Hardcore music, specifically happy hardcore and UK hardcore, was born out of the early ’90s when artists like Prodigy, SL2 and Carl Cox were taking techno and pushing it into harder-edged territories. The sound was later fused with elements of euphoric house, trance and breakbeats as artists like Brisk, Dougal, Darren Styles, and Hixxy began exploring more vocal anthems around the 170 BPM range and becoming innovators of faster, up beat productions.
“Happy hardcore” has since become something of a black sheep term to many in the rave community (maybe it sounded too endearing, saccharine or genuine), but one of the scene’s longstanding icons and co-founder of the Together We Rise hardcore imprint, Gammer, recently reclaimed the name and style; notably through his collaborative remix of Jack U and Justin Beiber’s “Where Are U Now” with Darren Styles, which premiered here on Nest HQ last week.
The immediate success of that remix showed people are ready for new sounds in the evolution of happy hardcore, especially in the states where it’s just beginning to pick up. Check our interview with Gammer below:
What’d you get into today?
I actually had a dad day today, to be honest, between emailing you and sorting a few things out, picking up my daughter from school, walking the dog and just be being a dad, — just a dad day.
What’s it like being a happy hardcore dad? You’ve got to be a very different dad than the other dads at school, huh?
I don’t know what people would think, I mean I’m just a normal guy here. I just look after the daughters and walk the dog, chill out in the evenings, play video games, that kind of thing. Except on the weekends, that’s where things get loose and crazy. Like, okay, on a flight somewhere, two bottles of grey goose – no sleep – and then I’m back home, back to dad life.
Do your kids like it? Are they fans of the music?
Not even slightly.
No.. I mean they are like three and five but they just don’t like it. They come in with their fingers in their ears, like, “Daddy please turn this rubbish down!”
What do they like?
My three year old likes flippin’ trap and hip-hop. She’ll be in the room just smiling, jumping around and all sorts. The older one is still into the ‘Old Mcdonald Had a Farm’ and that kind of thing.
Yea, the ol’ either-trap-or-‘old-mcdonald’-cliché.
Yea (laughs) pretty much!
So are you surrounded by friends in the scene? Or is everyone kind of scattered? Do you get to see them a lot?
Yea! Hardcore was all born here and it pretty much still exists only here; being a small country with few gigs, I do tend to see a lot of DJ’s and producers that are my friends pretty much every weekend. Which is a nice thing, y’know? It’s a real, tightly knit community. We’re always talking and sharing ideas, sharing our visions of how we want the music to be perceived or to go; even up to what we’d like to see at events, how the DJ and MC’s can work with each other. It’s really cool. I don’t know very much about what the ins and outs of EDM and trap and hip-hop and stuff may be but I imagine its so spread out – maybe that sense of community within the producers doesn’t exist but I don’t know. I like hardcore how it is. I like that it’s small and tight. I’m into that.
So who are the main characters other than yourself that are continuing to push it forward right now?
I’d say, the main, main guy, without any shadow of a doubt, is actually Darren Styles. He’s been about since the Force & Styles days and Tunestyles? 4:15** The last three years he’s actually played the bassCON stage at EDC Las Vegas. Even they’ve started testing the waters with the Hardcore sound and so far it’s been going pretty well. Me and him just played the bassCON stage at Nocturnal Wonderland on a Friday night. We closed it and it was just amazing to see all these people that traveled all this way to see this one set. But I digress, Darren is the man, absolutely showcasing the best of the best when it comes to our music and production-wise he’s absolutely untouchable. He’s just been in the studio with Da Tweekaz, a couple of fairly known hardstyle guys. It’s cool. It’s opening doors all around.
How did you get into all of this? What was the history of hardcore and happy hardcore for you?
My story is probably one of the most generic ones you’ll hear coming out of the UK scene. I was looking really young, my step-brother handed me this tape (it was Hardcore Heaven) and it was a live set by DJ Druid and MC Sharky. I remember putting it on and just being like, “Oh my god”. It was fast and it was happy and it was feel-good and I was just like, “Man, I absolutely love this.” A funny story, I also had a Bonkers 6 CD mixed by Dougal and I only found out years later that he was actually a friend of the family. He heard some of the stuff I was doing from a cracked copy of Reason and we just got together and made some stuff and y’know as the say the rest is just history. I’ve been writing this music for about 15 years now and I’m not bored of it. It has its ups and down but when you go and play it for a room full of people that are begging for it, I think the energy can not be matched. But it’s extremely niche, it’s as niche as you get.
Do you have to deal with a lot of haters?
We don’t seem to get that much hate… what we don’t really get is acceptance – and I can understand why. When people hear the music and its 170 BPM, four to the floor, and its really flipping fast and crazy… people listen and just say, “I’m not really sure about that.” We have had hate from Dutch Hardcore fans, simply because we also have the word hardcore, despite it being a totally separate style of music. As you would imagine, with a purer scene, sometimes you can have the fans hating on you when, say, for example we release this Justin Bieber and Jack U bootleg. Just because it has Bieber on it they all come with angry eyes. I’ve changed my styles quite a lot during my years in Hardcore and the second you do, out comes everyone, “Ah, youre just doing this to sound like dubstep, or for the money.” I always think, “Hey, what flippin’ money? I really am doing this for the love.”
I think anyone who can’t be down with a Bieber edit, or any sort of pop, is looking at things on a very surface level.
I remember the first time I heard that track, and I almost had the same reaction. I listened to it and I was like, “This is crazy, it’s Justin Bieber! I’m quite surprised I like that,” but then I kind of heard myself saying it and thought, why would I totally dismiss something just because it’s Justin Bieber or a certain artist that’s seen as “Uncool” by certain people. And that’s my whole scene — Justin Bieber over a happy hardcore track, that’s two levels of things that shouldn’t be done but it just works.
What would you consider your first break out release to be?
The first one that really got me out there, and I felt happy with, was a track I did with Dougal, who is still one of my regular work partners. We did a song called “Fire In The sky” and I kind of took a lot of inspiration from the big the ’99 trance sound and mixed that with a bit of the euphoric hardcore pianos and breakdowns. I remember it just landing and the excitement that was around it. That was the first time we heard people talking about our track and getting excited like, “Who’s this Gammer? Who’s this guy?” And that was the one.
Where did the term “Happy Hardcore” come from and is that what you would associate most of your sound with?
I didn’t even know what the music was called when I first got into it. Happy Hardcore, from what I know, came because in the early rave days — Prodigy, SL2, Carl Cox — I think the music was called hardcore, 0r hardcore rave, and then there was a split where some of the DJ’s wanted to go towards the breakbeat route and that led on to drum and bass. Some DJ’s said, “No, we want to keep it four-on-the-floor and keep it faster,” and the term happy hardcore appeared because it was still the pianos and the brash kick drums and stuff. It started more happy and cheesy and that’s where that term came from.
UK hardcore, I think, came about when “happy hardcore” became such a disliked term in the 90s that people tried switching it up. I think I’m just going to go back to calling it Happy Hardcore because that’s what it is, that’s what people love. In America and Canada they still swear by that term. Why try and pretend that it’s something it’s not?
Do you remember when you started seeing stuff like DDR pop up? Was it cool to see those sounds becoming an element of pop culture in a way?
Yea, I was really happy about that. I remember one of my long time heroes Scott Brown had a song on one and it was great. Reintroducing our sound to the Asian and Japanese market. People would just play these games and be like, “What’s that?” and then actually see the artists and track down the music and then they’d become fans themselves. Its just cool how the influence of our music seems to spread from stuff like that.
I always hear things now and think, “That sounds like it’s come straight out of a rave record.” I remember the first Hudson Mohawke track I heard, TNGHT’s “Higher Ground”, it had just come on the radio and I was like, “This sounds like a nutty kind oldschool track with a trap beat over it”. I didn’t even know what trap was at the time. I found out that he grew up with happy hardcore as well and he’s taken that influence in his music. He’s done some great bootlegs of hardcore records, and he still supports it. It kind of just feels like everybody has their roots in happy hardcore whether they want to admit it or not.
Is it kind of weird seeing yourself as an kind of icon of the scene? There’s definitely knowledge of it over here, and maybe more than you’re aware of, you’re kind of seen as a god to some of these people.
I wasn’t aware to that extent, no. It’s kind of crazy because everything has gone so fast. To me, I’m still there ’til the early morning with my headphones on messing around with ideas and banging stuff together, not getting any sleep. It’s just crazy that I’ve gone from that stage many years ago to suddenly now people are actually telling me that they grew up with me. It’s like holy shit that’s how I used to be with my idols: Slipmatt, Scott Brown and people like that, and now I’m working with them. So on one hand its awesome. The only down side is, I’m now aware that I’m actually getting old when people are telling me in the middle of rave that they grew up with my music I’m like shit.
One interesting thing I will say though is that happy hardcore seems to touch so many people. Audien, who was grammy nominated for his bastille remix, grew up with the music as well. He straight up told me he takes inspiration from what he loved about our music and applied it to his. Now he’s flipping all over the place doing his thing and it’s great. It’s great that what we did has inspired so many producers and ravers and people in general and that’s what being the producer is all about. It’s not all about the drops and the relevant memes on FaceBook that get 1000 likes and the 1-2-3 put your hands up, it’s just about fucking connecting with people and letting them enjoy themselves. If they’re enjoying themselves I’m enjoying myself. That’s what its about, that’s what it’s always been about.
How would you describe one of these nights, let’s say the perfect night? Where is it? What does it look like, who’s playing, what’re they playing?
I think the most potent energy you’re going to get from our music now is in the USA. It’s seen a bit of a resurgence there because dance music has suddenly become popular in the states and as people grow up with music, their tastes are going to change. They’re going to want to find different things. Hardcore, like it was here many years ago, is now the rebellious alternative for a lot of people who hear it. When you go to a hardcore rave, particularly in the states, it’s intense, you’ll not see anything like it. It’s the classic thing with the kandi kids, the whistles and the horns, that’s all there, but it’s the fact that when the drop comes in they don’t just do that initial cheer, they’re screaming all over it, they don’t care if it’s a guy or a girl singing the track they are singing their hearts out along with it. They are just absolutely passionate and all about what’s happening.
Aside though, if you were interested, there’s an HTID event in Arizona (October 9-10) and that’s going to have basically everyone there. What to expect… Me and Darren stay true to the sound but take influence from whatever’s current. People like Joey Riot are more like the classic bouncy techno vibe or they’ll come in with the power stocked sound that’s more brash. You’ll have more people that stick to the real sing along classics, you’ll see all kinds of variations. I guarantee you, you won’t see that kind of energy anywhere else.
What’s one track that consistently goes off every time?
For me, it’s Elysium by Scott Brown. No contest.
Where did you grow up? Was this scene around you or did you have to travel to go to it?
I grew up in a town called Northampton. The scene was kind of there, Vibes lived there, Dougal, DJ Breeze was from there, Matt Lambert from Sidewinder lives there. When I started going out with Dougal just to see the gigs, the main hubs then were Birmingham and Bristol. The main ones would be like your West Fest, which is always on Halloween. Its kind of like a massive horse barn and stables in the middle of the summer-set countryside, which is kind of weird. New Years Eve is always a good one as well, again the hotspots Birmingham and places like that.
Could you tell me a little bit about the TWR label?
Together We Rise, Yea well basically, me Darren Styles, Dougal, Breeze, Recon, and MC Whizzkid — we’ve always kind of been this tightknit group. We shared the same vision of the music, the same production values and we kind of came together and said “What if we started this brand? What if we started putting on our own events?” We looked more towards what the US was doing — their visuals, and more importantly, the sound systems. So many of the raves here, and I’ll get a lot of slack for saying this, sometimes we feel like they’re not even trying. You’ll have a studio monitor and your DJ monitor and a couple of speakers with no bass. An MC eight times louder than the music. So we thought why don’t we come together and we’ll put this event on and we’ll make sure the line up is good and the speakers are good and we’ll mix it up. From there came the label. I always try to promote as best I can as a one-man army and get the music out. More than anything it’s just fun, and its good to be doing stuff, as cheesy as it sounds, with a group of friends rather than working for another label or trying to be super professional and serious all the time. Once again that’s not what this music is about.
What would you say is one of the most quintessential Hardcore releases?
I think the one that gave our music the major boost years ago would be “Save Me” by Darren Styles. It’s a perfect mixture of a rave beat and the kind of vocal that really sticks. It’s got the right kind of emotion and it’s not too cheesy.
As far as modern goes I put out a mixtape earlier this year, which you can get at djgammer.com, and Darren Styles put out a free mix as well. Those are great examples of what’s current in our music right now. My mix is called “Having a Go” and Darren’s is “Darren Styles 2014 Mix”.
Okay, On my way! Thanks so much man!
Thank you! Hope the answers are usable and not too babble-y.
Words: Fan Fiction