I admit it: I’ve been waiting for this one. Early-’90s rave, the goony stuff with the air-raid sirens, dithering bass drops, beats that alternately stomped or skittered with what then seemed like too much hurry, and today sounds almost quaint—this was some of the first music I ever felt a sense of ownership over, like it was mine before anyone’s. The apex of this epoch was breakbeat hardcore—or, as Simon Reynolds terms it, ‘ardkore: the stuff that would soon mutate into jungle and/or stick to its euphoric, glow-in-the-dark guns, adopt more of a four-on-the-floor stomp and become happy hardcore. The music of my dreams, even now, this stuff came rushing back in 2008.
I don’t just mean into my life, either—there, it never went away. But it was all over some of the year’s most notable records. Zomby’s “Spliff Dub (Rustie Remix)” (above), for example, has much the same combination of Jamaican rude-bwoy patois, spazzy synth spritz, and heavy bass pressure that marked many ‘ardkore anthems, albeit translated to modern dubstep rhythms. But Zomby would reach all the way back by himself to this stuff throughout Where Were U in ’92?, his full-length ode to the sound of pop music being refitted to a strange new tomorrow that never quite happened:
But who needed someone doing their own version of it when you could have the real thing? This was a bumper year for old-school rave reissues and compilations: vinyl repressings of obscure tunes from Sublogic, yes, but also CDs and digital releases from a host of leading labels from the period: R&S’s In Order to Dance, Awesome’s Awesome Records Classics Part 1, XL’s The First Chapters, and a number of compilations from Reinforced. Some of this stuff isn’t very obscure—a few of these tracks, such as the Prodigy and SL2 tracks off First Chapters, charted in England—but that’s part of why it’s so great to hear again: these were heavenly pop hits from a scene that was curdling at the center, as ecstasy abuse turned the rave scene sour.
SL2, “DJs Take Control”
That, of course, is only the officially released stuff. As old-skool historian and mega-fan Simon Reynolds has been tracking of late, there’s a plethora of MP3s of 12-inches,
pirate-radio DJ mixes, archived ‘zines (I nearly had a stroke when I saw issues of Chicago Hardcore Authority (CHA) and the long-running Milwaukee ‘zine Massive at that link), and in the case of early British label Knifeforce, an entire downloadable discography. ‘Ardcore, clearly, will never die.
Zomby, “Spliff Dub (Rustie Remix)” [YouTube]
Zomby, “Where Were U In ’92?” [YouTube]
SL2, “DJs Take Control” [YouTube]
Simon Reynolds, “Wireless Buccaneers” [Energy Flash]
Blog to the Old Skool
The Jungle Preserve
Rave Archive: ‘Zines
Knifeforce Revolution [downloadable discography]
80 ’08 (and heartbreak)