This week, we reexamine the legacy of acid house's influence on early breakbeat hardcore and the diversity of sound that it brought to a genre that drew from anything and everything.

“Breakbeat hardcore drew its melting pot of sound from a vast array of influences – from new beat and Belgian techno that had for a short period been prominent in the UK rave scene, to house and acid house, and furthermore drawing on hip hop and reggae culture.”
Wikipedia: Breakbeat hardcore

Back in April, I published a dual review of Sonz of a Loop da Loop Era’s Flowers In My Garden LP and Nebula II’s Hardcorps, two records from artists synonymous with the early breakbeat hardcore era in my mind. I talked about a lot of things but one topic I've revisited over and over in the months since is the shadow of acid house that looms over the genre. I’ve spent a lot of time in this era of music since then, dutifully working my way through 12” after 12” by Acen, The Prodigy, and Genaside II as I expand my knowledge of this scene. In the process, I’ve come to recognize just how broadly these artists were rooting their music in the concept of earlier acid house.

A little background is required, I think. Of all the many genres associated with the rave era, acid house may be the genre. Probably the most iconic, definitely the most broadly influential (by virtue of literally everything tracing back to it), you simply cannot decontextualize the music being played at raves between 1988 and 1996 from the sounds of mid-1980s Chicago and late-1980s London. Although commonly reduced down to just the trademark “acid” basslines utilized by early artists in the style, acid house was a vibrant and broad style that had ballooned into multiple concurrent sounds by the early 90s, from the playful hip hop-informed sounds of outfits like M/A/R/R/S and Snap! to the warm atmospherics of 808 State and A Guy Called Gerald to the dark, rave stab-driven sound that was pioneered by New York scenesters like Todd Terry before spreading across the water to mainland Europe and kickstarting Italian italo house and Belgian skizzo. Acid house had started as a single-minded style, arguably even a gimmick, but had transformed into one of the most insidiously diverse and universally appealing styles in electronic music’s history.

“The style originated by the fusion of Techno and Acid House synths with the aggression of Hip Hop and Britcore rhythms, later influenced by other nascent styles coming from Britain including Bleep Techno and Ragga.”
RateYourMusic: Breakbeat Hardcore

“It was the sound of UK musicians and DJs putting Hip Hop, Reggae, House and Techno through a Windrush generation influenced filter.”
On The Rise Academy: "Breakbeat Hardcore is On the Rise"

Faced with a wide selection of acidic compounds, the chemists formulating breakbeat hardcore decided to simply utilize all of them in their experiments. At first, it was rudimentary, aspiring perhaps out of necessity to the sparsest and least intense extensions of the genre. When Shut Up and Dance kickstarted the breakbeat revolution in 1990, they did so not with a blaze of nauseating stab melodies but with baremetal sampling and a shockingly unimposing acid bassline. You’d think such an unassuming approach would have died off quickly, but major records as late as 1992 from SL2 and 2 Bad Mice evidence an attachment to this sound well into the rise of stabbier styles.

Once breakbeat producers discovered said rave stabs, of course, things rapidly shifted and it became a genre designed to extract the intensity of these garish, blaring textures. It’s within this environment that you begin to see a spectrum of different tunes emerge, all taking slightly different sound design elements from slightly different areas. Those who still worshipped at the altar of acid house retained thinner, squelchier stabs, while those who drew from Belgian new beat or even the fusion sounds of Belgian techno (itself an outgrowth of early breakbeat hardcore) preferred more jagged, abrasive sound design and aggressive basslines.

“Breakbeat hardcore (also old school hardcore and hardcore rave) is a style of electronic music that is a mixed form of acid house, new beat and techno with "breakbeat" drums played at high speed.”
Electronic Music Wiki: Breakbeat Hardcore

While the latter sound may be more intense on paper, I actually find that most of the most dizzying tracks land closer to the former camp, something I attribute to a willingness for producers in that area to go entirely off the rails with their melodies and appeal to a sense of technicality only possible because of how maneuverable these sounds were.

I feel obligated to mention that not all of this music was trying to be super dark and cavernous. As noted in the aforementioned review, Sonz of a Loop da Loop Era provided a release vector for a number of tunes that were outwardly psychedelic while also being bright and dense. Even when these tracks weren’t obviously acid house-rooted, they carried forward the underlying psychedelic concepts that acid house revived. Much ado is made about the Second Summer of Love in 1988, when acid house exploded in the UK and revived the free spirit and gleeful artistic experimentation of the 60s psychedelia movement. But the rave movement that it spearheaded flourished for another half decade even by the most conservative definitions, so why is it so divorced from this romantic comparison?

Of course, the explicit psychedelia of early breakbeat hardcore would eventually be washed out slowly but surely as trends shifted. By 1993, lines were starting to be drawn, and while you can trace the acid house roots in the grim atmospheres of darkside and the euphoria of happy breakbeat alike, it does feel like the music started to lose an aspect of directness, at least as far as the relationship to acid house went. People who were previously enamored with the soundscapes of acid house weren’t spinning breaks, they were spinning trance. As quickly as it had overtaken, acid house faded into the background.

“During their gigs at the big acid house raves that spread across the UK during the summer of 1988 the DJs started to notice that the crowds would react with more energy in swathes as they started to mix in records containing breakbeats into their sets.”
Steemit: "DanceWeekend | A Brief History of Breakbeat Hardcore & Jungle Techno Rave Music" by the1950smoon

“Summer of love / techno/ house / acid paved the way for rave and hardcore, which paved the way for darkside and breakbeat hardcore.” - /u/ghal3on/
/r/jungle - "What influence did acid house have on jungle?"

One interesting effect of the ongoing breakbeat hardcore revival is a sort of “squashing” of timeframe, where aspects of the entire spectrum of this music are combined in ways that weren’t necessarily true of the music at the time. The more complex breaks of darkside and jungle remain a staple, but they now inhabit aggressive belgian techno stab lines, goofy samples, piano anthems, and, yes, the acid house influences of earlier breakbeat hardcore in an aesthetic stew. Even as early as the mid-00s, the very start of producers revisiting these sounds, it was trivially easy to find the musical and aesthetic elements of acid house reinhabiting the 12”s and albums put out by artists in this space.

In fact, over time, it can be argued that the whole “rave revival” movement actually kinda went backwards over time, often abandoning breaks entirely sometimes in favor of a more straightforwardly neo-acid house sound. This style powers records such as VAPERROR’s Acid Arcadia and Lone’s Galaxy Garden, albums which reinterpret the goofy psychedelia of acid house in a sort of vibey future happy acid synthscape that resembles the stabby New York sound on paper but directly inverts its emotional thrust. It’s a strange fate, to find yourself immortalized in a way so familiar yet so foreign by people who often weren’t around for the actual period they’re reviving. I think it speaks to the immortality of psychedelia as an artistic movement, something that tracks over its many branches - all of which have seen significant revivals that outlast the original period of prominence - and demonstrates the strength of the core concept. Acid house may have been EDM’s original gimmick genre but it turned into something a lot broader, a barebones but unrestricted approach that has been revisited in dozens of different ways over the last nearly 40 years. And while its influence on the original breakbeat hardcore sound may have faded as it developed in new directions, many of its core innovations still remain in both hardcore and UK electronic music to this day. The job is thankless, but the roots acid house laid 35 years ago dutifully hold together all that we love nonetheless.

The Breakdown is a biweekly column about the rave era and the music it spawned. It explores the music and culture of hardcore, breakcore, and jungle music, tying together aspects of its complex history and community. If you enjoyed this article, be sure to check out previous entries.

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