It seems like everyone's into happy hardcore these days. A nation of trend-conscious music fans the nation over have suddenly decided that, all of a sudden, that they were there in '92, that they've been banging out Slipmatt tape packs since before they'd sat a SAT paper. This is just how it goes: previously derided artists, previously lambasted genres, return and are re-assessed, swept along by a potently forceful wave of nostalgia for the unremembered.
Now that we're all au fait with Force & Styles, now that we all cook our tea to old Mark EG mixes, now that Billy Bunter means more to us than Ben Klock, we thought we'd have a look at the best thing about this world: the associated artwork.
The music that fits into the hardcore continuum — from demented rave freakouts to harsh hardstyle to spine tingling piano-house magic — is perfection in itself, obviously, but there's something utterly beguiling about the combination of this relentless sonic aesthetic and the future-leaning visual accompaniment. It's music that feels like an alternate future where the anoydyne has been outlawed and thus it's deserving of the kind of pitch perfect pictorial representation it so often found. Here's a few of our favourite pieces of hardcore art.
FORCE & STYLES - HELTER SKELTER ENERGY 97
Let's start with a genuinely perfect artefact that historians of the near future will pore over in the same way we find ourselves magnetically drawn to YouTube compilations of Gabriel Batistuta's best goals. This Force & Styles set from Helter Skelter way back in '97 is an absolute powerhouse performance, a incredible, energy soaked selection of songs with unbelievable amounts of euphoric power. Seriously, listen to the heavens-opening piano tune exactly 20 minutes in and tell me you didn't just get the biggest fucking goosebumps ever. It's unfettered genius. It's on par with the Sistine Chapel or something. FOLLOW ME AND I'LL LET YOU TASTE MY ECSTASY…indeed.
And the artwork! The artwork! That impossibly blue shimmering sea straight out of Homer's Odyssey! Her out of Skunk Anansie in a skintight spacesuit! Duke Nukem holding up a mirror that shows us that we're somewhere deep in the cosmos! Forgotten TV presenter Sarah Cawood with some kind of metallic skin graft posing seductively! Fuck Francis Bacon, fuck Modiglianii, fuck Rembrandt and van Eyck too — this is art. Hang it in the National. Hang it in the Tate.
SY & SLIPMATT - VIBEALITE @ SUN CITY '97
The sun is alright, and I suppose we should thank it for giving us life, but come on, there's a reason why our parents discouraged us for looking directly at it — it's fucking boring. The real sun should look a bit more like the sun in the picture above I reckon. It's more dynamic, more fun, more chilled out. So what if this new sun looks a bit like a shit NPC in a bad RPG you begged your mum to buy you before you played it once and promptly stuffed it in a drawer, gathering dust and guilt for years to come? He looks chill as fuck. Also, this sun clearly gets that spelling 'mate' as 'M8' is inherently funny so he's a huge, glowing sphere of hot gas after my own heart.
BRISK - THE SOUND OF CLUB KINETIC: PART 1
Straight up, this is the sexiest piece of art ever made, and that's coming from a man who really, really fancies Patrick Nagel paintings, so you know I'm not messing about here. What's sexier than a still from some mediterranean holiday fuckfest fantasy porno overlayed with the terrifying, piercing eyes of some horrible jungle beast and some cheap and nasty gradient? You can shove your X-Art videos: this is the real deal.
DJ RAMOS & MC MARLEY - PANDEMONIUM '94
This is kind of the ur-text of tape pack covers. THUMPIN! JUMPIN! HAPPY HARDCORE!! WITH A CLASSICAL BUST AND A FEW PYRAMIDS AND AN ISOMETRIC GRID OVER THE TOP!
DJ HIXXY - BONKERS 9: HARDCORE MUTATION
The great thing about hardcore is this incredibly focused belief in the possibility that something beyond the know realm exists: life isn't just Burnley or Bracknell, Yate or Gt. Yarmouth. That's reflected both sonically and visually. As music, as pure sound, it's often as punishing and unforgiving as any of the Wolf Eyes or Nautical Almanac albums you bought back in the late 00s to impress the girl in your postmodernist literature seminars who helped out at a vegan cafe and was "super into" DIY spaces. It thumps and thuds and fucking pelts the listener — it's sheer abstraction, the notion of dance music stretched to an often unforgiving degree. It achieves transcendence through power, practically forcing the listener, the dancer, the clubber, the raver to submit.
That sense of submission, that power play relationship of power is perfectly expressed on the cover for the aptly named Hardcore Mutation mix. Three normal looking blokes in mech-suits stand aloof, separate from humanity, harnessing some kind of magical energy. The combination of fonts — the steely minimalism of "BONKERS" rubbing into the softer, more traditionally haunted spookiness of "HARDCORE MUTATION" — adds to this sense of a powerful other-worldliness, a kind of disquieting unreality hangs over the whole thing. And that's the joy of it: this is folk art, art that exists in a sphere outside the academy, art that's there to show us — not tell us — that life goes beyond our small towns, beyond our shit jobs and shit mates. Life is out there. The bloke with the ponytail and the golden eye knows it. So do you.