The War On Hardcore

My fast-paced-non-stop-rock’n’roll lifestyle led me to be sat in a hire-van last week. The Bluetooth on the stereo wouldn’t pick my phone up, so FM radio was my journies musical accompaniment. The pre-tuned stations were all local, or classic FM-type stuff – and I don’t know about you, but when I’m driving a massive van I need appropriate music. Anyway, TFM it was.

There was some vapid Pop/R&B shite on, to begin with, but I did a double-take and nearly mounted a kerb when the next track that followed was some sort of 160 BPM happy hardcore remix of Rick Astley (it might not have been Rick Astley, but definitely similar). Now, I don’t spend a great deal of time listening to any radio these days (I’m a swivel-eyed child of the Spotify clan, after all), sometimes 6Music, but it seemed a bit out-of-place amongst the usual mainstream pop-fodder.

It turns out that the breakfast show I was tuned into has a regular spot called something like ‘Classic Charva Choons’ or something along those lines, where they play a hardcore tune and take the piss.

Now ask ANYONE; I’m totally chill, man. But that sort of stuff irks me. To clarify, ‘Charva’ is a local (North-East England) term for an unruly youth; usually decked out in tracksuits, hanging around on street corners, up to no good. The music of choice for our young Charva is generally Happy Hardcore/Makina – fast and cheesy. The majority of working-class people where I’m from were (or are) Charvas. I fell into that category when I was in my teens. So this radio bit is sort of a nod to a lot of the listener’s younger days, but also a bit of a piss-take. And it’s that bit that irritates me, and probably goes a little bit deeper into our national culture, and how we as a nation treat the working-class and its subcultures.

Growing up, my first real musical experiences came from inheriting my older brother’s Sony Walkman when I was maybe ten or eleven years old. With said walkman came five tapes; Iron Maiden’s ‘Number of the Beast’, Michael Jackson’s ‘Bad’, ZZ Top’s ‘After Burner, Meatloaf’s ‘Bat Out of Hell’, and Jean-Michelle Jarre’s ‘Oxygene’. Quite the selection. Blew my little mind that lot. Those tapes definitely shaped my musical tastes, but it was getting my first ‘rave’ tape that really changed my life.

At this point, I should clarify that ‘rave’ in the North-East has/had a different definition to ‘rave’ in the south (or North America for that matter). Rave was/is used as a catch-all term for anything and everything ‘Hardcore’ (or Hardcore Techno). Mainly Happy Hardcore, Italo Disco, Eurobeat, and Techno pitched at around 160bpm. ‘Rave’ further south simply means old breakbeat hardcore, and in North America? Could be any old rope.

Back to my first ‘rave tape’. This will have been maybe 1995. I vaguely remember starting to hang about with some older lads who all smoked Lambert & Butler and were a bit rowdy, and someone did me a copy of a tape (which as a format was top of the tech-ladder in those days). I went away on holiday shortly after with my parents; a fortnight in the Algarve I believe – and I listened to this tape religiously. And it felt like that, listening to it -religious – almost biblical; my heart and mind opened up to this whole other world I’d had no idea about. Honestly, I wish I still had that tape (and that walkman). Some of the tracks I remember being on that tape (and still adore to this day) were:

  • Moby – Feelin So Real
  • Afrika Bambaataa – Pupunanny
  • DJ Scott – Do You Wanna Party?
  • Mo-Do – Eins Zwei Polizei (thanks Jammo for bringing that one to my attention)
  • Charly Lownoise Mental Theo – Wonderfull Days
  • DJ Misjah & DJ Tim ‎– Access
  • QFX – Freedom
  • Dyewitness – Masterplan
  • Ultra Sonic – Annihilating Rhythm

I was obviously the coolest kid in Portugal that year; you should have seen me strut. I’d pass strangers by the pool with a knowing smile on my smug little face; they didn’t know that beneath those headphones I was listening to the cutting edge, the future of music. I glided through that holiday with a new sense of optimism, a new sense of purpose, a new outlook; a new me.

When I got back my obsession deepened and bloomed – within a few years, I had my first set of turntables and a whole stack of tapes from local clubs like The Coliseum, The Afterdark, Judgment Day, and tape packs from Rez and United Dance. Tracksuited up, Lamberts in pockets, and bedroom walls plastered with flyers.

Anyway, though that’s an enjoyable little jaunt down rue de memory, back to the point. Rave is in the Northeast’s blood. If you get on a bus around here these days there will still likely be a group of youths sat at the back, playing makina annoyingly loud through their phone speaker. Almost everyone I know listened to rave tapes growing up. These Chavs are part of a sub-culture, and that sub-culture in turn is defined by its style, by its music. Yeah, I roll my eyes at some of the stuff I used to listen to – and I’m a bit too lumpy now to rock tracksuits and trainers, but that stuff made me who I am – and many, many others like me. It’s easy to criticize the ‘youth’, but they are who they are and they do what they do for a reason; usually traced back to socio-economic problems, political division, and so on. I mean, Acid House was all over the front pages for all the wrong reasons wasn’t it.

We can have a bit of a laugh about the days we spent jumping around in old bingo halls with our glowsticks, but it’s wrong to dismiss it. We can’t ignore our history, even if it’s not the mainstream textbook stuff – and a lot of damage and further division can be caused by belittling those who still gan raving. Especially when it’s coming from their peers. They did the same with punk, with acid house, with grime – all genres and surrounding sub-cultures born directly from disparity and the need to revolt or push back on the norm.

I’m proud of my rave tapes. I wish I still had them.

Cover image by Ethan Wilkinson on Unsplash

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