John Braine
Stuff Wotsits and Thingies

Hardcore you know the score!

Originally written for Anorak magazine - 2003.

Hardcore was a style of music born and bred in the UK, but at the same time it was just another bastard son from Black America. House and Techno had been bubbling away in the US for a few years, but it was the arrival of the UK Rave scene that really blew things up. A direct feedback loop began with Rave DJs going all DIY to fine tune that Ecstasy soundtrack.

The magic ingredient, and long since discovered by DJ Kool Herc as the finest form of sample thievery, was the mighty breakbeat. That's what made that initial transition from acid house to hardcore. In fact Herc's discovery of beat-juggling (the earliest form of breakbeat looping in a hands-on kind of way) was done using The Incredible Bongo band's Apache, which alongside the Amen break turned out to be the most widely used break in hardcore, or indeed its extended family. In Bust that Groove Sonz of a Loop da Loop Era went so far in the hip hop sampling lark that not only did they rob the break from The Message but also that famous lyrical hook, and as an extra kick in the balls, sped it up to make Grandmaster Flash and The Furious Five sound like Alvin and the Furious Chipmonks. Nothing was sacred, but then that sound was always meant to be for the moment, disposable plastic, definitely not something to be written about by some grey haired ex-raver 12 years later. Sonz of... were from the Suburban Base label who alongside Moving Shadow and Shut Up and Dance (SUAD) were the pioneering labels of hardcore.

Some of the originators weren't happy with this bastardisation of their music and its association with drug culture, and this culminated in Derrick May and Marshall Jefferson walking out of 1989's New Music Seminar. SUAD henchmen PJ and Smiley responded to this by releasing another hardcore track called Derek Went Mad, and other classics such as Dance Before the Police, £10 To Get In, Art Of Movin' Butts, and the waltzing strings of The Green Man, which prompted ravers in the Olympic to attempt the venue's original purpose of ballroom dancing.

While Derek and Marshall J were huffing and puffing, Lennie de Ice was busy working away on We Are I.E., hailed by many as the first jungle record. Demon's Theme by Bukem is another contender, and Goldie's Terminator deserves a nod, if only for being the first record to utilise the art of time-stretching, killing those pesky chipmonks once and for all.

Anyway, back to the old skool. There were other sounds adding to the original melting ardkore soundpot. Sheffield's Bleep, an influence probably heard most widely via one of hardcore's biggest pop act Altern8.That whole Ragga muffin ting, which has given so much to dance music and the culture, and is probably responsible for more of the well dated records then any other hardcore style. That all important Subsonic Bass (technically something which is not so much heard as felt). Those simple yet effective staccato rave stabs. Those big uplifting piano lines, probably none more memorable then Liquid's Sweet Harmony and Urban Shakedown's Some Justice, both heavily borrowing from Ce Ce Roger's Someday.

Have to mention my personal favourite here, the best rushin-off-yer-nut cheesey piano has to go to Awesome 3's Don't Go (Kicks like a Mule mix) and another Olympic ballroom Monster Get the Music by Seventh Sense. And don't forget that hoover sound, it was simply a patch from a Roland Juno 106, but it was a hard dark menacing noise. In ‘91 Joey Beltram gave birth to it with a techno track called Mentasm. The more commercial Dominator soon appeared and in no time at all, everyone was doing the hoovering. And the samples. And the samples. And the Samples.

Starting off the silliest sampling trend ever, and shunned by many as the death of Rave was the Prodigy's Charlie, spawning a whole myriad of cartoon rave tracks like A Trip to Trumpton, Rhubarb and Custard, and The Smart E's. But this had an upside too, it spurned more of the serious producers to get dark and dirty and make some of the best dance music ever produced. Actually some of the novelty tracks even pissed all over some of today's dull dishwater, and who better to illustrate the point then Aphex Twin under his Pac-Man guise for Power Pill, and as himself for Didgeridoo.

It had its fair share of one hit wonders but alongside SUAD and Altern8, hardcore had many stalwarts who put their own personal stamp on record after record, paving a way through dance history. Coming from the hip hop side of things and like many, getting frustrated with the UK major's attitude to hip hop, 4 Hero were attracted to the DIY ethics of house and set up Reinforced Records in 1990 to release their own blend of hip hop, ragga and house with the relatively quiet debut of Rising Son, before releasing the famous Mr Kirk's Nightmare which sold 24,000 copies. Another hero, Slipmatt, a well seasoned hardcore DJ, teamed up with DJ Lime to form SL2 to release Way in My Brain, DJ's Take Control and the chart breaking, On a Ragga Tip. If you had to pick one artist who made nothing but pure hardcore, look no further then Tottenham's Acen Razvi who released such classics as Close Your Eyes, Trip to The Moon, Window in the Sky and Obsessed under his first name, Acen.

Defining moments in the golden days of Dublin's hardcore:

  • Heaven on Earth at the Point Depot - Two Bad Mice gets dropped and the whole place goes absolutely insane
  • That moment at the Mansion house when the music stopped and Walking in Memphis came on and no-one knew what was happening, before a big breakbeat kicked in and it turned out to be Raving I'm Raving by SUAD - cheese-tastic
  • Shades of Rhythm and the Ragga Twins playing live to a packed-out Mansion house
  • Every single week at the Olympic

Some more music worth a mention:

Comments and feedback welcome at this blog post.