Gabba Hardcore Dance Music
Gabber is a style of electronic music and a subgenre of hardcore techno. "Gabber" is an Amsterdam Jiddish word that means "buddy" or "friend". Although in the late 1980s a house variant from Detroit first reached Amsterdam (the Netherlands), it was the producers and DJs from Rotterdam who evolved it into a harder house variant which we today know as "Gabber" style.
The specific sound of Rotterdam was also created as a reaction to the house scene of Amsterdam which was seen as more "snobby and pretentious". It was the popularity of Gabba music in the Netherlands which made Rotterdam the cradle of Hardcore Gabber. The essence of the gabber sound is a distorted kick sound, overdriven to the point where it becomes clipped into a distorted square wave and makes a recognizably melodic tone.
Gabber tracks typically include samples and synthesised melodies with the typical tempo ranging from 150 to 220 bpm. Violence, drugs and profanity are common themes in gabber, perceptible through its samples and lyrics, often screamed, pitch shifted, or distorted.
Gabber has become popular in other European country beside the Netherlands includings Belgium, Switzerland, Germany, Austria and Italy. Gabba also has a niche following in the UK with a stronger following in the North East of England and Scotland. DJs like The Producer, Scorpio & Smurf regularly play the music at UK events as well as on visits to Holland.
The origins of the gabber sound
In general the track "We Have Arrived" (1990) by Mescalinum United is considered to be the first gabber track. Hardcore/gabber music is a fusion of techno and industrial with a dark, aggressive atmosphere. Fashion became an important aspect to Gabba and it created it own look, between 1993 and 1998 loads of gabber fans dressed in (multiple, layered) tracksuits, Nike Air Max sport shoes (with punctured air chambers), bomber jackets or leather jackets, and the majority of the male gabbers had shaven heads. Female fans often shaved the sides and back of their head and wore their hair in a pony tail.
The style began in the late 1980s, but some claim that it was diluted in 1995 by happy hardcore and, for hardcore fans, by commercialisation which resulted in a younger crowd being attracted to the scene lead by companies like Thunderdome in Holland. The name gabber is used somewhat less these days to describe this music style, especially due to this stigma created in the mid 1990s.
After surviving underground for a number of years, in 2002 the style regained some popularity in the Netherlands, although the sound is more mature, darker and industrial. Around the world, it never lost its original grip, and music was evolving and creating new subgenres and approaches, from Digital Hardcore to Breakcore, from Noisecore to Speedcore.
Nu style gabber
There was a somewhat decisive split in the hardcore scene starting in the late 1990s. Some producers started embracing a slower style characterized by a deeper, harder bass drum that typically had a longer envelope than was possible in the traditional, faster style. This newer sound was referred to as "Main stream" and "New Skool" and as the tempo got slower and slower it began to become similar to hard house.
Many hardcore enthusiasts hated hard house and the club scene it typified, and frequently DJs would be booed by one group of fans and cheered for by another at the same party, depending on the tempo and style of music they were playing. This is similar to the rivalry and mutual dislike that surfaced earlier between fans of "regular" hardcore and happy hardcore. Eventually the two styles met in the middle, and most gabber today is produced in a bpm range of 160-170. This is typically a little bit slower than the Rotterdam style of the mid-1990s that evolved into the faster side of hardcore.
Gabber is characterised by its bass drum sound. Essentially, it comes from taking a normal synthesized bass drum and overdriving it heavily. The approximately sinusoidal sample starts to clip into a square wave with a falling pitch. This results in a number of effects: the frequency spectrum spreads out, thus achieving a louder, more aggressive sound. It also changes the amplitude envelope of the sound by increasing the sustain. Due to the distortion, the drum also develops a melodic tone. It is not uncommon for the bass drum pattern to change pitch throughout the song to follow the bass line.
The second frequently used component of gabber tracks is the "hoover", a patch of the Roland Alpha Juno synthesizer. A "hoover" is typically a distorted, grainy, sweeping sound which, when played on a low key, can create a dark and brooding bass line. Alternatively, when played at higher pitches, the hoover becomes an aggressive, shrieking lead. Faster gabba tracks often apply extremely fast hoover-patterns. The use of the hoover has evolved over the years, and in the nuskool genre, most tracks rely on a cleaner, detuned supersaw lead, similar to trance.
The aforementioned two subgenres of gabber differ in essentially one thing: the tempo.
- Oldskool gabber, staying true to its mentality, defines "hardness" in speed; tracks rarely go under 180 BPM, and bass drum rolls often go up to a speed where the beats themselves are hardly distinguishable from each other.
- Nuskool gabber, however, slows the speed down to 160 BPM, but extends the length of the bass drum so the bass-frequency resonance keeps on longer. (In this aspect, "nugabber" obviously cannot be considered less powerful than its precursor, although slower hardcore is often less energetic. A typical style is one made best known by Rotterdam Terror Corps: the beats are divided into triplets and all hoover notes are played in a short, staccato-like fashion, giving the song a march-like feel.
Recent developments in Gabba
In the 2000s, Gabber has again focused on speed, tracks normally go over 200 bpm, and subgenres have developed where scenes (normally headed by record labels) exhibit certain musical traits and are mainly defined by their kick drum sound. These subgenres include:
- Terrorcore, uses same highly distorted kick drum as recent nu-style gabber productions, tracks are normally minimalistic and non-melodic, themes are normally highly aggressive, artists include Delta 9, Lenny Dee
- UK gabber removes the bassline element from the kick drum, in favour of a more natural heavy reverb sound, which is usually affected by a filter, there's usually influence from breakcore that uses distorted breaks over the 4/4 kick, and tracks have a lot of ambient sound and a progressive feel. Artists include DJ Producer, Bryan Fury, Deathmachine, Teknoist
- Speedcore - A faster type of gabber and hardcore usually in the 300 bpm or higher range.
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