A poster plastered up on a wall in the streets of Berlin drew more than a few curious onlookers over the past few days. It depicts a smiling bald man with his sunglasses up on his head, riding a moped, adorned in a skull sweater, surrounded—surprisingly—by a sea of smiling faces. This event ad elicited some surprised reactions from passersby in the city. "Rotterdam Terror Corps and DJ Skinhead are coming to Berlin? To Astra?" Would two hardcore acts with an international fanbase really play in that concert hall in Berlin's Friedrichshain district, where acts such as Tycho, Tove Lo, and Joy Denalane would be headlining over the next few weeks? The answer was a resounding yes, which lead to another important question. Are hardcore and gabber going to get popular again in a city overrun with techno?
Once we get to the event, we noticed that the party is only taking place in the front room, around the bar. The large space where electronica icon Trentemøller just finished performing with his band the same evening has been kept empty. Local artists Outrage and Beagle are DJing first. Many of the people here know them back from Bunker, the popular 90s club once located in Berlin's Mitte neighborhood, inside an old air-raid shelter that now houses a contemporary art collection. Bunker was famous for its hardcore floor, which had a big influence on the gabber scene overall. Beagle is part of Gabba Nation, and many members of tonight's crowd are wearing patches repping that DJ team. DJ Schleppscheisse, DJ Devil, and Bork are shifting between drum and bass and trance on a second, smaller floor. This event was organized by local agency GreyZone. Sabrina, who works for them, sums things up well: "Hardcore is simple: dark rooms and 'boom boom."' The hardcore scene usually meets up in clubs like Void or M-BIA, at events such as the Friedlich Feiern ("party peacefully") parties. It barely registers a blip on the city's nightlife. Because of this, some gabbers were a bit suspicious of tonight's event, especially since it never gets really dark in Astra.
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Who are the hardcore fans and gabbers of today? Find out in the exclusive THUMP mini documentary above.
Our presence at the venue contributed to that suspicion, too; after all, we brought along our own film crew. Rotterdam Terror Corps are joined tonight by the MC Randy, a.k.a. LXCPR, instead of the more well-known RTSier and R.A.W, who often play the party. There's plenty of strobe light flashing and "boom boom" as the band starts to perform—plus tons of silly string and a pieces of clothing flying off the bodies of the two RTC dancers, piece by piece.
Nathalie, who was featured in our documentary, isn't here this time around. Joyce is dancing next to Emmely in her place. The latter brought along outfits for her shift at a strip club in Rotterdam tomorrow in her suitcase. The two dancers' performance is part of the usual set-up, as are the barking commands issued by Randy and George Ruseler (a.k.a. DJ Distortion) as they rip into hardcore attacks on pop songs old and new. The guys at the edge of the crowd have been sucked into their smartphones, but the people in front of the stage and in the middle are going strong, throwing around their legs and elbows.
Although the DJs play a couple of new songs from RTC's album Release Your Anger, which came out in December, this show is the same as it has been for years. And it works. The Dutch group usually draws a larger crowd, but later on Emmely still says, "It was crazy today."
Apart from the fact that almost everyone here is white, the crowd is diverse in other ways. There's Katja from Berlin, who DJs as Miss Nightkat and will soon play at the 15th anniversary of the hardcore series Brainfire, which is also celebrating 25 years of Gabba Nation. "Hardcore makes me feel the most I've ever felt — both good and bad," she says. "And I don't have to put on any specific clothes for it; I can just wear what I want." Her hair is blue, and she's got on a flower-patterned corset over a pink bustier.
Meanwhile, another member of the crowd has the "classic" gabber look, as though he walked right out of one of those iconic gabber YouTube videos: a fluffy yellow sweater, black and white track pants, white socks pulled up over the pant cuffs, and colorful sneakers. He wouldn't normally be here, though: "I'm more a part of the techno scene; this is a little something different for me." In Berghain, where he spends most of his time, "everyone wears black and it's mainly artsy people and hipsters. Here there are more East Berliners and people from Brandenburg (in the outskirts of Berlin), which is what I expected."
Going out in Berlin usually revolves around door policies based on 'coolness,' and the music isn't at all the main thing anymore. That's shitty.
Another partygoer named Willem has been thinking about this issue for a long time. He's half-Dutch, comes from the region around Aachen, and produces hardcore music here in Berlin under the name RhinOzerOz. He likes to grab fellow riders' attention on the S-bahn by pushing around a handcart loaded with music, getting people familiar with hardcore again. "Berlin is strongly influenced by techno," he says. "That's why hardcore isn't as big here as it is in the Netherlands, in Italy, and in the Ruhr Valley. But the nightlife situation in the city is awful because all of the tourists want to go to the cool clubs and then stand in line in front of Berghain for three hours. Here the door policy is based on 'coolness,' and it's not about the music at all anymore. [Getting turned away away from a club] is shitty. The covers are high. The sick raves of the past are gone."
Hardcore might provide an answer to these issues if the techno scene expanded its musical horizons. It did in the past: In the '90s, techno and hardcore acts often performed back-to-back. If something similar happened again, then maybe today's Berlin-based gabbers wouldn't have to travel around so much to major events like Defqon, Thunderdome, and Syndicate to hear the music they love.
Dominik, another fan in the crowd, agrees with this line of thinking. He's already converted to hardcore—he used to be a metalhead, though. He moved to Berlin from Stuttgart six months ago, and tonight is the first local hardcore event that he's seen. "When it comes to metal, you can't really party so much," he tells me. "I'm always at hardcore events, and I use a wheelchair. Dancing connects people—you get to know each other. I love that ecstatic feeling." Then we meet another Dutch fan in the crowd. Baron is there with his bandmate Mimi. "People in Berlin usually don't like to dance a lot," she says. "Hardcore could shake them awake." He didn't expect today's event to happen here, but he's been noticing over the past year how more and more people in Berlin are talking about gabber and hardcore. It all boils down to the fact that music today is much too boring and not aggressive enough. "Hardcore is a fucking punch to the face, man!" Mimi consents.
Baron doesn't think that hardcore will make its way back into the mainstream, but he does sees how it could influence popular music: "Songs with high BPM or individual sounds taken from hardcore music could get really big," he says.
So is a hardcore revival actually happening in Berlin, where techno reigns surpreme nowadays?
"The revival started in 1993 and it's still going on," George from RTC tells me, right after he just played alone for a bit as DJ Distortion. Meanwhile, DJ Skinhead put on a pretty bland, unexciting set that left many crowd members grumbling. George has been asked variations on this question again and again over the years. "Hardcore has never gone away. Kids will always want to listen to this kind of non-commercial music. It gives them something that other music can't."
Randy, Emmely, and Joyce are sitting around us. They each yell "Hardcore will never die!", one after the other. Then it's finally time for them to grab a cab. Meanwhile, the party continues, with plenty of open space on the dancefloor.
How did Willem put it again a little while ago? "Gabber ben je niet voor even, Gabber ben je voor het leven.": You're not just a gabber for a little while, you're a gabber for life.