The greatest hardcore rave tracks – ranked!

With illegal parties cropping up across the UK while clubs are closed, we pick out the best of early 90s breakbeat hardcore

25. Bug Khan and Plastic Jam – Made in Two Minutes (1991)

If hardcore rave was rooted in house and techno, the prosaically titled Made in Two Minutes makes explicit another major influence, hip-hop. This is a largely forgotten strain of British rap inspired by the sound of Public Enemy’s producers the Bomb Squad, with the tempo pushed up and one eye fixed firmly on the post-acid-house dancefloor.

24. Ragga Twins – Mixed Truth (1992)

Pirate radio classics Spliffhead and Wipe the Needle are better known, but Mixed Truth is the Ragga Twins’ greatest moment, a particularly crazed example of the London duo Shut Up and Dance’s confrontational approach to production: potent, noisy electronics and immediately recognisable, obviously uncleared samples (in this case, from 808 State’s Pacific State).

23. Altern-8 – E-Vapour-8 (1992)

Hardcore’s goofy sense of humour attracted opprobrium, but no artist grasped that particular nettle like Altern-8. Detroit techno heads who became what Simon Reynolds called “the Slade of rave”, they dealt in pranks, blatant drug references and five-year-old MCs. It palled quickly, but E-Vapour-8’s Strings of Life sample and PP Arnold vocal overrides the jokey title.

‘The Slade of Rave’ ... Altern-8 in 1990.
‘The Slade of Rave’ ... Altern-8 in 1990. Photograph: Martyn Goodacre/Getty Images

22. A Homeboy, A Hippie and A Funki Dredd – Total Confusion (1990)

Another example of how Bomb Squad-inspired UK rap fed into rave, Total Confusion was the work of a trio including the late Casper Pound, who went on to found the celebrated techno label Rising High. On one level, it is very of its time; on another, its sheer exuberance still cuts through.

21. Edge 1 – Compnded (1992)

The work of trumpet-playing producer Gordon Matthewman, Compnded stole its riff from M1’s US house track Feel the Drums, pitching it up and placing it between bursts of fizzing electronics and tiny slivers of vocal. It’s a track that is constantly moving and shifting: the sound of 4am rave delirium.

20. Blame – Music Takes You (1991)

Dozens of hardcore producers fell foul of their cavalier attitude to sampling. Blame’s debut single is a case in point: you want the original version with the snatch of The Beginning by Seal – who apparently offered to re-sing it, before his label vetoed the idea – weaving through the dramatic synth stabs and warped vocal samples.

19. Foul Play – Ricochet (1992)

In truth, any track from Foul Play’s first two EPs could have made this list – so could 1993’s more jungle-facing Finest Illusion – but personal preference, and an abiding love for the delirium-inducing moment at 2min 41sec where a sample from Xena’s electro classic On the Upside suddenly appears, means Ricochet clinches it.

18. Nightmares on Wax – Aftermath (1990)

A pivotal track in the shift from techno to hardcore, Aftermath sounded noticeably different to the other big “Yorkshire bleep” singles released by Warp in the early 90s. The beat clattered away from a straightforward techno pulse, bass was even more overwhelming than that on LFO’s incredible LFO, the mood was weirder: simultaneously celebratory and unsettling.

Nightmares on Wax ... (from left) George Evelyn and Kevin Harper in Sheffield, 1990.
Nightmares on Wax ... (from left) George Evelyn and Kevin Harper in Sheffield, 1990. Photograph: Martyn Goodacre/Getty Images

17. Zero B – Lock Up (1991)

Lock Up ended up sampled on Dr Spin’s appalling 1992 novelty hit Tetris, a grim fate for such a great track. Only included on Zero B’s debut EP because he left the DAT of the intended track at home, it’s a perfect confection of funk guitar, Sheffield techno-inspired bleeps and exultant, hands-in-the-air breakdown.

16. Prodigy – Charly (1991)

Charly inadvertently spawned a wave of rotten kiddie-rave novelty hits, but the original is fantastic: tense and atmospheric, its sample wasn’t a kids TV theme but a cartoon public information film warning about paedophiles. It’s closer in spirit to Bam Bam’s terrifying acid house classic Where’s Your Child? than the tracks it inspired.

15. Shut Up and Dance – The Green Man (1991)

Shut Up and Dance were a law unto themselves: anti-drugs, even anti-rave – their biggest hit, the infamous Raving I’m Raving, was a sly dig at ecstasy users – their music never quite like anyone else’s. Named after a Hackney pub notorious for crack dealing, The Green Man was a gripping, disorienting swirl of orchestral samples.

14. Rufige Kru/Metalheads – Terminator (1992)

Goldie’s early releases exist in a liminal space where “dark” hardcore begins mutating into drum’n’bass. At the time, Terminator’s groundbreaking explosion of beats subjected to time-stretching – a key sound in the drum’n’bass arsenal – sounded utterly extraordinary, as if the world had suddenly spun off its axis.

13. Bizarre Inc – Playing With Knives (Quadrant Mix) (1991)

With the title of its mix referencing the Liverpool club Quadrant Park, Bizarre Inc’s Playing With Knives was a distinctly north-west twist on hardcore, brazenly stirring the area’s penchant for Italian house – replete with piano and screaming diva vocals – into the mix. A perfect confection of commerciality and punch, it made the Top 5.

12. Human Resource – Dominator (1991)

Inescapable in 1991, Dominator offered the sound of the Mentasm “hoover” (see No 3) gone feral, relentlessly surging and diving behind a couple of snappy hip-hop samples. Joey Beltram’s breakbeat-laden remix is the killer all-out-assault, although the moment when the original version deploys an old-fashioned burglar alarm on top of everything else is pretty bracing.

11. SL2 – DJs Take Control (1991)

Rave producers often seemed to gleefully ransack the past, ripping out samples they then warped and twisted to their own chaotic ends. DJs Take Control is still exciting, but more reverential in its approach: its repurposing of the Nightwriters’ Chicago house anthem Let The Music Use You is a respectful tip of the hat to hardcore’s roots.

10. Genaside II – Narra Mine (1991)

A London collective beloved of the Prodigy’s Liam Howlett, blessed with some extraordinary pseudonyms – take a bow Fragile Scotty and James Da Shit – Genaside II’s masterpiece leavened its claustrophobic atmosphere and raw dancehall MCing with a sweet female street soul vocal. The awesome Narra Mine may be hardcore’s answer to Massive Attack’s Unfinished Sympathy.

9. Urban Shakedown – Some Justice (1991)

Ce Ce Roger’s early house anthem Someday spawned two rave anthems. Liquid’s Sweet Harmony warped the track’s piano riff and a snatch of vocal into a Top 20 hit; Some Justice turned its intro into one of hardcore’s most glorious hands-in-the-air breakdowns, surrounded by explosive breakbeats and weirdly ominous synth stabs.

8. 4 Hero – Burning (1992)

Rightly credited with dragging rave into weirder, darker territory, 4 Hero’s hardcore tracks weren’t always straightforwardly nightmarish. The fantastic Burning flips between blissful female vocals and Loleatta Holloway samples and brain-scrambling chaos, capturing the moment when hedonism turns queasy and out-of-control.

7. Nasty Habits – Here Comes the Drumz (1992)

At the time, tracks like the Doc Scott-produced Here Come the Drumz seemed to divide the rave scene: some people embraced them, others didn’t want their high spoiled by something so intense and wilfully un-euphoric. Thirty years later, it just sounds awesome, a brutal wall of rhythm, car-alarm synths and Public Enemy samples.

6. Outlander – Vamp (1991)

Outlander was Marcos Salon, who began his career as a producer on Belgium’s New Beat scene. His biggest track, Vamp, was both hugely influential and, with its roots in Detroit techno still audible, relatively restrained by Belgian hardcore standards. The exhilarating but off-kilter lurch of its main riff is a simulacrum of the ecstasy user’s unsteady ascent.

The Prodigy in London, 1991.
The Prodigy in London, 1991. Photograph: Martyn Goodacre/Getty Images

5. Prodigy – Your Love (1991)

This year, XL Recordings’ Richard Russell said he knew from the start that the Prodigy would be the rave scene’s biggest stars. Certainly, Your Love is a superb and remarkably assured debut single: a collage of uplifting house piano, soul samples and electronic noise, commercial without a hint of cheese.

4. House Crew – Euphoria (Nino’s Dream Mix) (1993)

Financed by 80s soul star Phil Fearon and best known for Baby D’s No 1 Let Me Be Your Fantasy, the Production House label released a string of underground classics, but this mix of Euphoria – an overload of samples and blissful electronics over a rhythm on the cusp of hardcore’s transformation into jungle – is the best, a pure, shiver-inducing delight.

3. Second Phase – Mentasm (1991)

Possibly the most influential dance track of its era, Mentasm stood out for its “hoover” noise. It was a product of the producer Joey Beltram’slove of heavy metal; he tried to recreate its mood using a Juno synth. The sound – thrilling or terrifying, according to your mood – went on to consume hardcore itself: umpteen tracks used it in Mentasm’s wake.

2. Acen – Trip II The Moon (1992)

In snootier quarters, hardcore was viewed as house music’s gurning idiot younger brother: unsophisticated, predicated on novelty. Acen’s Trip to the Moon series gave the lie to that idea: his productions were complex, stitching samples from Rakim, John Barry, the Doors and forgotten UK soul band Tongue ’N’ Cheek into an utterly thrilling rush of sound.

1. 2 Bad Mice – Bombscare (1991)

Three decades on, and with a clearer head, you can see why rave or hardcore was so reviled at the time by critics and house and techno connoisseurs. Populist rather than elitist, it was seldom subtle: the sped-up helium vocals, the blatant drug references, the jokes. Equally, who could dismiss a genre that birthed a track as flat-out great as Bombscare? It’s a masterpiece of minimalism – there’s nothing to it beyond a breakbeat, a nagging riff and sub-bass – but it works, effortlessly, perfectly. YouTube comments under hardcore tracks tend to defiant reminiscences of the “if you were there, you know” variety, which is true, but Bombscare doesn’t require a nostalgic glow to appreciate. And the flipside, Hold It Down, is amazing, too.


Alexis Petridis

The GuardianTramp

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