatus, the result of Sue, the love of his life and co-founder of the night, falling ill. He says it took him eight years to get over it.

It wasn’t until his best mate and regular DJ at Labryinth, Ginge, become ill with cancer that he was convinced to throw another Labryinth night again. Ginge played it, and was due to play a second event, before passing away a few weeks before.

“But by then, we had all reignited with each other again,” said Wieczorek, but what happens when the children of the Second Summer of Love grow up? “You know, some of the stories and the things that have happened to us all is incredible, and I didn’t realise how many people it had affected.”

Back on to Labryinth: “Someone showed me a thing on Facebook, and said: ‘There’s 15,000 people here Joe, they all liked your club.’ I was like ‘What?’, you know I looked through all the other pages, it was amazing.”

Looking back at his legacy, Labyrinth must be a source of real pride for Wieczorek, even if the memories are a bit misty. So what, to the uninitiated, was it like to be amongst it and be very much a pioneer of the second summer of love and the subsequent years?

“Amazing to be around, amazing to see it happen, especially over here what we were all used to with the football and this and that and the other. No one really liked anyone from a different area or a different colour, and all of a sudden, bang! You know, over night. Quite a journey.”

Those days of yore are remembered so fondly for good reason; without clubs like the Labyrinth, and promoters like Joe Wieczorek, we wouldn’t be here today.

Scottish Techno

Original Post here

“I just died in your arms tonight…” Midnight on Friday at Tek 2000 in Hamilton. The vintage rock strains of Cutting Crew are speeding, pitched-up and condensed over distorted 180 bpm kick drum. A hefty MC in saggy grey tracksuit and baseball cap lumbers about the stage offering a barely discernible stream of rhetoric. The classic rave scenario, perhaps. Yet close your ears and this could be a house club. The bar is packed. No lightsticks or whistles in sight and maybe only one E casualty, lunging around haplessly, eyes bulging in glassy oblivion. There’s a few lycra-clad babes gyrating on the edge of the dancefloor, sure. And two guys doing that classic double-speed skip-on-the-spot, like extras from an SL2 video. But the majority of this predominantly 16 to 19-year-old crowd – lads in check shirts, girls in T-shirt dresses and satin tops – display no interest in the fashions or conventions of yesteryear. And as the DJ shifts into the sneering, growling synth lines and rhythmic assault of Lowlands gabba, the dance floor fills up with awkward bouncing bodies, jerking and contorting themselves to the furious, punkish machine-gun invective emanating from the speakers.

This, then, is ‘Scotland the Rave’ 1996. Not so much the ugly sphere of drug addled, frenzied, nihilistic aggression that both the tabloids and city centre clubbers would have it. Rather, the week-to-week social life of ordinary teenagers in satellite new towns like Hamilton, Motherwell and Livingston. It is, however, a scene that’s in decline. Not due to any lack of popularity: the record labels are flourishing, the DJs booked for months in advance. The clubs, though, are closing. The same weekend we visit Trek 2000, the Metropolis in Saltcoats – one of a handful of hardcore venues left – announces it’s sacking resident DJs Joe Deacon and Billy Reid and finding its more house-oriented replacements. The Fubar in Stirling, another rave Mecca, recently moved to change half its nights to house, bringing in the Tunnel’s Michael Kilkie. Even rave giants Rezerection are planning to stage their next event in Burton-on-Trent rather than Scotland. In their wake, house promoters Streetrave are moving in to stage a massive all-nighter at the Royal Highland Exhibition Centre that features Pete Tong, Sasha and BT.

“It’s ironic, because there’s probably more hardcore record labels in Scotland now than there are clubs,” considers Jamie Raeburn of Clubscene Records, whose sales have increased threefold over the past year. “Club owners are switching to house because they’re afraid they won’t get a license for a rave club. It’s sad, because there’s a 100 per cent demand for it still. I mean, sacking Joe Deacon and Billy Reid from the Metro caused a sit-in, for God’s sake. It was about as popular as the poll tax.” He’s right. Out in Ayrshire, in the suburban sprawl of 60s concrete conurbations that stretches between Edinburgh and Glasgow, up in Fife and Elgin and Dundee and Stonehaven, on the housing estates; the piano-driven crescendos, the urgent warbling divas and the hammering basslines float free from cars, open towerblock windows and discount clothes stores.

And as the licensing boards clamp down on the clubs, following the precedent set by the closure a year ago of the controversial Hanger 13, few are rushing to rave’s defence. It’s nothing new, though. “This isn’t a new problem for the rave scene – it’s something we’ve had to cope with since day one,” continues Jamie Raeburn. “That’s why Clubscenemagazine was started, because we couldn’t get our records reviewed in any other publication.”

Track the genealogy of Scottish rave and its marginalisation, both geographically and culturally, has been a slow but sure process. Back in 91 and 92, hardcore was the sound of the city centre. The break-beat-driven, lightstick-waving, Vicks-wafting ritual of the all-night rave was fundamental to the success of clubs like Pure and Soma. Middle class students, fashion victims and hipsters would all make the pilgrimage to events at Livingston Forum, the Streetrave parties, Rezerection, Awesome 101 and Fantazia.

Ironically, just as the infrastructure of Scottish dance music was beginning to expand – bands like TTF gaining national recognition, labels like Clubscene and Evolution setting up – the popularity of hardcore in the cities began to wane. As the leather-trousered elitist backlash of progressive house and trance took hold, places like Glasgow’s Tunnel and Edinburgh’s Citrus Club began to manoeuvre themselves away from the fervour of rave which was gradually becoming that little bit too sweaty, that little bit too egalitarian, that little bit too populist for the fashion-conscious clubber.

Thus in the schemes and the satellite towns, in clubs like Fubar in Stirling, the Metro in Saltcoats and Hangar 13 in Ayr, this fiercely independent scene evolved. The economic infrastructure – provided by labels like Clubscene, Evolution, Twisted Vinyl, Notorious Vinyl, Stepping Out, Shoop (now folded), Massive Respect, Bellboy, Storm and Screwdriver – flourished from 1992 onwards. Rave PA faves TTF hit the charts and a clutch of other groups sprung up in the wake of their success: The Rhythmic State, Ultrasonic, Q Tex, QFX, Bass X, Chill FM. And bereft of any national media support, they founded their own publications like Clubscene, or colonised existing Scottish monthlies like M8. Record sales grew.

Through 1993 and early 1994, Scottish rave seemed unstoppable. Sure, it was despised by the city centre clubbing elite – all they saw were a kind of ‘lumpen proletariat’ of dance, eyes rolling, white gloves waving, jogging up and down to music they now deemed deeply unfashionable. It also received no national press recognition whatsoever. But the kids, well the kids couldn’t get enough. The raves swelled to gargantuan proportions. “The big one for me was fantasia at the SECC in November 93,” recalls Forth FM jock and ravers’ hero Tom Wilson. “There were 12,000 people there. It was unbelievable – the staging, the lighting, the bands.”

Meanwhile, Scottish house and techno heads were priding themselves on the innate intellectual inferiority of hardcore – in their eyes, an eternally static, remake of 1991’s cheesiest moments. And indeed, until around 94 when the Lowlands gabba sound emerged, many Scottish rave bands and PAs followed a fairly formulaic musical path. In fact, as long as you had melodramatic piano crescendos, accelerated diva vocals or, alternatively, dark Beltram Mentasm synths and over 150 beats per minute, you could be fairly sure of a place in the Scottish dance charts. Tunes like Q Tex’s Natural High and TTF’s Real Love hit the spot with their shrill treble melodics and high velocity programming. “When the scene first started here, you had piano anthems and you had hardcore,” remembers Scott Brown, who was recently voted top Scottish DJ by M8, produces as Q Tex and Bass X and runs a multitude of record labels.

Around 92 and 93, when rave’s stronghold became the suburbs and the schemes rather than the city centre, Scottish acts were tentatively finding their own identity and discarding the breakbeats which characterised the emergent English happy hardcore and jungle movements. And this was where the four-to-the-floor sound of Lowlands gabba came in, reckons Scott Brown. “The piano stuff got really, really stale and commercial and the English stuff had got really breakbeat led and people didn’t like too much of that up here. The only thing that started to come through was a lot of the Italian stuff on Brainstorm and some obscure German things. A lot of Dutch producers just hit the nail on the head: Sperminator’s No Women Allowed and Poing even, I reckon when that got into the charts it made a big impression on a lot of people.”

The rise of Lowlands gabba in Scotland was almost exactly tangential (if a little later) with the advent of ‘dark’ on the English jungle scene. A ferocious underground backlash against the commercial high watermark of rave. And even more despised and misunderstood than rave itself. By 1994, the fast anarchic spleen of high-bpm US and Dutch sound had usurped happy pianos and chirpy vocals as the Scottish ravers style of choice. “There was one Rezerection where every single DJ they booked from the US gabba scene,” recalls David Smit who runs Nosebleed in Rosyth, one of the handful of regular hardcore nights left north of the border. “And from then on, Lenny Dee was God up here!” Lowlands PAs Ruffneck Alliance, Human Resource, Charlie Lownoise and Mental Theo headlined raves while English jocks like Loftgroover, The Producer, Scorpio and DJ Freak, marginalised by happy hardcore down south, found their unrelenting kick drum-dominated sets in huge demand. “I’d say gabba finally peaked around last February or March,” considers Tom Wilson. “Rezerection seemed to be pushing the Dutch sound a lot. I even started calling myself Tom Van Wilson to try and get booked for it!”

Convergent with the invasion of Dutch DJs and PAs, Scottish acts Ultra Sonic, Chill FM and Q Tex found a growing market for their records in Holland, Germany and America. In 1996, Saltcoats-based Ultra Sonic are a global concern. And, though you may have never heard of them, they sell more records worldwide than Leftfield, Orbital or Goldie (around a million copies of their last LP, according to Jamie Raeburn at Clubscene). “Our albums sell best in the UK, Australia and Germany,” reckons Mallorca Lee, Ultra Sonic’s vehemently anti-elitist 24-year-old spokesperson. “We’ve just landed a deal with Avex in Japan for our first album as well.” Tracks like their hammering, acid-tinged 95 hit Check Your Head not only assimilated perfectly into four-to-the-floor segue of visiting Lowlands DJs but set raves alight all over Europe.

Closer to home, the DJ at Tek 2000 has moved through Scottish rave and gabba to the breakbeat-meets-kick drum amalgam of four-beat. A diminutive MC in white Ralph Lauren strolls confidently around the stage. And as the breakbeats roll from a vintage snatch of Beverly Craven into whiplash four-four and amply synths, the floor fills up and a kind of manic energy is almost tangible. Unwittingly, DJ Nicky Modlin’s set is itself a neat microcosm of the musical trajectory of Scottish rave. For after gabba’s 18-month stranglehold, the English four-beat sound has firmly established itself north of the border. “When gabba came in, a lot of people could get their frustrations out by dancing to the music and going for it full-on,” says Mallorca Lee. “But it died because promoters were putting on gabba solidly all night, and I don’t think anybody alive could physically dance to 200 bpms for 12 hours – although I suppose if you’ve got a skinhead and a sports tracksuit, you’ll give it a try!” The closure last year of Hanger 13, Scotland’s most popular gabba venue, after the Ecstasy-related deaths there of Andrew Dick, John Nisbet and Andrew Stoddart, signalled the end of Rotterdam’s reign.

And this perhaps was where the English sound came in. DJ Seduction’s four-beat strain of happy hardcore, which foregrounded the four-four beat, happened to tessellate perfectly with the records Scottish acts like Ultra SOnic, The Rhythmic State and DJ Scott Brown were making. The result? Rezerection began bringing Slipmatt, Brisk, Seduction and Dougal up to play and Tom Wilson, Mark Smith and Scott Brown found themselves booked to play hardcore nights in England. “We seem to have a lot of crossover with the English happy hardcore sound at the moment,” notes Tom Wilson. “As long as they get onto the ‘boom, boom, boom’, eventually the Scottish crowds aren’t adverse to a bit of breakbeat here and there.”

Ironically, with the closure of all but a couple of Scotland’s hardcore nights and the increasingly restrictive attitude of councillors like Jim Coleman in Glasgow (now trying to instate a ban on chill-out rooms, which even contravenes the government’s harm reduction guidelines for nightclubs in its conservatism), the Scottish hardcore scene is now more alive in England than Scotland itself. “The Scottish rave scene is dead on its arse. I’ve seen it dying for the past year,” says Scott Brown. “It’s ironic, because sales are better than ever.” Jamie Raeburn agrees: “There’s nowhere left in Scotland for Scottish rave acts to play… all the venue owners want to do house now, because there’s this feeling that they don’t want to be associated with the image of the ridiculous Scottish raver – y’know, all big staring eyes. I mean, nobody wants to be associated with that any more. And as a result, we sell more records now in England than we do in Scotland and Northern Ireland.”

We’ve heard a lot in recent years about the the archetypal Scottish raver: top off, lightstick bearing, lycra wearing, grinning out from the pages of M8 in glassy-eyed oblivion. But just how true i it any more? According to Liz Skelton of drugs advice agency Crew 2000, that legendary Scottish overindulgence is becoming a thing of the past. “As far as our experience of the hardcore scene goes, there’s definitely been a shift. People do seem to be a bit more sensible and a bit more informed. People are taking time to chill out – we noticed at the last Rezerection that the dance floor wasn’t as packed as it used to be, there are times when more people are in the chill out. And they’re not wearing so many mad hats and things like that.” However, the closure of weekly hardcore nights has led to a trend for ravers to view tri-monthly events like Rezerection with an urgency and fervour that leads them to overdo it. “There are still ridiculously high levels of drug use going on,” confirms Liz. “It’s better than it was before, but it’s not ideal. Very young people come down, very inexperienced, who know very little about what they’re doing. They seem to make an exception for big events – ‘it’s Rez so we’ll go for it’ kind of thing. Instead of having a couple of grams, they’ll go for ten grams of speed and a couple of Es. Then they say they feel a bit funny and they don’t know why.”

After the government restrictions on the prescribing of Temazepam last year, Crew 2000 have noticed a decline in the ‘jelly head’ syndrome once synonymous with the Scottish rave scene. “A year ago you could spot people wandering about who were totally off their face on jellie. They’re still there but not half as much as before.” And as bpms revved up to 180 and 200 in 1994 and 1995, when Lowlands gabba peaked, many noticed a fast music-fast drugs correlation. “When the gabba sound came in, people stopped taking so much E and started taking speed to keep up with the music,” observes Jamie Raeburn. Liz Skelton agrees: “There’s been a general trend towards less E and more speed for some time now.” Sadly, just as the hardcore scene seems to be absorbing the message of moderation and education that Crew 2000 have taken to ravers across the country, there are few clubs left to exemplify this slightly more aware sensibility.

Where now then for Scottish ravers? The most obvious answer seems to be traveling on coaches down to events in Newcastle and Doncaster every weekend. Tom Wilson sees many similar qualities in the accelerated trance-meets-rave synthetic of nu-energy. “I reckon that Tony De Vit sound will take over from hardcore, the fast stuff – Red Jerry, Tall Paul – music with balls.” With Streetrave’s all-nighter, Colours, in the offing this month at the traditional site of Rezerection, it could well be house. In Jamie Raeburn’s opinion, the exodus from rave to house has already begun. “You’ll find the same people going to Colours and Cream as the ones who were going to raves one, two and three years ago.”

And whilst the house and techno purists might bask in the knowledge that ahrdcore didn’t last, their complacency can only be shortlived. “The good thing about hardcore was that there was absolutely no way you could associate it with what was going on in the Mecca discos. This was 200 bpm music and an underground scene, whether you thought it was credible or not,” concludes Jamie. “It was outside the major record labels, it was working class, the people into it loved it like nothing else… not there’s no way you’ll find that in a house club these days.”