Submit                  Contact                 Shop                Instagram

Independent journal exploring the intersections between material and digital cultures, and broader themes to do with our bodies, labour, and time.
Aims to promote discussion about how technology will reshape ideas around community action, communication, and the arts.


Submit     Contact     Shop     Instagram

Independent journal exploring the intersections between material and digital cultures, and broader themes to do with our bodies, labour, and time.
Aims to promote discussion about how technology will reshape ideas around community action, communication, and the arts.



Harry Curtoys
Time of Publication : 13:50 - 23/07/21

The following text is an excerpt, Harry's full dissertation is linked at the end.

This essay will be exploring the Hardcore Continuum and its political, social, artistic, and communicative potential. It charts a journey through theoretical understandings of sounds and how they fundamentally move people. Dance Music culture is a polymorphous frenzy, and in this essay we shall zoom in and out of the waveforms and frequencies to better understand why it is so important.

The title of this essay is taken from Low End Activist’s 2019 release on the Social Sneaker Club label. This EP is fuelled by a recording of the Muzikon Sound System performing in the Blackbird Leys estate in Oxford around 1988, the home of the producer. The recordings are fragmented and mutated into a genre-hopping cacophony of haunted drum loops and sub-bass vibrations. The album’s source video depicts the system performing at the estate’s summer fair, an annual celebration of the community’s vast multicultural heritage and class-conscious pride. Muzikon delivers a ruff-and-tuff set of dancehall and dub, accompanied by the rhythmic toasting’s of various local MCs. The system is a proudly cohesive unit; as the audience proudly slap the backs of the selector and sound man as they harmoniously but wordlessly pump out the riddim (1). The MC calls for a pull up, a reload, but is met with the soundman expressively turning the low end frequency knob on his mixer so as to push and pull the bass into a throbbing, bouncing alteration of the original bassline. The siren rings out... a wobbling saw-tooth signal for noise from the on lookers and crew, the soundman dances on the spot, a running in place style skank, “Fiyah, fiyah” the MC proudly proclaims. The familiar distortion of the bassline’s thump returns.

The 1980s recording equipment can’t handle the noise produced by the system, a crackling but rhythmic cloud of low end frequencies is broadcast to us. The camera pans to the right, filming the crowd bobbing their heads next to the towering pyramidic stack of speaker held down in by industrial ratchet straps, the more intrepid of whom stand with their ears to the 12 inch subwoofers craving the full weight of the bass. A dreadlocked Rasta man hands out Skol four packs. One may forget this performance isn’t considered under the usual organisation of a gig or a show, the Soundsystem plays for the community here, it has its own gravitational pull, a bass-magnetism. We’re reminded of the name of Ska pioneer Prince Buster’s first Soundsystem: ‘Voice of the People.’ (Bradley, 2001) and as this name suggests, the sound system and its low end frequencies clearly provides a vehicle for this community. The activism therefore arrives in the deepened community spirit and the subversion of Thatcherite neglect where ‘police tactics loom large...’ ‘where the elite and the authorities fail to understand the community, [and] how and why it functions the way it does.’ (Sneaker Social Club, 2019)

Low End Activist channels the ruff energy of a system at work and constructs a magically future oriented neo-dub with timewarped (2) vocals and pressurized dreadbass (3) lingering on the echoing drum kicks. This combination of sonic apparatus was that which separated Jungle from Hardcore Rave almost 40 years ago- a scene that rose from the ashes of the Thatcher era mistreatment of multicultural estates and reared its defiant head in flashes of insurrection as seen in the 1991 riots. Low End Activist treats the source video as a valuable artefact of unescapable traditions of ‘the embodied experience of dub’s haunted space and echoes on the dance floor.’ (Hillegonda C. Rietveld and tobias c. van Veen. 2015) As the bassline of the opening track disappears and remerges with a ketty (4) meter, the familiar rumble distorts the distant voice of an emcee. The vocal snippets seem to have no beginning or end, they spiral in and out of the audio field, the reverb and delays carrying the haunting shrill tones further and further into the depths. The drums seem to have no origin, the kicks are echoed into a new loops spiralling endlessly into their own mutated sounds. Theorist Kodwo Eshun references composer Murray Schaffer’s term ‘Schizophony’ to describe this tendency within Dub-diasporic music:

‘schizophony,’ which simply meant sounds devoid of sources; we could almost say, beats decapitated from drummers. And of course all sampledelia is schizophonic now, all sounds are separated from sources... (Eshun, 1997)

From listening to L.E.A.’s reverb drenched dub compositions, we zoom out. Have the ‘cyborg fantasies of the Detroit techno producers’ (Eshun, 2003) or the ‘orbital rave music’ (Anniss, 2019) of Northern England’s Bleep and Bass become haunted ‘schizophonies’? If you listen closely you can hear the remanence of these loops in Low End Activism. This music of past decades is now devoid of its source, endlessly looping in and out of the contemporary, we give in to a collective nostalgia for musics we never experienced, but have endless digital access to. Even the in rawness of Low End Activism’s rhythms, we can still trace the lineage of the acid injection into British dance music. But how are these musics even related? And how have they become such cultural objects?

The idea of these musical cultures as objects or ‘scenes’ presents a variety of logistical issues when we come to try look at the contemporary with the same vigour we would to the past. These ‘scenes’ that have become cultural milestones have little infrastructure to them other than perhaps a venue or group of DJs who play a specific style of music. Scenes appear as nexus of bodies, rhythms, and chemicals enacting a polymorphous frenzy, a collective consciousness that wordlessly breeds new forms of sonic energy. These mechanisms are imperceptible, or rather aim to become imperceptible, as Gilles Deleuze described: ‘to become imperceptible oneself, is to have dismantled love in order to become capable of loving. To have dismantled one’s self in order, finally, to be alone and meet the true double at the other end of the line.’ (Deleuze and Guattari, 2009) These subcultural flows aim to be imperceptible; as something that cannot be recuperated, to remain tucked away in the anonymous collectiveness of the dancefloor, it is ‘to become like everybody else; but this, precisely, is a becoming only for one who knows how to be nobody, to no longer be anybody.’ (Deleuze and Guattari, 2009) These musics seek out and belong to the ‘anonymous figures’ neglected in estates like the Blackbird Leys, and amplifies them beyond regular mode of expression. Becoming outsiders is to also belong to the dance, to be alienated is to also seek the exit. This rich continuum of dance music ‘is anything but predictable, it ‘will always ambush you with some new twist, a mind-wrenching paradigm shift...’ (Reynolds, 2009)


The high-class mixture of substance, of ‘chaos-generating agents’ (Plant, 2001), also left the door open for a new in tha club ethos of the gangster, the badman, and the king, these characters marking a distinct and machoistic shift from the neurochemical lover of ecstasy. The coke/garage drug/music nexus is seen here to generate a mass individuation; a collective fragmentation rather than the overwhelming merging of people within the MDMA experience, ‘merging not just with music and with the crowd but with machines too: the sound system, the dazzling lighting effects and lasers, and all the other hi-tech elements use to engineer atmospheres.’ (Plant, 2001) Albeit with our understanding of the continuum, the drug/music nexus is affected by the socioeconomic; and the economic apprehension of the arrival of the millennium reared its head in the all-to-glossy Garage sound. This aspirational, but almost superficial or fearful futurism of Garage is epitomised in the lyrics of Ultra Naté’s 1997 track ‘Free’:

Get outta bed get on your way
Don’t be scared your dreams right there You want it reach for it
‘Cause you’re free
To do what you want to do
You’ve got to live your life
Do what you want to do
(Ultra Naté, 1997)

What unifies the Continuum here are the ‘commonalities to be found in the sound system pragmatics and pirate economics...’ (Goodman, 2010), the dependence on the self-maintained networks existing outside of pop-culture; these autonomous zones have fabricated their own ‘temporary bass ecologies to hijack through sonic dominance—a rhythmachinic takeover of space-time.’ (Goodman, 2010) The aforementioned apprehension towards the arrival of the future was met with the advancement of the internet which in turn pushed radio pirates overboard, but not before they uploaded the collective-illegalist thoughtware (5) ever-present in peer-to- peer networks like Napster and Soulseek. Peer-to-peer platforms rely on the collective sharing of files; a user must offer up their own media before being granted access to the network. These networks are used heavily in dance music cultures as a method of precuring old or rare digital files and extending the prevalence of the dubplate. The dubplate is a one-off version of the track, lathe cut into vinyl, exclusive music only listenable within a small network. ‘...[The] dub plate is reborn as this Music of the Future. You’re hearing music that won’t be on the streets till ten months...but listening to a dub plate does this little projection on you. You feel yourself 18 months’re on a plane of acceleration, you’re moving faster than you are’ (Eshun, 2018) These flows of subcultural momentum are also necessarily kept underground as both a tactic of subversion and survival as ‘the moment when dominant society begins to recognize a subculture, is the moment that the resistant power of the subculture begins to die.’ (Hebdige, 1979)

Dem a call us pirates
Dem a call us illegal broadcasters
Just because we play what the people want (Home T, Cocoa Tea, and Shabba Ranks, 1989)


At the Hardcore Continuum symposium held at the University of East London in 2009 various arguments and names associated with both the theoretical and musical ends of the continuum discussed its viability and value. Theorist Jeremy Gilbert took a more critical angle to the music cultures bred under the Hardcore Continuum. In his report on the symposium he states:

the music scenes of the “nuum” were notable for their detachment from any kind of politics, their embrace of competitive entrepreneurial values, and their defence of masculinist and heterosexist norms which other dance cultures were busily and visibly deconstructing at just that moment. (Gilbert, 2009)

Gilbert makes very applicable and cutting arguments not necessarily for or against the continuum, a point worth noting that he perhaps recognises the unconditionality of the idea but he chooses to assess the attitude of the scenes and cultures themselves. He points towards the ‘detachment’ of these musical subcultures from political momentum, specifically in comparison to other musical genres that exists outside of the UK continuum and away from electronic dance music but in a similar timeframe. He states that:

Despite the formal radicalism of these musics, the scenes associated with them were notorious for the aggression, sexism and homophobia which characterised them, and at a time when black radicalism was in apparent crisis, these largely black-derived musics seemed to be entirely divorced from the political legacies of soul, reggae and hip-hop. (Gilbert, 2009)

Gilbert’s critique of genres within the continuum seems here to be vastly acceptable. He is correct in highlighting the latent homophobia and machoistic aggression within many of these musics something of which is prevalent now especially, but not exclusively, in the UK Grime and Drill scenes. These urban music scenes remain firmly enshrouded in gang and working class heteronormative culture and thus relatively untouched by liberal attitudes. And as the cousin of Grime, a genre named after its gritty intensity, this genre’s mainstream success is also partly owed to the violence of the lyrics appealing to a form of masculinity not found in other music. However Gilbert’s statements shouldn’t go dismissed, and for the most part they haven’t. Organisations like EQ50 and Dweller Electronics are now pushing female and POC awareness in the territories of dance music, ‘EQ50’s mission is to empower underrepresented artists in drum and bass, ensuring proper representation no matter what their gender, race, (dis)ability, or sexual orientation.’

Can we hear the crisis of society in the crisis of music? What Gilbert brings forth here is an issue that has been laid dormant for too long. The recent insurgency seen with the momentum of the Black Lives Matter riots in the states and the COVID-19 pandemic has led to an increase in the awareness of the BIPOC roots of dance music and the survival of producers. Summarized in the Grime collective Brak FM: Post Colonial N*ggas Republic of Earth’s performance at the Ø (Zero) club night at Corsica Studios (February 2019), the MC shouted (something along the lines of): “all black people to the front, I want all black faces at the front, there are too many white faces at the front...” over a bass laden grime instrumental, his voice disrupting the rhythm of the crowd.

In a recent post on the Dweller Electronics blog, Jean-Hugues Kabuiku prompts the need for a leftist critique ‘to be applied to understand what we are witnessing in terms of irresponsible behaviour from DJs, booking agents and promoters, who are still touring even at the time of me writing this.’ (Kabuiku, 2021) This need for consciousness as highlighted by Gilbert, rings true more than ever. The reattachment of these genres to the context they exist in is becoming more and more present. In late 2020 an article by DJ Noir on the emergence of the term ‘160’ (6) to describe musics coming out of the Chicago Footwork (7) /UK Jungle lineages explored ‘how language can be used to appropriate Black culture and leave behind its pioneers.’ (DJ Noir, 2020) The article draws light to the inherent blackness of these genres, and how the terms used to describe these musics are essential to retaining their roots, and platforming the BIPOC innovators. As Sadie Plant explains via her study of the Situationists: ‘Only when it is abandoned on the battlefield is the vocabulary of liberation vulnerable to recuperation...’ (Plant, 2006)

The awareness of this latent toxicity and whitewashing that Gilbert emphasises is an absolute necessity, though Gilbert’s comparison to genres like Hip-Hop as being overtly more political seems to miss the essential radicalism of dance music. The Black radicalism found in early Hip-Hop absolutely attached itself to consciousness raising activities, and like any dub-diasporic music this scene worked as a emancipatory means to the black youth, but what Gilbert’s assertions seem to miss however is how much the UK’s continuum was influenced by these genres and their inherent politization. Dance music in the UK took on the radical musical elements of Soul, Reggae and Hip Hop via the use of sampling drum breaks, intense basslines, and the temporary autonomous zones provided by the soundclash (8). The physical manifestations of the Hardcore Continuum in parties and raves, of course, are distanced from the original activistic political momentum the music was initially inspired by. But instead, these events conjour a post-capitalist apparition of what Herbert Marcuse called a ‘spectre of a world that could be free’. The ghost of the world undominated by systems of control.

His body was molten glass and treacle. No flesh, no bones, just a sizzling mass of plasma, fried eyes and melting genitals. His brain bubbled like magma... the inside of his skull iced over...the room exploded into negative as white glacier light blazed behind his eyes and shot down his spinal column.
(Kadrey, 1988)

1 ’Riddim’ is Jamaican Patois for Rhythm. In Reggae, Dancehall, and Dub traditions it is the instrumental track playing for an MC to toast over.
2 ‘Timewarped’ or ‘Timewarping’ is the process done to a digital audio sample in which it is stretched and elongated, the process was used heavily in Darkside Hardcore and Jungle production for its amplification of themes of ‘dread’ and the distortion of basslines and vocal snippets.
3 ‘Dreadbass’ is the neologism for the style of warped bassline in Ragga Jungle, stretched and often producing sub-bass frequencies
4 ‘Ketty’ here refers to the non-medicinal state of being under the influence of Ketamine, the user feels dissociated and disconnected from their body.
5 Thoughtware’ is the organisational pattern used in the operations of organizations or systems. Used often in Kodwo Eshun’s cyber theory-fiction, it is also the digitalisation of thought processes.
6 ‘160’ in this context referees to BPM (Beats per minute), the music that has come from the ‘Chicago Footwork/UK Jungle lineages’ is often played at this speed and thus the combination of the two began to only share the speed in common with its original influence.
7 ‘Chicago Footwork’ is a genre extending from Ghetto House and Juke, it strips back tracks until there is just looping sub bass scattered with hi-hat triplet and samples of Hip-Hop and R&B. The genre was founded through the dance culture of ‘Footworking’ in which the pulsating Bass creates a foglike space for dances to footwork in between the cutting tics and jerks of the drums.
8 The ‘soundclash’ is a taken from the Jamaican Soundsystem tradition, it its where two or more sound systems play against each other to achieve dominance over the crowd. The soundsystem with the heaviest bass, most exclusive music, or lyrical prowess will win over the support of the crowd.