Views from the club dancefloor

When lads, weirdos, ex-ravers and metalheads meet.

The warm up sets at Gabber Central are like a museum exhibition, documenting the best in 90s Dutch gabber, millennium hardcore and industrial hardcore. Fast cuts and sharp beats stab at the entangled mass before the decks. 

The event’s name, Gabber Central Presents: The Resurrection II, speaks to the revival of local interest in early hardcore. With line-ups heavy on vinyl sets, Gabber Central events seek to recreate the golden era of hardcore. Nods to Australia’s thriving hardcore scene from the 90s – Jawcep plays Geoff Da Chef’s Noise, for example – are well received. 

A few middle-aged punters linger on the outskirts of the dancefloor, marvelling at the spectacle but lacking the energy of their E-fuelled heyday. Nike logos, chain necklaces, sports bras and urban polo shirts dominate but there is no unifying uniform. Interspersed among the traditional gabber heads are what look like a few doofers and punk rockers. 

The headliner is DJ Mark N. Mark Newlands. Founder of Bloody Fist Records in 1994. General shit stirrer. Turntablist. Wizard of Oz. Harbinger of beats guaranteed to wake up your dead nan in her grave and piss of your neighbours. Globally-respected producer and underground icon – both at the same time. 

Probably the best DJ Australia has ever produced, in other words. 

Mark N is one of the artists who rumours and legends seem to cling to. One mate of mine claims he once blew and set on fire the speakers at a gig in Melbourne. 

When I try to reach out to him for an interview, I first try the email listed under media contact on his Facebook page. It’s astounding the dinosaur even has a Facebook page but I guess everyone has to get with the times eventually. The email to however, does not work. “Address not found” the screen reads. I recognise with admiration that I am being trolled. When I try to reach him via other avenues, my interview request is declined. 

Some stories, fanciful for their sheer level of ambition, are true. In an interview for the ABC series Not Quite Art, Mark explained the production process for one track, Steelworks Requiem: “I went to the [BHP] steelworks [in Newcastle] with a bunch of friends and we recorded all of the noise and the racket… It made sense to put a kick drum under that and make a 180 BPM industrial hardcore piece.”

I don’t think there is anyone in Australia who gives less of a fuck about what the public thinks of them than Mark Newlands. 

More detail about Steelworks Requiem are revealed on Bloody Fist’s bandcamp: “A portable DAT machine accompanied us on an ‘open to the public’ tour of the steelworks, much to the bewilderment and universe-halting shock of the other tourists and steelworks staff. The highlights from the DAT recording were then sampled from the DAT and massaged into a cohesive sound collage. Every sound heard on this track is sourced from the steelworks, save and except for the kickdrum. Hi-hats in the track are actually samples of valves letting off steam at various places in the steelworks. Several attempts to try and convince BHP to help fund a Bloody Fist 12″ release of the track to commemorate the closure of the steelworks in late 1999 were met with an appropriate mix of disdain and confusion.”

DJ Mark N starts off his set with sounds that barely rate as hardcore. Hard techno is probably a more accurate label. We hear the first hints of acid for the night. The crowd seems to bob rather than bounce. As a punter who does not confine himself to genre boundaries, the change is welcome.

While Mark N is a breakcore pioneer, this set focuses more on heavy four to the floor madness. He quickly ramps up the intensity.

Many current hardcore and hardstyle prodcucers, in an effort to appeal to the mainstream, have traded the relentless drive of hardcore for radio-friendly drops, cheesy samples and nursery-rhyme treble. DJ Mark N is an entirely different beast. 

When there is a drop – in Attack, for instance – Mark uses his turntablist skills to snatch up the crowd in his fist. He spins the record back. Again and again and again and again. “I will attack”, goes Turbo B in the hip hop sample. “I will attack and –”. “I will attack”. “I will attack and –”. There is incoherent shouting – hopefully someone abusing DJ Mark N for being a deadset unhinged cunt. 

Finally, with his iron fist, he tosses the ragdoll crowd into a stampede of merciless kick drums. 

“I will attack and you don’t want that”. 

A friend puts his hands on the wall of the Oxford Underground, searching for a heartbeat. The world vibrates. People around me hakk faster than seems humanly possible. Arms and legs – waves crashing into each other – blur. The room melts.

I look at my friend. Wide eyes stare back at me. 

The set transcends into speedcore. With the frenetic pace of scratching, it’s pretty much noise. At this point, it’s less about the music and more about the experience. It’s an aural assault, and sheer spectacle. Some people are simply immobilised, mesmerised. Those in the inner sanctum of the dancefloor flail, unsure how to dance to this. 

As soon as the set finishes, we rush for the exit, buoyed, relieved, shaken and energised. A friend, who does not usually listen to hardcore, asks me what I thought of the set. He says that there is something fascinating occuring psychologically within the heads of hardcore listeners, who look “harder” than your usual PLUR raver. 

I try to explain to him – not very well – that in chaos there is serenity. Fast, abrasive music brings people together. With the relentlessness and speed of hardcore, the shared experience on the dancefloor – something to be endured as well embraced – becomes an avenue for releasing anger and pain. For someone who rarely frequents a club – I much prefer illegal raves  – it is disappointing that the music in Sydney’s DIY rave scene, while left-field and challenging, rarely elevates me to an altered state of consciousness in the way DJ Mark N did at Gabber Central.

Sometimes, when there is a true master behind the decks like DJ Mark N, it is possible for a crowd to reach a point of collective catharsis. It helps when you know you may just have witnessed the best set of your life.