By Inbar Preiss (via AreWeEurope)
Machine gun beats, heart-shattering bass lines, buzzing distortion, tracksuits and sneakers kicking to looping rhythms, shaved heads with clenched jaws and pumping fists—they say there are no half-measures when it comes to gabber. You either love it or you can’t bear it. We are talking about the subgenre of early hardcore techno which burgeoned in the Netherlands in the 1990s, and is still revered across Europe.
The genre originated in the Dutch city of Rotterdam in the early 1990s, as a response to the more high-brow techno scene which was unfolding in Amsterdam. It became increasingly popular throughout the Netherlands over the course of the decade, grafting a subculture into mainstream consciousness. The word “gabber” is an old slang word from Amsterdam, derived from the Hebrew word for “friend.” It is used in Dutch as “buddy” or “pal”—emphasizing the casualness and down-to-earthness of the movement. Gabber is not only the music genre, but also encases the stereotype of the music aficionado and the lifestyle.
25 years later, gabber remains loved by many. The annual summer hardstyle music festival in the Netherlands, Defqon.1, attracts 65,000 people, setting a stage for the genre and its ancestors. Gabber has also made its way outside the Netherlands. Seven years ago, the Parisian label and DJ collective Casual Gabberz began organizing small parties in clubs that at first “couldn’t handle it.” A member of the collective, Paul Orzini, says that the collective recontextualized the gabber story into their own city, with the intent to destabilize the techno scene in Paris. Casual Gabberz now play in big clubs and festivals around Europe.
“Gabber brings a certain kind of brutality, a roughness that resonates with the chaos of our contemporary world,” Paul said several years ago. Today, he answers a few questions about his experience as a part of the evolution of gabber in Europe.
What does gabber mean for you?
I like the literal meaning of it—as the old Amsterdam slang for “friend/mate.” We always refer to it as a joke with the guys of Casual Gabberz. As for the music, it is unique because of the high bpm, the roughness of the sound, and the fact that, as a form of counterculture, it has become so popular and is still one of the only European subcultures that is so big and influential.
Gabber was meant to be a response to the snobby and pretentious techno music scene. Does it still have the same social commentary today? Or has it fallen prey to the same snobbism?
I think all of it at the same time. In a different time and context when we started the Casual Gabberz parties in Paris seven years ago, it was also our own response to the boring and pretentious techno scene in the city. Today, this is becoming less and less true and there’s nothing really controversial about playing a hardcore track in a set nowadays (which is great). I don’t like the idea of playing gabber ironically, which is a kind of snobbism we may witness at the moment, as if it were opposite to the rest of the techno/house scenes. This “new gabber trend” might be highly visible but is still way smaller compared to the original hardcore scene which has always been commercial. (When you do events with thousands of people every weekend and tickets are up to €70 how can it not be?!)
In your experience, what is the difference between the Dutch and French responses to the genre?
It’s hard to imagine how popular it is in its homeland for people of my generation in France. While I was working in Amsterdam, I was really obsessed with the subject. I was asking all of my colleagues questions about the gabber golden era in the 1990s, and it amazed me how every single Dutch colleague either remembered the scene or had personal memories and experiences of it.
In France, the free techno party movement has always been big and made its own sound, at times even in response to the gabber sound of Holland. With Casual Gabberz, we arrived to this context, but years later claiming the early gabber sound as our main influence but with still an “outsider flavor” touch that we want to keep. It would be stupid to purely reproduce the Dutch sound.
What is the Gabber fashion, and where does it stem from?
The original gabber look includes a pair of air max and an Australian tracksuit originating from the 90s. Legend says that it was at first due to the comfort it provides at the raves, but it became a sign of belonging to a scene and still stands today. It is really appealing and it’s been a few years that it has been hyped by fashion that re-integrates some of its code.
Thanks Paul for telling us about your experience in the world of gabber.
This article is part of the Discover series, a collaboration between the Music Moves Europe Talent Awards and Are We Europe. This project is cofunded by the Creative Europe programme.