August 30, 2023 at 3:38 AM PT
Hardcore can be cited as one of the rave genre style of music that developed in Europe and beyond throughout the 90s. Yet the birth of this singular musical style, often mixing hybrid genres, can be traced back to the 70s with the early genre known as gabber. Freedom, exploration of agressive sounds, and raves are what the hardcore music fan can expect from this specific music. So what makes hardcore techno distinctive from other styles of techno such as Detroit techno or Chicago House? What are the main characteristics of these sounds and what genres do we know until today? What artists and producers made hardcore techno popular and made it a true destination for all fans of fast BPM and distorted sounds?
What Is Hardcore Techno?
A subgenre of electronic dance music and precisely techno music, hardcore techno found its roots in the 1990s primarily in Belgium and the Netherlands, and developed in the UK and Germany. Contrary to other styles of techno, hardcore techno is faster with a BPM ranging from 160 to 200 with intensified kicks and distorted saturation, that may recall industrial music. Some subgenres of hardcore techno music includes Gabber (early hardcore or known as mainstream hardcore), industrial hardcore, breakcore, speedcore, and Frenchcore. Let’s explore the birth of hardcore techno as well as its development throughout the years as early as the 70s.
Characteristics of Hardcore Techno Music
Electronic music instruments such as keyboard, synthesizer, drum machine, sequencer, sampler and bitcrusher are used for producing hardcore techno music – like in most electronic music. The difference ranges in the use of distorted sounds, the speed and tempo of the songs, and the different elements to produce hardcore techno, for instance with aggressive kick drums and violent basslines. Hardcore techno tracks can be distinguished from other types of techno music as they boast faster BPM, synthesized bass, and usage of saturation alongside a somewhat violent rhythm. What distinguishes the hard techno music kick is a distorted sawtooth kick, making it harder and edgier than other kicks used in techno. The atmosphere is less melodic but rather more dance floor and beat driven.
Hardcore Techno Subgenres
Various, distinct hardcore techno subgenres throughout different countries and eras. As hardcore techno developed throughout the years and regions, subgenres emerged with their noticeable elements.
Popularised by Dutch producers and DJs Paul Elstak and Rob Fabrie, gabber encompasses different sub categories of hardcore techno music such as:
Early hardcore – popular in western europe and characterised by heavy drums and kicks and distortions with BPM up to 190.
Mainstream hardcore – which features more complex sounds of gabber and ranges from 150 to 165 BPM.
Speedcore – is noticeable with very fast tempos (even 300 to 500) boasting more aggressive themes and heavier distortions.
Industrial hardcore is a combination of techno and hardcore that features darker and colder sounds, and developed in the UK, Netherlands, and Belgium in the 1990s.
Happy hardcore: features sample of songs that were accelerated, often coupled with joyful female or male vocals and piano riffs, with a 165 and 180 BPM. Example:
Frenchcore: is a style of hardcore techno developped in France, that recalls gabber but with lighter and smoother elements with a high tempo ranging from 190 to 250 and a distorted offbeat bassline.
UK hardcore: similar to happy hardcore, UK hardcore has a distinct style with harsher basslines that developed in 2000s in England.
Speedcore: with a BPM of 300, speedcore is described as a violent and aggressive subgenres of hardcore techno, that also features hyperactive snares and toms.
Hardcore Techno History
Rave music is often linked to hardcore techno, and despite being born in Detroit, hardcore techno singularly developed in Europe, especially Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany.
- The 70s see the development of hardcore techno linked with the growth of industrial music, which promotes a provocative message, with artists such as Cabaret Voltaire, SPK, or Foetus, tracks showcase harsh, transgressive or provocative sounds and themes.
- In the 80s, a new genre developed under the influence of Belgium group Front 242, named EBM, Electronic Body Music, with colder sounds and more aggressive vocals, which later mixed with acid house and new wave gave the foundation for the birth of hardcore techno.
- The 90s show the emergence of hardcore techno as a distinctive genre, and surely Marc Trauner with his acclaimed “We Have Arrived” track contributed to establishing the genre. Throughout this decade, hardcore and speedcore developed, influenced by drum and bass and breakbeat in England, which later combined with piano riffs and dub gave birth to Happy Hardcore. In the Netherlands, Paul Elstak created the first hardcore label in 1992, named Rotterdam Records, and large raves developed such as The Final Exam.
- 2000s and beyond saw the emergence of the mainstream hardcore scene with DJ promo and his label Third Eye Movement, while happy hardcore continued its development with the appearance of new artists such as Art of Fighters, The Stunned Guys and DJ Mad Dog. Throughout this new decade, the free movement was clearly at peak and free parties propelling new forms of raves were prominent in Europe but also overseas.
Hardcore Techno Artists
Angerfist, a producer and musician of hardcore and gabber, from the Netherlands, is often referred as the King of Hardcore.
Active since the 1990s, The Prodigy, UK based members of 4, are often cited as one of the most influential breakbeat producers alongside Fatboy Slim and the Chemical Brothers.
DJ Mad Dog is an Italian producer who created the group ‘Hardcore Terrorists’ and is one of the highlights of hardcore techno as of today.
Paul Roger Elstak is a Dutch happy hardcore and mainstream hardcore producer who contributed to the diffusion of hardcore techno throughout the 90s with his label Rotterdam Records.
DJ Promo from the Third Eye Movement developed mainstream hardcore sounds throughout the 2000s and still regarded as of today as one of the main pillars of hardcore techno.
Hardcore techno has seen 4 decades of expansion from the Netherlands and Western Europe to broader horizons, with singular sounds and culture represented by distinctive artists. Often linked to raves and rave sounds, the genre encompasses today broader sub-genres both locally and internationally that feature their own sounds and artists.