The Hardcore Situation
The adjective “Hardcore” generally refers to something’s most basic fundamental elements, its original reason for being, its natural state in relation to existence. Oxford’s American Dictionary’s first definition for “hard core” is “irreducible nucleus” and the second is “the most active or committed members of a society.” Since such definitions are flattering to ones or a groups ego, the adjective “Hardcore” is thrown around loosely with abandon, often used to describe pale imitations of the real thing. “Hardcore” in relation to rave culture or “electronica” (or whatever the major media conglomerates deem to call it at the present time) is often misused, as stated above, or ignored altogether, in order to obscure the rave culture’s origins and replace them with those that are deemed more commercially suitable to a perceived mainstream audience. Thus, it becomes necessary to have a mutually agreed upon definition of the word “Hardcore” — not only to expose some of the short history of the phenomenon to those that may not have been around during the formative years, but also to refresh the collective memory of those that were.
The “Raves” of the early 90s had some very basic elements:
1. Technology had reached a point where more people than ever could cheaply and easily produce art and music of “professional quality,” bypassing traditional commercial avenues of production, bringing the general populace creativity unencumbered by market limitations imposed by hierarchies far removed from the creative/social source.
2. The art, music, fashion and writing being produced was a unity of a variety of sources, because the technology primarily was based on assimilating, collaging and combining (scanners, mixers, samplers). These different sources were a variety of late 80s early 90s subcultures and a potpourri of larger, often foreign, cultural influences. Essentially people were appreciating and assimilating different aspects of different cultures. There was a unity of different people.
3. With all the interaction, commonalties were quickly recognized, and seemed quite fortuitous and overwhelming. A sense of spirituality was being formed — based on the recognition of the events conspiring to achieve this “unity,” and how they were paralleled by various other cultures’ religious and spiritual practices. Thus, these basic elements had come together to begin synergizing an entirely new culture, with its own dance, music, art, language, history and spirituality.
In its ideal form, (notably achieved a number of times), the “rave” came into being from Western Culture’s pressing needs, i.e. community in a multi-ethnic and cultural society, spirituality that related more directly to the world currently lived in, creative productions that communicated the creative person’s feelings and inspirations unhindered by mainstream society’s outdated prejudices and media. The raves’ relation to society was a much needed social cohesion combined with a creative and spiritual outburst (humans’ common method of initially contemplating existence).
The original ravers applied the adjective “Hardcore” to describe the raves’ social, spiritual, and creative elements. The term was consciously assimilated (of course) from the punk movement’s do-it-yourself ideals. In fact, the hijacking of technology, the repetitive shamanic dance rhythms, the internet, the DJ mixing, etc., were all considered “core” elements in their respective genres. This further ingrained the adjective “Hardcore” in the early rave movement, as it conspired to combine what it considered the strongest elements into a new form.
So “Hardcore” in relation to raves, refers to the creative arts’ exploration of spirituality, achieving a social cohesion within the larger society.
In order to achieve this, “Hardcore” must constantly explore new avenues of creativity, pushing limits, analyzing barriers, and questioning existence, and existing structures, eventually refining the conclusions and manifestations into something to be experienced, learned from, and acted on.
Though Hardcore was the original formation and ideal of the rave scene, you rarely hear it mentioned–as if it never existed! The “rave scene” touted and promoted by emphysema pushing rags like Sweater, your local newspaper’s fourth “rave exposé” this year, local “rave” promoters and every ad agency in the free (?) world don’t have anything to do with any kind of creativity, vision, or innovation, THOUGH THEY CLAIM TO. Every weekend, there are hundreds of parties that claim to be part of the “tribal united future of technology, love, peace, creativity,” etc. The parties are, in fact, sponsored, pushed, or influenced by the entire corporate-consumer structure that the original rave scene was trying to change or escape. From this point on, I must say that what follows are my opinions based on my personal experience and observations in the rave scene over the last decade. As one of the rave scene’s pioneers and original promoters, DJs, record store owners, artists, musicians, zine and article writers, I have witnessed first-hand that which I relay.
What was to become the rave scene was at its very initial stages organized and put together by motley crews of artists, musicians, punks, criminals, drug addicts and dealers. Of course, the artists and musicians had the resources to make a cool space and event, the drug dealers had the friends, no one cared for the status quo, and there was a large group of people throughout society that didn’t really want to be a part of the general society (or at least it seemed). Suddenly, with the aforementioned technology, it seemed entirely feasible to throw parties for a living, being creative and making music, and hanging out high with your friends. Well, this lasted for about 2 seconds. It is as if the rave scene was a victim of its own success.
Greed and jealousy instantly surfaced as soon as the money appeared. From the moment the money was collected at the door, everyone involved thought that someone else was pocketing it somewhere down the line. In almost every city everywhere in Europe and America that I have been to, it’s the same story. Friends were now enemies and competitors in many situations, all the more ironic because a lot of these parties were called “Unity”! That was bad enough, but soon, every club and bar was propping up a “rave night” playing music that was pretty much just American club music. Furthermore, the clubs in most cities were trying to actively crush the rave scene and assimilate it for itself. In some cases people were actually physically beat-down for passing out flyers, or in other cases they were followed and beat up at their own homes! Many of these clubs were essentially big money laundering machines for organized crime, and the rave promoters were seen as stepping on their turf. And of course, in all cities, there was generally an antagonism with the police.
All of these problems played a role in transforming the rave scene into that which it rebelled against, but in my opinion, the majority of the problems stemmed from the internal fighting, back-stabbing and betrayals within the scene itself. This is not a problem that is unique to the rave scene – it happened with disco, with the hippies, and punk rock; eventually everyone seems to sell out. Idealism is replaced with opportunism, which then leads to consumerism, and then ends up disillusionism.
Looking back, a poignant memory was when I was having a meeting with a bunch of people about a party that we were planning. There was a disagreement about how some matter should proceed. Soon enough the phrase, “you gotta understand–this is a business!” was repeated on several lips. It even made sense to a certain extent, I mean, yeah, we were taking in money on some level, but it seemed to me the emphasis should be on making a cool event. I believe the fundamental split was that some people really saw the potential that the scene had in a spiritual, artistic and socially progressive light, and others saw it as “a business”.
This Business of Music
Creativity and business have had an interesting relationship in that they are both completely dependent on one another, yet seem to alternately love or loathe the relationship. Creativity involves originality, business involves imitation. The businessman always needs something new to sell, the artist constantly needs resources to exploit. The rave was a great idea, and seemed to make money. This attracted a lot of interest in people who simply wanted to make money. First was the club scene. Raves had absolutely nothing to do with clubs. In fact, in many cases we were rebelling against the whole idea of clubs and their exclusionary policies, dress codes and elitism. But as soon as the remaining dregs of the disco and club industry got wind of the rave scene, they smelled fresh blood. They associated themselves with the rave scene based on the fact that each relied on turntables to push the music and had fliers as its main method of promotion. Furthermore, there was a push from the house music industry to push its wares on a new generation of consumers. House music was merely one small component of the raves, but soon you had people talking as if it was the start of the scene. Why? These labels had just enough money left after their last coke binge to start buying out ads in what at the time were fanzines. They had producers that were adept at making imitative, commercial-sounding tracks and had a network of promotion at the ready and hungry for a comeback after the massive disco-record-burning stadium events of the early eighties.
The promoters that bought the major label trip and the sponsorship-thing were, in general, not the rave scene’s pioneers. It was usually their “friends.” Quite simply, the original ravers saw through the sponsorship and promotion as soon as its creativity-stifling aspects appeared. But there were people in the background, somewhat familiar with the rave’s organization, who would take the money, and once they did, they had the force of this whole industry pushing them, despite any real specific original talent or knack for innovation. Like the general trend in all aspects of modern-day life in America, your small independent local promoters were soon muscled out if they resisted the trend of the corporate entity. Hardcore became a dirty word, because the new movers and shakers could not obviously claim to be hardcore with any street-accredited authority. Retroactive trend after retroactive trend suddenly was pushed on people as “new-school.” “Progressive House” like “Progressive Rock” was one such oxymoronic movement; essentially, a bunch of studio hacks imitating true house music, watering it down, and selling it to college kids (As a side note, I would avoid any music movement that slaps the word “progressive” in front of it).
So you now have the interesting situation where old music is new, and new music is old. As if the concept of sonic innovation was somehow totally out-dated, and pressing out watered-down homogenized dance music as if you were McDonalds was somehow cutting edge. To this day I would say that the majority of celebrities and musicians celebrated in the rave scene are simply sell-outs that play the corporate game, rarely rock the boat, and in-general, are completely depressing from any social-evolutionary standpoint.
“That which you resist will persist,” often says my frequent coffee-shop loitering companion Joshua Hayward. And I believe a lot of the rave scene’s pioneers such as myself reacted with such venom (and obviously still do) against the inevitable commercialization that it alienated a lot of new people to the original scene because they were not around for those initial parties or strings of events. It was easier for them to identify with the homogenized version of the rave movement, not only aesthetically, but because it was as if they “discovered” it for themselves. Meanwhile, the originators are slagging everything from left to right–and no one likes to be around a sour-puss 24-7!!
The Present Hardcore Situation.
The hardcore “scene” was really forced underground all over again. This incorporated small autonomous cells of artists, musicians and writers with a slight distaste for general society, generating a flurry of creative, anarchic, and subversive media–except now with the increased realization that they are among a vast minority spread all over the globe! Perhaps they are the only ones in their own town, pressing their own records, political manifestos, and broadcasting pirate radio, but of course, the network becomes increasingly self-aware of its own existence. The traveling sound systems, the sub-culture’s primary means of broadcast and economic sustenance– the “teknival” and free-party sub-culture has spawned numerous renegade events–some phenomenal, some memorable, some laughable, some deplorable, but always interesting on some level.
Meanwhile, the music keeps changing and innovating–except notably the Dutch Gabber scene, which is generally not even recognized (not surprisingly, I suppose, also the most commercially successful of all “hardcore” sub-genres) as being hardcore anymore, as it is mostly house music sped up to about 170bpm. Notable movements have been the very harsh, tech-steppy, sorta stomping breakcore of labels like Praxis, Ambush, Spite, KoolPop and Digital Hardcore- to the dreamy ethereal synth washes of Explore Toi, to the noizy, flangey 4/4 drivers of Epiteth, Drop Bass, S.O.D.O.M., Dead End, Atomic and my own label, Deadly Systems- to the playful experiments of labels like Adverse, with their classic 1st record of a stylus playing the label-1 side pressed at 33rpm, the other 45rpm. These are just to name a few. As a matter of fact, I know I’m going to get in trouble here for not mentioning about 20 other labels and their unique sound, but perhaps that job is for the record reviewers!
On the other end of the spectrum is the “rave scene,” which arguably has not progressed significantly since 1992. Except in the commercial realm, as increased exposure came about when “hip” music execs finally figured out no one really gave a shit about “alternative rock” and started trolling around the Winter Music Conference. Same format, same fliers, same set-up. The music, with 20 new sub-genres every month, are primarily re-treads of “breakbeat-house” — can anyone say “trip-hop?” “Funky breaks?” All I can say is- Give me a fucking break!
The hardcore scene I think, can not even be called a “scene.” I would call it the “hardcore situation.” “Scene” entails being “seen” in the context of a certain already-established place or format of behavior, generating a hierarchy of social status and values, whereas “situation” more aptly describes the ongoing temporal, chaotic experiences generated around practitioners of hardcore. “Situation” also refers to the post-Situationism inspired by the late 60’s French action-philosophers of the same name, a sort of theory of social sub-version to increase leisure-time, that seems to be an operating philosophy of numerous sound systems, labels and hangers-on, that frequently take part in, well, …the hardcore situation!