Thursday, 28 November 2013

Hardcore Underground 6 Review

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The Evolution, Not Revolution, of Hardcore

Hardcore Underground gives dozens of producers the opportunity that others don't. The variety encased in the album is second-to-none: but they could have taken more risks

The latest release in the second longest-running current Hardcore series,
Hardcore Underground 6 had a difficult game to play from the get-go. Heralded as a fresh start by many (including myself) to a scene with fewer opportunities for creative outlets, the fervor quickly grew upon the announcement in April of the addition of the returning UK Hardcore legend Scott Brown to the line up. Then, as seems customary in the scene presently, there were shipping and production issues leading up to release. 

Paul Rodriguez is poignantly remembered in the album sleeve, which notes that "UK Hardcore owes, and will always owe, a huge debt to this champion of our music". If Rodriguez could see how fantastic this album is, I'm sure he would be delighted. 

But now here we are, and as ever I will break this down disc by disc.

First, let me say that I was extremely impressed with the album as a whole. Professionally done, excellent mixing and superb track selection across the board for the most part. The eight DJs who have mixed the discs and everyone behind the project should be extremely proud for bringing this project to fruition. Let's get to it.

CD1 saw the aforementioned return of Scott Brown, a man who is the inspiration for so many artists who have joined the scene in the last decade. Brown teams with the ever-reliable Al Storm to put together a good mix. The main disappointment was in the lack of surprises present, as all bar one of Scott Brown's tracks were available to listen to online around a month before the album dropped. However, there are some amazing tracks from elsewhere that more than make up for it.

JAKAZiD's track "Funky Town" is a great example of how to combine the many elements of UK Hardcore in 2013. The track houses elements of dubcore, pianos and a simple synth with a cool vocal. The minimalist drop-out piano section is some of the best production work on the disc. . "A Little More" by Heaven-7 and Storm, remixed by Technikore, is an update of "This Life" and is well-maintained. "Haunted" sees Storm team up with long-time music partner Sy to cover a Taylor Swift number. The vocal here is, as the title suggests, haunting. The recurring theme of the disc becomes apparent here - Storm is fantastic at bringing the best production standards from those he works with. This is shown too in "Spinning Around" (also with Euphony), which is very Brown-influenced in terms of its melody but has a modern edge in its' bassline.

Not everything on this CD is positive however. There are a few 'filler' tracks that don't feel like they accomplish much, such as Brown's own "Enchantment" or "Kerrang!" by Storm & Euphony (the intro of which actually made me think of the Squad-E number "Taste of Ibiza (Break of Day)"). The biggest disappointment of all was the track "Breaking", written by Brown, Storm, Fracus & Darwin. I was excited to see how the four would mesh, but it seems too many cooks spoil the broth and the track itself is fine, but never seems to do one thing or the other and ends up sounding a little flat compared to the four outstanding tracks that follow it. Namely, these are the monotone-bass but irresistible "Dance if You Can't" by Technikore and "Stylin' on You" by Brown (the mix of one into the other is great work), as well as Kurt's Powerstomp remix of "Power of Love" and the quite fantastic (and surprisingly old) Gabber track "Complicated" by Marc Smith & Re-Con. 

A revelation comes to the fore on both this disc and the following in the form of breakout DJ Skinny, who comes in with "Pressure Rockin'" on CD1 and "Drop This" on CD2. Both tracks are put together with excellent mixdowns and hands-in-the-air pianos. One to watch, you feel.

Throughout the whole album, the presence of Darwin and Fracus is strongly felt, such as on CD1 with the sensational "Music Blocks". Including having their own disc they appear on multiple occasions (Darwin appears on every disc, Fracus on three). Yet they are such talented and multi-functional producers that at no point does a track of theirs sound rehashed or worn. The peak of their talents is available for all to see on their own mix though, commencing with what is already a 'Track of the Year' candidate in "Free From Form" (first track on this mix), a belter of a melody that leaves you in no doubt this mix has started off with a bang. 

There seems to be more direction on CD2 than on any other in terms of the type of music they are presenting - full-on melodies and bouncing beats. The best melody & FX combination track has to be "Nothing Left to Say" by Brisk & Darwin. The hard club-kick section is a great transition to the next vocal and showcases the talents of two top producers.

Another fantastic track on this, probably the strongest disc the album has to offer, is Shimamura's mix of Black & White's "Show Me The Way", which is a synth-heavy 'Drums n' Rave' style tune that ties vocal, riff and beat together perfectly.

The only criticism that can be made of CD2 is that some tracks aren't allowed to breath and stretch out. "Fast Forward" has a huge atmospheric lead that comes in around the 2:10 mark, but is then shoved to one side for the next track to come in. This is something I have pointed at the Clubland Hardcore series as well in the past and it just ends up feeling rushed when tracks aren't given the chance to shine. 

When they are given freedom to build, such as A.B's storming track "This" or the incredible final piece "About to Fly", tracks feel special. The pianofest that is "Make it Werk" by JAKAZiD is another highlight on the CD and shows Fracus & Darwin's talent for putting together a fantastic mix. 

Now everyone who knows me knows I'm really a four-to-the-floor man, but CD3, which features CLSM & Entity picking the tracks, really floated my boat. Hardcore breaks is well-loved by its' proponents, and, after the success of Gavin G's HU Breaks album it only makes sense to build some time in to the most anticipated album of the year. And while there are a few too many similar piano riffs on the disc, there are also some fantastic moments, such as the Skeets and Ian K remix of "Going Under", which drags the genre kicking and screaming into 2013. The Gavin G remix of "Screwface" combines the popular off-key synths that Darren Styles produced with a new beat that fits perfectly.

As previously mentioned, there are many tracks in the breaks genre that have piano riffs, and that's fine. But I counted eight tracks where there were similar piano sections, and many of them were tucked together on the first half of the mix. I also felt that more adventure could have been shown on the same tracks; "Feel It" had the sense of a track that has a lot of potential, but could have taken some risks with effects or key changes that could have given it more depth beyond the dark bass section it delivered.

However, CD3 was also the home for the absolute best track off the entire album. The final track is by Archelix, with the epic "Say Goodbye". I flew out of my chair when the breaks kicked in; this combined with an innocent, eerie vocal and the best wobbly atmospheric leads I've ever heard to create a masterpiece of a track. The short but sweet four-to-the-floor section didn't hurt either, but there's no denying the immense quality and beauty of this song. Great job. (Disagree with my choice for best track? Tweet me @HardcoreReview1 or leave a comment at the bottom of this page!)

Reading the list of DJs that had been included on the final disc, mixed by Thumpa & Obie, was probably the biggest challenge I've faced in my history with the English language. Names like Cyrez & Cyrax, T-TY, jD-KiD, and Qygen, confuse me, not merely for their unusual structure, but because surely a DJ should have an easily recognisable name? In any case, the disc is predominantly Freeform with some hugely intricate riffs throughout. The track "Latika" by jD-KiD & David Traya is mesmerising with a drop-out melody and a quite incredible FX-laden build up to the mixdown. 

Thumpa & Obie requested track submissions of any genre for this disc, including those from budding producers, and they do not disappoint, including artists such as Rik Arkitech and Qygen. 

The tracks back away from Freeform on a few occasions; an odd, messy drum & bass remix of the classic Sharkey track "Ascending Angels" by Endemic finds its' way onto the album, and Joey Riot's track "You Will Be The Last" feature. Though not entirely Freeform, there is maintained throughout a high octane energy, with epic building melodies, such as Obie's "Mk31", a powerhouse tune that floats as though in space. 

The standout track on the final disc is reserved for Darwin & 3Star, who provide us with "Leap", a track that pull on heavy electric guitar strings before luring you back in with a reverse bass and high octane, simplistic melody that you end up humming after four bars, it's just so catchy. CD4 ends with a few hard tracks, "Hardcore is the Future", "You Will Be The Last" and "Like a Bulldozer" all verge on Gabber without ever quite getting there, before "2012" takes your head on what can only be described as an absolute mindfuck. But a brilliant one where you feel you've just seen deep space or discovered £200 behind your couch.

Overall, Hardcore Underground 6 (or #HU6 as I've been hashtagging all month) lives up to the hype. It's not perfect, but it's what an underground label without any major backing should be, and that's raw. Raw talent, excellent mixing, showcasing the huge range of styles of UK Hardcore (and beyond) whilst also giving dozens of producers and artists the opportunity to shine. And obviously, its' great to see names like Scott Brown, Brisk and Stormtrooper on a Hardcore album once again. 

Don't forget you can follow me on Facebook or Twitter by clicking the links at the bottom or top of this page. Feel free to leave comments and I will respond.

As December approaches, I keep seeing advertisements for the Hardcore Heaven Awards. I'm delighted to announce I am going to be running the Hardcore Review Awards this December. Keep it locked onto Facebook and Twitter for more details soon!

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Current Classic Track of Choice:    Sharkey - Ascending Angels 

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