The sound is HUUUUUUGGGGGGEEE. Like, Jabba the Hutt huge. A massive, distorted, take-up-the-entire-sound-spectrum, megaton blast of gigantic kick drums ceaselessly ejaculating from towering stacks of loudspeakers.
The Hollywood Palladium shakes and heaves from the beat and pressure of the bass. Mutated kandi raver kids, their otherwise colorful garb infected with patches of black and skulls, overrun the dance floor. Most are young, some are old; as a group, they appear to represent a complete cross-section of L.A.’s diverse de-mographics. Together, they pogo, mosh and rave to the sonic Ragnarök discharged by someone or something called “Radical Redemption.”
Ready or not, America, prepare for “rawstyle,” the latest dark and demented electronic music spewing from the Netherlands. By way of dystopian European summer music festivals with names like Defqon.1 and Dominator, artists with such aliases as Crypsis, Delete, B-Front and the aforementioned Radical Redemption transmit this audio fury with apocalyptic fervor. If you want pounding, anti-authoritarian rants, conspiracy theories, sci-fi/horror movie samples and razor-blade synth riffs to spice up your old death metal or EDM playlist, rawstyle’s got you covered.
It is music largely made and consumed by young people, using their video game–laden world as raw material. It is the epitome of what Alvin Toffler called the “prosumer” revolution, wherein the consumer produces that which is consumed. A not insignificant portion of rawstyle fans buys sound-sample kits, software and gear to eventually upload creations to SoundCloud, and often, these “amateur” tracks are what later get played on festival sound systems.
Beyond that brutal kick drum, rawstyle’s secondary musical elements likewise have as much subtlety as a first-person-shooter game. For starters, there’s the “anti-climax,” in which the kick-drum pattern gives way to an apocalyptic or violent vocal soliloquy over a haunting, atmospheric melody.
Older EDM fans might feel these rhythmless transitions last an inordinate amount of time. But the anti-climax incites anticipatory clamor for the return of the kick drum, especially when combined with “the screech.”
A screech is a manipulated synthesizer stab that takes the place of a conventional melody line. A properly constructed screech transmogrifies the rawstyle kick to the realm of the otherworldly. Dance-music historians might classify the screech as a modern interpretation of the “hoover” sound ubiquitous in early-’90s rave music.
Here's a good example of rawstyle at its most intense:
Rawstyle has its roots in hardstyle and gabber, the Dutch form of hardcore techno. According to George Ruseler of Hardtunes.com, a leading online rawstyle MP3 vendor, “In Rotterdam, there was a club called Parkzicht. It means ‘view of the park.’ That club had a DJ, DJ Rob, who played the hardest form of house available in the early ’90s. We were looking for records that sounded like the hard basses and the screechy sounds, the weird noises that were different from house. At the time, we called house ‘mellow.’ We didn’t like the mellow, we liked the hard stuff.
“People drove from all over Netherlands and Belgium to visit that club,” Ruseler remembers. “It was sold out every Friday and Saturday.”
In that emerging scene, a sound from a particular Roland drum machine, the TR-909, caught everyone’s attention. “Everybody started playing with it,” Ruseler says. “If you came from Germany, Belgium, Rotterdam or North America, it didn’t matter. If you had a 909 and a mixer, you could do whatever you wanted.”
As the 909 pounded out its hypnotic rhythm, massive gabber events would soon be held at stadiums and arenas. The sound got faster (sometimes topping 200 BPM, or beats per minute), harder, darker — and by the end of the 20th century, exhausted. Well-known gabber DJs such as Prophet slowed their records down to a still-frenetic but more manageable 150 BPM and inserted more party-friendly elements. The new sound was dubbed “hardstyle.”
Hardstyle resuscitated a winded Dutch hard dance scene. Production values soared and euphoric elements took center stage. But as any Jungian psychologist will tell you, the dark side cannot be suppressed. By 2009 a nebulous but recognizable pattern emerged of hardstyle producers making simpler, darker tracks. It was labeled “rawstyle” — an ode to the “raw,” more primitive sound of early hardstyle and gabber.
Quickly, the hardstyle faithful embraced this shadowy mutation. “At these shows you don’t see people standing around,” says Sherief Zakher of Fresh Entertainment, an upstart collective of Los Angeles event producers. “They’re dancing, jumping around and having an amazing time. It might be the deeper sound and darker melodies. [It’s] a sound you don’t really find in trance, house or dubstep.”
Zakher says Fresh Entertainment plans to book more rawstyle artists in its Hardstyle Arena events in the coming year. “Our team asked fans about what artists they wanted to see. We had lots of requests for rawstyle — that America needs more raw sound.”
“What intrigues me, is that it’s potentially attractive to music fans who aren’t into electronic music or dance music at all,” says Kari Lambou of Trauma Events. The company is programming rawstyle at several stops on its Harder Styles 2016 tour, which will visit New York, Denver, San Francisco and numerous other North American cities, including L.A.
Rave kings Insomniac aren’t missing out on the new craze, either. It was they who, under their Basscon sub-brand, unleashed rawstyle’s current messiah, Radical Redemption, a 25-year-old producer from the Dutch town of Denekamp, in his first U.S. appearance, Dec. 4 at the Hollywood Palladium.
The man behind Radical Redemption, Joey van Ingen, has surprising roots. “I started as a drummer in a band when I was 15 [or] 16. We played really old-school shit, like Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin, The Eagles, CCR, Golden Earring.
“I started working in a club near my home. I was really into the harder dance music. But at a certain point there was this change: ‘House-y’ beats were introduced into hardstyle, singing stuff — just really not my thing. That’s when I decided to make my own music, so I could play what I thought was real hardstyle.”
His first track, 2011’s “Darkness Is Calling,” made with rawstyle pioneer Crypsis, was an immediate hit. Radical Redemption has since racked up more than 249,000 Facebook “likes,” becoming one of the emerging genre’s most recognizable figures.
“I get messages from fans saying things like, ‘Your music saved my life … it helped me overcome my problems.’ I also get Snapchats of people going totally crazy while listening to my music. I get a lot of pictures of fans that tattooed themselves with the Radical Redemption symbol, or lyrics from my tracks … just because it means a lot to them,” he says.
When the rawstyle kick drum bangs loudest, it offers a cathartic release from a present-day world often too overwhelming, or terrifying, to describe. Rawstyle’s mixture of apocalyptic imagery and high-BPM adrenaline rush may be too much for most dance-music fans — or it may be the sound of the future.
Joel Bevacqua aka DJ Deadly Buda is an American graffiti artist and rave pioneer. He publishes the EDM magazine The Hard Data and will be spinning rawstyle and hardstyle tracks at the ARIZR! monthly meet-up on Jan. 8 at Suzuran Bar & Grill in Gardena. Visit his SoundCloud page for an original DJ Deadly Buda mix featuring both hardstyle and rawstyle tracks.