My Hardcore Adventures in the Dutch Bible Belt
How the extreme dance music has found a new home in the Netherlands' most devout area.
Watch the trailer for 'Big Night Out: Bastards of the Bible Belt' here, and see the full episode on VICELAND, on Sky channel 153 or Now TV.
The international sin-bin of Amsterdam aside, The Netherlands isn't a country particularly associated with extremity. Ask most people to think of an image of the Dutch countryside and they'll no doubt fall readily into cliché: windmills, dyes, rolls of cheese, rosy-faced maidens with dollies on their heads, ham and cheese toasties and tall lads called Ronald and Virgil with Van Persie haircuts.
Driving through the country, those clichés seem to be not a million miles away from the reality. The landscape is dominated by the endless plains of the lowlands, its climate is Northern European without being Nordic and its culture is steeped in Protestant ethics and decency. After all, this is a country whose national stereotype is tolerance.
But beneath the veneer of milkmaids, orange hats and "no worries, guys" permissiveness lies a staunchly Calvinist backbone that cuts across the country, from Zeeland in the West to the central-eastern regions of Overijssel and Utrecht.
This invisible line in the cornfields is widely known as being Europe's biggest "Bible Belt", and the beliefs here often sit to the right of mainstream Christianity. Homosexuality, abortion, sex before marriage and working on a Sunday are all highly frowned upon by many of the Bible Belt inhabitants, and the area was brought to even greater notoriety when a measles epidemic struck the region a few years back, no doubt due to their firm anti-vaccination stance.
But every action has a reaction, and the Bible Belt's Amish-lite approach to life has no doubt spurred the youth of these towns towards an unlikely obsession with the Dutch hardcore and gabber scenes. You wouldn't think to look at them, but almost every weekend one of these towns is bound to be invaded by hundreds of bored, riled up teenagers flocking to the massive out-of-town clubs to hear some of most fearsome, absurd music on earth. We were there to film an episode of the new VICELAND series Big Night Out, and when we found out about a night called "Fucking Bastards" happening in the one-windmill town of Beesd it not only played into a long obsession I've had with gabber and hardcore, but also made me wonder how a landscape so flat and uninspiring, with a culture so forbidding, could incubate one of the most extreme subcultures on earth.
The simple answer is that hardcore is no longer wanted in the city that birthed it. It's become an increasingly-gentrified Rotterdam's problem child, banished out into the provinces, where people are more likely to appreciate that kind of thing.
The story goes that hardcore could only ever have come out of Rotterdam, the Dutch city that stands out from the crowd like no other. Rotterdam doesn't look or feel like any other Dutch city because it was nearly decimated in WWII, due to its strategic importance as a major shipping port. Like Coventry, Rotterdam was nearly totally rebuilt, and instead of the leaning old buildings and quaint backstreets you'll see in many other Dutch cities, Rotterdam became a modernist, brutalist, industrial utopia with people from all over the world (and a whole lot of drugs) moving through its waters.
The Rotterdam of the 1980s was a rough, imposing place, and when the youth of Rotterdam started to play with making their own techno sounds it was if the feeling of the city seeped into the music, as it became harder and faster than anyone had ever heard before. In 1992 it was given a name, "hardcore", and its followers were given a name: "gabbers". The original gabbers had their own uniform, a kind of Lowlands take on the scally look: tracksuits from the sportswear brand Australians, number 0 hair-dos. It was Gosha way before Gosha. It even had its own dance, the Kossack-esque "Hakken". Soon, the music became known as gabber as well, and the scene was cemented as one of the great original youth culture movements.
But 25 years later and hardcore has dwindled in Rotterdam. The city has seized an opportunity to reimagine itself in the Williamsburg-Kreuzberg model. The clubs now play tasteful Pitchfork techno, the warehouses that once played home to Thunderdome and Rotterdam Terror Corps now sell burritos and house start-up companies looking for a cheaper alternative to Amsterdam or Berlin. The young people of the city see hardcore as a kind of ghost scene, one for ne'er-do-wells, lunatics, zealots and speed heads.
But in the Bible Belt, hardcore is still the perfect enemy to sign up with. Something to put the fear of god in the older population, something to raise a bit of hell. And it's here that the scene lives in 2016, with its new obscurity pushing it into more and more extreme directions, with the old standard of 180BPM now an entry level. The tracksuits and the haircuts are still there, but the scene is consistently reinventing itself thanks to an enthusiasm to always make it as hard as possible.
Our film takes us deep into the heart of the Bible Belt, where we meet the Fucking Bastards crew; an 18-year-old Rotterdam scene queen; a young Christian who turned to the dark side of hardstyle, only to retreat back towards the light; and Press Terror, a producer who wears a bloodied pig mask and claims to be the inventor of a new sub-genre called "DRRRRRR!", which boasts tempos well into the four-figure mark.
In Holland, it seems, hardcore isn't a genre, it isn't a lifestyle; it's a religion.
More on VICE: