Back in the early ‘90s, near UK rave’s supposed high-water mark, there was a party in Wolverhampton called Quest. Like lots of nights, it printed and posted zines to deliver the word to faithful punters. Theirs featured a ‘Raver of the Month’ letter page. In a typical edition, one Nik Ratcliff of Torquay writes in to nominate himself: “I am a six-foot trance-hardcore-junglist machine, and nothing will get in the way of me and hardcore,” he claims, before begging the Quest crew to venture down south and give his fellow Devon ravers a taste. Challenging Nik for the title is Micky from Dudley, a 24-year-old postman whose stated ambition is “to be a trendy mellow geezer.”
Some might remember heart-warming nuggets like this because they were there, but others will have stumbled across it the same way I did – on Alberto Guerrini’s Gabber Eleganza blog, which since 2011 has grown into a heady archive of rave flyers, posters, and photo-shoots from the European hardcore and gabber scenes. The history of hardcore and its various offshoots worldwide has been well preserved online (UK heads, for example, won’t find much better than Fantazia’s Rave Archive) but Guerrini’s focus is predominantly aesthetic. The arresting imagery means you need little familiarity with the era of info hotlines and long-defunct sportswear brands to make an emotional connection with its subjects.
In recent years however, Guerrini’s posts have shifted some of the attention to his own work as a DJ, artist, and now producer, following the release of his Never Sleep #1 EP on Presto!?. “The Gabber Eleganza project was never meant to have boundaries,” he says. “I’ve always been a DJ, and so live shows and production were a natural way to take the project offline.” One of his first live outings, he recalls, was effectively a soundclash at the Pirelli HangarBicocca, a Milanese gallery housed in a former locomotive component factory. It was an important experience, he says, because it offered him a way to get out of his comfort zone.
Two years later, a studio release has offered him the same opportunity. “When I was a teen,” he says, “between 1999 and 2005, I was involved in the hardcore scene twenty-four seven. Every night was special. Every night was hard and rough, and I will never forget how my body would feel when I was about to arrive at a club, or a rave – a mix of anxiety and joy that would turn my stomach inside out. I wanted the EP to vibrate with the same feeling, and have something nostalgic about it, but I also wanted to push things forward.”
Never Sleep #1 pulls it off. The three-track EP’s chunky synths, wobbly stabs and quick, bouncy tempos infuse it with the same brash vitality and humour found in the music that inspired it. At the same time, Guerrini’s minimal arrangements work to dissect the genre, with each track made up of just a handful of elements. This is managed without straying too far down that path of clinical deconstruction – Guerrini’s treatment is sincere, and above all playful.
“Total Football” is a great example. The track name is a reference to the tactical theory pioneered by the 1974 Dutch World Cup team, which posits that every outfield player should be able to replace the role of another. “I’ve attempted something similar on this track,” he says, “by replacing classic hardcore sounds with different synths and FX.” He suggests that more than anything, hardcore is a feeling, as demonstrated by the enormous amount of sub-genres it has spawned through the years, each with their own signature sounds.
Guerrini’s method makes him very at home on Presto!?, and a close relationship with label head Lorenzo Senni has ensured creative freedom. Fans of Senni will note similarities between the two – a stripped-back, after-the-fact treatment of a dance music genre which, at its height, left a very particular emotional imprint (in Senni’s case, trance). But whilst Guerrini agrees there’s some common points, he notes they’ve arrived where they are via different paths, and this informs how and why they work. “There’s differences in our approach which are largely thanks to background,” he says. “He comes from the hardcore-punk scene and was largely an outsider to raves, whereas I grew up with hardcore-rave music.” Losing touch with this personal history, he says, is not an option, and his work as a producer perhaps enables a way of keeping the memories alive.
Of course, the Gabber Eleganza project does beg the question: what does Guerrini make of today’s hardcore scene, and would he still play those kind of raves? “Hardcore is bigger than ever,” he replies, “from EDM-style festivals to the strictly underground. Maybe there’s a trend around it which means it receives a little more attention, but in the real world the genre is alive with incredible amounts of new stuff coming out.” Occasionally, he says, he’ll still visit a party (“especially with the old raver crew”), but with new endeavours and being a father to contend with, it’s not as simple these days. “I’d say ironically that I’m a part-time raver now,” he concludes, but as Never Sleep #1 demonstrates, his commitment to the spirit remains inextinguishable.
Gabber Eleganza’s Never Sleep #1 is out now on Presto?! in vinyl and digital formats.