Review: Harder, louder, faster

The Radical Technology tour The Powerhaus, London
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Indy Lifestyle Online
Shaded by a grubby, grey baseball cap, Parisian DJ Manu Le Malin's gaunt features contrast sharply with the wickedly cherubic visage of New York's Lenny Dee, barely visible through a curtain of long black hair. The pair stand behind turntables on stage while below sweat-drenched men and women perform a manic leg-kicking dance, as cut-up noise pounds through speakers at over 200 beats per minute - a storm of programmed drums and bleakly comic vocal samples. Two hundred beats per minute is very fast: the Stones' "Satisfaction" is approximately 135 BPM, the Sex Pistols' "Pretty Vacant" checks in at 145 and even the most frantic nightclubs rarely creep above 155. However, Industrial Strength's Radical Technology tour is hitting London with all its might at Islington's Powerhaus.

Removed from the pop-house glitter of mainstream superclubbing, a darkly cacophonic movement is gaining momentum. The London showcase, opened by DJ Producer and with live performances from Nebula II and the truly crazed Oliver Chesler, is only attended by a staunch and primarily male coterie of fans, but next night in Stoke-on-Trent appreciation is more broad-based. Thence to Scotland, where football shirts have been spotted bearing the legend "Lenny Dee is God". If there is an originator of the style variously termed hardcore techno, speedcore and gabber, Industrial Strength Records, set up by Dee in 1992, is probably it.

Where other techno figureheads have anchored their sound in trance or repetitive minimalism, Lenny simply pushed the accelerator to the floor and went faster and harder.

Holland was first to catch on, coining "gabber" - Dutch slang for "geezer" - to describe parties that played solely 200 BPM hardcore. A poppier version soon appeared, and a spate of gabber-based hits peppered the Dutch charts, one of which, Rotterdam Termination Source's "Poing", even cracked the UK top 30. Nowadays the music is harsher, suffused with images of horror film grotesquery and cartoon violence which draw it ever closer to that outer limit of heavy rock, speed metal.

"I can see them meshing," agrees Lenny Dee, who recently toured the US supporting alternative rockers Jane's Addiction, "If David Morales can take a soul record and make it house why can't we take a record by [LA metal band] Korn and make it techno, hardcore. It'd give an audience something else and be a good avenue for record companies to say: 'OK, we have a new market to push rock stuff in.' " While most DJs baulk at the thought of of hairy men brandishing screaming guitars, Dee embraces it. The Americans, after all, are not as precious about their dance scene.

While Industrial Strength is busy discovering the joys of mixing Metallica's tour-mates Corrosion of Conformity and their ilk, there has been an upsurge of interest closer to home. Clubs such as Sick & Twisted, Rampant and Harder, Faster, Louder are open for business in London, and DJ Loftgroover, reputed to play the fiercest sets of all (250 BPM and above), found himself the unwilling focus of a Daily Star front page "scoop" about "Nazi gabber hell" menacing Britain.

"It's not got anything to do with Nazism; I'm fucking black," says an indignant Loftgroover. "If you go to a speedcore thing, 99 per cent of the people are white, and, to establish themselves as a bit different from other ravers, they shave their heads. So you've got a load of white boys and girls with shaved heads, all sweating, and suddenly everyone thinks 'Nazi!'." The relentless nature of the music and snarling gesticulations by some dancers are certainly enough to unnerve the uninitiated, but accusations of neo-fascism are way off the mark.

Loftgroover, who used to play alongside Carl Cox, now has his tapes advertised in headbangers' bible Kerrang! and plays unreconstructed heavy metal songs in his sets. Which is where the story comes full circle, because Nottingham label Earache, home of Napalm Death, Extreme Noise Terror and other thrash bands, is now pulling together an entire LP, Hellspawn, on which the nastiest noise-heads from both sides of the technological tracks will be pairing off to create futuristic, car-bleeding mayhem.

Backstage at the Powerhaus, Oliver Chesler is screaming: "Lenny Doc made me a crack-addicted whore who wears his mother's clothing." Two days later Loftgroover is wondering aloud where his music will go next. "I cannot get any harder," he offers gleefully. "Can you imagine it?"

And between the crudely puerile humour of the first statement and proud decibel-machismo of the second may lie the core of speedcore. Well, that and bloody loud drums.

Gabber gabber hey - three of a kind

1. Industrial F**kin' Strength 2 - Uncash The Brutality by various artists on Industrial Strength.

2. Loftgroover Presents Speedcore by various artists on Harmless.

3. Biomechanik Mixed by Manu le Malin by various artists on Levell II