Hardcore (electronic dance music genre)

Hardcore is a subgenre of electronic dance music based on Belgian New Beat industrial style of Techno, that originated in the Netherlands in the 1990s. It is distinguished by faster tempos (160 to 200 BPM or more), the intensity of the kicks and the synthesized bass (in some subgenres), the rhythm and the atmosphere of the themes (sometimes violent), the usage of saturation and experimentation close to that of industrial dance music. It would spawn subgenres such as gabber.


Early 1970s to early 1980s

To understand the emergence of hardcore one has to go back to the 1970s and early 1980s, to find signs of hard electronic dance music within industrial music. Groups such as Throbbing Gristle, Coil, Cabaret Voltaire, SPK, Foetus and Einstürzende Neubauten produced music using a wide range of electronic instruments. The message diffused by industrial was then very provocative. Some of the musical sounds and experimentation of industrial have directly influenced hardcore since the beginning of the movement.


In the mid-1980s, under the influence of the Belgian group Front 242, electronic body music (EBM), a new genre more accessible and more dancing inspired by industrial and new wave, appeared. This style is characterized by minimalism, cold sounds unlike disco, funk or house, with powerful beats, generally combined with aggressive vocals and an aesthetic close to industrial or punk music. When EBM has met new beat, another Belgian genre, and acid house, the music has changed to a harder sound. All the elements were here for the arrival of hardcore.

The term hardcore is not new in the music world. It was first used to designate a more radical movement within punk rock (Black Flag, Minor Threat, Bad Brains...) which, in addition to hardening the music, also attached importance to their attitude and their way of life as in the street where it was born: violent, underground, but engaged and sincere. The term has then been reused when hip-hop emerged in the late 1980s, designating the harder part of the hip-hop, with the same characteristics: a harder sound, engaged lyrics and a whole way of life dedicated to the respect of the values shown by rappers like KRS-One or Public Enemy. The term hardcore techno has first been used by EBM groups like à;GRUMH..., Pankow, and Leæther Strip in the late 1980s, although their music had nothing to do with hardcore. à;GRUMH...'s Sucking Energy (Hard Core Mix), released in 1985, was the first track ever to use the term hardcore, within an EDM context.


In 1990, the German producer Marc Trauner also known as Mescalinum United is the first to claim to make hardcore techno with his track We Have Arrived, largely considered as a track founding the genre. The band Together released its track "Hardcore Uproar" in 1990. Music journalist Simon Reynolds has written books on hardcore techno, covering bands like L.A. Style and Human Resource.

In the early 1990s, the terms hardcore and darkcore were also used to designate some primitive forms of breakbeat and drum and bass which were very popular in England and from which have emerged several famous producers like The Prodigy, Lords of Acid and also Goldie. It introduced sped up hip-hop breakbeats, piano breaks, dub and low frequency basslines and cartoon-like noises, which has been retrospectively called 'old skool' hardcore, and is widely regarded as the progenitor of happy hardcore (which later lost the breakbeats) and jungle (which alternatively lost the techno style keyboard stabs and piano breaks).

Around 1993, the style became clearly defined and was simply named hardcore, as it left its influences from Detroit techno.The official birth of the hardcore is supposedly known from the release of the track "We Have Arrived" by the German producer Mescalinum United, of Frankfurt. Trauner founded the label Planet Core Productions in 1989 and has produced more than 500 tracks, including 300 by himself until 1996. Another important name of the hardcore scene was PCP: Miroslav Pajic, better known as Miro. His group PCP popularized a slow, heavy, minimal and very dark form of hardcore that is now designated as darkcore or doomcore. In the United States, the New York pioneer of techno Lenny Dee launched the label Industrial Strength Records in 1991 that has federated a large part of the American scene, making New York one of the biggest centers of early American hardcore. Other American producers on the label included Deadly Buda and The Horrorist, but the label has also produced producers from other nationalities. At the same time in Rotterdam, the DJs and producers Paul Elstak and Rob Fabrie popularized a speedier style, with saturated bass-lines, quickly known as gabber (now called early hardcore), and its more commercial and accessible form, happy hardcore

Paul Elstak founded Rotterdam Records in 1992, which became the first hardcore label in the Netherlands. In 1992 at Utrecht, a large rave called The Final Exam led to the creation of the label ID&T. Launched in 1993, the concept of Thunderdome quickly popularized hardcore music in Europe with a catalogue of CD compilations and events, attracting thousands of young people that launched the gabber movement. Just during the single year of 1993, four compilations were released with increasing success. Many artists on the compilations have become well-known figures in the scene, notably 3 Steps Ahead, DJ Buzz Fuzz, The Dreamteam, Neophyte, Omar Santana, and Charly Lownoise and Mental Theo in the gabber/happy hardcore registry. The same year, the label Mokum Records is created by Freddy B who has had success thanks to artists and groups like Technohead Tellurian, The Speedfreak, Scott Brown, and the Belgian musician Liza N'Eliaz pioneer of the speedcore.

In England, the members of the sound system Spiral Tribe, including Stormcore, 69db, Crystal Distortion and Curley have hardened their acid-breakbeat sound, becoming the pioneers of acidcore and hardtechno genres. In 1994, they founded the label Network 23 which among others has produced Somatic Responses, Caustic Visions, Unit Moebius, establishing the musical and visual basis of the free party rave.

In France, the pioneers of hardcore include Laurent Hô.

In the late 1990s, hardcore progressively changed as early hardcore waned in popularity. This left a place for other hardcore-influenced styles like Mákina and Hardstyle.


Under the influence of Hardstyle and industrial hardcore, a new scene was developing featuring DJ Promo and his label The Third Movement. This scene now known as mainstream hardcore emerged in the early 2000s with a modern, mature, slower, and sophisticated form. It was successful in Europe, especially in Netherlands and Italy, with producers and groups like Endymion, Kasparov, Art of Fighters, The Stunned Guys and DJ Mad Dog. Happy hardcore continues its movement underground and has evolved bringing out other related genres such as eurobeat, UK hardcore, Freeform hardcore and Full-on Hardcore.

Labels such as Enzyme Records, Crossbones and Bloc 46 have produced darkcore artists, like Ruffneck, Fifth Era and The Outside Agency.

As the free party movement was successful in all the Europe, freetekno appeared. Numerous producers and labels emerged representing the hardtechno and the frenchcore genres: Epileptik, Audiogenic, Les Enfants Sages, Tekita, Breakteam, Mackitek, B2K and Narkotek.


The early 2010s saw the rise of hardcore internationally, with artists such as Angerfist gaining popularity quickly. The hardcore scene thrived during this period with many new producers and labels making their mark on the scene, both in Europe and the rest of the world, appearing even at North America's biggest music festival, Electric Daisy Carnival. In 2011, Angerfist entered the DJ Mag Top 100 at position #39.

The middle of the decade saw a shift in popularity, from mainstream hardcore to faster styles such as frenchcore, uptempo hardcore and terrorcore. Although these styles existed previously already, an increase in artists and events around 2015 helped these styles develop and move to the forefront of the audience's attention. The shift from the older range of 160-180 beats per minute to 200+ changed the hardcore market, creating a demand for more energetic and intense hardcore than before. Artists like Sefa & Dr. Peacock saw a quick rise within the scene and influenced the musical direction to a louder, faster, but more melodic and euphoric style. Major artists from other genres such as Marshmello, Carnage, Porter Robinson and Headhunterz started to occasionally play faster hardcore in their sets.

The end of the decade saw rapid growth of the hardcore scene in Europe. Hardcore festivals within the Netherlands saw a significant rise in attendance. 2019's edition of Thunderdome reached an attendance of almost 40,000 people and became the biggest hardcore event to ever take place. Regular large scale events hardcore started happening outside of the Netherlands in countries like Spain , Russia , Austria , Switzerland and the Czech Republic among other European countries. In America hardcore remains a relatively underground genre, but can be found in major cities being pushed by independent promoters and artists.

Production techniques

Hardcore is usually composed using music sequencers, and many earlier tracks were produced on home computers with module tracker software. Some examples of the software used are FL Studio, Ableton Live, Cubase, Logic, Nuendo and Reason. The wide availability of computers, combined with the absence of financial remuneration, meant that many hardcore musicians write for their own enjoyment and the pleasure of innovation.

Notable related events

  • Defqon.1 Festival
  • Masters of Hardcore
  • Sensation Black
  • Thunderdome
  • Dominator Festival


    Hardcore spawned several subgenres and derivative styles, including:
  • Bouncy techno: A genre of hardcore techno with some influence of gabber, notably giving a "bouncy" feeling hence the name to its beats and bass. This later created a development to happy hardcore and UK hardcore.
  • Mákina: Fast electronic dance music from Spain, fairly similar to UK hardcore it includes elements of bouncy techno and hardtrance.
  • Hardcore breaks (a.k.a. nu rave): A genre written in the style of breakbeat hardcore and produced using modern technology and production techniques.
  • Powerstomp: Subgenre of UK hardcore with strong influence of Gabber Hardcore and Hardstyle notable to its bouncy hard four on the floor beats and relentless reverse boosted bassline (Similar to Mákina)
  • Trancecore: Considered a subgenre of happy hardcore and/or UK hardcore (sometimes Gabber hardcore). with strong influence of trance (Hard trance in particular), it is also closely related to "Acidcore" during the time. (Example: Eclipse - Stairway To Brooklyn)
  • Freeform hardcore: Freeform hardcore or less commonly UK Trancecore an evolved modern adaptation of the "Trancecore", the style became slightly similar to UK hardcore usually being less "happy" and features harsher sounds like saw leadlines, the "Acidcore" sound are less common recent years mainly instrumental. (Example: Blood, Sweat & Tears - Little Fella)
  • Psycore: Psychedelic trance and happy hardcore infused, it is thought as just a sped up version of psychedelic trance.
  • Full-on hardcore: a.k.a. Full-on Psycore. A fusion of full-on psychedelic trance and happy hardcore, it is known to be energetic and melodic/uplifting in nature using faster tempos. (Example: Ardor - Vyral XIII)
  • Dark Psycore: a.k.a Dark Psy hardcore - A fusion of dark psychedelic trance and "happy" hardcore having a darker, faster and more distorted form with tempo ranges (usually from 145 to 180 bpm) (Example: Kobold Instinct - Unknown Lifeforms)
  • Darkcore (not to be confused with darkcore jungle) or doomcore: Broad categorical description characterized by elements of breakbeat, hardcore, and dark musical themes. Emerged in response to the happy party sound of UK hardcore.
  • Digital hardcore: Hardcore punk/hardcore techno fusion. Closely related to hardcore punk music.
  • Frenchcore Originated in the French rave scene of the early 1990s. The genre is faster than mainstream hardcore and focused on an offbeat bassline. Frenchcore reached the hard music mainstream when Sefa popularized the genre in the late 2010s.
  • Gabber
  • Early hardcore: Popular in the Netherlands, Germany, France, Australia, Italy, Belgium and Scotland. Characterized by a heavy bass drum sound, usually distorted, and generally 160–190 bpm.
  • Mainstream hardcore a.k.a. new style: Modern form of gabber, often melodic, with more complex sounds. Generally 150-165 bpm.
  • Speedcore (not to be confused with thrashcore or speed metal): Subgenre of gabber, distinguished by very fast tempos (300 bpm to 500–600 bpm), infused with heavily distorted percussion and aggressive themes.
  • Splittercore: Microgenre of speedcore, usually 700–800 bpm.
  • Extratone: Applied when the tempo exceeds 1000 bpm; the individual beats can no longer be distinguished and are perceived as audio tones.
  • Terror: a.k.a. Terrorcore, Terreur (Dutch) Faster, darker form of gabber with highly aggressive themes, often noisy tones and unusual beat rhythms.
  • Industrial hardcore: Industrial hardcore or simply industrial; is derived from a combination of techno and hardcore. It is a characteristic genre because of the cold and dark sound character. Especially in the transition from early-to millennium hardcore, Industrial has played an important role. Because the hardcore was at his commercial peak more producers began experimenting with hardcore. Especially DJ Promo played an important role in this. There are now regular hardcore events with a separate industrial hardcore stage. Producers include: Armageddon Project, Unexist, Catscan, Ophidian, Micron, Noize Suppressor, Sacerdos Vigilia, The Relic, Sound Abuse and Strange Arrival.