The Internet never tires of gabber—a short-lived but iconic Dutch rave phenomenon that makes the gnarliest dubstep sound about as hard as Tiny Tim. Between Tom Nijuis' recent gabber-inspired clothing collection, Soulwax's slowed-down gabber mixes, and Noisey's gabber spelunking in Big Night Out, we can't seem to stop ogling dance music's weirdest subculture.
But the most WTF of all gabber moments is Rave Party 1997 for Kids, Level 1, a YouTube video that shows children as young as seven chopping it up at what appears to be a full-fledged warehouse rave while dressed to the nines in the finest 90s club fashion.
Having spent 17 minutes yesterday watching videos of babies doing the hakken dance, I knew I couldn't blog this clip without providing the who, where, when, and why—because, as a friend pointed out, "The evangelicals would be planting car bombs over this if it happened in America."
A little bit of digging revealed that this particular video, posted elsewhere under the name Hakke and Zage Parties for Kids, contains footage from two kiddie gabber parties—one in the Dutch city of Zoetermeer, and one in Zandaam, just outside of Amsterdam. "Actually, this was Children's Day, with music and a carousel," says Istvan Ertekes, a Hungarian gabber enthusiast who uploaded the Hakke and Zage VHS rips to Youtube. It turns out that while we were busy playing laser tag and inhaling pizza slices at Discovery Zone, an entire generation of Dutch pre-teens was being herded into clubs the size of mid-sized airports and dancing for hours to gabber and hardcore techno. Maybe this explains why so many of the world's top DJs hail from the Netherlands?
To be clear: by the late 90s Netherlands, hardcore and gabber weren't obscure niche genres or tiny sub-subcultures—they were at the core of Dutch popular culture. Gabber tracks had major label distribution, entire TV shows dedicated to it, and festivals like Thunderdome that could house 20,000 ravers at once. "[The Thunderdome organizers] acquired their wealth by selling millions of CDs in the early 90s," says Aron Friedman, editor of THUMP Netherlands. "The Thunderdome compilations made them millionaires."
A 1997 "Dutch Dance Spotlight" in Billboard called the gabber movement Holland's "first homegrown youth culture." ID&T, who organized the annual Thunderdome raves (and now run the massive Sensation and Mysteryland events), also assembled the eponymous hardcore compilations—in 1997, the compilations were projected to sell 3 million units in one year. For scale, let us consider the year 2014: as of January 11, Katy Perry's fourth studio album had only sold a million copies, and that is considered cause to celebrate.
But let's get to the question on everyone's mind: where were these kids' parents? How did the country's right-wing evangelists not squash this whole ungodly mess right off the bat?
"Gabber was at one point such a mainstream thing that people didn't regard it as a drug-crazed subculture anymore," Friedman explains over email. "But oh yes, the conservatives rioted! The Evangelical Broadcasting System (EO) made tons of 'documentaries' about the satanic qualities of gabber. Those are equally hysterical." The Thunderome Hall of Shame lists the Dutch evangelical television choir Nederland Zingt among their list of sworn enemies—and I can only imagine the feud resembled something like when Tipper Gore clashed with Jello Biafra on Oprah.
Free Your Mind wasadocumentary produced by the EO in the early 90s that explored the outer fringes of house music in the Netherlands, casting the gabbers in a less than favorable light. "There was actually a small riot when this came out, because the documentary was made by the EO," explains the guy who uploaded the video to YouTube. "When they interviewed everyone they pretended to be a different broadcasting group because the people interviewed probably wouldn't [have cooperated]."
But Christians weren't the only enemies of true hardcore in Holland. As the style wrapped its evil squid tentacles around Dutch popular culture, many of gabber's most hated were traitors from inside the ranks.
Perhaps the most publicly hated "sell-out" was Gabber Piet, a screaming Aryan tornado with pirate earrings and the shiniest bald head you've ever seen.His 1996 gabber parody hit was "Hakke and Zage," a kid-friendly pop gabber hit that referenced the theme song from children's television series Peppi en Kokki. Though he was one of the most visible crossover acts, he was not alone in attempting to bridge the gabber-pop gap. "Our company is constantly developing new concepts," said Robert-Jan Hertog, the manager of ID&T competitor Mecado Records, in conversation with Billboard in 1997. "Hardcore gimmickry is just one out of the many things we do."
The record got Gabber Piet dropped from his promotional position at ID&T Records and blacklisted by the gabber scene who, by 1997, were already touchy about the encroaching commercialization of hardcore by major labels and cheesy pop groups. Piet attempted to save face by releasing a more authentic gabber album the following year called Love U Hardcore (the last track on the album was essentially an apology to the underground), but he had already fallen too far from grace.
The fucking Vengaboys…
Some claim that a more euphoric, trance-based industrial sound killed the Dutch cult genre, siphoning fans away to a more palatable, less vicious sound. The commercial success of candy hardcore acts like Vengaboys—of "We Like to Party" fame—perfectly illustrates this commercialization process, and its no surprise that they're listed alongside Nederland Zingt and Piet himself in Thunderdome's Hall of Shame. Thunderdome and its ilk carried into the mid-2000s and began to peter out at the turn of the 10s, and the Dome finally shut its doors in 2012.
"Gabber Piet is widely regarded as the man who gave gabber the final blow," my Dutch correspondent explains. The rise of sell-out acts like Gabber Piet was only compounded by the influx of children and normal people, who—labels knew—could easily become the genre's newest major demographics. And any tobacco executive worth her weight in tumors will agree: "Get 'em while they're young!" But for beleaguered apostles of gabber, the child-targeted marketing campaign may have been the straw that broke the raver's back.
"I started partying four years ago, and now I'm old and worn out," one teenage gabber fanatic admits in a 1995 Lola da Musica documentary about the movement. "Why?," the interviewer asks. "The parties used to be better. Too many kids in here. It's like the Telekids show."
Max Pearl is gearing up for the gabber revival. Who's down? Follow him on Twitter. -@maxpearl