Music by VICE

Photos of the Beautiful Freaks at America's Biggest Gabber Festival

We went to Vegas to scope out America's gabber scene—even the satanists were super nice!

by Adam Schwarz
Jun 22 2016, 4:40pm

Photos by Justin Cole Smith

Last month, I saw an event pop up in my Facebook feed called "Gabberfest 2016: America's Hardest." Slated for June 18-19, the three-year-old festival promised to help "fans of the sounds too extreme for any mainstream festival find their sanctuary during two days of pure chaos," and a "hellish inferno under the Las Vegas sun."

A couple of my Facebook friends had said they were attending, but I knew they weren't actually going to—the flyer was pretty goofy and the event was way out in Vegas. Still, I became super curious about what a gabber festival in America would look like in 2016. Gabber—a Netherlands-born subgenre of hardcore music marked by heavily distorted kickdrums, whiplash-inducing BPMs, and no-fucks-given aggression—was mostly popular in Europe 10 or 20 years ago, corrupting an entire generation of Dutch children.

I imagined a few different scenarios, the most likely that the actual festival would be sparsely attended, mostly by weird, angry, bald white dudes. What I found in reality was a hyper-dedicated and tight-knit scene gabber heads leftover from the larger hardcore explosion in America decades ago that either got swallowed or abandoned by more accessible electronic music genres over time.

Watch our documentary on the Rotterdam Terror Corps, Holland's Most Badass Hardcore Collective

These lovable freaks gathered in a dive bar called Hard Hat Lounge north of the strip. Many of them were also DJing at the festival, which was thrown by Las Vegas resident Brandon Ramirez AKA the "White Ape," with the help of a San Bernadino-based production company Techno Belligerent. Their dedication to ball-bustingly hard electronic music is so unwavering that they were even willing to put up with the 108 degree weather to rage in the parking lot.

Even though Gabberfest was organized as a pre-party to the massive EDM festival Electric Daisy Carnival, where crossover hardcore act Lenny Dee and quite a few hardstyle DJs were playing, I didn't talk to a single person at Gabberfest who was attending EDC as well.

Chatting with some of the folks present, I felt instantly welcomed into their community, and got the sense that everyone was very optimistic about the future of their micro-scene. Even the Satanists were super nice!


Deadly Buda

THUMP: How did you get into gabber?

I guess I got into it right when it started, more or less... I threw my first rave in 1991.

How do you feel listening to gabber? Whats the perfect setting for it?

That big distorted kick drum really stimulates the fight-or-flight response so it makes dancing like a thrill ride—that's what I like about the gabber sound. You want a big system you can jam out to.

How do you feel about the American gabber scene—do feel like it's a unified culture?

There are all these awesome producers in America who are basically getting no attention whatsoever. One of the great things about Gabberfest is we're getting everyone to meet up and start cooperating to make the scene bigger and better. You are seeing the unification of the scene right here.

Do drugs make the gabber experience better or worse?

Technically I think it makes it worse—it makes it harder to dance. I think drugs hold back any music scene, but smaller music scenes have more people dedicated to the music.

What do you think it would take for gabber to become more popular? Would you want it to be?

I think you're seeing it happen right now.

Steven AKA Metal Jesus

How did you get into gabber? What makes it special?

I was asking friends for the hardest, fastest music and Berzerker was a a band I was given. I started seeing tags like speedcore and terrorcore, so I just started to look that shit up and that's how I got in the scene. My first party was Angerfist's first party in the United States at Murder the Dancefloor in 2007. Now I'm at the point where I can go to a party alone and know three or four people there.

So you feel like there's a unified scene?

Fuck yeah.

How do you feel listening to gabber?

Oh man, I could play gabber to wake me up, and play gabber to put me to sleep.

Do drugs make the gabber experience better or worse?

I dance so hard and so long that if I do do drugs, it's gonna fuck me over big time. So just water and caffeine and make sure I get some good protein and fruit through out the day. People can do whatever the fuck they want, but from what I have seen, not very many people do hard drugs.

Tell me about how you dress to a gabber rave?

Oh I have no clue—I'll wear whatever I'm comfortable in.

Brent AKA Counterterrorist

How did you get into gabber?

I got to see Delta9 at a New Year's party about five years ago when I first got into gabber. I found more of it online and just really went with it.

How do you feel about the American gabber scene? Do feel like it's a unified culture?

It used to be really big and I feel like it can be again if we coordinate.

Do drugs make the gabber experience better or worse?

Thats an interesting question. I have to say it's based on the person. It can go really well or really bad. Alcohol is a big thing with gabber. Where I'm from, mostly people would do a lot of acid and listen to breakcore and stuff. Drugs can enhance [the music] but it can also hinder it.

Tell me about your style. Is this specifically a gabber look?

My general appearance is kind of a mixture of punk rock, raver, and uh, tones of like, goth stuff. I'm wearing a shitload of skulls and stuff. So it's not out of place, but also not the norm.

FlapJack

How did you get into gabber?

When I was like 14 or 15. I'm an actor so I did theater stuff a lot. When I was 14, I went from like 5 feet to 6 feet tall in a month, and I was a horrible dancer like, instantly. They said, "you have to fix that." So I did dance classes and they were really strict, but one of my friend's older sisters was like, "you should come to a rave and dance," and I was like... alright. So I started listening to jungle music. Then I went to a day rave thing at Disneyland and there were a bunch of little ravers and tons of kandi, big fur, caps, and visors. They gave me a flyer to a rave and a CD of happy hardcore stuff.

How do you feel about the American gabber scene? Do feel like it's a unified culture?

It's coming up. From what I know, in the 90s and early 2000s, it was kinda big, but spread out.

Do drugs make the gabber experience better or worse?

I wouldn't know. I've never done drugs or alcohol at all in my life.

Tell me about your clothes/style.

Ohhhh. I'm wearing huge, giant JNCO pant jeans. I worked for JNCO jeans. Have you seen the JNCO jean memes online at all? It's like "JNCO Jeans Coming Back" and some kids in giant JNCO pants? I like 90s rave fashion. I put on a pair of rave pants with the lowest crotch, its just great. I like really baggy clothes, rave candy, visors, wallet chain necklaces.

Is this specifically a gabber look?

No gabber is more like tracksuits.

Richard Riley (KORE) and Megan Hunter (HK) AKA Korehunter

How did you get into gabber?

HK: I've only been DJing for about six years. I started out DJing UK hardcore and I met somebody that DJ'd gabber. I was like, this is way more aggressive and interesting, so I just kind of fell in love with that sound.

Kore: I grew in in Southern California with punk rock and metal in middle school. Then my uncle gave me a German trance tape in 1994, and I was just like, "What is this? It's so new. It's so different." Then I met my friend Keith, DJ Cetra, and he was playing this old speedcore in like 1995. I was like "What the fuck is that?" Because of my background with high energy music, and then hearing that energy being put into electronic music, I fell in love right away.

How do you feel about the American gabber scene? Do feel like it's a unified culture?

HK: Oh yeah. Its obviously smaller than the mainstream scenes, but I feel like because it's so small, and we really, really, love this music, we're like a tight knit family more-so than like, a scene.

Kore: Back in the mid-90s it was a huge scene. Insomniac, who does EDC now, was doing hardcore parties in California five or six times a year and we would get 10,000 people. Now, [the scene] is growing. It will probably get back to where it was, and even past that.

Do you feel like women are properly represented?

HK: Not at all. I can't remember the amount of times I've walked on stage and am waiting for my turn to go, and people are like, "why are you up here?" But I think that's an electronic music thing—not just in hardcore. It's hard to get into this shit because women feel intimidated. The first thing people do to try and insult a female when it comes to this is saying "you're ghost produced." When it comes to females, you have to be 10 times harder than your peers for anyone to respect you.

Do drugs make the gabber experience better or worse?

HK: Again, because we're smaller and composed mostly of older people who are not teenagers starting to experiment with shit, even when they are doing drugs, they are more composed.

Kore: I see more drug abuse at rock and roll shows than I ever see at electronic music shows. I drink, but you don't have to do drugs to enjoy [gabber].

Tell me about your clothing or style.

HK: I've just always done whatever the fuck I want. I don't like to do the whole super feminine style. Just whatever is comfortable.

Brandon AKA The White Ape

How did you get into gabber?

A lot of us we just stumbled onto the mixtapes, but back then, what really hooked me was the energy and the power of hardcore music at its peak. That was 20 years ago.

How come there aren't more women in the scene?

We have a few strong women DJs, but we could always use more women.

Do drugs make the gabber experience better or worse?

Drugs are everywhere. It's an unavoidable evil, but in the hardcore scene I don't think it's as much as an overt problem as in other scenes.

Helbert AKA En3gy

How did you get into gabber?

I used to have a friend who would bring back tapes from the UK and Holland in the mid-90s and tell me, "you gotta listen to this stuff."

How do you feel about the American gabber scene? Do feel like it's a unified culture?

It's had its ups and downs. Once we stick together, things will start to get there again.

Do drugs make the gabber experience better or worse?

It makes no difference. I'm sober half the time—unless I'm drunk.

Tell me about your style.

I grew up in the hood, so for me, it's just urban. I'm relaxed.

Gary and Donna

How did you get into gabber?

Gary: Being in the hard dance scene and hardstyle just eventually led to this.

Donna: Artists out of LA just started to bring it out more to Texas.

Do drugs make the gabber experience better or worse?

Gary: Drugs maybe just make it a little more fun. I could be sober or on anything.

Do you feel like women are properly represented in the gabber scene?

Donna: There needs to be more active women in the gabber scene. Women are scared to be more hardcore than the boys.

Tell me about what you're wearing.

Gary: I'm gonna dress however the fuck I want. To be honest, we're Satanists, and I just love anything dark and evil.

More photos from Gabberfest:

Adam Schwarz is a DJ based in Los Angeles. Follow him on Twitter.