You all know happy hardcore right? A genre filled with chipmunk vocals, nursery rhyme synth riffs and adoring fans who all once owned a Vauxhall Nova SRi. Well, that’s the stereotype but take away all of the assumed facts, let down your music snobbery and what I’m about to reveal is something of a musical wonder that helped shape a multitude of other music genres.
Happy hardcore stemmed from what was known as hardcore and to a certain extent many of the releases between 1993 to 1994 still contained elements of both hardcore and jungle.
Breakbeat was still king and way before the 4/4 kick drum infused everything, many jungle DJs such as Hype, Grooverider and DJ SS were all supporting many of the later hardcore releases.
The music moved on, borrowing elements from techno and gabber including a faster BPM and somewhat sentimental vocals that are still seen today in the guise of UK hardcore.
What’s interesting about happy hardcore is that it took a massive amount of stick around 1996 in the same way that jump up drum & bass did post the year 2000. The market quickly became flooded with copycat tunes making it a real struggle to find good quality releases in the abundance of nonsense. Many adored the cheesier element and certain producers even went as far as to release comedy tunes to poke fun at the how cringeworthy the genre had become.
Feuds relating to sampling between drum & bass and happy hardcore producers broke out causing this to overspill into the independent record shops, thus seeing certain tunes being withdrawn to avoid legal action. Fans of both genres were usually divided on either side and although not in the same way as on the football terraces, there was sometimes an edge over music policies – especially at multi genre events such as Dreamscape and Helter Skelter.
Happy hardcore relentlessly continued to evolve, the likes of Hardcore Heaven and United Dance religiously supported the genre and although it seemed to have a limited shelf life, the progression to UK hardcore made significant impact and, in some respects, the industry grew into a successful business model with a new generation of devoted fans.
Darren Styles flew the commercial flag for the scene, releasing two very successfully solo albums, full of hand in the air anthems, each with their own unique identity. MC Whizzkid, Billy ‘Daniel’ Bunter, DJ Gammer and the ravers favourite DJ Dougal among others have paved the way for the new generation and even crossed over into other genres successfully.
This isn’t to say the new generation of hardcore has not seen it’s troubles, what with the embarrassing meltdown of the relationship between DJ SY and MC Storm and the cancellation of this years Dreamscape event in Milton Keynes.
It just goes to show that some things should stay, well respected, in the past and certain subjects are best dealt with behind closed doors in a grown up manner.
So here’s my top 20 happy hardcore tracks, certainly some of these tunes won’t be to everyones tastes but that’s sometimes the point of individual charts although I do promise that this article will have more weight and correct factual information than a recent attempt from another blog..
All titles of tracks contain Discogs links so you can pick up anything with ease (and probably for not a lot of money)
Ramos, Supreme & Sunset Regime
Higher & Higher
Released as part of the ‘Life Generator 2 Young Guns E.P.’ which featured some really questionable cover art and was no doubt taken at the photo booth in London’s Trocadero. This was a popular spot for cover art ideas, in 1997 the Riddim Track Records lot also conjured up this cover for their ‘Strictly Business’ album.
‘Higher & Higher’ was a popular among most of the big Happy Hardcore DJ’s and certainly the best release from the E.P. although it contained a mixture of good and bad elements of the genre. Ravey stabs and hard kick drums combined with an almost Amen like breakbeat, fantastic piano breakdowns and the “your love is taking me higher and higher” vocal sadly met some obscure robotic sound effects and a silly riff that sounds nothing more than an afterthought.
Play the track to around the 3:30 mark then quickly mix out of it – job done.
The Ultimate Seduction
Vinyl Momentum Records UK
DJ Demand, a resident DJ at Club Kinetic and responsible for a vast amount of unknown Happy Hardcore releases spanning from 1994 to 2011. ‘The Ultimate Seduction’ was released on a 10” picture disc and although you probably won’t remember the majority of the track as it’s pretty generic you will, however, remember the massive hands in the air piano breakdown and “the ultimate seduction” vocal – quite where the rest of the tune went I have no idea.
Unknown & Temptation
Feel It (DJ SY & Unknown Remix)
DJ SY and Unknown were pretty much buy on sight producers around this time, this was due to the fact that their tunes were always very good but also they were extremely well supported on the DJ circuit meaning if you saw a new release in your local record shop from these guys you would have undoubtedly heard it a month or so ago being played on dub at one of the many raves across the UK (yes dubplates existed in Happy Hardcore).
Homegrown Records really had a unique take on Happy Hardcore and retained the breakbeat element over distorted stomping kick drums for longer than most. This is a typical release from the label with excellent time stretched drum stabs, melodic pianos and that haunting vocal everyone will no doubt remember.
Fans of Jungle should check this release for the wicked Hyper on Experience remix on the flip.
So In Love (Happy Stomp Remix)
Possible one of Seduction’s first Happy Hardcore tunes with a 4/4 kick drum and less emphasis on breakbeats and certainly an anthem to anyone that attended Evolution, the over 14’s event’s at The Sanctuary. It’s a clever mix of older Hardcore elements fused with upfront (at the time) bouncy piano riffs and hands in the air breakdowns.
I swear I have heard this tune more than most Happy Hardcore of the time, probably because I was regularly attending events and literally everyone in the scene was playing this. It’s also one of the tunes that started the divide between Jungle and Hardcore and was almost certainly sniffed at by the likes of Hype and Grooverider.
The flip, ‘Can U Feel It (‘94 Revival Mix)’ plays tribute to Seduction’s roots and is certainly worth a mention.
DJ SY & Unknown Feat. Becks
Just Another Label (JAL) Premium
I’m not 100% sure this was hugely supported by big DJ’s of the era but I certainly rinsed it to death in 1998. It’s a typical JAL release of the era with stomping kick drums, harsh hi hats and enough bounce to cause an earthquake. It’s frantic and far quicker than many of the releases in this top 20 although from memory around the time producers were speeding up their production to keep in line with everything else (including Drum & Bass) speeding up.
Superb vocals from Becks who also appeared on a few other classics of the era.
Force & Styles
Surprisingly this tune is a B side to the anthem ‘Shining Down’ although most would probably agree that ‘Apollo 13’ was certainly worthy of it’s own A side release. It’s almost a cross between the Euro Trance sound of the time and Happy Hardcore and features no female vocals or crazy effects which made a nice refreshing change.
At home in either the main arena or the Technodrome at Helter Skelter, this tune really held it’s own for a number of years and still sounds fresh in 2014.
4 Tune Fairytales
My Little Fantasy
The musical jewelry box intro of this tune still makes the hair on my arms stand up regardless of how many times I’ve played it. It’s a timeless slab of Happy Hardcore meets a softer style of Gabba that was heavily supported by DJ Vibes and MC Livelee.
SY & Unknown
Mashed up breakbeats as only Sy and Unknown knew how at the time, a total dancefloor destroyer that also featured the scratched to pieces “ugh” at the very start.
It’s the beat programming on the intro that really builds the tune which thankfully doesn’t stop after the initial breakdown. Quite a mixture of stabs, piano chords and vocals sampled from Sweet Mercy’s ‘Reach Out’
Ramos, Supreme & Sunset Regime
Got To Believe
Noticeably slower than anything after 1994, this wicked tune from Ramos and his mates on Hectic Records was a dreamy affair probably aimed at the chill out room or the end of a 7am DJ set where the dancefloor was too tired to move. Simplistic as they come with a small variety of spaced out pads, piano keys and the “got to believe at my door” vocal it’s something a bit different and also has the bonus of featuring the original ‘Sunshine’ on the flip.
The ‘Heaven’ mix is also worth looking out for.
Happy Jack Productions
“Get your back in” or something or other stutters through the introduction followed by a great piano breakdown combined with some dotted about female vocals. It’s a wicked breakbeat come hardcore tune that didn’t really break any boundaries in the scene but didn’t do anything to upset anyone. One of Hixxy’s softer tunes and certainly one for the collector of lesser known tunes from the mid 90’s. No prizes for guessing the vocal samples but feel free to comment!
Force & Styles Feat. Jenna
Heart of Gold
Everyone loves a one sided promo don’t they? This one was certainly a huge slab of vinyl to bedroom DJ’s and collectors alike and flew off the racks back in 1996. Apparently limited to 2,000 copies initially it crossed over to many teenagers who had no previously association to the genre.
The only part of this tune I never really understood was the synthesized electric guitar, that’s a really strange crossover in my opinion. Meatloaf wouldn’t be pleased.
Don’t go near the house remix..
Shooting Star (Euro Mix)
Next Generation Records
Euro vibes all the way with Bang’s ‘Shooting Star’ which was probably the tune to play anywhere as a happy hardcore DJ in 1997. In a similar respect to ‘Heart of Gold’ it was the other defining tune of the genre during the late 90’s and certainly represented where the music direction was headed.
Everyone know’s the vocals to this, I don’t need to type them out but no doubt when they kick in you will be either humming them, singing under your breathe or banging them out wholeheartedly while reminiscing on light sticks and whistles.
DJ Vibes & Wishdokta
Want Your Love
Asylum Music Inc
“I want your love, give me your love” spreads a token of sunshine across the rave, hands in the air, whistles and horns everywhere and no doubt a load of people wearing UV jackets.
It’s just one of those tunes that symbolises where Happy Hardcore was in 1995 before broken beats were phased out and hard kick drums were introduced. The synth stabs at around the 2 minute mark are so good in this tune, nothing complicated at all but just seem to fit.
Quality no nonsense production and a great mix of elements of the era.
Alchemist & Fade
Keep On Trying
Burn Out Records
From memory the snare stabs in the into on this tune always sounded bloody terrible in the mix and wasn’t really one of those DJ friendly tracks but nethertheless it’s a wicked tune from ‘95.
Quite why this didn’t hit anthem status I do not know although it must have done fairly well as DJ Slipmatt produced a remix later in 1996 and although this proved extremely popular, it didn’t really improve on the original in my opinion.
Juicy Cuts Volume. 1 (Untitled)
During the mid 90’s a musical war broke out between Dutch and English happy hardcore and gabba producers. This was mainly over illegal sampling (if you can call it that) and profiting from bootlegging each others tunes. ‘Juicy Cuts Volume. 1’ aka the better version of Paul Elstak’s ‘Love U More’ was a United Dance anthem and clearly at the time Seduction was onto a winner with the tune and his association with the bootleg loving label.
I’m listening back to the track now and thinking how Paul Elstak must have been ripping his hair out (maybe that’s why he’s bald?) at the time as it’s such a blatant rip off and could have easily been an official relick for the happy hardcore market.
Make your own mind up by checking out the original version here
DJ Dougal (Dr. Who)
Love Of My Life
This was one of those tunes that as a DJ you could slide into the mix and literally everyone on the dance floor would know what was coming in. Potentially a mix of Dutch and English production values and, at the time, was being hammered by DJ Vibes during his phase of playing an eclectic mix of European Happy Hardcore.
An anthem and probably one that Dougal was never really recognised for before the powers of the internet gave away his secret.
DJ Dougal & DJ Vibes
Not on Label
For some reason this tune will ALWAYS remind me of sitting on the 109 bus from Cambridge to Ely on a Saturday afternoon, headphones in my ears listening to a Dreamscape tape and eating a Bacon Double Cheeseburger from Burger King. Random I know.
A bonafide Hardcore classic that retains all the elements of earlier Breakbeat but adds loads of top end pianos and sneaky kick drums. It’s at a moderate BPM and doesn’t take itself too seriously but that was the beauty of the tune and was certainly one of Happy Hardcores first anthems.
Follow The Sun
I wasn’t aware of this amazing video until compiling the top 20, it’s simply outstanding shit but saying that, what did I expect from a Happy Hardcore budget video from the 90’s?
Triple J aka Jimmy J, Justin Time and Jenka were a superb Happy Hardcore trio responsible for a bunch of great tunes released on Just Another Label and this one, released on Clued was no exception.
Rinsed by every Happy Hardcore DJ of the era and an anthem at The Sanctuary where promoters such as Hardcore Heaven and Slammin’ Vinyl packed out the warehouse with ravers month in month out.
Force & Styles
Pretty Green Eyes
The haunting pipe and piano melody combined with superb uplifting vocals, infectious hi hats and crashing cymbals make this one of the best examples of the genre and one that will always be a true anthem to the scene.
Respect goes out to MC Junior who sadly passed away on 31st December 2011.
DJ Brisk & Trixxy
An absolute monster of a tune combining classic Method Man lyrics and the vocals “open your eyes, see all the love in me, I got enough forever”. It’s a tune that ripped up raves across the globe in 1997 and was hugely popular in both the UK and US. Certainly deserving of the number 1 spot although it took me an age to decide what was most deserving so feel free to agree or disagree with me via Twitter.
Every tune in this top 20 does the 90’s happy hardcore scene some kind of justice in their own individual way and I’m sure you will agree it’s certainly a way of seeing how the music evolved over time.
Big up all the happy hadcore DJ’s, MC’s and producers from the 90’s that made the scene what it was and thank you for all the wicked memories!