Saturday, May 27, 2023

Hardcore! - New York Times, January 1993

 For over a year, the most vibrant dance cult in Britain has been "hardcore".  The term originally came from "hardcore techno", a style of electronic rave music that's faster and more brutal than its melodic cousin, house.  A year ago, "hardcore" meant bombastic synthesiser-riffs, programmed machine-rhythms, and a clinical but crazed vibe.  But during 1992, hardcore has evolved into a mutant hybrid of hip hop and techno, merging the former's grit with the latter's futuristic weirdness.  Dee-jays and producers started to take breakbeats from rap records and speed them up. In the process, they retained hip hop's funky syncopation, but at tempos (140 - 150 beats per minute) far faster than any flesh-and-blood drummer couldsustain.

     Like most rave music, hardcore (or 'ardkore, as it's sometimes misspelt in order to exaggerate the subculture's delinquent aura) is brazenly druggy, both in its sound and its lyrical allusions. Hardcore's manic pace has been influenced by the fact that Ecstasy, the raver's stimulant of choice, has become steadily more adulterated with amphetamine. But beyond its function as the soundtrack to the frenetic club-going of a dissolute subculture of speed-freaks, hardcore has been a strong force in the British pop charts in the eighteen months, attracting large numbers of teenyboppers too young to attend raves.  Hardcore is music for the Nintendo generation.  Its hyper-kinetic aesthetic provides a sexless exhiliration similar to that offered by computer games.  (There was even a hit single based around the theme from the game "Tetris"). The music's non-stop barrage of samples and sonic gimmickry appeals to reduced attention spans.

     Like other dance cults, hardcore thrives on a rapid turnover of tracks. Dee-jays search out the latest and most obscure 12 inch singles in order to stay ahead of the competition.  This lack of brand loyalty makes for a climate inimical to long-term careers or artistic development.  Nonetheless, some figures have emerged out of the faceless morass of one-hit wonders.  The most consistently successful of these groups - The Prodigy, Messiah, Eon, Bizarre Inc, Utah Saints, Altern-8 - have recorded albums, and these are now being picked up by American major labels.  The problem is that hardcore works best in 12 inch single form, as mixed into a 'total flow' by a club or pirate radio dee-jay.  The next best format for the music is the 'various artists' compilation, as put out by "hot" labels like Kickin', XL, Rising High, and others.  It's not clear yet whether the scene has generated artists capable of sustaining the listener's interest over the duration of a CD.

     If anyone has come close to achieving this, it's The Prodigy, a techno unit from Essex, near London, whose tally of four consecutive UK chart hits in eighteen months is a feat of longeveity quite remarkable by hardcore's standards.  The Prodigy's creative core, 21 year old Liam Howlett, originally began in the hip hop field, but was drawn into rave culture by its celebratory, socially inclusive atmosphere.  In The Prodigy, he combines the turntable-manipulating skills of rap, with a flair for melody derived from a classical training in piano.  The album "Experience" (Elektra, 9 61365-2) is a breakneak onslaught of bustling beats, soul vocals sped up into shrill chipmunk histrionics, and stuttering synthesisers. Everything in The Prodigy sound is designed to heighten the sense of rush, of headlong, goal-less acceleration.  Like much rave fare, The Prodigy's music is self-reflexive: the songs celebrate the transitory but real communion of the dancefloor ("Everybody In The Place"), the Prodigy's prowess ("Out Of Space", which promises to "take your brain to another dimension"), and the sensation of speed in itself ("Hyperspeed").

     "Experience" includes The Prodigy's smash hit, "Charly", which incorporates a cartoon cat's 'miaoouw' and a toddler's voice from a public service announcement aimed at kids.  Tapping into an infantilistic strain in rave culture (gaudy clothes, dancers sucking on pacifiers), "Charly" inspired numerous imitators, who sampled bygone children's TV themes and playground refrains (Urban Hype's "A Trip To Trumpton", Smart E's "Sesame's Treet", Major Malfunctions' "Ice Cream Van").  On the stand-out track "Ruff In The Jungle Bizness", The Prodigy responds to the hardcore scene's vogue for "junglist" rhythms (dense, roiling percussion and seismic basslines taken from reggae). Throughout the album, there's frequent recourse to another hardcore fad, sampling "ragga" singers.  Ragga is reggae's equivalent to rap, a patois chanting style whose insolent, uproarious quality ('ragga' comes from "raggamuffin") fits perfectly with hardcore's rough, rowdy rhythms.  "Experience" is a perfect document of the hardcore state-of-art. Mr Howlett's genius is his ability to take underground idioms and combine them with the hooks and structure of pop. Similarly, he uses samples not as tacked-on novelty effects but as integral, functioning elements in his songs.

     Utah Saints pull off a similar trick on their hit single "Something Good", the opening track on the debut album "Utah Saints" (London/PLG ------). The song's principal hook - a sample from Kate Bush's "Cloudbusting" - is at once gimmicky and gorgeous. Utah Saints take the first syllable of Ms Bush's chorus, "ooh, I just know that something good is going to happen", and modulate it on a sampling keyboard, distending this single vowel like a glassblower shaping an intricate bauble. In the process, Ms Bush's wide-eyed anticipation is amplified into a spine-tingling shiver of euphoria. This little masterstroke of sampling sorcery is the jewel that elevates an otherwise basic hardcore anthem, complete with raucous chants and octave-hopping piano riffs. On the rest of album, Utah Saints try to pull off the same trick again and again, with diminishing returns. "What Can You Do For Me" is totally dependent on its samples (Annie Lennox, Gwen Guthrie), while "New Gold Dream (81-82-83-84)" is a pointless remake of the Simple Minds song of the same title.  Too often, Utah Saints don't rework their samples or frame them in a new context, like The Prodigy does, but rely on them to make their songs memorable.

   Like "Something Good", Messiah's "Temple Of Dreams" (Def American maxi-single, 9 40655-2) is another fine example of chart-friendly hardcore (both songs were hits in Britain).  Indeed, the track's focal sample is a sped-up incantation by Liz Fraser, whose ethereal style is not too many mystic moons away from Ms Bush. Taken from This Mortal Coil's "Song To The Siren", Ms Fraser's enquiry "did I dream, you dreamed about me?" floats over a locust-swarm of synthesier noise.  Other stray squiggles of noise resemble massively amplified gastric rumblings.  In the UK, Messiah's records are released by Kickin', one of the country's top independent dance labels.  But in the US, Messiah have signed to Def American, whose supremo Rick Rubin is convinced that techno is the new punk. Judging by "Temple Of Dreams", Messiah are more like purveyors of bubblegum hardcore.  Their debut album, to be released this spring, will doubtless reveal more about Messiah's balance of pop appeal and hardcore frenzy.

     Where Utah Saints, Messiah and The Prodigy rely, to varying degrees, on a collage aesthetic, Eon's version of hardcore is based more on pure electronic textures.  On "Void Dweller" (Vinyl Solution/Columbia CK 52472) Eon (London-based DJ-producer Ian B) plays with the idea of disco as a sinister form of possession or mind-control.  Starting with a line hijacked from a science fiction movie ("we will control all that you see and hear"), "Inner Mind" elaborates eerie ripples and vortices of synthesiser drones.  It sounds like a brainwashing machine.  The track that cleaves closest to the contemporary hardcore sound is "Basket Case (White Coat Mix)", whose title chimes in with hardcore's imagery of psychosis, disorientation and catatonia (good records are praised as "mad" or "mental").  The track combines horror soundtrack motifs, spooky laughter, deranged screams and eerie electronic pulsations to create a bedlam of sound.  If "Void Dweller" is successful as an album-length experience, it's because it's mood-muzak, establishing a chilly, creepy atmsophere. This is techno as isolation chamber, rather than party music.

     Rave music has provoked much hostility from rock fans. Ironically, its critics often use the same kind of derogatory terms with which alarmed adults in the Fifties lambasted early rock'n'roll: as mindless, repetitive, barbaric, nihilistic in its pursuit of sensation and kicks.  Veterans of punk, in particular, are offended by hardcore techno, accusing it of "not saying anything", of being apolitical, escapist and nullifying.  Certainly, hardcore is one-dimensional music.  But it commands that dimension with a singleminded intensity that's as close to the primal essence of rock'n'roll as you can get.  It's a techno-pagan celebration of dance, of staying up way past your bedtime, of the sheer kinetic exhiliration of rhythm. Perhaps hardcore techno is the new rock'n'roll - it's certainly erected a new generation gap.

Wednesday, May 24, 2023

RIP Kenneth Anger


Melody Maker, 1990?

by Simon Reynolds

When they get around to unpicking the tangled threads that connect The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin and Psychic TV, somewhere at the web's centre will lurk the tarantula figure of Kenneth Anger. Aleister Crowley fan, ex-chum of Jimmy Page, and chronicler of the psycho-sleaze behind Hollywood's glittering facade, Kenneth Anger is also the maker of a series of films whose themes uncannily prefigure the abiding fixations of leftest-field rock. Pass beyond a certain limit, and you enter a realm where magic and ritual, S&M,Crowley, Manson, Nazism, bodypiercing, tattooing,hallucinogenics, mytho-mania, voodoo dance, all interconnect as facets of the same quest: for the ultimate transgressive,transcendent, self-annihilating mystic HIGH.

Both "Inauguration Of The Pleasure Dome" (1954) and "Invocation Of My Demon Brother" (1969) are about this search for supreme bacchanalian release. ("Inauguration" was inspired by taking acid, "Invocation" by the counter culture created by acid). Both are a kaleidoscopic montage of images grotesque and bizarre, with all the key Anger motifs (cocks, pagan ritual, bikers, Swastikas, cabbalistic symbols) brought into play. "Inauguration", with its strident Janacek soundtrack and vampily made-up actresses, is simultaneously camp and disturbing; "Invocation", with its maddening moog soundtrack by Mick Jagger, captures the apocalyptic vibe of the bitter end of the hippy daze, and must surely have influenced Nic Roeg's "Performance".

"Lucifer Rising" (1970-80) shares much the same pre-occupations as the other two films, but expresses them in less histrionic fashion, through images of serene, stately beauty, set to a beatific soundtrack by Bobby Beausoleil (an acolyte of Manson's). "Lucifer Rising" is a rehabilation of Lucifer, reclaiming him as the Light god, a Rebel Angel whose "message is that the key to joy is disobedience". Anger's biker movie, "Scorpio Rising" (1963), on the other hand, is a "death mirror held up to American culture". The biker represents American myths of Lone Ranger individualism and Born To Run freedom, taken to their psychotic limit. "Scorpio Rising" is a giddy miasma of death's-heads, Iron Crosses, cocaine and blasphemy, with Anger salivating over the well-stuffed crotches and leather-clad torsoes of his subjects - and all set to the incongruous soundtrack of Sixties pulp pop!

Of the five shorter films also included in this series, "Fireworks" (1947) is a blue-tinted homerotic nightmare about being brutalised by sailors (the final image is of a sailor with a Roman Candle jutting out of his zip), while "Eaux D'Artifice" (1953) is a beautiful Midsummer Night's dreamscape, with a full moon suffusing off the cascading, gushing and spurting waters of the Tivoli fountain gardens.

Sheer brilliance.

Saturday, May 6, 2023

The King of Rock (Nick Cave)

On the subject of Nicholas Cave putting on his smart suit and attending the coronation, someone on Twitter pointed out that in The Sex Revolts we describe him as "the most king-obsessed rocker ever".

Here's the bit in the chapter I Am The King where we discuss rock, regal symbology, Bataille's concept of sovereignty and then examine Cave's king fixation: 


Rock is full of kings. Some are self-proclaimed despots (e.g. rappers); others are elevated and crowned by their followers (Elvis).  There are variants on the regal theme: the Boss (Springsteen), rap's gangster chic, the shaman, prophet or Messiah (Bono).  So why does rock lend itself to the kingly posture?

On one level, to be king means simply to be the best at what you do.  On another, it's the logical culmination of the self-aggrandisement inherent in showbiz.  But in a  wider sense, the king represents total possibility, the zenith of the imaginable.  In the same way, the rock star is the incarnation of his fans' forbidden desires  and impossible dreams.  When Johnny Rotten compared himself to the Antichrist and declared he wanted to 'be anarchy', he wanted to be a law unto himself. This was the meaning of the Pistols' version of anarchy: not workers' councils and self-criticism tribunals, but the right to be your own tyrant.

    Actually, one anarchists' commune in 1850s America practised a doctrine of 'Individual Sovereignty' that was pure Rotten: each person was 'the absolute despot or sovereign' of his life.  The concept of sovereignty assumes a special significance in the thought of Georges Bataille; it was his term for a supreme state of being. Sovereignty (equivalent to Lacan's 'phallus') is a pinnacle of unalienated, uncastrated wholeness of being.  For Bataille, sovereignty is marked by extravagance and excess, as illustrated by societies whose hierarchy was organised around the squandering of resources.  Examples include Aztec sacrifice and Native American potlatch, a form of ritualised gift-giving in which rank was determined by the ability to waste wealth.  The modern equivalent of potlatch is rock stars trashing hotel suites or wasting a fortune getting wasted on drugs.  From all this, Bataille concluded that there was a fundamental human drive towards prodigality and 'expenditure-without-return'.

     True prodigal sons, rock stars have always styled themselves as dandy playboys, always cultivated an aesthetic of excess. Their values are aristocratic, a rejection of the bourgeois creed of deferred gratification, accumulation, investment.  Historically, the aristocracy have been the class most able to devote their lives and resources to extravagance (dandyism, combat, gambling, art, 'perverse' sexuality).

     Sovereignty is defined by the consumption of wealth because productivity is always servile, according to Bataille.  A sovereign existence is one that isn't subordinated to utility, that doesn't involve the employment of the present for the sake of the future. And so the bum or hobo ('king of the road')is as much a sovereign as any monarch, despite his apparent destitution.  For the defining mark of the sovereign is that he is, rather than does.  Unlike Sartre's revolutionary (who wants to get rid of hierarchy altogether, and who sacrifices his present to work slavishly for that utopian future), the Rebel just wants to usurp the King's place.  He wants it ALL and he wants it NOW.

Rock is crowded with these rebel-kings, upstarts turned monarchs....

Iggy is the bridge between the Lizard King and the most king-obsessed rocker ever, Nick Cave.

Cave's regal fantasies began with 'King Ink' on Prayers on Fire (1981). Cave's anti-heroic alter-ego is the king of bohemia, presiding over a realm of squalor and torpid impotence.  On the Birthday Party's next album Junkyard (1982), 'Hamlet Pow Pow' turns Shakespeare's Oedipal psychodrama into a cartoon. The dead king's son charged with vengeance against the throne-usurping uncle, who spends most of the play shirking the duty of regicide, Hamlet has long been seen as the archetypal male adolescent outsider; Cave is happy to step into his angst-ridden shoes.

   Another kind of ruined king that has haunted Cave's imagination is the pop idol who's seen better days or the rock prophet abandoned by his unworthy flock.  He's spoken of his fascination for the late-era Presley, a bloated travesty of his rebel self (Cave's first solo single was a cover of 'In the Ghetto', Presley last gasp of brilliance before the twilight of his creative life really set in).  On his second solo album, The Firstborn Is Dead, Cave reappears as 'The Black Crow King'.  The album's pastiche ethnological liner notes suggest that the chorus of voices is 'a king surrounded by followers who have learnt to imitate him'--Cave ridiculing and repudiating his Goth cult following?  Deserted and preposterous, the Black Crow reigns over 'nothing at all'.  

This melodramatic posture--the prophet without honour--would be reprised on Kicking Against the Pricks with his cover of Johnny Cash's 'The Singer', where a messianic minstrel rues his abandonment by a fickle, shallow audience who don't understand his vision.

    Of course, self-aggrandisement is intrinsic to rebel rock; singers from Johnny Rotten to Morrissey have resorted to the posture of the martyr, the crucified or spurned saviour.  Cave seems particularly fond of the delapidated grandeur of the fallen king. The key song here is 'Junkyard'.  'I am the King' intones an obviously wasted Cave amidst a cacophonous turmoil of brackish guitars that at the time (1982) felt like the final self-immolatory throes of rock'n'roll.  Once again, Cave's kingdom is in ruins--literally a junkyard. The title is an inspired pun based on Cave's heroin addiction.  The junkie feels like a king, omnipotent, cocooned and resplendent in his solipsistic invulnerability (especially if the heroin is cut with the ultimate megalomaniac euphoriant, speed).  He thinks he's God, oblivious to the reality of his surroundings.  'Junkyard''s lyrics revolve around violently compacted opposites: king/junkyard, honey/garbage, heavenly body/brutal violation.  The crucial line is: 'there's garbage in honey's sack again', which evokes both heroin's wombing nirvana and the horror of mainlining toxins.  Cave's voice disappears into a seething quagmire of  purulent sound.

  The junkie as twentieth-century king?  Bataille never considered it, but it's a plausible development of his notion of sovereignty as sterile splendour. ('Heroin' comes from the German word 'heroisch', meaning strong, powerful, heroic.)  Bataille's final paradox was that the sovereign's last word is 'I am NOTHING'.  Heroin addiction is a return to the invulnerable self-sufficiency of the foetus, a total escape from the ignominy of the productive world, the purest form of wasting your life.  Robert Bly argues that drug addiction is a perverted expression of the yearning for kingly prestige: 'As Romantics we long for that oceanic feeling we felt in the womb, when we were divine and fed by ambrosia.  Addiction amounts to an attempt to escape limitations and stay in the King's Room.'


His style model? 

Talking of the monarchy, it's always a good time to acquaint or re-acquaint yourself  with "The Monarch of Middlebrow". Penned by Anwen Crawford for the Australian literary magazine Overland, it's a regicidal tour de force, which dissects Cave's misogyny and tracks his "transformation into an antipodean Elvis Costello... old, mild, and respectably bourgeois" (while still giving fevered imaginings from the early days like "From Her To Eternity" their due).



A few months ago I was in England and staying chez mum, who likes to get in the Sunday papers, and to my surprise, lo and behold, there on the front cover of  The Sunday Times Magazine was Nicholas Cave sat in the pews of a church alongside Rowan Williams, the former Archbishop of Canterbury. Inside, the clergyman interviews the singer about his return to the Church and the role of faith in his life.

It's not a big surprise really, the signs have been there for a long while (well before the tragedies that might turn anyone to God). 

Just like a bird that sings up the sun
In a dawn so very dark
Such is my faith for you
Such is my faith
And all the world's darkness can't swallow up
A single spark
Such is my love for you
Such is my love

There is a kingdom
There is a king
And he lives without
And he lives within
The starry heavens above me
The moral law within
So the world appears
So the world appears
This day so sweet
It will never come again
So the world appears
Through this mist of tears

There is a kingdom
There is a king
And he lives without
And he lives within
There is a kingdom
There is a king
There is a king
And he is everything

I remember when I interviewed Cave back in 1988 he talked about nearly undergoing a  conversion during a very long, harrowing flight from the UK to Australia, or Australia to the UK. He'd got seated next to some born-again true-believer, or maybe it was a priest - at any rate, a lot of alcohol had been consumed, some kind of long dark night of the soul had set in, and he became vulnerable to  his fellow passenger's pitch, they started praying together. This is going from memory, I can't be arsed to dig through the original cutting, but that's the gist - he was on the brink of accepting the Lord into his heart.    

On the one hand, this wasn't so surprising, given that he'd been talking in recent years about how his favorite thing to read was the King James version of the Bible. Religious imagery, a parable-like cadence, had been creeping into the Bad Seeds songs. 

On the other hand, it was only a few years since The Birthday Party, where the vibe was much more about sacrilege and defilement.

Like this song: 

Second: I gagged it with a pillow

But awoke the nuns inside

My head

They pounded their goddy-goddy fists

(From the inside - so from the outside)

And then the advert for the sex-vampire Goth dancefloor smash "Release the Bats" proclaimed: "Dirtiness is next to antigodliness

And of course not forgetting Drunk on the Pope's Blood 

"16 Minutes of Sheer Hell!"

Or the very concept of the "Bad Seed" .

Or "Mutiny In Heaven" 

If this is Heaven ah'm bailin out
Ah caint tolerate this ol tin-tub
So fulla trash and rats! Felt one crawl across mah soul
For a seckon there , as thought as wassa back down in the ghetto!
(Rats in Paradise! Rats in Paradise!)
Ah'm bailin out! There's a mutiny in Heaven!
Ah wassa born...
And Lord shakin, even then was dumpt into some icy font,
like some great stinky unclean!
From slum-chuch to slum-church, ah spilt mah heart
To some fat cunt behind a screen...
Evil poppin eye presst up to the opening
He'd slide shut the lil perforated night mah body
To the whistle of the birch
With a lil practice ah soon learnt to use in on mahself
Punishment?! Reward!! Punishment?! Reward!!

Oh Lord, ah git down on mah knees
(Ah git down on mah knees and start to pray)
Wrapped in mah mongrel wings, ah nearly freeze
In the howlin wind and drivin rain
(All the trash blowin round 'n' round)
From slum-heaven into town
Ah take mah tiny pain and rollin back mah sleeve
(Roll anna roll anna roll anna roll)
Ah yank the drip outa mah vein! UTOPIATE! Ah'm bailin out!
If this is Heaven ah'm bailin out!
Mah threadbare soul teems with vermin and louse
Thoughts come like a plague to the God's house!
Mutiny in Heaven!
(Ars infectio forco Dio)
To the plank!
(Rats in Paradise! Rats in Paradise!)
Ah'm bailin out!
(Hail Hypuss Dermio Vita Rex!)
Hole inna ghetto! Hole inna ghetto!
(Scabio Murem per Sanctum...Dio, Dio, Dio)

The lyrics to "Mutiny in Heaven" always reminded me of that passage in Lautreamont's Les Chants de Maldoror, a vision of a cruel and degenerate God  munching on a human corpse, bits of brain in his beard: 

Not finding what I was seeking, I lifted my eyes higher, and higher still, until I saw a throne made of human excrement and gold, on which was sitting – with idiotic pride, his body draped in a shroud of unwashed hospital linen – he who calls himself the Creator!” 

The arc here - prodigal son to taking one's place in the time-honored patriarchy - is fairly classic. 

Similar to Huysmans's arc from Against Nature and Là-bas (aka Down Below - the not nearly as good  as À rebours  novel about Satanism) to the later novels like La Cathédrale, which parallel Huysmans's own return to Catholicism.  

(Mind you the signs were there even in Against Nature - in among the decadent sensualist adventures of the jaded aristocrat Des Esseintes, there's a whole chapter on his obsession with obscure Catholic texts from Medieval and Early Modern era, which he gets printed up in specials editions-of-one that are done to his exacting standards in terms of luxurious binding, paper, typography. Des Esseintes particularly favors the most reactionary and world-hating ecclesiastics). 

That's the point, or one of the points, made in The Sex Revolts - that the Rebel is no revolutionary, the rebellion is against his current subordinate place in the Patriarchy but the aim is to carve out a rival grandeur, an inverted status hierarchy.

But also that blasphemy is simply an inverted form of prayer - a backhanded compliment to the Almighty. "He who fucks nuns will later join the church" as Joe Strummer put it in "Death and Glory". 


In the introduction to a new edition of The Sex Revolts for first-time translation into German, we discuss the trope of kingliness as it figures in the alt-right imagination: 

One of the key influences on The Sex Revolts is the German scholar Klaus Theweleit’s 1977 book Mannerphantasien, a study of the proto-fascist psyche largely based on the writings of the Freikorps in the immediate aftermath of the Great War.  It has been alarming to see the rhetorical tropes that pervade Theweleit’s analysis – swamps of corruption, contaminating floods of immigrants carrying with them disease and crime, the urgent necessity to erect defensive walls to dam up these threatening flows – resurface in electoral campaigns all across the West. Although women can feel the pull of fascist desire, there’s no doubt that men are prey to these anxieties with a particular intensity: as much as they are real political issues or problems, they are also phantasmic proxies and props, displacements and compensations, in the internal psychic struggles of an eroding and increasingly irrelevant style of manhood.

Given the worldwide rise of strongman leaders who attempt to override parliamentary democracy and the justice system in their various nations, it’s striking that one of the major online sites for the new masculinism is called Return of Kings. Catering to young men anxious about loss of status  and confused about their role in society, it offers advice about how to reclaim one’s “birthright” of alpha-male dominance. As it happens, the symbolics of “kingship” in rock is a theme The Sex Revolts explores. And Klaus Theweleit’s next major work after Mannerphantasien  was a series of volumes titled The Book of Kings.

And we could also have mentioned the whole neoreaction thing with its preference for monarchy over democracy. 


Thursday, May 4, 2023


Joey Beltram



eMusic (i think) (mid-2000s?)

It was once  rumored that Joey Beltram was going to produce the next Metallica album. Back in 1992 that didn't seem so fanciful, though. Techno was considered the Next Big Thing,  US record industry mavens like Rick Rubin were signing up rave acts, and Queens boy Beltram was one of the hottest producers around.  Techno landmarks, his all-time classics "Energy Flash" (1990) and "Mentasm"  (1991) announced and then intensified a new hard, dark direction in rave music, a literally divisive  development that ultimately caused the  global subculture to fragment into radically opposed genres.

The curious thing about "Energy Flash" is that while many house connoisseurs were horrified by what it spawned (an ultra-fast, industrial-tinged  style  from Northern Europe they dissed as "heavy metal techno"),  the original  track itself is almost universally loved.  House purists dug it as a late-period "acid" track, while in America the tune was licensed by Derrick May's Transmat label, revered by all Detroit disciples. Yet equally the young ravers who would soon invent jungle, gabba and trance could smell the future in "Energy Flash".

What does it sound like, though? The pummeling, naggingly hypnotic bass-pulse is the obvious hook, and the sinister synth-ripples and creepy male voice whispering "acid, ecstasy" add atmosphere. But what really makes "Energy Flash" is the fantastic drum track, those massively reverbed snare crashes in the back of the mix that create the feeling of a  controlled stampede. "Flash" is a paragon of the tricky techno art of building and building the intensity without ever  losing the quality of maniacal fixatedness.

"Mentasm", a collaboration with Mundo Muzique as Second Phase,  took this hard-riffing style even further.  To use a metal  analogy, if "Flash" was "Whole Lotta Love", then "Mentasm" was  "Iron Man".   Its signature sound--a  snaking, gaseous synth-noise evocative of  dangerously delirious bliss--is the selling point, but as with  "Flash,"  clever drum programming (metallic snare crashes coming in at a strange angle to the groove) plays a crucial role in keeping you rapt by this exercise in monstrous monotony.  "Mentasm" served as a huge polarizer, its apocalyptic bombast being taken by many techno aficionados as the harbinger of a troubling new Brutalism in dance music -  barbaric and even faintly fascistic (an impression strengthened by imitators with titles like "Dominator")

The rest of Classics comprises Beltram's other quality productions of  the early Nineties,  tunes like "My Sound" and "Sub-Bass Experience" in a similarly cold and punitive mold to "Flash" and "Mentasm" but lacking their titanic aura.  After inventing "hardcore", Beltram  veered away in a minimalist direction, becoming a respected but minor auteur--a trajectory that mirrored techno's own journey from being the sound that  mobilized ravers across the world to being just one of a panoply of post-rave genres.

JOEY BELTRAM / THE ADVENT, Tresor versus Limelight, New York

Village Voice, November 14th, 2000

by Simon Reynolds

It's a strange notion, this idea of clubs going on tour. For what else defines a club if not the specificity of a space and the vibe generated there by resident DJs and a regular crowd? Limelight's bimonthly collaboration with Berlin's legendary Tresor seems especially bizarre, because physically the two places couldn't be less similar. Tresor's main floor—-once the subterranean safe of Europe's biggest department store—-is a low-ceilinged sweatbox, whereas Limelight's is airily voluminous, like you'd expect from a converted church.

Musically, they're more compatible, given Limelight's recent self-reinvention as home for "serious" techno as purveyed by DJ/producers like Jeff Mills and Surgeon, who've both recorded for the Tresor label. Last Saturday, the Berlin-New York alliance was inaugurated by two other Tresor affiliates, Joey Beltram and the Advent. Both emerged at a time when "techno" referred to the soundtrack of rave in its entirety, and was unashamedly bangin', kickin', and slammin'. And both have followed the logic of purism that transformed techno from people's choice in the early '90s to its current status as just one of many subgenres.

Queens boy Beltram earned his place in the Rave Hall of Fame with two eternal classics: 1990's "Energy Flash" (a foundational track for everyone from tranceheads to junglists to gabba fiends, possibly the last anthem of the era when the rave nation was one) and 1991's "Mentasm" (whose dark-swoon swarm-drone of blaring synth distortion is one of rave's six or seven immortal sounds). At some point, Beltram crossed the subtle but crucial divide between hardcore and hard techno, purging the E-rush triggering elements in his sound and settling for a more subdued but "credible" post-rave career. His Limelight set alternated between spangly filter house and minimal-but-muscular techno, and, while never as perfunctory as his old friend/foe Frankie Bones, still felt like a hard day's night at the pleasure factory. Oh, the kids dug it well enough, but gazing at their pursed lips and rolled-back eyes, I couldn't help thinking they were wasting good drugs on nothing special. From the passed-out guy on a pew to the candy-raver hypnotized by her gyrating glowstick-gadget and the clean-cut techno warriors punching the air with grim fervour, it's the same old scene(s) you've seen since the East Coast first got it on back in 1991, courtesy of Beltram's erstwhile Brooklyn buddies—-but with a little less in the way of surprise, or point, every passing year.

Recently slimmed from a duo to just Cisco Ferreira, the Advent immediately broke Beltram's deadlocked groove with some Gothic electro, introducing such barely-heard-that-night novelties as syncopation, basslines, even melody. But even in more typical pump 'n' pound mode, the Advent's live set had way more internal frisk than Beltram's dour scour, changing gait from surge to lope to sprint to shimmy. Relentlessly abstract, built from loop-riffed sounds like the creak-hiss of a fissuring ice floe or a windshield's smash-tinkle, and offering few latch-points of real-world emotion, it's a sound that can only be evoked via onomatopoeia: This music grunks and rackles. But like Richie Hawtin, the Advent showed that purism doesn't have to mean imaginative poverty or deadening ends. At the set's several peaks, you could stand near a clutch of manic smiley-faced Asian kids, say, and still believe rave's the best fun in town.