This week, we dive back into the record bin for a piece of historical hardcore and end up in 2019 Japan, looking at a slab of pure hardtek party music.

We’ve had a lot of ambitious projects and heady essays about hardcore culture lately so I thought it was about time to switch it up and do something chill by diving into my enormous backlog of hardcore LPs I’ve yet to listen to. When I called forth a disk of hardcore fury from heaven, heaven responded by sending down an album with plausibly-deniable lesbians on the cover, which I think makes this a more than appropriate entry into the column for pride month.

ANTiFRONT GEARS is a collaborative effort from Getty (nu-skool j-core stalwart, mostly specializing in hard dance) and DJ DiA (a bit of a chameleon with no real specialty, also mostly disappeared after 2020), compiling 10-ish tracks of original collaborative material plus a small selection of remixes into a tight 40 minute package. While both producers work in a wide area of styles, ANTiFRONT GEARS is pretty single-minded, never departing the realm of pumpcore (a faster, heavier, and more bass music-informed take on the classic French hardtek sound that found popularity in the j-core scene in the mid-late 2010s) outside of the remixes and intro/outro tracks. This makes the album an abnormally accessible piece of hardtek, a genre which rarely does non-VA albums in the first place and even more rarely does albums under 60 minutes. In fact, looking at the tracklist - which features zero tracks under 4 and a half minutes and 8 that come in at-or-under 3:00 - it’s easy (or at least, was easy for me) to make the assumption that this album is mostly a collection of rhythm game compositions. And that would be correct! Half of the non-remix tracks are submissions to various rhythm game-related contests, comprising 3 winning submissions to FLOOR (a song contest run by Bemani where the winner is added to the SOUND VOLTEX series), 2 entries into the 2016 BMS OF FIGHTERS contest (oversimplified, essentially a demoscene contest for BeatMania clones), and one entry into a contest run by Sega for the CHUNITHM series. All of these demand short song lengths, so it makes sense that even the extended mixes of these songs are very brisk.

Pumpcore has always been a relatively fast paced niche compared to the wider realm of hardtek it comes from, but the brevity of this record pushes that pacing to an even more extreme point. There are multiple songs on here I was amazed to come back to and realize were less than 3 minutes because the amount of content and development is so vast. I’ve been known to complain about the pop song-ification of the hardcore song structure - so many genres these days have been modified to run almost exclusively in the 2 and a half to 3 and a half minute zone even when it clearly ruins the flow of the track - but this album pulls off some kind of magic trick and I don’t really feel like it suffers from this problem to any notable degree. The album starts strong, too, with a good three song run from the title track through “Counter Attack-with my fist-”, with its gnarly metalcore riffing, and finally big room-flavored USAO-collab “Virtual Sanctuary,” whose second drop made me stankface real hard with its gnarly collage of ripping bass sounds.

Things drop off to a more mundane level of good after that; “Ops:Code-Rapture-” is a little bit too chaotic for its own good, and the next 3 tracks after that don’t really stand out beyond generally being well-made. The main problem that ANTiFRONT GEARS has isn’t really that it doesn’t aspire to much; I love hardtek music, and I’m totally happy listening to a full record of nothing but straight hardtek. You don’t need to reinvent the wheel to make a good hardtek record. I think this album just kinda lacks “the sauce” a little, whatever that is. There are flashes of it, with the aforementioned stankface part in “Virtual Sanctuary” being the biggest instance where it really has that kind of presence without needing to be overtly weird, but so much of this album is just kinda playing the hits without really having anything that nasty or eye-popping.

The one other main track I have a lot of fondness for is “Engage-Rex-,” which admittedly makes a weird first impression. The whole track has a trap lean and one of the ways it incarnates that is through this odd dissonant vocal chop melody that recurs throughout the tune. I can look past the strangeness of the line though, because the track makes up for it with an excellent late-stage UK hardcore switchup that hits exceptionally hard and really puts a nice bow on the main track portion of the record.

Following this is a short remix segment, consisting of reworks from Soleily (another journeyman j-core producer), C-Show (Bemani veteran and omnipresence in the modern doujin EDM scene), and BlackYooh (collaborative project of j-core veterans BlackY and Yooh). Soleily presents the most compelling of these remixes, a nails-hard gabber version of “Grayedout-Antifront-” which hits the right balance between modern faux-hardstyle sound design and classic j-core busy melodicism, with just a whole ton of crossbreed snare fills just for the hell of it. C-Show comes through with a moombah/complextro take on “Engage-Rex-” that is characteristically well made, but just doesn’t grab me that much as someone mostly ambivalent to moombah. BlackYooh also take on moombah with their remix of the title track (which is honestly kinda strange - who the hell was making moombahcore in 2019?) featuring a hardtek switchup in the back half, which is novel, I guess, though I kinda wish they had just gone with the hardtek sound all the way through as it shows off Yooh’s excellent melody work and freeform influences. These remixes are a staple of any j-core (or doujin EDM as a whole) CD and you can’t really complain about having some alternate takes to check out, especially when in this case the album still clocks in at just under 40 minutes even with the filler. The album ends with a short piece of what I can only describe as YouTube Live Premier preroll music, leaving this high energy hardtek record on a very strange note.

ANTiFRONT GEARS is in many ways a very conventional modern j-core record. While its insistence on one style is notable, it otherwise plays like any other CD from the kind of artists filling out the SOUND VOLTEX back catalog. I don’t even really mean that as an insult - I think this is honestly a pretty damn high standard for “nondescript” that a lot of other genres don’t really meet, though your mileage definitely will vary depending on how much affinity for the underlying pumpcore sound you have. I would confidently call it fairly good but not great, soundly enjoyable but rarely exceptional. Though, that said, the homoeroticism of its cover art is DEFINITELY exceptional within the hardcore space. We’re big fans of that here. One day I’ll do my big writeup about how awesome hardtek is and then you’ll get to hear me really talk about a bunch of music with “the sauce” and we can all have fun laughing at the weird-ass leads French people think it’s normal to put on a track. Until then, you’ll have to subsist on milquetoast-ly good yuritek.

The Breakdown is a biweekly column about the rave era and the music it spawned and inspired, with a focus on hardcore, breakcore, and jungle. It seeks to unravel the complex culture of hardcore music and present its intricacies in an accessible format. If you enjoyed this review, check out previous entries in the column, most of which talk about weird German music from the 90s or weird British music from the late 90s/early 00s. One day we might even make it all the way to Belgium or the Netherlands; won’t that be a treat!

ANTiFRONT GEARS is available from Kirara Records on Bandcamp and streaming.

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