Of all the prophecies issued by rave music, ‘hardcore will never die!’ is one which still resonates today. True, it’s a little wiser, greyer, and maybe a bit ‘phatter’, but there’s something about this perennial musical movement which still sets many a pulse racing. It was never to be universally adored – it wouldn’t adorn a hip beer or sportswear commercial, but then it never needed to be. All that mattered was making it to the weekend and going off somewhere with your mates. “When we did the happy hardcore thing, it was almost frowned on by certain people,” says Slipmatt, DJ, producer and dance music legend. “Mixmag and that didn’t really appreciate it. It wasn’t cool enough. They couldn’t make it trendy, or make any real money.” While 3,000+ kids squeezing into a venue every week in the name of uptempo euphoria is now a rarity, a new event is attempting to tap into the joys of scene which never lost its energy.
Looking Sound and Jedi Recordings have created Calling The Hardcore, a night of amazing audio/visual rave entertainment at Brighton’s Volks Bar & Club on Fri 14 July. It features Slipmatt, breakbeat rave pioneers 2 Bad Mice, label boss Jedi, DJ Jack-Knife from London’s epic Kool FM, and Looking Sound supremo RadioSam for seven hours of the best underground hardcore from the golden years of ’91 to ’93. A second room reflects rave’s more eclectic sounds, with sets from Distant Planet’s Hughesee & Louise Plus One, Keezee from Broken Beats, Freebass’ Klynch and many more. “I think we are currently in the third big ‘rave’ revival – the first being ’97 and the second around 2002,” says DJ Jedi. “So, I think it will be popular for a while, die off and then come back again like it always does. That is why I am releasing so much vinyl at the moment, you have to strike while the iron is hot.” As the founder of Jedi Recordings, he has unleashed nearly 20 vinyl releases – a mixture of his own productions and those from the scene’s contemporary luminaries.
The music spawned from the ‘90s rave era is now as culturally significant as ‘70s disco or rock in the ‘50s. It’s a form which artists keep on referencing. Dance genres come and go, but the authentic rave sound is one that always returns. “Great, ain’t it?” says Si Colebrooke of 2 Bad Mice. “I think a lot of big new DJs and producers, like Special Request, Eats Everything, Mella Dee and Benton, really appreciate the heritage. It’s these people that are extending it to new listeners.” The eagerness of early producers to embrace technology and develop new sounds means the legacy can still be heard today. The Juno synthesiser’s ‘hoover’ waveform is more common in modern music then Hendrix’s wah-wah sound. Not that any of those early dance pioneers mind the appropriation of their work. “That’s what we did with the hardcore thing,” says Slipmatt. “We were nicking stuff for our tunes. It’s always gone on like that…” If the mimicking serves to entice people to appreciate the original productions, that can only be a good thing. And the message is being heard. Both Slipmatt and Colebrooke say they’re seeing a boost in younger people at their shows. Great news for a scene which is over a quarter of a century old.
As well as some of the biggest DJ legends and guardians of the hardcore scene, a core feature of the event is its impressive audio/visual element. Fade In/Fade Out bring an incredible visual/motion graphics performance splashed across three video projectors, offering a fresher aspect to the typical UK club night. “All our content is 100% created by us. You won’t see it anywhere else,” says Fade In/Fade Out’s Andy. ”It’s a mixture of graphic and abstract imagery. We literally mix in time to whatever the sounds are playing out live. There may be an old-school smiley or two if you’re lucky…” Rather than simply playing purchased clips, he prides himself on creating the right visual tone for the environment, complimenting the music and lighting rather than dominating attention. ”It is amazing, the effect you can have with just a few coloured lines in time to the tracks. It’s all about the ambience and the moments in each track.“ This attention to detail that Calling The Hardcore brings to its production is a massive part of how rave has regularly succeeded in filling venues such as Wembley Arena or Milton Keynes’s cavernous Sanctuary.
There’s an argument that the ‘edge’ has gone from the modern clubbing experience. Budgets are smaller, so epic productions are an increasing rarity. Large-scale events too often cater for the lowest common denominator, and this can really affect the overall experience. “Some of the best shows I’ve been to recently are the smaller and more underground promotions,” says Andy. “The quality of the music and production has been more thought out. Saying that, I feel there is no one direction that clubbing is going in. There is something for everyone at the moment.” During rave’s halcyon days, you’d hear a range of music at events. Whilst dance music is now split into many sub-genres, within each one is a startling uniformity. “It did go through a stage when people were too scared to do something too different,” Slipmatt adds. “But you’ll probably find the more creative ones, even if they don’t hit the nail on the head straight away, they’re the ones that make it.” DJ Jedi tells me another shift in clubbing’s fortunes came from legislative pressure. “I’m no fan of smoking, but the ban in 2007 certainly killed the vibe a bit. Half the people at a club are now standing outside all night. Capacity and sound restrictions haven’t helped either. I think this is why festivals are so popular at the moment.”
In a way, the rave explosion diverted power from bigger labels and the traditional music press. Capturing the DIY spirit of the punk and indie scenes before, hit singles and magazines were self-produced with increasing success. Slipmatt, who scored two massive UK hits with production partner Lime, says it was an amazing thing to experience. “If you talked about putting a record out, people said, ‘you’ve got to go to one of these big companies, you gotta go into an expensive studio and you need to know the right people…’ In 1989, me and Lime saved a couple of week’s money, booked a little studio and got a deal pretty much straight away. The one after, we stuck on our own label – and we were in the charts.” We all know music has a cyclical creature, with stronger forms returning into favour every few years. Labels like Jedi Recordings, and club nights like Calling The Hardcore, stand to keep the faith. Rave never really went away. It just kept in the shadows while its weighty influence drifted through our culture. “Years ago, we thought for radio play,” says Si Colebrooke. “Now, every few tracks on the radio have elements of rave or D’n’B. It has become an acceptable genre and I like that!”