One of the men at the heart of this revival (and the inspiration for this article) is none other than man of the moment Paul Woolford, who is currently attracting all the right attention with the rugged productions of his Special Request moniker. With a name that references (perhaps even mourns) the pirate radio stations that birthed his sound, Woolford’s Special Request tracks are ferocious club monsters, where familiar breaks are squashed into tough technoid forms, glorifying hollow, compressed kicks and elastic breakbeat loops. Yet Woolford’s compositions are not just throwback. On each of his celebrated white label releases, he adds a distinct flavour to the gritty soundcraft, keeping it personal and modern. For example, while the superb Mindwash may give way to a tear-streaked breakdown of breathy vocals and eternal synths in pure 90s style, it has at its core the restless pursuit of a maniacally sinuous melodic line which would only be heard this decade.
It’s not just individual producers who are looking to reclaim the hardcore sound: certain labels seem particularly intent on pushing the 90s revival. Chief among them is DJ Haus’ inimitable Unknown To The Unknown, who topped our list of 2012’s best labels. Besides a hilarious Youtube channel and bizzare cover-art, DJ Haus has used UTTU to resurrect some of dance music’s less popular genres, from electro to bassline garage. Proving that these old styles have life in them yet, some of UTTU’s breakbeat experiments have been pure gold: one need only look as far as Haus’ own Cold As Ice for an achingly cool lesson in hardcore, replete with a tacky synth breakdown which I wouldn’t have any other way. Elsewhere on the label, Lords Of Midnite’s excellent Drown In Ur Love EP took the breakbeat on a scifi odyssey for its epic analog title jam.
We’ve seen a clear renewal of interest in the noble breakbeat, with a variety of artists co-opting those breakneck rhythms to their own ends. Yet outside of the dancefloor exists another group of hardcore operators, dealing with decay and disintegration, resulting in what is perhaps the most fascinating material that the breakbeat has to offer today. These artists can be loosely grouped around the experimental Modern Love and PAN imprints, the former’s Andy Stott being a perfect example. The formidable Up The Box, from his ace 2012 album Luxury Problems, is a semi-experimental piece which loops a locked breakbeat, jamming like machinery in a slowly building gale of static noise. After three minutes it drops away, and after a few atmospheric shifts returns with a phenomenal compressed kick in toe, an exhilarating fusion of jungle and techno that combines the tough distortion of each without even a moment’s relief. It may also be worth noting the possibility of Stott’s involvement in Modern Love’s ultra-limited Unknown / Hate project, a purist exercise in pitch-black junglism which yielded uncompromisingly destructive club tracks.
Further into the world of experimentation one comes across Demdike Stare’s recent Testpressing series, also out on Modern Love. Drawing on a profound knowledge of jungle, hardcore and noise, Collision saw the pair at their rawest yet, building four minutes of seething, heatsick noise around a bed of jammed, dysfunctional breakbeats. While Demdike turned jungle to noise, PAN’s Lee Gamble used his superb Diversions 1994-1996 to draw out the ambience of these tracks, dissolving breakbeats in the faded ambience of musical recall, turning the raves of the 90s into the incoherent, mesmerising sequences which now exist only in our memories. In a fitting parallel, a similar trick was pulled off by Anthony Naples on his remix of Special Request’s Mindwash, casting the legend of hardcore beneath the gauze of memory, eroded by time, subject to dissolution and fragmentation. These experimental re-appropriations of breakbeats treat the drum pattern as an artefact of its own time, and through recontextualising the familiar drum loop they pose questions about evolving musical trends and the unreliable nature of memory itself.
The lasting impression of this survey is the extraordinary versatility of this simple set of drum loops, which twenty years on are still being used and abused in the most fascinating, exhilarating fashions. Not only are artists continuing to insert breakbeats into showstopping underground hits, but the passage of time has permitted an artistic re-appraisal, with producers subjecting the drums to the decay of memory and time in a way which opens entirely new avenues of musical possibility. Will hardcore ever die? It’s up to the artists, but on the strength of the scene’s ability to appropriate and re-integrate artefacts of our musical past in ever-more innovative ways, it looks set to survive for a long while yet.
Point G – Braka
Ramadanman – Don’t Change For Me