Saturday, 10 March 2012

Whose hardcore continuum?

Over the last ten years, the music journalist Simon Reynolds has developed the concept of the hardcore continuum ('nuum' for short) to describe a scene which began with rave and progressed through various styles including drum n bass, jungle and 'ardkore through to dubstep and grime, then to 2step to funky in the present day. He draws out connections between genres in terms of labels, dubplates producers, pirate radio stations and places. But he's missing out as much as he leaves in.

I'm more concerned with underground music than following fads, and despite dabbling in therory, Reynolds seems to ignore the fact that capitalism consistently recuperates any challenges to its hegemony. Thus labels and people sell out, pirate radio stations become mainstream to develop an audience, free parties become recommodified as commercial festivals like Lowlands or Glade or Bangface. Just because pirate stations like Rinse used to play drum n bass and now play garage, or certain artists have developed in the same direction, doesn't mean that garage is in any way hardcore.

Whilst I like some of the ideas behind the nuum I'm not sure how relevant it is to me, since I'm more interested in dark fucked up sounds and sonic experimentation (the real progression of hardcore, surely). The last time the nuum got me going was dubstep and I don't think there's anything hardcore about funky.

To be fair, Reynolds did say in 2009:

It's even not the only dance continuum I'm interested in as a listener or as a writer, for instance I've written a lot about another music called hardcore, the gabba tradition, European four to the floor kick drum pounding terror techno, I'm a big fan and defender of that

... but then he hasn't mentioned it much lately. At a 'Critical Beats' talk in 2012, he even seemed rather dismissive of gabba, possibly because he has lost touch with its offshoots through living in New York and listening to shit like Burial.

Yet as we all know, one offshoot of rave, the faster hectic strand hardened into gabba which then itself influenced many forms, such as happy hardcore, french tekno, speedcore and breakcore. Various subgenres have splintered off and sometimes form into valid scenes themselves eg flashcore.

Where does that leave us now? Well, we are in the future. You tell me. Having gone through explosion then death, whatever breakcore now means nowadays still throws up a shitload of good stuff, since experimentation and sonic deviance is explicitly welcomed by its broad parameters. Wrong Music pioneered a return to weirdness and now bassline (Kanji Kinetic, Figure, Warlock) is getting people raving on the dancefloor again.

Personally, what I'm hoping for would be just as dubstep bass infected dnb basslines, we'll end up with a fast return to the darkside, with massive basslines anchored on 220 bpm beats.

At the Critical Beats talk the heroes seemed to be Zomby and Burial. I'd prefer to sit down and talk about Venetian Snares, Enduser, Shitmat, La Peste, No Name and Mouse. Vsnares is on mu-ziq records, Enduser is on the consistently interesting AdNoiseam (among other labels) but these names didn't get mentioned once.

That's a bit weird, since these people really are maintaining some sort of hardcore continuum (although that name's taken already). For example, VSnares frequently drops in references to allsorts of stuff in his tunes (commercial drum n bass in 'Fuck Toronto Jungle' and 'A Lot of Drugs',' punk in 'Abomination Street', rave in 'Husikam Rave Dojo' and 'Calvin Kleining', gabba all through the Winnipeg album and so on).

Reynolds is correct to identify how a scene develops in reflexively self-referential style, which can be almost impenetrable to outsiders who don't know the heritage of the scene. But he is wrong to track continua as they mainstream and become commercialised. It's personal choice I suppose, but surely it's much more interesting to stay underground.

Flint Michigan wrote in the initial manifesto for Datacide magazine that it was:

A communication tool of the trans-european Undo*round, it is intended to give the a deserved coverage to those who do things, not for the kudos, prestige and cash it might bring in but for the buzz of inter-activity and mutual respect

There is an underground quietly bubbling away, partying at the weekend, communicating through zines like this one, creating music of all sorts with a seriously anti-capitalist and anti-commercial attitude. That's what gives me hope and what I see as the real hardcore continuum.


  1. Think you're right to be a bit suspicious of the whole hardcore continuum thing. Reynolds is obviously a hugely talented music writer, especially when looking back on scenes from the past (i fucking loved energy flash and rip it up and start again), but I feel like he might try a little too hard force theory/concepts onto his approaches. He also seemed to lack genuine passion and much optimism at the Critical Beats talk compared to the other panelists (I found him way too dismissive of grime).

    In terms of whatever this continuum is, is it really a problem of 'selling out'/lacking an anti-capitalist message that bothers you? are you saying the likes of Rinse FM stop being 'hardcore' because they've gone legit and may place stuff that's more commercial than back in their pirate days?

    1. yes i agree that reynolds is a great writer, i just picked up 'bring the noise' and thoroughly enjoyed the bits i dipped into. i find him thought-provoking but by no means right. i also took some solace from him being fairly inarticulate at critical beats (hope for the rest of us!)

      i guess reynolds is open about being a fan and a critic, that's a hard combination to make work. for example, i'm not into grime, perhaps you are, then we'd probably differ on our opinion of how reynolds treats grime (he talks about it somewhere in terms of being a disappointed lover, which is quite funny).

      i think there are different continua, but i'm not sure if reynolds has nailed the hardcore continuum right, not least because the music it spans stopped being hardcore a long time ago.

      regarding the selling out issue, i think you are right to problematize that - i tend to fall prey to a version of the intentional fallacy whereby music i like is promoting the sort of politics i follow (and maybe the artists therefore have the same politics as me as well), which is of course complete rot. however, at the same time, i do feel like i'm onto something here, which perhaps wasn't very well expressed in the piece above.

      i'm more interested in the underground continuum if we can call it that, the trajectory of non-commercial hard dance music. it's not that i find all commercial music rubbish by any means (i like rizzle kicks!) but theoretically it's uninteresting since it is about making money and thus plays the game of predictability. the two poles of course play off each other, with the underground remixing mainstream samples and defining itself as harder than the rest.

      i have a kneejerk reaction against grime and funky, i find it cheesy and unsatisfying. and i do feel that dance music played at squats, underground club and free parties does have an inherent anticapitalist message which is lost when artists "grow up" or "discover themselves" and play in venues where oyu have to pay a tenner or more to get in, and outrageous drinks prices.

      rinse has indeed institutionalised - i didn't realise that actually! it kinda proves my point. on their wikipedia page, someone described as the owner is quoted as saying when they became a community radio station in 2010:

      "We want to be legal. We don't want to be legal to play stupid adverts and make loads of money from advertising. We want to be legal to say; look at our scene, look at what we're doing. We're a business, we're not criminals. We're supplying something that no one else is supplying, and we're professional."

      whatever the words, once money is involved i'm sure rinse will go downhill artistically. that's just how it goes.
      not necessarily a bad thing in the greater scheme of things, it is progress of a sort, but something which means whilst it sticks in reynolds' continuum it falls out of my (badly sketched) version.

      so there's a long, possibly incoherent, answer to your question. it's a fascinating area of discussion. thanks for your comment!

  2. The way I see it is that the way Reynolds definies his 'num is based around essentially what he sees as a British take on a certain mix of influences from sources like Chicago House and Reggae/Dub. He follows the path that one scene feeds into another, and you're bang on, it does become steadily more overground and open to mainstream culture. Despite the fact that there are countless reference points from, say, Vsnares back to all the genres discussed, I wouldn't say that he is a direct evolution of Aardcore. Maybe he is some kind of weird mutant spawn, but he doesn't share the generational similarities that say DnB does.

    What I'm trying to get at is that he maps out a bloodline which morphs and changes but essentially follows a linear progression (or regression, depending upon your thoughts). I think probably his lack of motivation on the topic lately comes from his realisation that though this stream of music keeps evolving, it has gone somewhere a bit dull. Probably due to both the fact that inbreeding is poor form, and also the seepage of the money into the equation.

    Whilst I agree that The Continuum does begin to fade and wither, and it would be much more interesting to talk about the mutant children who move off into underground territory, I think Reynolds actually maps it pretty well, and opens up a lot of insight for those of us too young to have experienced much before the turn of the century.

    Maybe what you're talking about is more like a personal progression through music. It's probably a lot more worthy to talk about your thoughts and links within a different framework, rather than trying to see how they fit (or don't) with The Continuum. I'm definitely seeing the links that you're proposing, but they're probably more on a political or ideological level, whereas Reynolds deals with it on a purely sonic and geographical scene level.

    1. hi connector hmm yes you make some good points - i'm gonna chew on them for a bit then reply ... cheers!

  3. hello again connector, well i'm still feeling quite fuzzy on this but i'll attempt an answer. you are right to say that reynolds is doing excellent work in tracing a bloodline but that kind of sidesteps my point about the continuum he chooses to track becoming commodified and reassimilated into capitalism as it ages.

    as for mutant children (nice phrase!) well i'm still not convinced that these people aren't the genuine legacy. to stick with the example of venetian snares, i think he continues perfectly on from dnb and rave, not least because if you hadn't heard them you wouldn't be getting many of the references that he throws out at 250 miles an hour in his tracks.

    i take the point that i am probably talking on a different level to reynolds, but this is the thing, combining fan coverage and criticism will lead to personal bias and he is just as guilty of that as me, i feel. as i previously said in a comment above, i'd love to analyse music ideologically but that's just a dead end, playing into the intentional fallacy.

    i like your thoughts on inbreeding and bloodlines, that's a good way of expressing the continuuum, cheers!