It's a crazy mixed up world. Nine Inch Nails and Greater Than One are charting, while top-selling pop acts spew out brutal electronic dirges that wouldn't have been allowed on vinyl even five years ago. The astonishing influence of industrial techniques on modern music has caught many people by surprise, but they should have seen it coming. Let's face it: all those mind-altering tape cut-ups, discordant synth sequences and bleeps pioneered by T.G., Cabaret Voltaire, etc, have just been waiting for the right bassline to come along.
For all their enjoyable qualities, I think that bands like Front 242 and their ilk are nothing more than a regressive sideline in this evolutionary chain. There are no differences between the type of music produced by the techno hardcore and the hardbeat outfits, save one. Hardbeat, despite everything that 40 years of pop culture should have proved, still relies structurally upon 'songs'. For all the electronic guerilla-tactics, verses and choruses dominate. This limits the possibilities of experimentation inside very finite boundaries. All that dodgy totalitarian imagery is bloody silly too, if you ask me; it's just the pretentious flipside of Dannii and Kylie. So, yeah, give me pounding jackhammer beats and a bass that makes my chest hurt. Give me strangled synth riffs that wiggle inside my head give me samples that make my mind flip. But also give me an endless groove, not a piddling verse / chorus, and let it speak for itself without an airbrushed-on aura of 'rebellion'.
With this in mind, it is deeply gratifying to turn on a Top 40 rundown and hear, say, Human Resource's Dominator carving up the airwaves. A splurge of swerving bass loops and callous rapping, without recognisable tune or even musical key and seeming to last forever, it's a wonder the BBC had the nerve to even play it. But the record is just the latest in a line of Belgian techno records picked up for UK release after club djs have popularised the import version.
As far as some E.S.T. readers are concerned, I know, that's the major problem with pursuing hardcore techno. Most of it appears to be available only as an expensive import 12", from a few specialist record shops. This isn't entirely true. The last issue of 'specialist' magazine DJ (so obscure it gets stocked in W.H. Smith's!) printed a list of recommended UK retailers that ran to over a hundred shops; odds are, there's one in your town. You want obscure, try finding a shop near you that sells Mind Scan or Poison Plant product! What is needed, ultimately, is a means to sort out the genuinely great records from all the hundreds of retarded 'wooo! yeah!' monstrosities. Choosing a reliable record label to follow is a good start. R&S Records in Belgium have been pumping out weird and wired variants on techno for a few years, building a strong following amongst technoheads like myself. Now some of their classics are more freely available in the UK thanks to a deal with Outer Rhythm. Joey Beltram is the label's foremost star, a young American whose output is so prodigious he has to invent a new pseudonym just about every week. Among many minor innovations, he introduced the wilting, distorted synth loops that characterise the Prodigy and Human Resource's recent hits. His classics Energy Flash and Mentasm (credited to Second Phase) are now released over here to traumatise the record-buying public. Their reliance on loops of brutal synth riffs over deep bass and discordant rhythm splashes have set the agenda for the outer edge of hardcore techno for the next three months and beyond. Newly available in the UK after an appearance on import are LA Style's stomping, almost march-time James Brown is Dead, MNO's Beltram-style God of Abraham, Outlander's juddery Vamp, GTO's craftily constructed Listen to the Rhythm Flow and John & Julie's harder Double Happiness (the last two are Greater Than One, of course). Also, if I can get out the crystal ball for a moment, I would bet on the following appearing over here very shortly. Final Exposure's majestic Vortex (+8, US), another Beltram cut, is probably way too abstract to catch on in a big way, but its mind-scrambling combination of techno sampling and acid modulating could be the start of another trend. DJPC's Insomniak (Bite, Belgium) starts with a Star Trek sample, then proceeds with a riff fashioned from the sound of a hyperdrive melting down at Warp Factor 9. Finally, Pacific 231's 12 Years in NYC (Monochrome, Belgium) is a handy resume of various current styles, mixing Beltram-style acid squiggles with T.99-ish orchestral stabs to neat effect. The b-side's 21st Century Schizoid Man isn't a cover version, but sounds like it should be, all buzz-saw electronics and robot voices.
Some domestic releases are beginning to vie with the European stuff for hardcore supremacy. The Kickin' label's Zero Zero and Messiah are kings of stomach-punch bassline; check out Zeroxed and 20,000 Hardcore Members respectively. The harder-to-find releases by MUM, The Water Paradox and Closer to the Resurrection (both rubber-stamped white labels on 786) are stranger, more abstract variations on the theme. Also track down the Hypnotist's This House is Mine (Rising High). Like their last single, Rainbows in the Sky, their own version of fast and heavy hardcore techno is way too extreme for many people, which is why I love it.
If all this is still a bit much (I understand your beloved editor, for one, dislikes 12" singles on principle), there are several highly recommended LP/CD compilations that showcase the best of the recent heavy techno tracks. Reactivate, Volumes 1 & 2 (React) and XL Recordings Volume 2 (XL) feature famous hardcore techno tracks by the likes of T.99, Cubic 22 and GTO, plus a ton of more obscure but equally brutal tracks. If you are interested in this stuff, they'll provide the best introduction for relatively little outlay; you'll find them just about everywhere.