‘So if you see the stars tonight then tell me what they say … and let me know how bright they are… ‘ .. Or if you don’t know those lyrics try ‘I’ve found a love but it didn’t last.. Wonderful days belong to the past..’
Every Dutch person who reached the age of about 10/12 by 1995 knows these lyrics… if not: the first two lines are taken from Mental Theo and Charly Lownoise’s Stars, the second hum is from ‘Wonderful Days‘. It must have been my final year at elementary school, I had just turned 12 and we had an end of year party. After the summer break we were transferring to high school, so the last party we had together should be a blast. Now, at age 12 my music taste wasn’t quite as developed as it is now, but I had my preferences and ‘gabber’ (as we called it, but technically it was (happy) hardcore) wasn’t one of them. I was more of a Spice Girls kinda girl. So when the guys – as far as their parents allowed – cropped hair or bald, dressed in track jacket & aussies (track trousers from the brand Australian) and their Nikes, put the music on, it always started with a Mental Theo & Charly Lownoise song, or the Party Animals.. Early hardcore acts from the early 90s. And slowly the guys started to dance, the particular ‘gabber dance’ called ‘hakken‘.. And so it went on and on till late in the afternoon until the guys wore out from hakken and someone eventually turned on the ‘darker’ hardcore: the ‘real’ gabber such as Neophyte or Dark Raver.
Without being nostalgic or judgmental I wish to illustrate the ‘commonness’ of gabber, and it’s softer brother happy hardcore, during my ‘youth’ (which I think is a recognizable picture for many Dutch people my age- 27). And might I add to this, the gabbers at that time who were thriving in the scene were aged somewhere between 17 and 25. It was a typical youth/ subculture thing, and maybe very Dutch in many ways: the soberness, the roughness, the simpleness, but also the harshness and speed of the beats. Youngsters came together in music venues/ (factory) halls or at large parties (such as Thunderdome) to spend an evening ‘hakkend’ to their favorite tunes.
Nevertheless, what I want to point out is that somehow all of the kids from back then – who are now aged somewhere between 25 till 35/40 – have somehow experienced this musical genre in their youth, whether they liked it or not. It was played on the radio (note: mainly happy hardcore as far as I remember) or broadcast on TMF, the Dutch equivalent of MTV (when MTV still played music). So, and without turning this too much into a research piece, it fits our musical habitus –> the ingrained way music is part of our cultural capital and enduringly somehow connects to our socialization (simply stated our upbringing) and social location (the position we hold in society). Come again? Early 90’s hardcore, whether it’s in the form of gabber or happy hardcore – the most mainstream, somehow is present in our lives, it’s tucked away somewhere and when we hear ‘Stars’ or ‘I’m a raver’ or ‘Children of the Night’ on the radio now – as young adults – we are able to place where and how that music is familiar to us. We know that it comes from our ‘youth’, we know that at the time we might have (dis)like(d) it, maybe you still do… Plus, we know how society at the time thought about gabbers: part of ‘low-culture’ and the gabbers themselves ranging from hyperactive kids to pill poppers with fascist tendencies. And because we know all these things, we are able to approach the genre in certain ways.
Last weekend the Lowlands festival took place. Lowlands is a major festival with an international line-up, and it’s always known for it’s innovative programming. Back in the day I would have said this is a festival for the indie- alternative loving music fanatic, but Lowlands dares to program dance, hiphop etc. as well nowadays. One of the shows however, was called ‘Always HardKoor’, literally translated as Always Hard Choir, the latter a ‘fun’ intended misspelling of ‘hardcore’ obviously. Now before diving further into Always HardKoor it’s important to note that ‘gabber’ or happy hardcore have never really been off the radar: gabber went underground after the mid-nineties, but there are still many parties in the scene, and happy hardcore became almost a form of Dutch cultural heritage (every ’90s or ’00s party you can attend in the Netherlands equates attending a happy hardcore party). So, gabber underground, happy hardcore still mainstream. Yet, Lowlands & hardcore … See the gig here btw, so you know why it’s worth talking about this.
The show starts off with a few acoustically performed hardcore songs (by Caroline Bongers), which looks and sounds cool and fits the overall festival vibe of Lowlands. It the audience you can see the first faces with looks that express ‘I don’t want to admit I know this, but somehow this is cool’; then a completely off piece of play serves as an intermezzo between the acts (taken from ‘The Nineties‘ a show that played last year at theaterfestival De Parade) in which the ‘audience’ is learned how to ‘hak’. I think that exactly this piece of ‘Always HardKoor’ is the one that makes me feel uncomfortable. Seeing and hearing the performers talk about ‘gabber’ and learning the audience how to be good at ‘hakken’ … is this necessary? On the one hand Lowlands has an audience that actively witnessed the gabber-era (maybe even participated in it), whereas on the other hand there’s an audience that only knows about happy hardcore because it’s always on the ’90s parties line-up & there’s old clips on YouTube. It’s exactly this struggle I’m interested in: group A (25+) has ‘gabber’ in their habitus, whereas for B (25-) it might be a complete revelation of what exactly gabber/ happy hardcore is. On the one hand the intermezzo is ironic to the bone, it’s exactly ridiculing the ‘stereotype’ of gabbers, but on the other hand: the acts that still had to follow do still thrive on these stereotypes & irony. And can audience B see / understand this? And what would ‘real’ gabbers have thought of this show? (They were probably at another festival…)
So, if audience A has a reason to be sentimental & perhaps a bit nostalgic about ‘Always HardKoor’, what is its value for audience B? Just a party with silly dances? And how does this.. in the end connect to gabber as ‘cultural heritage’? Can we lift a culture that was not thought of highly back in the day into ‘art’ or high culture? We – my generation – is already somehow legitimizing hardcore (at a festival, in various settings, are we treating it as ‘art’?!), might it then someday (if it not already) be(come) part of Dutch cultural heritage? And, perhaps most importantly, what version of ‘hardcore’ do we keep? Are we ‘old enough’ to remember and is it [the music] just old enough to become ‘new’ or rather retro for them, the younger audience? As Simon Reynolds wrote in the introduction of ‘Retromania’; “Never before there has been a society that is able to access the immediate past so easily and so copiously”, so how will this / is this already working out for hardcore?
I’m curious to learn other’s opinion or experiences about this!
Note again that it is not at all my intention to be judgmental or nostalgic, I wrote this post because I’m studying a similar phenomenon in pop music: namely by looking at why people visit reunion concerts of mainstream pop groups from the late ’90s such as 5ive and Atomic Kitten. The ‘gabber’ phenomenon – as I’m seeing it being focused upon by the media – has many similarities to what I’m studying.