Monday, 7 December 2009
Anyway, not being a fan I will not be listening to, let alone buy, that box set, but it is interesting to compare it with the releases celebrating the 10 year anniversary in 1999. First you might notice the cover design. The 1999-records had some modernist architechture/brutalism-thing going on – not executed all that great, but the idea was appropriate. The new box, on the other hand, looks like it could be a recent Pink Floyd compilation. Of course that kind of pseudo-scientific cod surrealism have always been a part of the Warp aesthetic, but the fact that it’s chosen to represent the entire Warp history is quite dispiriting. Still, the content is even more significant: With the 10 year anniversary records they not only made what is probably the ultimate bleep compilation, basically containing all their amazing early singles, they even released a great compilation of early house and techno from artist that came before Warp, a gesture that seemed so much more interesting and brave than just giving the countless newly converted Aphex/Autechre/Squarepusher-fans a pile of stuff they allready knew and loved. Ten years later, and half of the anniversary box is a compilation chosen by Warp co-founder Steve Beckett and “the fans”. And the other half is repeating the "idea" of the least interesting third of the 10 year anniversary – the tired trick of dressing a bunch of old tracks up in new remixes.
Well, obviously they couldn’t release another compilation of old bleep singles, but that’s actually the whole point of why the anniversary thing is so sad: In the last ten years Warp have not made any contribution to music even remotely as groundbreaking as their part in the bleep era. Or the IDM era for that matter. Because, rellay, even though there’s some good records here and there, when was the last time any of them had any actual impact on anything? That would probably be Boards of Canadas Music Has the Right to Children, which did indeed start a whole lot of things, but that was 1998!! Even if there have been the odd great warp record during the last ten years, that period do indeed seem utterly impoverished compared to the ten years that went before. And it’s bloody ten years. Ten years of almost nothing. Let’s not even mention the indie records.
In this way, the Warp anniversary somehow seems to represent how insignificant the noughties have been in comparison with the nineties. Now Warp never really got into the great stuff that actrually did happen in the noughties, unlike Planet MU they never tried to be a part of grime or dubstep or breakcore, so of course the Warp version of the decade is much more dull than it actually was in itself, but still, in the nineties there was huge amounts of incredible stuff going on that Warp didn’t participate in either, and they still managed to release a whole bunch of groundbreaking records. It often seemed like the nineties – especially the first half – simply had infinite levels operating at the same time. Looking back at the last ten years of Warp you realize that that was not the case at all during this decade. To come up with something new and original was the exception, not the norm. This is what really saddens me, and it kinda work on a personal level too: The thing is, when I heard about the 20 years of Warp, I suddenly realized that I remembered the last time Warp had an anniversary – and it seemed like yesterday!!!
Part of the problem here is obviously that you’re bound to feel old with such a realisation. Ten years passed and you hardly noticed, and all those things you wanted to do never happened. But equally sad is the reason the years seemed to pass so fast and leave so little: Unlike the nineties, the noughties didn’t offer more truly new stuff than it was possible to keep track on. Developments that could have happened simultaniously and in a few months in the early nineties followed each other in orderly succession in the noughties, and took years each - like the 2step-grime-dubstep-lineage. You could keep up with the new releases and feel that indeed things were happening, not realizing that you spent years following developments that would have happened in a flash earlier. For someone brought up on the nineties evolutionary speed, the noughties felt like an instant, because the musical evolution it offered would have happened in an instant in the privious decade.
Sunday, 7 June 2009
Maybe there's a few places in my pieces about dubstep and mainstyle-gabber where it looks like I'm kinda badmouthing breakcore. And, to some degree, I am. Breakcore is bloody problematic to me in a lot of ways. Despite the fact that it developed out of the more-or-less experimental hardcore scene that I've loved for so long, and despite the fact that I was totally into it in the beginning and bought lots of records, and even though I still love and regularly listen to a lot of said records, it was pretty obvious for me right from the start that this stuff wasn't going to have a – let alone be the – future. For a start, the name is a dead giveaway, so sadly uninspired that it's almost directly proclaiming a lack of ambition – this music is just a combination, and a rather obvious one at that. It's hardcore with breakbeats, innit. Jungle meeting gabber. It had to happen, and of course a combination of two of the greatest forms of rave ever has to deliver some good stuff, but the point is that just adding up stuff doesn't automatically advance the used elements in themselves. Breakcore didn't develop neither jungle nor gabber any further. At best it managed to revitalize them slightly, but mostly by placing them in a new context.
Of course, it might not have been 100% doomed from the start. Dupstep, despite having an equally lame name, and also starting as a kind of obvious combination (something like instrumental grime+2step+tech step), eventually ended up with it's own powerful innovations, taking a giant leap forward. It just didn't happen with breakcore, and for some reason it never felt like it actually could. But why? I guess it has something to do with the core audience and the producers, mostly coming from styles already infected with either anti-rave crossover aesthetics or an ironic mash up approach. Two of the most crucial elements making up the breakcore scene is probably lapsed IDM-nerds, lured into breakbeats by drill'n'bass rather than jungle/'ardcore, and former Digital Hardcore-disciples with much more of a noise/punk approach than a rave one. That would be a huge part of the American segment I'd say – digital hardcore was surprisingly big in the US, maybe just as big as any kind of genuine rave music (of which I'm not counting house), and the same goes for breakcore too I suppose.
Anyway, the point is that a large fraction of those making breakcore were kinda doing post-rave mix-it-all-up music right from the start, working with self conscious deconstruction, references and parody rather than developing the musics genetic material from within. Too large a fraction for breakcore to ever free itself from the gravitational pull of the past, the knowledge of history, and engage a sufficiently amount of new blood. Unlike dubstep, which, no matter what people like K-Punk or Reynolds want to believe, certainly have a large audience – and probably a growing roster of new producers as well – that are not scholars of 'nuum history. This is the reason why, despite all the great music, breakcore never convinced me the way dubstep did, and why it probably never could have developed into a really fertile rave scene. To get the full meaning of breakcore, you had to know too much, there's no starting from zero. Which is finally, to some degree, getting us to the point of this piece: Because even though the majority of breakcore is made up of either: 1) extremely hard and noisy jungle overloaded with ragga samples, 2) drill'n'bass beefed up and rhythmically anchored by massive gabber bass drum density, 3) silly plunderphonic party music, 4) post DHR-noisefests with punishing amen shrapnel, 5) sluggish industrial goth-core or 6) a combination of any or all of the above, breakcore was also an extremely versatile genre. The producers came from a huge variety of backgrounds, and it all became part of the sound, which could be anything from absolutely serious noise/art-experimentalism to feel good party music.
As much as breakcore lack a truly independent, collective movement, and never managed to create a new, unique and defining sound separating it from its sources, it also has a much higher maverick ratio than perhaps any other electronic music of the last twenty years. Precisely by not being a scenious movement, breakcore had plenty of room for geniuses, or at least producers creating their very own odd take on things. This is where the great breakcore innovations are to be found, and of course, none of them initiated a movement, they were all specialized signature curiosities, personal micro-innovations that could hardly be followed by anyone else without plagiarising them. As a result, there's a big treasure chest of wonderful and thoroughly enjoyable breakcore to be excavated, and while the genre have few defining classics (let alone anthems), there's plenty of amazing obscurities, as well as stuff that's just so bloody original that it can’t help to fascinate. So here we go, a collection of 15 more or less unsung breakcore gems:
Patric Catani: Hitler 2000 (Digital Hardcore Recordings)
Perhaps the greatest artist on DHR, and definitely the one who made the best records released by the label. Alec Empire is probably as good as Catani overall, but his best records remain the albums he did for Mille Plateaux, even if he also made some good ones for his own label as well. While Empires Destroyer is one of the few truly trailblazing breakcore records, opening the amen-punk route followed by far too many, it's nowhere as great as this, which shows how inventive, funny, destructive and sometimes even downright groovy breakcore can be. Some people talk about Shizou as the pinnacle of DHR; I've got absolutely no idea why. To me he seems pretty anonymous and stereotypical. Others mention Christoph de Babalon, but even though his highly praised If You're Into It, I'm Out of It-album IS pretty good, it's also slightly overrated, a bit uneven quality-wise, while probably a bit too even in mood and atmosphere. Hitler 2000 is quite the opposite, sticking in all sorts of weird, twisted directions, from the baroquely contortive to the nightmarishly beautiful, and most of it not sounding like anything else in breakcore, though maybe at times slightly foreshadowing later developments. With it's superb balance of earshredding noise and mangled grooves, Hitler 2000 was in many ways the next big leap forward in breakcore, since 1997s foundational records like Panaceas Low Profile Darkness, DJ Scuds early eps and Alec Empires aforementioned Destroyer, while simultaneously remaining a unique, inimitable entity. It kind of map out the scenes potential, you could say, and consequently, in a lot of ways, the journey begins here. Mind you, Catanis trashy fictitious computer game soundtrack The Horrible Plans of Flex Busterman might actually be his greatest achievement for DHR, but that's not really breakcore, and unfortunately not something anyone really followed.
No-Tek 5 – Urban Break Corps (No-Tek)
A brilliant obscurity from the transitional phase in french hardcore, where the cutting edge switched from manic speedcore to twisted breakcore. Apparently, No-Tek is both a label and a producer, and responsible for some of the greatest of that french speciality, psychedelic gabber. This four track EP, which is actually kind of a mini-compilation involving Psai-Zone, Axl and “Znobr the Break Fucker” as well, is in a much more loose and grungy territory. It's still driven gabber bass drums as hard and heavy as big blocks of concrete, but they’ve become strangely rolling and syncopated and countered by rattling breakbeats, creating the overall impression of rusty and ramshackle machinery pushing ahead despite being close to a breakdown.
Cavage09 – Sans Dessus Dessous (Cavage)
Mostly known for organizing raves in the Paris catacombs and sewers, which is obviously enough to give them eternal cult status, the Cavage label was also a central cog in the french breakcore scene, mirroring the developments made by experimental-hardcore-institution Praxis, which made a shift from industrially sounding four-to-the-floor mayhem to industrially sounding splatter breakbeats around the time Cavage started. Cavage became the french part of the whole milieu surrounding Praxis - including labels like Ambush and Deadly Systems, the c8-website and the Datacide-magazine -, and released a string of compilations centered around prime mover and label mastermind Saoulaterre, aka Boris Domalain, also working as Gorki Plubakter and DXMédia (and often on the same record), and accompanied by a floating roster of artists like Nurgle de Trolls, Gamaboy and Praxis stalwarts like Dan Hekate and Nomex. In this way, the Cavage records are not so much traditional compilation albums as they're the latest adventures of Boris and friends, and the style change according to his current whims and whoever is otherwise participating. The most recent Cavage record, number 14, is absolutely brilliant, but couldn't really be called breakcore by any stretch of the definition. Rather, it's deeply psychedelic avant garde hardcore, simultaneously beautiful, noisy, sorrowful and disorienting/terrifying, and definitely worth tracking down. For their breakcore output however, they were probably never better or more unique than on Cavage09, where all traces of traditional breakcore clichés are practically gone There is one single lame cliché on the album, in the form of a short and utterly generic noise track, but the rest is a bizarre and captivating mix of twisted french hip hop, drifting psychedelic soundscapes and slowly-disintegrating-yet-deeply-groovy breakbeats, not to mention even more odd elements like stuttering guitar riffs and oldie show tune-samples. This might sound like it's one of those annoying everything-goes-no-genres-binding-us-we-can-and-will-fuse-everything-we-please records, but what's so amazing is that it actually isn't. The weird mix of styles and ideas never sounds like forced eclecticism, it's all just coming together in a way that seems obvious and right and so much it's own strange thing – physically searing and totally ravey while at the same time permeated with a strange sense of loss and sadness – that you hardly even notice that it's actually a combination of pretty awkward elements.
Electromeca: Riddim (Casse Tête)
The most successful french breakcore label is probably Peace Off, specializing in archetypical breakcore styles from a huge cluster of international leaders in the field, like Sickboy and Doormouse. Electromeca could be described as something like Peace Offs secret weapon, their one true claim to innovative fame and on a completely different level from what's otherwise on the label – a bit like Req on Skint, you could say. It often seems like Electromeca is the breakcore producers breakcore producer, recognised within the scene as something extraordinary, but still somewhat unknown outside it. His trademark is the incredibly heavy, crunchy rhythms, treacherously chopped start-stop-syncopations that are nevertheless infectiously funky and groovy where most breakcore is linear and frenetic. The Batteling Doll Beats-ep on Peace Off is arguably the definitive Electromeca record, showcasing his style at its most pure and effective, but this one hits harder, so intricately brutalized that it's almost disintegrating, and yet it still delivers an irresistible dancefloor impact.
Inushini: Inushini (Ohm 52)
It's not easy to dig up information about this guy. There's a myspace-page, but as usual that isn't much help. He seems to be german, and given a split LP with Society Suckers, perhaps from Chemnitz/Karl Marx Stadt as well, or at least from the former East Germany. It would certainly make sense considering the music, which is easily the most bleak, grainy, gritty, grimy, low res-sample rate damaged breakcore you're ever going to hear. The sound of a world turned into one big polluted, frozen, industrial dump, an absolute forsaken wasteland of dead sounds and sonic dirt. In a way, it's breakcores very own hauntology. A few of the tracks are aggressive noise+amen attacks with a clear DHR influence, like bursts of desperation in an otherwise worn out world, but mostly, this is a record of atmospheric and understated breakcore, often saturated with an almost unbearable, ghostly, heartbreaking sadness. An obvious comparison could be Christoph de Babalons highly praised If You're Into It, I'm Out of It-album, but Inushini is actually better and more powerful.
LFO Demon/ FFF: Clash of the Titans (Sprengstoff)
Probably the most successful rave-anthemic breakcore producer around, and definitely the most versatile, LFO Demon only tangentially belong to the genre. His secret weapon is an utterly honest and heartfelt love for the Mokum school of cheesy happy gabber, and this record even contain a track – which is obviously totally great – called “Mokum Riddim”. His best tracks are true anthems because they're free from any hint of irony or mockery, he simply makes euphoric hardcore rave so irresistibly catchy that you think you're back in '92, not because the music sounds like a retro construction a la Zombys back-to-'92-album, but exactly because it doesn't. What LFO Demon resurrect is the future buzz itself, through a music that is clearly contemporary. It's only the feeling it ignites that isn't. The three tracks on LFO Demons half of this split EP – the other half is pretty good but also much more ordinary ragga-breakcore – are all among his most anthemic tracks, combining breakbeats, ragga samples and incredibly catchy gabber, and are probably the closest he have ever been to something that can be adequately identified as breakcore – even though that still isn't all that close, maybe it's more a kind of raggabber, as I've once seen it described. In any case, it's just one side of his polymorphous talent, stretching from psychedelic experimental hardcore to gloomy and achingly beautiful electronica. I really should make an entire post about him some time.
Ove-Naxx: Ove-Chan Dancehall (Adaadat)
Japanese gameboy-breakcore, rhythmically pretty similar to the typical Venetian Snare-ish beat-butchery, viciously thrashing forward while constantly stumbling over its own feet. What makes it special, though, is the exquisite sense of melodic playfulness and the highly inventive arrangements patching together all sorts of twisted dynamics and mad build ups. It's the kind of thing that could very well have been totally annoying, but somehow Ove-Naxx manage to make it thoroughly enjoyable with just the right amount of cartoonish charm. Also worth mentioning is his ability to actually use the bleepy arcade sounds in new and sprawling ways, as an inspiration in the original sense of the word, rather than as a signifier of a particular era and sound. Is Ove-Naxx what some people call clownstep? If so, I'm all for clownstep.
Slepcy: And Again (Ambush)
This polish duo took the most abstract avant-noise end of breakcore – the early Ambush/Praxis-axis as well as the more extreme parts of DHR– to the logical conclusion, eventually creating something that was as close to musique concrete as to jungle. It's also sonic violence of epic, almost wagnerian proportions, like monumental cathedrals made of sonic scrap metal and nerve gas. Certainly an example of breakcore in thrall to the noise scenes quest for self-indulgent extremism, but it nevertheless manage to turn completely atonal and hostile abstraction into something truly thrilling and strangely spellbinding. Slepcys greatest achievement is probably the peculiar electronica-ish LP We Are the Newest Battle Models, only containing superficial vestiges of breakcore, but this one is arguably their most crucial, simply because it defines the outer limits of this specific strain of breakcore – how far it can be taken as well as to how good it can be done.
Overcast: 3PM ETERNAL (Bloody Fist)
We mainly think of Bloody Fist as crusaders of the most distorted and ruthless speedcore gabber imaginable, probably a notion primarily based on the success of the early Nasenbluten stuff. As it happens, the label always had room for fast, noisy breakbeats, and a lot of their records actually contain a kind of proto-breakcore, as well as full blown breakcore later on. 3PM ETERNAL was one of the last Bloody Fist releases before the label closed in 2004, the magnum opus of label owner and Nasenbluten member Mark Newlands, and clearly a labour of love – to the degree that “love” is a word that can be used in any relation to Bloody Fist at all. Despite being a declared lo-fi Amiga primitivist, Newlands is also a highly skilled DJ in the traditional b boy-sense – cutting up records, scratching and building his tracks as raw sample collages. That approach is pretty much the starting point for this records, which only contain a few remnants of the terrorcore mayhem usually associated with Bloody Fist. The result is a kind of breakcore, based as it is on punishing breakbeats and industrial noise, but it's not really like any other breakcore out there – it's more like the breakcore answer to, or mutilation of, the whole Ninja Tune/Mo Wax/Depth Charge journey-by-DJ aesthetic. Not mashup like all that tiresome Kid606/Shitmat/Jason Forrest-pomo-idiocy, this is this thing done right: massive breaks, ugly samples and gritty gloomcore coming together to form a style so consistent that it seems almost obvious, while still being unique to Newlands.
Shiver Electronics: Soultrade (Widerstand)
Doomy breakcore fused with 8 bit atmospheres and horror movie samples, in many ways silly like old school gabber, but also very evocative, almost epic. Like Overcast, Shiver Electronics have forged a very personal style that seems so right that you'd think it was part of a long tradition, yet there isn't really anyone else doing anything quite like it.
Karl Marx Stadt: 2001 – 2004 (Lux Nigra)
The brainchild of Christian Gierden, who is probably best known as half of the Society Suckers, a pretty great, if much more ordinary, breakcore duo, whose Not the SUCKERS Again-ep contain some of the most irresistibly catchy tracks the genre have ever produced. As Karl Marx Stadt he's trying out all sorts of strange ideas, and while the first KMS-ep 1997-2001 was an uneven hodgepodge of mostly IDM-influenced hybrid styles, this one is pretty focused on a unique vision, with the exception of the closing “All I Wanna Do”, which is a standard lazy mash up that tries too hard to be funny, and “Nsk 1 Shareoom”, which is truly beautiful, music box-twinkling electronica. The rest is opulent breakcore where massive choir- and orchestra-samples creates a cod-symphonic yet absolutely exhilarating apocalyptic vibe, further twisted by nutty 8 bit melodies and a hyperactive approach to composition that cram the tracks with details and ideas, yet somehow keeps its balance so it never seems cluttered or showy like the typical dril'n'bass-derived breakcore-programming.
Venetian Snares: Rossz Csillag Alatt Született (Planet MU)
This can hardly be called an obscure gem, Venetian Snares is, after all, something like the biggest breakcore figurehead around, and this is probably one of his most celebrated releases. However, it really has to be here – this is where he completely transcends his own formulas and makes something that truly stands alone. Mostly, his output have been so enormous, and so influential on the rest of the breakcore scene, that it's somehow drowning out itself, but this one defines it's own territory in a way that's more or less unrepeatable – that is, you might try to do something similar, but it would just make you look like a pathetic copycat. Of course, it's utterly contrived and overblown, with its mock avant garde stylings and hungarian melancholia and sad poems, but unashamed contrivedness have always been a big part of what makes Venetian Snares interesting, so it's all the better that he goes all the way here, and eventually makes some kind of framework for his power drill-breakbeats, gives them a point besides their own hardness and complexity.
Hecate: Negative World Status (Zhark London)
Once Hecate seemed to be something like the queen of goth-dustrial breakcore, and Venetian Snares' closest rival, but I don't really know how much that is the case any more. At some point I lost interest as she got too stuck in pseudo-occult horror movie theatrics and eventually even black metal wreckage, but I still cherish her early stuff, which actually managed to make the usual darker-than-thou overdrive truly scary. The clunky, butchered breaks have been drained of even the slightest vestige of funk or groove, but that's all part of the point here – like Inushini and Slepcy, this is breakcore as 21st century industrial through and through, a brutal, disintegrating soundscape rather than rave music.
Panacea: Chartbreaka (Position Chrome)
After creating one of the main breakcore blueprints with the industrial mayhem of Low Profile Darkness, Panacea went on to produce a heap of minmal-doomy and macho-metallic techstep, slightly thrilling in it's attempt to build the hardest, most single minded punishing headbanger-sound around, but obviously also very tiring in the long run. Eventually he started to cheer up, adding more silly and ravey elements while pledging allegiance to the original british 'ardcore together with DJ Scud. The culmination of that development was probably this triple 12” and its sister release Underground Superstardom, both kind of borderline records between rave-tastic breakcore and contemporary monster riffing drum'n'bass. It's tasteless and cheesy to the extreme, all bulid ups, mentasm hoovers and gothic pomp, and the main breakcore community certainly didn't like it at all. To these ears, though, it's simply some of the most exhilarating music this scene have ever come up with, not to mention the best Panacea have done since the first album.
Istari Lasterfahrer: "Breakcore" The Death of a Genre
A playful internal critique from one of the scenes most prolific producers, apparently realizing that the style is degenerating and becoming a parody of itself – hence this parody of its most tired mashup-ragga clichés. Lasterfahrer have always been oscillating between straightforward breakcore – like his masterpiece Do You Think, which somehow managed to find the perfect path between abstract hypersyncopation and the invigorating thrust of old school ragga jungle – and records that challenge the form through a more twisted, unorthodox approach. This one is a prime example of the latter, full of wit, charm and silly melodies, quirkily syncopated breaks and bright plastic sounds. On “Fuck with My Crew” the ruff ragga vocals are pitched up to near-helium hysteria, so they're losing the usual menacing machismo while simultaneously becoming sexless, alien and creepy. I don't think this record is meant to be the last word in breakcore, but perhaps it should be. Lasterfahrer mostly makes dubstep now, I think.
Sunday, 18 January 2009
There was, and there still is, I think, a small rave-scene based on the Hellfish filter/cut up-sound, but it was not really a part of the gabber mainstream, and what's so amazing about the Third Movement-development is that it now is the gabber mainstream, rather than a cultish fraction. It was this fact that made it such a big surprise to me, because it was exactly the gabber mainstream that I'd given up on a long time ago, choosing to follow the weird twists and permutations of the experimental hardcore field in stead, and eventually ending up with breakcore, like most of that movement did. And then, out of the blue, I discovered that those Dutchmen that I'd completely abandoned had gone and made the next big leap forward in hardcore rave. A more straightforward hardcore-devoted friend played me some of the new stuff in 2001/2002 – from the new breed of Thunderdome-records even – and I was totally blown away. If anything can be used as a textbook example of the power of scenious development or of a continental hardcore continuum, this is it. Unnoticed by mainstream dance- and electronica-media – to say nothing of music media as a whole – the faithful gabber-believers just did their own thing and won. Stumbling upon such a vibrant, inventive and convincing scene was a bit like discovering jungle when that broke through. Here was a scene that had been left to it's own devices and living in darkness for years, developing something completely new and unheard, almost unrecognisable when compared to the original style. The big difference, though, is that this new style didn’t break through, it never became noticed outside it's own ghetto, not even by electronic music journalists, whereas jungle was news even to people who didn't care about rave, or even hardly about music at all. In this respect it's much like grime and dubstep, then, but the comparison with jungle is still useful for purely stylistic reasons.
To be completely honest, it's certainly not all “mainstyle”-gabber that can claim to be as faraway a mutation from the original gabber as jungle was from breakbeat 'ardcore (”mainstyle”, eventually, is one of the few somewhat recurring tags that seems like an attempt to give this style it's own name – usually it's just called “hardcore”, which of course isn't really helping to set it apart as something new and unique). The truly groundbreaking developments are not necessarily present on all the tracks, not consciously understood by the scene as the defining element setting it apart as a whole new thing, as with jungles chopped up and excitingly rearranged – as opposed to just looped – breakbeats. With mainstyle there's a lot of tracks that are industrially dark and noisy in a very monotonous and one dimensional way, simply making the hardness of the sound the whole point, and on the other hand there are many tracks that are rather trancey, bordering on straight hardstyle. But in between we have the real deal, balancing both extremes and defined by it's incredible creative bass drum engineering. Actually, it's the polymorphous kicks in themselves that are the real deal, and in principle they can be used in the trancey as well as the industrial minimalist stuff, it's just that at lot of the time they aren't, and then those styles are actually not that exciting. It’s when the bassdrum architecture is the whole driving force that this style peaks as some of the greatest rave music ever, as viscerally catchy and mindbendingly inventive as the best jungle. All varietys of the style, though, seems to be considered acceptable parts of the overall movement, many of the main producers work with the whole spectrum from noisy monotony to cheesy anthems, often on the same record (the primary mainstyle outlet seems to be four track eps, bless them), so perhaps it's a little hyperbolic to claim that this stuff is overall as great as jungle – or even the original gabber for that matter – the brilliance-to-crap-ratio is not quite as impressive. But it doesn't change how overwhelmingly brilliant the best stuff actually is.
As with jungle, the great leap made by the best mainstyle-tracks is rhythmic. It's about liberating a hitherto simple structure and allowing it to blossom into constantly morphing, multidimensional grooves. Jungle took 'ardcores usually rather straightforwardly looped breaks and chopped them to atoms, building new structures as amazingly complex as they were irresistibly catchy, saturated with insane start-stop trickery and endlessly stimulating syncopations. With mainstyle, it's the relentlessly pounding four-to-the-floor kick drums that are being transformed and turned into a dynamic, hyperkinetic force. The sound of each kick is beefed up so it's closer to a metallic bass than a drum, so thick and massive that it practically has a physical presence, like a big block of sonic concrete. The occasional use in traditional gabber of double time kicks or small kick rolls at the end of a bar, to add a little variation and extra energy, is here a constant – and constantly self-transforming – element, creating a rhythmic flow that is simultaneously explosive, monstrously massive and mercilessly precise. The stomping monotony is punctuated by unexpected jumps, twists and turns, one moment warping in all directions, the next surging forward with immense power, enfolding all sorts of broken syncopations within the metronomic stampede. And the drum sounds, having reached such a density that they're practically synth tones, are often pitched up and down so they're used as tuned percussion, introducing a melodic element in what was once monochrome simplicity. As with jungle, linear rhythmic energy is turned into multi-tiered beat science. In both cases, the end result – when the process have really worked – is that the drums have become the melody, or rather, the main creative force in the music, what makes it exciting and irresistible.
A lot of these things can be said about the Hellfish/Producer-sound too, of course, and if anything there's probably a much bigger focus on wild beat trickery with them. The crucial difference lies in the remaining factors, and the overall purpose they give the music. Hellfish and Producer seem somehow self-consciously left field, whipping up a hyperactive sensory overload that in many ways owes as much to old school hip hop turntablism (apparently the unsurpassable horizon of more or less all good British dance music) as it does to gabber. The mainstyle producers, on the other hand, slow things down to create a much more stable groove, where the rhythmic tricks and gambols serve the overall linear thrust. That's what makes so much of this music a heir to “We Have Arrived” and the more ravey end of PCP/Acardipane-doomcore generally. Often it's simply like doomcore reunited with the original (proto)-gabber brutality from “We Have Arrived”, revitalized with modern equipment. Or, the other way round, it's the most anthemic, cod-symphonic and, in a way, trance-like end of gabber – the K.N.O.R./Ruffneck-axis as well as a lot of the stuff on Mokum – that have developed it's own dark side, becoming more “serious” or respectable by pledging allegiance to Acardipanes apocalyptic vision. If this music is considering itself “deep” or “heavy”, to the degree that it cares about such things at all, it's because of this darkness rather than the beat-complexity, which is probably seen much more as a functional invention, a simple means to charge up the rave-capacity rather than a goal in itself – not the essence or art that the stuff is all about. Which might be part of the explanation why the beat science here have never become the same kind of staple, defining factor as with jungle, but also why it seems to have reached a broader kind of popularity than with Hellfish/Producer – it's never really allowed to spiral off into complexity-and-abstraction-for-the-sake-of-it, the technique is always subservient to that monstrous locked-on-target force that Marc Acardipane defined so long ago with “We Have Arrived”.
The most melodic and anthemic of this stuff, where the pompous, mentasm damaged synth riffs blare as triumphantly euphoric as in eurotrance or hardstyle, is obviously totally cheesy, but so is the doomcore variety as well, in it's own way, overindulging in gothic pomp, sampled choirs and horror movie dialogue. And it's great. Actually, both kinds of mainstyle-cheesiness can come up with the best of what this scene has to offer, it's more often here you'll find the really far out beats, whereas the more serious, arty and minimal end of it have a tendency to avoid the most excitingly exaggerated possibilities. It's totally scenious in this way, there's practically no mavericks or self proclaimed “deep artists” here, and there's absolutely no hint of jazz or soul tastefulness – but then, I guess that is pretty unlikely within the gabber continuum anyway. Arguably, some of the producers specializing in the more industrial-noisy end of things might think of themselves as the experimental front line, taking the new hardcore to a deeper and more serious level, but I can't think of a single one who have made a real name for himself that way, there doesn't seem to be any “geniuses” celebrated as artistic leaders by the scene, or as honourable exceptions by the mainstream music media (again – pretty unlikely with anything coming from gabber). There's yet no LTJ Bukems or Goldies of mainstyle, which is probably a sign of health.
Even the biggest names doesn't really stand that much apart from the whole. They're usually offering good solid quality, but not necessarily the best or most exciting tracks. The Third Movement label is of course something like the very foundation of the style, having released countless records, many of them pioneering or outright defining the sound. Their Demolition series of compilations is an obvious place to start for those who want a fast introduction to the style. They are, however, also very mixed bags, quality-wise. There's cheesy anthems, metallic monotony and strikes of incredibly thrilling scenious brilliance, and while most of it seems to be good stuff, it's not necessarily one big cavalcade of classics – there's many fillers as well, and there's absolutely no guarantee that the best mainstyle-tracks will be included. The same goes for the very prolific DJ Promo (a name every bit as irritating as DJ Producer), founder and champion of Third Movement, and often seen as more or less the man behind the scenes success, as well as playing the major role in inventing the style. His records contain lumpen, cheesy “hits” – all titanic tranceriffs and his signature shouty, self-aggrandizing rap-like vocals – as well as brilliant abstract tracks, taking mad metallic percussion and rhythmic contortions to surprisingly catchy extremes. Yet, it's hard to think of any of his music as being truly in a league of its own: If he's kind of representing the scene, it's because of his tireless work as DJ, label-owner and prolific producer, as well as the fact that he was one of the first and most pronounced to develop the elements defining the style, and not because he have made a string of universally known, indisputable timeless classics, or because his tracks are generally the best the scene has to offer.
In true scenious style, you'll find the best mainstyle records more or less by pure luck, checking out the bulk of new releases regularly, now and then stumbling upon something that'll just happen to be incredibly great, some of the very best stuff you've ever heard, in any style. And there's really no way you can systematize these discoveries, unless you're practically dedicating your life to it – i.e. being a full time DJ. I'd be the first to admit that I'm no real authority on what is truly the greatest mainstyle records, I've never dug that deep into the piles of stuff available, never really tried to check everything coming out, and I'm not claiming that my few personal favourites are necessarily the very pinnacles of the style. I've certainly missed plenty of masterpieces, and I'm sure mainstyle-scholars could play me lots of unsung tracks that would be at least as great as the ones I've found. The best advise, as it's usually the case with scenious music, is to find your own classics, create your own cannon. But that said, I'd like to end this with a couple of my personal discoveries; records that were probably conceived as effective DJ fodder, and certainly aren't well known in the same way as stuff by DJ Promo or other Third Movement mainstays like Catscan or Rude Awakening. Yet it's records that I rate higher than any other mainstyle I've ever heard.
Interestingly, my two favourites are actually not dutch. The Depudee is german, and takes the style to the cheesy extreme. Tons of aggressive rap samples, cheap fanfare-like hardstyle riffs and even cheaper rave dynamics wonderfully overdone – on a record like Move Around the tracks practically consist of nothing but breakdowns and build ups, breakdowns within breakdowns, breakdowns within build ups, build ups within breakdowns etc. ad infinitum. As cheap as it is, it's also incredibly inventive and invigorating, wallowing in the lowest common denominators while at the same time supercharging them through insane, constantly morphing bass drum architecture, using them with such creativity and sparkling conviction that it reminds me of nothing as much as the early Prodigy. Yet better still is Chaosbringer, one of the few examples (that I know of) of the big french hardcore scene going into mainstyle territory. Here we're talking doomcore-derived darkness of the most exaggerated, pseudo-symphonic kind, beefed up by the same massive rave dynamics as with The Depudee. The tracks build and build, creating immense tension and explosive release, surging forward like a giant army of towering demon-robots, and always made further powerful by bass drums as hard and heavy as reinforced concrete, yet elastic and intractable like run amok rubber balls.
To me, if to no one else, Chaosbringers Dividing the Red Sea-ep really feels like a kind of pinnacle, all the best aspects of ravey (i.e. non-avant) hardcore/gabber rolled into one: Droning mentasm doomcore, cheap samples and catchy synth riffs, rampaging mainstyle bass drums, even a tearing break beat in one track. The only thing missing is computer game silliness and raw amiga samples, but then the result would probably be, and sound, far too forced. What makes it so ultimate here is that it doesn't seem even remotely like something deliberately made to be ultimate, not a conscious effort to collect all the best ideas, but rather an obvious evolutionary outcome, a natural accumulation of stuff that works, hyper-engineered to a new level of devastating power, everything coming together smoothly. Still, dig deep into the wealth of mainstyle, and you might find your own pinnacles. The time when this scene was peaking and seemed totally new and revolutionary is some years behind by now, so perhaps in a few years time people will begin mining it. Maybe I should get a lead and start now.