Happy hardcore will never die: the life of rave’s most juvenile subculture

Happy hardcore, the bastard progeny of Britain’s 90s rave explosion, was written off from the start: too juvenile, too cheesy, too fast, too stupid. It stands as one of history’s most puzzling dance phenomenons – not least because the music is so hard to actually dance to, with tracks revving to speeds of 160BPM and upwards as the decade progressed. Happy hardcore is emotional, euphoric, exhausting. It’s made for teenage drivers in souped-up Astras, bezzing around the town centre and refusing to ash out the window. A staple interest of working class kids from suburbs and small towns, happy hardcore was and remains a true subculture, drawing arena-sized crowds for years while remaining toxic to the critical class…

Read the full feature on Dazed (March 2020)

From bombs to beats: how Nazar summed up the sound of Angola

The perkiest song on Guerrilla, the debut album by the Angolan artist Nazar, is an ode to deadly military technology. “This is a restricted weapon,” we hear on FIM-92 Stinger, a shaky kuduro rhythm brightened by synth marimba. In the murky world of Guerrilla – part war diary, part family memoir – acquiring an anti-aircraft missile is cause for celebration. “That thing symbolised a good time for people in the rebellion,” Nazar explains. “They didn’t have to be so scared of airstrikes because they had an umbrella over them.”

The son of a general in Jonas Savimbi’s Unita rebel group, Nazar was born in Belgium in 1993. He grew up in the relative safety of suburban Brussels – barring a foiled kidnap attempt on his sister and the spectre of street gangs – as the Angolan civil war raged. After the nation became independent from Portugal in 1975, it was engulfed in a war between the communist People’s Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) and the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (Unita), backed by Reagan and the CIA. Nazar’s mother worked two jobs to keep the family in a middle-class neighbourhood. When peace came to Angola in 2002 after nearly three decades of fighting and the loss of an estimated 500,000 lives, the family moved back and Nazar encountered his homeland for the first time…

Read the full interview in The Guardian (March 2020)

LCY and India Jordan on masks and visibility

Imagine two DJs, different ages, who grew up at different ends of the country, listening to different music. For one, the helium head-bang of happy hardcore; for the other, the red-eyed stoop of “crusty” drum’n’bass. The younger one studied music production at degree level, the older is self-taught. One just quit their job to focus on DJing, the other swears that’ll never happen. In many respects, India Jordan and LCY are coming at the game from opposite ends of the field. But, as they figure out over a non-alcoholic conversation in a pub not far from their East London homes, they’ve got a lot in common…

Read the full interview on Red Bull UK (published March 2020)

Raving with New Scenery

Lotic_at_New_Scenery_January_2020_photo_Eivind Hansen

I was happy for an excuse to write about The Cause, one of London’s most interesting venues (soon to close forever), while considering the impact of a generation of club artists including Lotic (pictured here by photographer Eivind Hansen), Jam City, Ikonika and Ziúr. Read the full feature on Mixmag

If there was a prize for the unloveliest urban terrain in London, it would surely go to the particular circle of hell around Tottenham Hale retail park. This ‘park’ is, of course, a flat square mile of white-lined tarmac and big box outlets containing all your favourite high street fillers: Wilko, Card Factory, Greggs. Because you can’t see it properly from the road, a huge totem pole showing all the store logos has been erected by the roundabout. Next to that there’s the train station and bus terminus, and a half-built Premier Inn encircled by hundreds of red and white plastic barricades. Beyond are several blocks of plasticky newbuild flats, ready to serve the needs of the retail park. Regeneration! It’s bracing stuff.

Walk even further and you come to a patch that doesn’t seem to be designed for anything or anyone. Grow is one of two clubs here, occupying the same scruffy warehouse as The Cause. Both look as if they’ve been cobbled together from debris off the nearby building sites, although Grow has a greenhouse theme, with sheets of translucent plastic creating an indoor/outdoor smoking area.

This urban dystopia is the ideal spot for Total Recall 2020, the first party of the year from club crew New Scenery. Jasper Jarvis, Marnie and SOW have been running the night since 2017 as a platform for women, LGBTQ+ and non-binary DJs. “We wanted to create a space where we weren’t a token, that was for us,” says SOW, whose experience working in clubs opened her eyes to the level of harassment faced by women and queer people.

Recognise: BADSISTA

“To a girl that never dreamed about leaving Brazil to do music, everything that’s happened the last couple of years is so crazy.” São Paulo’s BADSISTA knows what it’s like to be away from home. Taking her bubbling club energy as far as Poland, Uganda and Australia, the producer, DJ and tentative singer born Rafaela Andrade is one of Brazil’s busiest musical exports. There’s her growing portfolio of club productions, fusing the raw energy of Brazilian funk with pop, trap, trance, hip-hop and anything else hard, fast and invigorating. Then there’s her genre-smashing DJ sets, where she takes brain-boggling routes between ballroom, breaks and even ‘00s emo and pop-punk.  

But Andrade’s the most important gig of last year was at home in Natal, the northeastern city where her family are from. “Everybody was screaming while I was playing, all my cousins came to the party, I was treated like a queen, it was the last gig of the year and I couldn’t be happier,” she remembers. Being away “can mess up my head. I’ve cried sometimes in airports and hotels – the classic scene. It’s not easy to be from Latin America in Europe.” It looks like life on the road is only going to get more familiar for Andrade, but she’s got a million reasons to stay home too. 

Read the feature on DJ Mag (March 2020)

RA label of the month: Nervous Horizon

“The reason we can’t put a genre on what we do,” suggests Tommaso Wallwork, “is that we’re London producers being influenced by the world. We absorb it all like a sponge.” From gqom to grime, dembow to funky, Jersey club to Dutch bubbling, the building blocks of UK club now come from around the world. No label defines this shift as clearly as Nervous Horizon.

Founded in 2015 by two Italian-born Londoners, Nervous Horizon has been at the vanguard of every recent stylistic shift in the capital’s bass scene. Early inspiration came from the vibrant, hard-hitting club hybrids of the post-Night Slugs era, drawing on the tough percussive energy of grime and UK funky in particular. In the short space of time since, the label has developed a distinct sound of its own: playfully experimental but resolutely functional, folding in elements of gqom, reggaeton or Dutch bubbling (to name a few), sourced from a global roster of artists but readymade for London basements. Where some labels might attempt a land grab, Nervous Horizon also takes care to pay tribute to stylistic innovators, platforming artists who risk being written out of the conversation…

Read the feature on Resident Advisor (February 2020)

2010-19: Rise Of The Festival-Industrial Complex

Festivals are now a cornerstone of dance music culture around the world: weekends where day turns to night turns to day, where the experience of listening and dancing feels unbounded, pleasantly surreal. All the familiar dance music platitudes about escapism, hedonism and community start to feel possible again—or at least more possible than they do when you’re shoulder-to-shoulder in an over-priced club in the city.

It’s hard to imagine now, but at the turn of this century, festivals just weren’t that big a deal. There were plenty of them, obviously, including massive dance jamborees like Creamfields and Tribal Gathering in the UK. But taken as a whole, they didn’t have the same cultural penetration, nor the same influence on summer calendars. The turning point, in Britain at least, was probably Glastonbury 2002: the year the “super-fence” went up, and with it a sudden veneer of exclusivity around a festival that was previously best known for hippies, mud baths and hordes of freeloaders, who now had to fork out £90 to get through the 12-feet-tall barrier…

Read the feature on Resident Advisor (January 2020)

What can dance music do about the climate crisis?

Illustration: Olivia M Healy

The environmental crisis is now so real that it has acquired a bizarre unreality. The latest scientific reports read as stark, desperate warnings: 12 years to prevent catastrophic over-heating. Sixth mass extinction underway. Yet we’re struggling to square these predictions of climate chaos and social breakdown with our everyday lives, which continue as normal, occasionally interrupted by headlines about freak storms, wildfires or floods. At some point, we will all be forced to adapt to climate change. In some countries, mostly in the global south, that will happen sooner. We can only hope that such adaptation will happen fast enough to be effective. But given that global emissions hit a record high in 2018, it seems more likely that we will be adapting on-the-fly as temperatures and sea levels rise.

When we start getting real on climate breakdown, we can start imagining how our everyday lives will be affected—everything from our jobs and our education to the way we spend our free time. Understandably, the fate of dance music might not be at the forefront of our minds. There is, perhaps, a feeling that raving will be deprioritised in a crisis, along with similar recreational activities. But that in itself seems instructional—the threat we are facing is so grave that we may have to give up some of the things we love…

Read the feature on Resident Advisor (July 2019)