Timeless Preview - The History of the UK Hard House scene
Reported by benz
Submitted 22-03-05 15:42
Searching around on the net, it seems apparent that no-one has yet attempted anything resembling a detailed history of hard house music. Google yields little information – a two page account of the evolution of dance music from its roots in New York and Chicago through to handbag house, entitled “The History Of Hard House” (without one single mention of the hard stuff) [http://www.ravelinks.com/raveradio/hardhousemusic.htm], and a few questionable definitions of the music itself (apparently “UK Hard House is typically characterized by a stomping kick drum, and a progressive bassline” [http://www.dropshop.com/4/hard-house-samples.html] – what on earth is a progressive bassline?!). So I thought I’d better see if I could do any better, and trace back the history of our beloved music, with the help of a few legends of the scene…
So where to start? Let’s not dwell too much on the history of dance music from year zero, but rather jump to the years proceeding the emergence of hard house and look at the music that it grew out of. I think it’s fair to say that it blossomed as an amalgam of several different factions of dance music. In the early 90s, producers like Joey Beltram had transposed the sound of US techno to Belgium, and added their own twist to it – more specifically, they made their own brand of techno which was darker, harder, and generally nastier than anything that had proceeded it. The techno that had emerged from Detroit in the US had the seemingly paradoxical quality of somehow being soulful while at the same time being 100% electronic. The Belgian techno sound ripped out this soul, and replaced it with something altogether more sinister. Beltram’s “Energy Flash” was a classic example, as was The Outlander’s “Vamp” (both tracks still sounds ace today and their dark moody ambience still prevail). It was this style of music that first brought the sound of the beloved Hoover – a gritty synth sound supplied by the Roland Alpha Juno synthesiser, so called because of its apparent similarity to the noises made by vacuum cleaners. Meanwhile over Germany, artists like Westbam were taking this Belgian sound and adding their own Teutonic twist to it, bringing about the birth of hard German techno. This era marked the arrival of hard, 4/4 kick drum-lead electronic music. Before this, there were dark acid techno tunes and the like, but this period in time marked signalled the start of whole genres of music dedicated to the more pounding, heavy-hitting side of dance music.
Meanwhile on the other side of the ever increasing divide that stemmed from the unified acid house scene of the late 80s, the 'happier' side of dance music exemplified by Italian piano-house of the early 90s began to progress into a scene of its own. Throughout the first half of the 90s, house music which was more akin to the soulful, disco influenced dance music of the 80s continued to flourish. By the mid-90s, uplifting house music in this vein was in abundance, and producers such as The Sharp Boys were providing their own interpretation of the sound. They upped the BPMs a little, chopped up the disco samples into bitesize loops, chucked a load of filters in, and created music that was pure dancefloor business. This was the music that provided the basis for the origins of the funkier strains of hard house, epitomised in the early days by producers such as OD404 and The Tidy Boys with their Untidy Dubs material.
So we’ve examined the evolution of techno and the tougher side of funky house, but to complete the musical jigsaw that is hard house we should also consider the progression of trance music. The first half of the 90s saw the beginnings of the German trance scene. Essentially an offshoot of the aforementioned German Techno scene, Trance took the basic rhythmic structures of house and techno (4/4 kick-drum lead beats, tempos around 130BPM), and applied them to more hypnotic groove (inducing listeners into a trance-like state, hence the name). The funkier, happier sounds of house music and the barren-electronic sounds of techno were replaced with euphoric, uplifting, and occasionally haunting synth melodies, arpeggios and crescendos. Epic, anthemic breakdowns where the beat would cut out and the melodies would take centre stage were essential elements in these tracks.
The feel of the music was very conducive to the feelings of euphoria brought about by the ever increasingly popular drug ecstasy. The drug and the music went hand in hand. Labels such as Superstition and Overdose were instrumental in pushing this exciting new music that took Europe by storm. Following the emergence of the music in Europe, labels such as the legendary Hooj Records and Rabbit City were set up in the UK to carry the torch trance into this country, with imported productions as well as home-grown material.
‘I would say that tunes such as XVX’s “Tremorra Del Terra” and Interactive’s “Amok” (essentially the same tune) were absolutely defining moments. Early German Trance led directly to what Daz Saund and Trevor Rockcliffe were playing at Trade’ – John Truelove(Legendary Hard House Mover + Shaker)
Trade was one of the clubs that was responsible for helping to create the sound of modern hard house. Established in 1990 at Turnmills, it was set-up as a gay afterparty, and was inspired by the hedonistic, care-free attitude prevalent in Spanish areas such as Barcelona and Ibiza, where attitudes to going out later in the night were more relaxed. Initially the club was mostly continental types, but given time, the British gays warmed to the idea of going clubbing at 6am. The management couldn’t understand why anyone would want to come at 6am on a Sunday morning at first, but they were soon proved wrong. The soundtrack in the early days was house music from Chicago and Italy, techno from Detroit and so on, and as the new wave of Belgian and German techno emerged, these harder sounds started creeping into the club’s musical policy. Eclecticism has always been prevalent in the music at Trade. It was here that the Godfather of Hard House, Tony De Vit, began to establish himself as one of the most exciting DJs in the country.
Born in Kidderminster, De Vit took up DJing in his late teens and his first regular slot was a residency at Birmingham’s gay club, The Nightingale. Around 1988 he was picked up by legendary gay club Heaven in London, and was soon balancing two residencies. One Sunday morning he went to check out Trade for the first time, and he was instantly captivated by the new and exciting sounds he was hearing – a tougher sound to the eclectic mix of speeded-up disco and house he was playing at the time (known as Hi-NRG). He bought a shedload of the music he’d heard, and took it to his residency at the Nightingale. He played this new style, and basically got fired for it – the club didn’t like it one bit. He’d been a resident there for 10 years, and just like that, it was over (legend has it that a certain Andy Farley was his replacement).
Tony kept on building his reputation at Heaven, and religiously attending Trade. After 6 months of hassling the promoters with mix tapes, they eventually let him play in place of resident Smokin’ Jo one night. The reaction was amazing, and a legend was born. A residency soon followed, and alongside DJs like Malcolm Duffy and Trevor Rockcliffe, he helped to bolster the club’s ever growing pedigree. Following on from this prestigious slot, he began to play regularly across the country, at clubs such as Chuff Chuff, and Gatecrasher founder Simon Raine’s night Institute in Birmingham. He was embracing all corners of the harder end of music, from techno and Italian piano house to the emerging European trance sound.
Tidy's commerative Tony De Vit Retrospective CD
In 1992 he hooked up with a music engineer and producer called Simon Parker, who would go on to become a collaborator with him for many years to come. In Simon’s bedroom they produced Tony’s production debut, ‘Feel The Love (Don’t Go Away)’, followed by ‘Higher and Higher’. His third release ‘Burning Up’ was the one that really grabbed everyone’s attention, an uplifting slab of energetic hardbag that still sounds reasonably fresh today. A slew of remixes would follow, later on the line for major label acts such as Louise and East 17. His style was essentially uplifting, energetic and good-spirited, with a bouncy feel to it – perfect for high energy clubbing.
So by the mid-90s, Tony’s popularity was reaching unprecedented levels, with the man reaching god-like status across the country. The sounds that he and other DJs like Andy Farley were playing were starting to form a more distinctive, common feel. The borders between the aforementioned sounds of European techno, disco house, and trance were blurred to form what was labelled at the time as hardbag. Sure there were still different strands of hardbag, but it was the common term used to unite the tougher edged sounds that these DJs were playing. On a separate note, rather more purist strains of techno and trance were developing of their own accord away from this harder sound.
Tony de Vit’s biggest tracks were signed up by Tidy Trax, a Rotheram based record label set up in 1995 by two guys by the names of Andy Pickles and Amadeus Mozart. Armed with a quirky, distinctive logo, a good sense of humour and a desire to showcase the best in the emerging hard house scene, the Tidy Boys (as they became known collectively) set about signing the best in hard music from producers in the UK, as well as imported tracks such as Dyewitness’ “What Would You Like To Hear Again?”. Undoubtedly one of the most important labels in the history of hard house, the label went from strength to strength, bringing us dozens of the biggest tunes we’ve ever had the pleasure of hearing, from bouncy hard house, to thumping energetic hard trance, to funky techno, to hoover anthems and back again. They helped to establish the production careers of people like Lisa Lashes, Andy Farley, Ian M, Nick Rafferty… the list goes on and on.
Later down the line they would look to the most exciting young talent around to further their success, with innovative young producers such as Paul Maddox and Colin Baratt leading the way. In addition to Tidy Trax, they set up Untidy Trax (for funky, housey material), Tidy Two (for hard trance), Tidy White (for exclusive white label releases), and Synpase (for their new breed of producers). The latest addition to the label roster is Tidy Digital – the exclusive Tidy MP3 distribution service. Furthermore, they branched out into club events, merchandise, an online community, a TV channel, CD compilations, Weekenders… they are truly hard house’s biggest success story, and have been absolutely vital to the scene over the years.
It would be a mistake to attempt to trace back the roots of hard house without mentioning another of the most important labels, and one of the very first. Tripoli Trax was set up in 1994 by the guys at Pure Groove Records in North London, with the idea of releasing both the emerging hard house/NRG sound, and also slower, funkier, house material. Although the house material was slowly dropped from the label, this imprint was definitely one of the most important in shaping the sound of hard house as we know it. It was also one the key exponents of the funkier brand of hard house, epitomised by acts such as Brighton’s OD404 and Knuckleheadz. Only occasionally straying into the realms of trancey material, the label has generally stayed true to its NRG roots and kept it pure hard house, with material from legends of the scene such as Trade boys Steve Thomas, & Pete Wardman, and imported goodies such as nutty German hoover-lover Commander Tom’s “Eye Bee Em” and DJ Misjah & Tim’s classic “Access” (which has just been re-released in fact). Now in the capable hands of A&R man Marc Johnson, this essential label’s legacy continues to live.
Another label that stuck mostly to the hard house route for the duration, and went on to influence many producers down the line was Tinrib Recordings, a hard-NRG label set up by a nautically-inclined man called Jon Bell, otherwise known as Captain Tinrib. The Tinrib sound was very much a by-product of the birth of hard house at Trade - Hard NRG music (as they called it) that glorified the hoover, twisted synths, hard-as-nails kick drums, and hip-hop vocal samples, with The Captain producing filthy, tough hard house music alongside producers such as Karim, Max The Alien, and Steve Thomas. Alongside Tripoli, Tinrib was the other main label that can be traced back to from the dark and nasty hard house sounds that are so popular today.
Last but by no means least, Nukleuz Records has also been responsible for so many of hard house’s biggest tracks, and for years was one of the driving forces in the scene. Now but a shadow of its former self, just a few years ago it was consistently the top-selling vinyl label in the country. It was set up as an offshoot of the Italian record company Media Records (which already had several labels under its belt in Europe), with the aim of releasing the best in UK hard house, as well as some of the European material produced for Media Records and its existing sub-labels. A guy named Peter Pritchard was chosen to set up Media Records UK, and from 1992 to 1996 the label managed to ride a fine line between producing credible dance music and commercial success. It became evident that the label was being seen as too commercial though, and with the approval of the Italian parent company, he set up Nukleuz to cater for the more underground side of dance music.
He got a young lad named Ed Jenkins (a.k.a Ed Real) on board to mastermind the A&R (artist & repertoire) side of things – that is, seeking out the hottest producers and tracks to sign to the label. There were two artists that really helped to make Nukleuz one of the biggest dance music labels in the world. First off was an import from Media’s Italian label BXR - Mauro Picotto. He combined thumping kick drums and ludicrous military style percussion with massive trancey riffs on tracks like “Lizard” and “Pulsar” to astounding effect, creating a sound unlike anything else around at the time. These massive trance anthems brought him fame worldwide, and for couple of years he was one of the jewels in Nukleuz’s crown. He eventually started focusing on techno, and left the label, but his contribution to their success is undeniable.
The other guy whom Nukleuz have much to thank for is Ben Keen - otherwise known as BK. Signed to the label in his early 20s as an in-house producer, he cut his teeth on hard house by religiously attending Trade and displayed a flair for making imaginative, uplifting hard house, with bouncy basslines and vocal samples from old hip-hop and rave tracks. He made his name with the legendary HardBeat EP and ClubBeatz series, and was one of the founding fathers of bouncy hard house.
Bouncy hard house is characterised by an off-beat bassline consisting of short notes, often combined with cut up vocal samples, horns, and other infectious sounds. The sound began to emerge in its own right around 1999, with tracks like BK & Fergie’s “Hoover & Horns” and BK’s “Music 4 The People” paving the way for this rather fun and energetic strain of hard house. More on this later.
It was also in 1999 that another of hard house’s most prodigious talents was signed to Nukleuz. Nick Sentience came from a techno and breakbeat background originally, starting off in dance music with his live breakbeat act Sentience, but as he discovered hard house he began to produce tracks that combined his own previous preferences with this new and exciting sound. He injected a hefty dose of funk into the basslines and percussion patterns that he produced, sometimes combining them with trancey riffs, and at other times sticking with more techno based grooves. His sound was exciting, different, and very original.
Sentience is probably the person who is most responsible for bringing the techno influence back in to hard house - after he and BK began collaborating for Nukleuz around the turn of the millennium, it was noticeable that BK started to play techno in his DJ sets and started to include elements of it in his production. In terms of production techniques, these two really did raise the bar for hard house producers, creating a polished, innovative sound with plenty of interesting touches. They later left Nukleuz and became the first two artists in hard house to embark on full-length album projects, with excellent results. Hard house owes much to them.
But what about the clubs? Where was this exciting genre of music being played?
Aside from Trade, one of the key players in the rise of hard house was a Sunday afternoon club in the Midlands. In 1996, a new club was launched in Birmingham going by the name of Sundissential. It had been 2 years since the legendary Marco Polo Club had shut down in the city, where Tony de Vit regularly played. It was from this club that Madders got his inspiration for Sundissential from, and he set the club up hoping to offer the city something with a similar vibe, attracting a hedonistic, passionate crowd. It took place at Pulse, a converted church, at a time of the week when most people were sitting at home reading the papers, and therefore the people who attended were certified 24/7 party animals. Sunnyside Up in London was doing a similar kind of thing at the same time of the week, helping to ensure the rise of the dayparty as a national institution. Around this time the phrase “hard house” was beginning to be heard around the country, and by 1997 it was more or less the accepted term for the music. The sound of the hoover was now an integral and defining part of the music, and Tony de Vit’s 1996 classic “Are You All Ready?” (still getting regular plays in 2005) is a prime example of the sound that was being played at these clubs – full on, energetic, party music.
But it wasn’t just about the music – these young crazy Northern party-freaks dressed up with a sense of flamboyance rarely seen before. Alongside punters at the emerging trance phenomenon Gatecrasher in Sheffield, these clubbers were wearing UV clothing, fluffy boot/legwarmer hybrids, PVC, glitter, babies’ dummies, futuristic accessories, cuddly toys, and any other weird and wonderful clothing they could get their hands on. It soon grew to become a nationwide phenomenon, with the label 'cyber' bestowed on those opting for the UV look. This bizarre trend helped to further build on hard house’s identity, and gave young clubbers something to feel part of. It helped give the scene more exposure in the music press, and therefore helped it to grow further.
Meanwhile down South, 1997 saw the launch of a certain promotion called Frantic in London. One Will Patterson, a history teacher at the time, had been attending hard house and hardbag nights for a number of years, and was particularly interested in the really hard end of the music. He found it slightly frustrating that at nights such as Sunnyside Up and The Garage at Heaven, there would only be a couple of hours of really hard, Tony De Vit/Ian M style music, and the rest of the night would be soundtracked by slower, less powerful material. So he decided that we wanted to try his hand at organising a night of pure hard house music – for like-minded people who shared similar sentiments to his own.
“I started Frantic as I wanted to go to a night for clubbers like me that preferred the ferocious hoover led sounds of TDV rather than the softer hardbag sounds. I didn’t see why the night couldn’t be tough from the beginning and knew loads of clubbers who felt the same. I got into hard house by accident. I was out having a drink and ended up at Heaven on a Fri in March 1995 for a night called Garage which was playing hard house with Rachel Auburn and Blu Peter and then started to go to the Gallery, which was playing hard house for part of the night. Then after the Gallery there was an infamous afterparty with Skol and Roosta at a place called Grays on Grays Inn Road. It was there I started to hear about SSUP, which was every Sunday daytime at what is now Pacha.” - Will Patterson, Frantic
The first event was at a 200 capacity club in the West End called the China Club with a certain Phil Reynolds playing amongst other friends of Will’s. 200 people were turned away. Not bad for an opening night really. The crowd was mainly Antipodean and South African, but as Will ploughed on with Frantic and put on more and more events, its following started to expand, and after about 6 months he started to realise that there might be scope for bigger and better things. In terms of night time events, it was certainly the first full on hard hard house club in the capital. Almost 8 years on, and it has grown to become the biggest regular event of its kind of the planet.
Stage Two: Hard House Takes Over the World
1998 saw trance take over the planet, with a strength of material in the scene that remains to this day unparalleled. Combined with the so-called 'Mistubishi Revolution' (the wave of hedonism caused by a very large batch of particularly strong ecstasy tablets with the Mitsubishi insignia on them), the euphoric side of dance music came to the forefront, and the UK club scene got a massive kick up its arse. People like Spencer Freeland and Phil Reynolds at Frantic were championing the tougher-edged strains of trance that were prevalent at that time, and following on from this was the rise of UK hard trance.
Very much a London based sound, producers took hard house beats and married them to euphoric trance riffs and arpeggios, creating a contrasting sound to the often kick drum-dominated European sound championed by acts such as DJ Scot Project and DJ Wag (descendants from the original wave of German trance). By the turn of the millennium, there were now two distinguishable styles – hard house and hard trance. The trancey element no doubt helped to spread the gospel of harder music to clubbers who wanted a sense of euphoria that they might not obtain from the rawer sounds of hard house.
Additionally, the sound of bouncy hard house began to emerge around the end of the 90s, thanks to producers like BK, Fergie, and Ingo. Ingo shot to fame with his raucous unsolicited reworking of BK & Fergie’s “Hoover and Horns” (released on Nukleuz), which was a hyperactive bounce-fest of a tune, the intensity and OTT-ness of which had never been seen before in hard house. The sound was massive up North in particular at clubs like Sundissential, and Ingo rode a short-lived wave of success with subsequent productions alongside other producers of this sound such as Mr. Bishi, UK Gold and Rachel Auburn. After a couple of years however, the sound became stale and new ideas were thin on the ground, at which point the music started to disappear from hard house dancefloors across the country.
Thanks to producers such as BK & Nick Sentience, the sound of hard house continued to mature and be taken more seriously from 2001 and onwards. The trancey sound was massive, but the darker, filthier strains of hard house were also gathering momentum - relative newcomers such as Paul Glazby had been helping established artists such as Captain Tinrib further the sound of twisted dark hard house. By now, hard house was a pretty big scene, with a sizable following, massive events going on up and down the country every weekend, new promotions popping up all the time, and even achieved commercial success thanks to compilations such as Nukleuz’s Hard House Anthems series. It was now an established dance music force to be reckoned with, and it had a good few years of heritage and foundation behind it.
The Last Few Years
Recent years in hard house seem tame in terms of what’s happened compared to the previous few, but that’s always going to be the way when a style of music gets to a certain age. Although nothing revolutionary has happened, we have seen certain changes, as well as several trends come (and occasionally go). The aforementioned arrival of techno into the scene thanks to people like BK & Nick Sentience resulted in techno fever sweeping the nation. Many hard house jocks started playing and producing it, such as Paul Glazby and Andy Farley, who took the tougher end of the music and played it alongside hard house, and producers such as Alex Calver and Colin Baratt have helped to blur the edges between the two styles of music.
We have seen the return of bouncy hard house subsequently, as a backlash to what some saw as the po-faced, less interesting sounds of techno. We have seen a myriad of new technology reshape the scene - CD decks, MP3 downloads, effects units, revolutionary new soundsystems, and so on. We have seen the rise of the female DJ thanks to jocks like Lisa Lashes, Anne Savage and Lisa Pin-Up holding their own in an industry dominated by males, and we have seen the emergence of bright young new DJ talent who didn’t have to break into the scene by producing tracks first.
While some may say the scene is in dire straits at the moment musically, looking back on a rich and interesting history makes you realise how far the music has come. From underground gay music to worldwide dance music phenomenon, its progress has been inspiring. So next time you are out stomping on the dancefloor and hear some filthy beast of a tune, don’t forget where this music that we love so much and devote so much time and energy to has come from. We don’t take ourselves too seriously, love our music, and know how to throw a f*cking party. Long may it live.
Many, many thanks to John Truelove and Will Patterson, and anyone else who advised me on this article.
Photos courtesy of Benz, Tidy & Frantic.
While it would be impossible to cover all the amazing people and parties that have contributed to our scene as we currently know it, I hope that I have covered the most influential and important DJs, producers, trends, clubs and people responsible for hard house being where it is today, and that I have traced back its roots sufficiently. I hope that some of you have learnt something you didn’t know about hard house before reading this article. See you on the dancefloor!
Timeless: The 4th Birthday
Sunday 27th March
Limited Early Bird Tickets £14+BF Saver Tickets are £17+BF Standard Tickets are £20+BF
Call 08700 600 100/ www.ticketweb.co.uk
Call 07949 618 035/ email@example.com
The 4th Birthday
Easter Sunday 27th March 2005
Koko Club/ Camden Palace
Nearest Tube: Camden Town / Mornington Crescent
The Koko Club management have given Frantic 100% written confirmation that we can return to what we believe is the UK's greatest venue and our beloved home!
This is the ONE and ONLY underground dance event currently booked into this Palace of Dreams. At present there are NO other clubs booked to use the venue, only live bands and we have no more Frantic dates booked at the venue. This is your ONE and ONLY chance to have it right off in the Palace!!
Out of all the events Frantic run we thought it best that we use our only date at the Palace for a massive 4th Birthday Bash for the UK's biggest Hard House and Trance Classics event, Timeless. For 9 short hours the Palace will ring to the sound of classic after classic, anthem after anthem; tune after tune as we go back in time to the glory days of Frantic at the Camden Palace!
Not only will we be taking you back home where we belong for one night but we will also be taking u back to the music.
To celebrate the 4th Birthday Timeless have put together a line up of the DJs that have helped make Hard House great, playing the tunes that made them heroes to a generation.
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The views and opinions expressed in this review are strictly those of the author only for which HarderFaster will not be held responsible or liable.