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Mixed in London, December 2003
(71:54, 99.91 MB, 192 KBPS VBR MP3)
Style: freeform hardcore
direct link to the mix:
01. Carbon Based, E-NRG & Nemes – Prologue (Electrolysis)
02. Code 33 – Tabular Desperation (Hardtrancer Mix) (United Ravers)
03. Kevin Energy & Blackout – Crazy Styles (DJ’s Vinal & Devotion Remix) (Nu Energy)
04. DJ Fury – De-Sensitize (Stompin Choonz)
05. Stargazer – Released (CLSM Remix) (Elation)
06. Vinal, Devotion & K-Complex – A World Of Illusion (Nu Energy)
07. Pozor – Lost Generation (Tesseract)
08. Furious – Nightbreed (Electronic)
09. Scott Brown vs Bass-X – Pilgrim (Kevin Energy & K-Komplex Nu Energy Collective Remix) (Evolution)
10. Scott Majestik – Psychopathic Bitch (Bonkerz)
11. Storm & Menis – Dynamite (Destructive Force)
12. DJ Fade – The Future (Future Dance)
13. Shanty & Tazz – 50,000 Jars of Hardcore Jam (Electronic)
14. Nocturnal – Fuck Existence (Digital Beatz)
15. DJ Eclipse – Stairway to Brooklyn (Nu Energy)
16. Sharkey & K-Complex – Delusion (Hec-Tech)
17. Alek Szahala – Superstition (Electronic)
The following is nicked wholesale from an old blog post of mine:
I love music that is made with computers.
I don’t mind ‘real’ instruments and all that, but when you get down to it, I’d rather listen to synths.
I especially love rave music.
I love straight-down-the-line kickdrum nonsense.
I love high bpm’s.
I love screaming synths.
I love the much-mocked offbeat bassline.
I even, still, love snare rolls. Cheesy or not.
And when it comes to completely maniacal rave music, nothing is better than freeform hardcore. But what is freeform hardcore? Freeform is the new name for trancecore. But what is trancecore? Ah.
Trancecore, as a distinct genre of UK hard dance music, emerged in the mid-90’s when long-time stalwarts of the happy hardcore scene like Billy Bunter of GBT, Sharkey and the RSR crew started moving away from the diva vocals, piano samples and cheesy stabs that characterized UK hardcore and towards a synthesis of their sound with European hard trance. Slowly, other artists emerged, particularly the utterly awesome Helix and Fury, but it was a micro-niche of what was anyways a relatively small niche of electronic music.
Happy hardcore was a strange thing, the essence of happy-go-lucky early 90’s raveyness preserved in aspic, charging forward like a manically grinning amphetamine-addled Frankenstein. To tell the story to the uninitiated in the quickest and most perfunctory way possible, in the early 90’s there was only one UK rave scene. If you listen to sets from these events, massive festivals of debauchery set in the otherwise sedate English countryside, the music covers an enormous range of sounds and textures, furiously chopped-up breakbeats melding into the classic 4/4 kickdrum and heliumized diva vocals and ecstatic pianos giving way to darkside pads and furious mentasms. Slowly the scene started to fracture, due to police crackdowns and to the long harsh comedown as hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of ravers started to really hit their tolerance limits for drugs (at the same time as the quality of imported ecstasy tablets started to really nosedive).
In London the musical focus started moving away from the most stereotypically ‘ravey’ aspects (the manic pianos, the delirious stab patterns, the diva vocals) towards a more serious sound, as producers started to take advantage of sampling technology to twist the breakbeats in all kinds of revolutionary ways. This was the beginning of jungle. Out in the provinces the opposite was happening. Increasingly turned off by jungle (its open ragga influences, its lack of e-friendly vibesiness, its reputation for trouble) the other part of the hardcore scene started to move in the other direction, purifying and concentrating the happy vibes and consciously jettisoning the melancholic and moody elements that had always been an essential part of the ying-yang balance of the earlier rave sound. As jungle moved to ever greater rhythmic complexity hardcore was moving in the other direction foregrounding the 4/4 kick, reducing the breakbeats to framing elements of even jettisoning them entirely. With the influence of Dutch gabba the kickdrums solidified, taking up much more of the space in the sound than in earlier tunes, becoming so powerful that they shook your ribcage when played on a massive sound system. As producers refined their game, slowly the amateurish but exciting unpredictability of the early 90’s sound disappeared, as the producers, through great trial and error, developed pretty fool-proof methods of triggering the raver’s rush. Certain elements became standard in every hardcore record – the overpowering kick, the off-beat stabs, the Fantasyland piano n’ vocal breakdowns.
The difference between jungle and hardcore was apparent too in the difference between the crowds. As jungle moved away from pop-pupilled mayhem to being fuelled mainly by weed and alcohol the look became much more street, and the more eccentric accessories of rave culture were jettisoned in favor of a stripped-down urban look. Unlike the multiracial crowds at jungle raves, the happy hardcore scene was overwhelmingly white working-class, and predominantly suburban and provincial. At happy hardcore raves the early 90’s never ended, from the blizzard of road-worker’s jackets, glowsticks, tracksuits, whistles, horns, grinding jaws and rolling eyes that greeted anyone walking into an event like Dreamscape, Helter Skelter, Hardcore Heaven, United Dance, Labyrynth, Rezerection or Slammin’ Vinyl.
At the same time as these changes were occurring, across the North Sea there were two giant rave scenes that were also in the throes of light-speed evolution. One was gabba, Holland’s crazier-than-thou rave sound, militant hyper-fast distorted kick drums with maniacally darkside synths scraped directly from a bezerker fury hallucination. The other was hardtrance, Germany’s more melodic rendering of raveyness. To be honest, as much as I love hardtrance, I’m pretty unclear on its history, as I’ve never seen anything in English about the origins of that scene. It evolved out of the earliest techno-trance music in Germany, the application of Teutonic arpeggiated melodies to techno rhythms. Hardtrance was fast music, with bpms ranging from a brisk 150 bpm to a deliriously charged 180 bpm, but it was generally not as fast as gabba, and it was much more melodic. In the early years this often took very simple forms, one or two-note riffs over a whomping kick and offbeat bassline. Unlike the monochromatic charge of gabba, which lacked basslines in any defined sense, relying on the distorted kick to provide bass pressure, hard trance had that kick-bass-kick-bass power that, on a loud sound system, gets people (like, well, me) grinning from ear to ear and pumping their fists. Hardtrance also had wonderfully, gloriously cliched key changes, as the music would suddenly shift up and down in intensity.
So, this influence made itself felt in Britain. Happycore was in a deep creative rut, with the same 10-15 dj’s monopolizing the scene and the few specialist labels turning out a nonstop flow of mindlessly similar stuff. Indeed, as time went on the music went even deeper into cheesy territory, culminating in a truly shocking period around 97/98 when a disturbingly high proportion of the output consisted of terribly tacky tunes with fairground melodies and 80’s pop vocal covers. Dire stuff. So, for dj/producers like Bunter, Ramos, and Sharkey a new avenue was definitely needed. Looking to the European sound of labels like EDM, Spaceflower, and Tesseract they started adapting their sound. The new sound was much rougher than the happycore sound, with the divas pensioned off and the pianos shoved into the attic. In their place came screaming 303 lines, attitudinally-challenged synth riffs, sweeping pads, and a much more serious vibe. Labels like GBT, RSR, Bonkers, Stompin’ Choonz, Xy2, Nu Energy and Digital Beats were putting out some of the best rave music I’ve ever heard, even though it was a real hassle to find a lot of it, so microscopic was the demand.
I loved this sound at the time. It was such powerful music, the perfect synthesis of a couple of different styles of rave music. Unfortunately, it was, at the time, never accepted by the main part of the hardcore raving crew, who saw it as too weird and moody. The problem was that happy hardcore was dying on its arse by the late 90’s, a corpse of a scene that hadn’t had even a single vaguely original idea for years. With Gatecrasher-style uplifting eurotrance taking its place as the mass-market pillhead music it more or less completely collapsed, taking with it the puny trancecore scene. For several years hardcore was in the doghouse as record sales collapsed, raves emptied, and even the flagship compilation series Bonkers was put on ice. Most of the producers and dj’s in both happycore and trancecore went off to get involved in other styles of music. For instance, Billy Bunter and Jon Doe started making and playing hard house and hard trance, while people like Helix, Fury, and Ramos gave up making music altogether.
The only person left flying the flag for maniacal trance riffs, screaming 303’s, and rampaging bpm’s was Kevin Energy, boss of the Nu Energy Collective. For years Big Kev (for that is he) was the only guy in the UK putting these sorts of tunes out, pumping out tune after tune from himself, Sharkey, and a few other people like Marc Smith and DJ Eclipse. Basically, being into trancecore meant that you’d buy releases whenever Kev put something out, which was maybe once every two months (obviously I was buying other styles of music at the time), and otherwise you’d spend your time tracking down the stuff you’d missed from the first flowering. Slowly but surely his hard work started to pay off and other people who had given up, like Richard Andrews (aka Shanty) of Digital Beats, got back into the production and release game.
It was around this time that the name shift from trancecore to freeform occurred. The idea of calling it freeform hardcore was that it would be a style of hardcore music that was unconstrained by boundaries, where influences could be taken from the full spectrum of electronic music to make original and powerful hardcore rave music. In practice, of course, it remained very heavily trance-oriented. Which was fine with me.
The actual hardcore scene itself has in the last couple of years has experienced its own revival, having taken on a heavily trance-influenced sound, as pushed by Hixxy’s Raverbaby label and Scott Brown’s Evolution label. This new hardcore sound was similar to the old trancecore sound, except cheesier. At the same time, the trancecore/freeform axis benefited from this revival and from Kev’s years of hard work, becoming far more accepted in the hardcore scene at large as well as in the hard house/nu-nrg scene. Lots of new producers entered the scene, including a large contingent from Finland, who completely revolutionized the freeform sound. But that’s a topic for another post.
As for the topic of this post, this is a mix I did in December 2003, and it includes a couple of the different styles of hardcore I’ve mentioned (of course we’re talking micro-genre hair-splitting so for the uninitiated I’d guess it would all sound like ludicrously last mayhem). This mix is book-ended by two twisted Finnish tracks, and includes mid-90’s European tunes from Code 33 and Pozor, two early(ish) UK trancecore tracks from DJ Eclipse and DJ Fury, some dark and rough UK hardcore from Scott Majestik, Nocturnal and Sharkey & K-Complex, some lighter ravey stuff from DJ Fade and Storm & Menis, and some acid-trancey freeform tunage from Furious and the Nu Energy Collective. I’ve always been really pleased with this mix. I get quite anally-retentive about the technical side of my djing, and this mix has some of the sharpest mixing I’ve ever done on a recorded mix, with the tunes morphing into each other really nicely.
As I said before, this is very much a minority interest as far as music goes.
But I don’t care.
I think it’s awesome stuff. Pure manic energy from start to finish.