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This Is (Happy) Hardcore

Magazine Rack

Inside a burgeoning post-pandemic sub-subculture reveling in ultra-fast BPMs, chaotic genre-hopping, and the candy-colored aesthetics of 90s rave.

By John Chiaverina


One Saturday night in late September, fueled by a Celsius energy drink and a childish musical curiosity, I found myself headed to a wooded part of one of New York City’s outer boroughs. To get there, I had to take an hour-long subway ride, ascend a steep hill, stumble along unlit train tracks, and, surrounded by woods, negotiate something resembling a trail. My shoes were getting muddy, and I had to check the GPS coordinates I’d received via Instagram DM to make sure I was in the right place. Finally, I spotted a laser in the distance, cutting through the trees like a neon beacon. I was going to a rave.

As I approached a clearing, the music playing became more apparent: A remix of “Dominator” by Human Resource, a hardcore techno tune from 1991 with a synth lead so abrasive that some have compared it to the sound of a vacuum cleaner. The attendees, who were dancing around in the dirt and facing a modest DJ rig and sound system, skewed young. There was a kid with colorful hair and phat pants who looked like some spawn of a SoundCloud rapper from 2017 and a candy raver from the late 90s. There was a serious-looking shirtless man who made small, deliberate moves with glowsticks affixed to each of his five fingers. There were people documenting the party with old DV cameras—one of the promoters said they were working on producing a DVD. I could’ve almost tricked myself into thinking I had traveled back in time if it weren’t for the iPhone that I was using to light my way.

The free party was thrown by Helltekk, a New York DJ crew known for hosting renegade gatherings in out-of-the-way locations. Established in 2021 by DJs Dakota Velasquez and Fortified Structures, Helltekk is one of many nodes in a swirling post-pandemic American rave sub-subculture embracing maximum BPMs, chaotic genre-hopping, and an unabashed affinity for the more extreme aesthetic tropes of 90s rave. It’s a scene that feels like a raw counterweight to the sleek, Berlin-inspired club experience that has dominated Brooklyn nightlife for the past ten years—precisely because it embraces elements of the genre’s history that “serious” dance music fans have long considered to be in bad taste. 

“Pre-pandemic, it was a lot more niche,” said DJ Gabberbitch69, who throws DIY parties centered around new mutant strains of fast rave music with her Washington DC-based collective, 140+. “There were definitely people receptive to it,” she said. “But not like this.”

At these gatherings, which happen all over the country but find heat centers in New York and Los Angeles, ravers dress in some strange pastiche of 90s and Y2K fashion, and the energy gets so high that things often break out into a mosh pit. The music, too, tends to move along its own jostling timeline. Kinetic, cartoonish rave styles like gabber, breakcore, and happy hardcore share space with equally intense internet-native phenomena—the helium-laced, sped-up remixes often referred to as nightcore, the amorphous and contested digital-first genre hyperpop—and the faster, noisier end of techno. If the sounds are varied, they are connected by velocity and life-affirming absurdity.

At different points that night, I heard a drum and bass flip of “Born Slippy” by Underworld, and DJ Slugo’s Chicago juke classic “Godzilla.” I heard plenty of gabber, a Dutch-born genre that some compare to the sound of a jackhammer. I even heard a bit of Jersey club. Special guest Dazegxd, a young DJ and producer with ties to the hyperpop-adjacent microgenre digicore, rinsed jungle classics as kids in baggy pants huddled close to the DJ booth and two shirtless men boxed at the edge of the clearing, a ring of spectators looking on. There were moments where it sounded like the PA, stressed and distorted, might give out altogether.


Illustration by Rasmus Svensson

American rave has always been a complicated proposition. Though the music’s main building blocks, house and techno, were stateside innovations rooted in the queer and Black communities of Chicago and Detroit, US rave was an imported take on a subculture that exploded in Britain in the late 1980s. UK rave combined the fundamentals of American dance music with a pop-psychedelic sensibility marked by smiley-face shirts, mind-altering experiences, and durational parties in locations of dubious legality. When we’re talking about rave, we are talking about that general template.  

Throughout the 90s and early 2000s, American rave was an underground phenomenon that sometimes threatened to become something more, occasionally poking its head through the pothole in the form of a Moby record or a very special episode of ‘Dawson’s Creek.’ But rave never reached the commercial groundswell of grunge, rap, or even pop-punk—and as time went on, the scene got younger and druggier, resulting in ‘Dateline’ exposés and a brand new American youth culture panic. After then-Senator Joe Biden sponsored the Illicit Drug Anti-Proliferation Act of 2003, it became easier for law enforcement to target rave promoters for drug infractions that occurred at their parties. Whatever forward momentum American rave may have once had more or less disappeared. 

For almost two decades, the American rave aesthetic, with its garish colors, giant pants, and candy necklaces, became almost fossilized in amber. Parties still happened, though less frequently and with less of a focus on musical innovation. To most Americans, if raves were known as anything, it was as places where teenagers went to do drugs. And in the years that followed, Americans with a taste for forward-thinking dance music pivoted to a variety of concurrent scenes—blog house, minimal techno, dubstep—that would ultimately culminate in EDM, a generation-defining moment, fueled by Skrillex’s haircut and Steve Aoki’s freakishly precise cake-throwing abilities, that would push electronic music to commercial heights only hinted at during rave’s 90s run. During the 2010s, perhaps as a corrective to the cruder elements of EDM and the hipster-aligned electro music of the aughts, a poker-faced techno and house sensibility became popular in American urban centers.

Archival sources like YouTube, Tumblr, TikTok, and Instagram not only help to provide the rave-curious with an understanding of the music, but also the countercultural codes that were so key to those communities, from the clandestine nature of the parties to to the preferred pants of its participants.

Through the various boom and bust cycles of American electronic music, high BPM genres like happy hardcore and gabber never died, though they were often derided by purists as a bastardization of more traditional forms of dance music. The fast tempos of gabber, for instance, would give many clubbers a headache; happy hardcore’s embrace of the cheesiest parts of rave music—chipmunk vocals and pianos—render it abhorrent to a wide swath of electronic music fans, even lovers of gabber. But it’s been almost four years since Covid rearranged American nightlife, and there’s a new wave of partygoers who lack the baggage of techno snobs or rave’s old guard. They’re seeing this music through fresh eyes and ears and spitting it back out into the world with a kind of post-pandemic mania.

“The generation of people going out now is different; they just have been raised differently and have different concerns,” said Vivian Host, a writer, DJ, and host of the podcast Rave to the Grave. She has been a part of the American rave and electronic music scene since the 90s. Host pointed to the amount of time and information available to young people who “came of raving age” during the pandemic. Archival sources like YouTube, Tumblr, TikTok, and Instagram not only help to provide the rave-curious with an understanding of the music, but also the countercultural codes that were so key to those communities, from the clandestine nature of the parties to to the preferred pants of its participants.

“Imagine you’ve been dreaming about being a part of this scene,” Host said. “Well, I don’t think your dream of the scene is going to a nightclub with $20 drinks and a million security guards. Your dream of what you’ve seen online: this wild rave culture.”


Illustration by Rasmus Svensson | Source flyers by @sobstoryy @gatebreaking @xxhardbit3s

The result of all of this R&D is an era of party kids who are manifesting, in real-time and space, sounds and images previously relegated to their screens. While reporting this story, I spent a lot of time cruising Instagram, looking at dark, blurry transmissions from warehouses, forests, DIY venues, and train tracks around America. In photos from parties thrown by the Los Angeles crew Power Source—who, by the way, have promoted their events using everything from scratch-off tickets to some sort of weird trucker pill—there were moments where, due to the combination of fashion, setting, and music, I got confused and thought I was looking at the Instagram account Map Points Projectz, which documents LA’s 90s rave scene.

It might be easy or even fashionable to write off these parties as retro cosplay, a symptom of a larger culture that is spinning its wheels in the mud. But some of the scene’s participants see the current cultural moment as a result of the past ten years of underground music development. 

Adam Weiss has been throwing warehouse parties under the Ham On Everything umbrella for over a decade. At first, they were essentially raves with a rap music soundtrack. Alongside his business partner David Romo, he booked Chief Keef, Lil B, and pretty much every other groundbreaking underground rapper of the era. Slowly, though, and well before the pandemic, Ham On Everything started throwing actual raves. Now, they have stopped booking rap shows altogether. “When SoundCloud Rap got washed—felt washed up or got too popularized—those kids got into nightcore or hyperpop,” Weiss said. “And then I think that the next step from nightcore and hyperpop are these happy hardcore and hardcore raves.” It makes sense. The tempo of nightcore and hyperpop often mirrors that of rave, and hyperpop innovators like Danny L Harle have publicly declared their love for happy hardcore.

No doubt, like most fluttering scenes, what’s happening in the American rave underground has been teed up by years of slow development, diffused throughout various communities and touching on a number of disparate aesthetic and musical threads. In an attempt to explain exactly how we got to this place, which in itself feels transitional and multifaceted, I could make a conspiracy theory-style tackboard connecting different brands of noisy techno, queer club music, experimental punk, and hyperpop. It would be granular and tedious.

It’s safe to say, though, that a new generation has sparked life into a rave community that was, for a long time, mainly fueled by its own internal language. “In NYC, the scene is very inclusive and queer/POC-led, which creates an energy that hardcore rave hasn’t seen before,” said Lexxy Jax, a New York-based DJ and producer. Jax is a part of 909 Worldwide, a crew that has been using parties and compilations to incubate a new, hyper-inclusive, ultra-online rave aesthetic, one that latches onto the flashier and more joyous parts of the hardcore sensibility. “[That diversity] affects every aspect of the scene, from the music to the clothes to the way we dance,” Jax said. 


Illustration by Rasmus Svensson

One visible avatar of the scene is Los Angeles DJ Flapjack The Kandi Kid. Flapjack dresses in period-correct candy raver clothing (goggles, beanies, huge trousers) and plays all-vinyl sets of happy hardcore and gabber, executed with a turntablist flair. He sometimes rocks a sideways visor, and it’s not unusual to see him scratch with parts of his body that aren’t his hands.

Flapjack entered the old-style rave scene at the height of EDM, which makes him both a new jack and, for an even newer group of ravers, almost an old-school legend. “To them, their OG is probably Flapjack,” Weiss said of the new group of ravers in Los Angeles. “If I book Paulina Taylor, who’s a 90s happy hardcore legend, Flapjack’s really excited about it, and if they feel his excitement, then it makes them excited. But they don’t know who the fuck Paulina Taylor is.”

Last spring, I saw Flapjack play a set at Market Hotel in Brooklyn. Tama Gucci, the DJ warming up the room for Flapjack, spun in the chaotic style that has come to partly define this moment in time. There were plenty of remixes, of Hilary Duff and of Sexyy Red. But when Flapjack stepped to the decks, and the crowd crammed up front and started blowing on whistles, I felt like I’d been transported to a Brooklyn warehouse party in 1998, or at least my conception of what that might’ve felt like.

That’s not to say that Flapjack didn’t do a scratch routine to a rave remix of “Genie in a Bottle” by Christina Aguilera, because he did. That’s also not to say that Flapjack didn’t play a remix of “The Bad Touch” by Bloodhound Gang, because he did that, too. But as Flapjack, clad in an impressive amount of candy necklaces, lifted his turntable into the air and scratched, I saw a connection between the past and the present, a link in a larger chain. If these subcultural gestures and codes—nascent in the wider scheme of history, morphing along with culture and technology—still matter, it’s because they are fueled by the kind of suspended animation that can only come from young people freaking out in a room together. The bedrock spirit of rave, a fleeting gonzo utopianism, isn’t just durable; it provides temporary transcendence in a shaky world. 

“The rave music scene means pure freedom to me,” Flapjack would tell me later that year. “The freedom of expression and flow of ideas between all shapes, sizes, identities, mindsets, and capacities. There’s nothing else like it and nowhere else I can see myself existing.”

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