Thursday, October 28, 2010

My kind of rave

The smiley face. It was first used in the UK as symbol of the Acid House movement, and later was also adopted by the first Hardcore Ravers. What does it mean? It's simply a representation of what people should feel (and even look like) in a party. A smile. It's simple and universal. Not a revolutionary idea by itself, but it's still a powerful image when used in the context of Rave music. The essence of Rave should always be about happiness!

But let's not be entirely naive about this concept. Let's not forget that, associated with this Rave culture and symbology we have a long tradition of drug usage. Even before House music, Disco culture was already associated with the usage of MDMA. Later on, just like in LSD influenced Psychadelic age of the 60's, MDMA was responsible for a Second Summer of Love.

Other than drug usage, and free love, the 60's psych culture has a lot of similarities with acid-house/rave thing. I will focus on a very specific one: The music in both ages was the result of a contrast between hard and soft, butch and femme, ying and yang.

There was a balance.

I think that's the reason why even after all these decades, music from both periods is still relevant for most of the contemporary youth sub-cultures. Both ages represent an ideal moment, musically and culturally, that was highly influential for subsequent movements, and whose creations are still regarded as Classic.

Neither of the two ages lasted very long. Both cultures would soon ramify. The ramifications, as it would be expected, didn't have the same balanced attitude towards music. As always happens, the ramifications would only focus on a specific side of the original idea, and thus, losing the original balance. Some of the new music would be too heavy, some of it too soft. Some of it too sophisticated, some of it too simple.

In the UK, Acid-House from Chicago grew to become a incredibly influential musical form, and would later on form the basis of the UK Rave culture. Unlike Acid-House, this new music was no longer based on a Four-to-the-floor template, it was based on funk breaks. Thus it was called Breakbeat, the bastard child of House. The harder, most extreme forms of this music were to be called Hardcore Breakbeat, and it represented the beginning of a new age for UK music.

Just like in the US, where there is a continuum that stretches from Blues to Hip Hop (and beyond), in the UK they now had their own musical tradition, rooted in both the US electronic music, and the already existing UK Soundsystem Culture (that derived from the music brought to Europe by Caribbean immigrants).

Like in the 60's, this music was the result of a cultural crossroad. As such, it contained a lot of different elements, often in the same track. The production style was always sample based (unlike what happened in US House and Techno scenes). In that aspect, UK Rave was closer to Hip Hop.

Some of the seminal tracks of this genre, like this one by The House Crew, featured a cut-up style, as if the track was a DJ Mix by itself. The same elements would go back and fourth. The energy of these tracks came from the fact that this music was both hard/heavy and mellow/soft. On these tracks that dichotomy was extremly clear. Some parts were based on Piano samples, and featured mellow soulful vocals. Other parts rescued the darkness of the Acid-house, but taken to psychadelic extremes. These music was effective on the dancefloor because it would provide the Ravers with emotial extremes. Sometimes it felt like a kick and a punch. Other times it felt like kisses and hugs.


The UK Rave culture, from 1993 on, would be essentially divided in two sides: The darker side would develop into Jungle music. The other side would develop into Happy Hardcore. The balance had been lost.

That said, however, don't get me wrong. I'm not trying to state that music from 1992 was better than music made afterwards. But when it comes to pure Rave and party, I still believe that in many ways, and in it's essential values, original Rave music is superior.

Then again, I believe this is unavoidable. Times must change.

That kind of balance is always hard to mantain. I believe that, while times may change, they are also cyclic. And I believe that after that moment in 1992, we stilll had ocasional, short lived, periods that were in many aspects similar to the Second Summer of Love. I believe that the genetic code of Rave music still contains all the necessary elements to revive that moment.

The proof, I believe, it's visible in the suceeding rave forms that appeared from 1992 onward.

I personally cannot speak for the Jungle and Drum & Bass times, since I did not experience those in first hand. Nor can I speak for UK Garage/2-Step times either. Even dubstep, since I caught it in a age where it was almost passing. I can probably speak for UK Funky one day, but it's still too soon.

The only thing that always lasts it's the music. The records. I can speak for those that I have heard from past times.

I still think that the best music of those genres is the one that, just like the original Hardcore, has a balance between the lightness and darkness. The best Drum & Bass it's the one that it's both sophisticated and primal (see Goldie and the Metalheadz). The best UK Garage in the one that oscilates beween the rainy darkness and almost kitchy R&B samples (see Wookie). The best Dubstep is, undoubetly the one that carries a mighty punch (even if a wobble synth) and then carries you into soul land (see Mala and the DMZ). A more current example would be what the guys at Night Slugs are releasing (see Jam City).

From a empirical point of view, I think it's fair to conclude that this might be a sucessful formula. The best rave music should always have this very same tension.

The essence of Rave is somewhere between the agressive punch and the loveable kiss.


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