Rave is dead!! Declared Mixmag as it pictured The Prodigy’s Liam Howlett holding a gun to his head. The truth was that Rave wasn’t dead – it was just that after a summer of drug-fuelled hedonistic high spirits, the scene was suffering a collective comedown. What many saw as a reaction against the over commercialisation of the scene, rave had gone dark… very dark.
By early 1993, peace love and unity had been swept aside in favour tracks that sampled terrifying screams, manic laughter, funeral bell tolls, and anything else that might scare the living shit out of pilled-up ravers trying to work out where the love had gone. The strings and pads which once signalled hands-in-the-air euphoria were now doom-laden moans of despair, and sounds such as the Mentasm had been stretched, twisted and transformed into nightmarish wails that cut through the air with pure menace.
The shift to the darkside was near unanimous, with the biggest labels in the scene including Suburban Base, Moving Shadow, Formation, and Reinforced all turning their means to a more sinister sound. One label rising through the ranks at this time was Basement records which operated on a slightly different definition of ‘Jungle Techno’. In house engineer and producer for the label, Jack Smooth described the Basement sound as “4×4 Kick, techno sounds, lush pads over heavily cut layered breaks”. Basement records became hugely popular for their distinctive style, with DJ’s such as Ratty, Top Buzz and Slipmatt practically guaranteed to drop two or three Basement releases in every set.
Another important development in terms of production was the discovery of ‘time-stretching’. Previously in order to fit the 140+ bpm of hardcore, samples would literally need to be sped up to match the tempo. This resulted in vocals sounding like ‘Pinky & Perky’ or the ‘chipmunks’. What time-stretching did was allow samples to be squashed or stretched in order to match any timeframe without altering their pitch. Until recently I had always assumed that the first example of this was in Metal Heads’ ‘Terminator’. However, it turns out that the effect used on the funky drummer break is actually pitch-shifting, not time-stretching. You learn something new every day…
If the aim of going dark was to claim the scene back for the underground, then it was ruthlessly effective. The commercial compilation CD’s vanished from the racks, and the hipsters who had jumped on the hardcore bandwagon while it was ‘cool’ moved on to the next latest fad. Almost overnight countless events up and down the country disappeared as soon as they had cropped up, leaving only the most established promoters and smaller club nights able to survive.
Personally, I think that as much about reclaiming the scene back, it was also a natural realisation by producers that the potential for breakbeat music reached far wider than existing solely to enhance a raver’s pill-rush. Within the space of months the pendulum had swung from one extreme to the other. In time people would discover a whole world of music waiting to be explored within the opposite ends of the spectrum…
But for now Luke, it’s time to give yourself to the darkside.