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A Threat on Par with Industrial’s Nihilistic Youth Front

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Meanwhile, outside of the raves, income inequality rose steadily as wages stagnated under a globalized policy of neoliberalization. The backlash against feminism spilled over from the ‘80s. Gay rights gained some decent press, but found few with the political courage to actually support it. The backlash against immigrants and ethnic minority groups continued unabashed as a convenient scapegoat for globalization while religious intolerance found new power in American fundamentalist advocacy groups like the Moral Majority, Focus on the Family, and the Catholic League. Images of the welfare queen and the street thug provided white America with a steady stream of fear of blacks, who remained for the most part at the bottom of the socioeconomic ladder and, in some cases, were even being decentralized from their communities thanks to gentrification.

Black street culture found its media representative in hip-hop, which caused a series of panics in its own right. Hip-hop was crucial in the development of what became known as hardcore (or ‘ardkore) rave. The UK had been unsuccessful in finding its own voice in terms of rapping, so it wound up supplanting the voice altogether, or later, with the advent of jungle, substituting ragga machismo for street braggadocio. Hardcore ravers believed they were taking hip-hop to the next level by applying the future logic of acid house’s eccentric squiggles, accelerating breakbeats, and adding the intensified euphoric rush of house music stripped of its ostentatious flourishes. Rave pumped its divas full of helium and made their histrionics even more divisive by pushing a Busby Berkeley film’s worth of set dressing and choreography behind them, in double-time no less.

The rhythm engine of hardcore and jungle had foregone industrial kling klang in favor of the more “organic” sampled break. Whereas industrial had been about the dehumanization of the physical apparatus of capital, rave made the choice to rage within the machine, seeking ways to use the structural integrity of the system against itself by forging a kind of robotic pleasure center. If the Beatles had rubber soul and Bowie had plastic soul, here was a kind of silicon soul being engaged by a cadre of faceless producers. Its anonymity allowed its engineering to be undeterred by the rigid tensions of identity or the fickle pretensions of ego. Rave, in tandem with ecstasy, asked you to give yourself over completely to the music.

Of course, rave’s blissful post-ideological stance was short-lived as its rapid growth called for a chemical supply chain that was not sustainable. Soon, the children of ecstasy experienced a fallout into addiction, enervation, reliance on organized crime, and, in some cases, overdose. As tolerance rose, the ecstasy comedown became harsher and life both outside and within the clubs began to appear nightmarish. Pills were spiked with other streets drugs to meet high demand. Clubs were plagued by violence. Kids were dropping dead not just from overconsumption, but dehydration, as venues jacked up the prices on bottled waters in lieu of the dearth alcohol sales.

The music began to reflect this shift as hardcore transformed into the far less fuzzy darkside. Perhaps the prototypical darkside track is 4hero’s “Mr. Kirk’s Nightmare”, which begins with a police officer teller the titular Mr. Kirk that his son has died of an overdose. “Kirk” was pretty timid though compared to the hardcore that was mass-produced just a short year or so later.

Some of the fastest and most intense music of the time was being put out on a label called Industrial Strength Records, whose records make speed metal seem like it has been deliberately protracted to a slower BPM by DJ Screw. Industrial Strength was founded by veteran American techno producer Lenny Dee, who had worked with both Arthur Baker and Frankie Bones in the formative years of electronic dance music. Dee’s passage over to the darkside found him commanding a legion of performers with such bleak names as Caustic Visions and Industrial Terror Squad, as well as hosting many early works by future name producers like Richie Hawtin (Plastikman), Delta 9, Carl Cox, Marc Trauner, and the late Caspar Pound of Rising High Records.

Perhaps even more hellish than darkside, though, was gabber, a techno variant that distilled the club track to its purest essence- the four-to-the-floor pounding beat accompanied by some incredibly austere and direct melodic syncopation. Without the intricate rhythms and syncopations of hardcore or jungle, gabber was able to propel its BPMs well beyond the 200 mark, making its cacophony of extreme beats practically a symphonic drone of noise.

Noise music itself was a close kin to industrial, so it’s no surprise that gabber seemed to be have a reserved interest in industrial sonics as well. It too was in the business of splitting eardrums and reflecting a spiritual ugliness onto an audience hungry for a joyride with their Jungian shadows. However, the speed of gabber prohibited any earnest self-reflection. Instead, the genre’s messages were short and punchy like the music, bound up in rapid consumption and accumulation, tying it more to the cheap thrills of action movie explosions than the morose cerebral darkness of those auteurs favored by industrial musicians (Kubrick, Polanski, Cronenberg, and the like).

Gabber favored synths that buzzed like gnats hovering above a horde of stampeding warthogs. Layered voluminously, it came off like a plague of locusts following a stormtrooper brigade into the killing fields. The heavily regimented commando sound was outwardly “martial”, a term which had been used in the past to denote industrial music incorporating the sounds of military marches. Like martial industrial before it, gabber drew in an alarming number of musicians and fans from the far right. Certain songs touted not only ultraviolence (common amongst all gabber), but misogyny and fascism, as well.

The big fad on college campuses during this era was multiculturalism. Cultural studies professors, post-structuralists, and post-modernists sought nobly to correct social injustices by studying the world relativistically. However, rave had encouraged a heterotopia that was anti-cultural, one that was shorn of the unique perspectives of tradition that those same professors naively thought capital couldn’t accommodate. Of course, rave and techno’s predicament was that once the panorama of cultural signifiers had been scrubbed, those without the vision to create something new on the leftover blank slate would often default to white male values, European enlightenment values, or free market capitalist values, et al.

The majority of the gabberheads, whose largest contingency was in the Netherlands, responded antagonistically to the invasion of its scene by neo-fascists. Many DJs in the scene had originally spun hip-hop and were the furthest thing from racist. Still, gabber’s general belligerence cemented the scene as a predominantly male one, or rather one in which there were, as one Sperminator track (probably ironically) put it, “No Women Allowed”.

Gabber coincided with a world which seemed to be, like the music, marching relentlessly forward, but with no discernible direction. As corporations grew multinational, they seemed unstoppable. Profits shot up at an enormous rate and the GDP of the industrialized nations skyrocketed. The emergence of Silicon Valley and bubbling Asian markets ushered in a multitudinous array of new products and industries. Investors seemed to be grabbing at as much as they could before they even knew what they were buying. The rush for more, faster, seemed destined to crash at any second, but even a flood of recessions couldn’t seem to slow its momentum. Like Gabber, it was cartoon industrialization, enterprise that could push as many people off of as many cliffs as possible without consequences or blowback.

A few saw past the flying scuds and patriots of gabber’s gleeful destruction to the scorched earth in its wake. “Imagine surveying earth after nuclear destruction and enjoying what you see, that’s how it feels when you listen to it” were the words used by Marc Trauner to describe his feedback-laced, reverb-laden, and industrial-tinged music. Trauner’s work as The Mover, Pilldriver, Rave Creator, Marc Acardipane, Cypher, and literally dozens of other names were some of the most auteuristic tunes in all of gabber and perhaps some of the hardest of all hardcore.

Under the name Mescalinum United, Trauner helped ignite both gabber and darkside with his pivotal 1990 single “We Have Arrived” (the first release on Industrial Strength Records). Whatever had arrived in “We Have Arrived” was unequivocally sinister, a threat on par with industrial’s nihilistic youth front. The mix was like bleep techno all snarled at the edges with distortion, like a trigger-happy spaced invader who’d been downsized and cut off from Medicaid. As the song’s pogoing synth squelches propelled forward, the backing synths were pitching upward in unbearable tension like they were refueling for an even more massive assault.

Timothy Gabriele is a writer who studied English and Film at the University of Massachussetts at Amherst. He currently lives in the New Haven, CT region with his wife, his daughter, his dog, and two cats. His column, The Difference Engine, appears regularly at PopMatters. He can be found twittering @Wildcorrective and blogging at 555 Enterprises.

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