Pin It
Gabber Agonistes – Spring/Summer 2017
Ripstop print coat Prada, jacket worn underneathPhotography Ewen Spencer, styling Tom Guinness

Industrial Revolution: the second coming of gabber

Gabber Agonistes – Spring/Summer 2017

‘It stays with you your whole life, it’s like a punch in the face’ – Alberto ‘Gabber Eleganza’ Guerrini and Ewen Spencer on how gabber ignited a new era of ravers

You can buy a copy of our latest issue here. Taken from the spring/summer issue of Dazed:

“See You In 2017” was the early-90s motto of Marc Acardipane, a Frankfurt DJ whose hardcore techno label PCP released some of the first known examples of gabber music.

Gabber is a brand of ugly, corrugated, atonal and viciously fast techno, with beat-counts averaging at a breakneck 180bpm. Centred on scenes in Rotterdam and Milan, in the early to mid-90s gabber became the soundtrack of a generation of pill-guzzling ravers and skinhead scallies in Moschino tracksuits. By 2000, it had been introduced to high-fashion crowds, who were assaulted with jackhammer gabber at Raf Simons’ SS00 runway show in Paris.

The irony of “See You In 2017” isn’t lost on Ewen Spencer and Alberto Guerrini, two gabber obsessives who believe in the radical, revolutionary potential of the dancefloor.

Spencer is a Newcastle-born photographer who spent the 90s documenting the UK’s various clubbing movements – from rave music to jungle, garage and beyond – for magazines like The Face, Sleazenation and Arena. He was there when gabber first hit the British Isles, and became fascinated by the scene’s tribalist, fiercely functional fashion sense: logo-emblazoned sports scarves, Air Max 90s and buzzcuts. Guerrini is a Milanese DJ who runs an addictive Tumblr page called Gabber Eleganza, the first stop for vintage gabber detritus such as rave flyers, fluoro vinyl sleeves and clips of slack-jawed Euro-rave merchants.

The pair met for the first time in a cafe in the new Dazed building – itself a hub of illegal raves and DayGlo hedonism back in the 90s – to discuss Spencer’s special gabberthemed collaboration for the issue, which brings the trends and style tropes of the movement into the 21st century. “It was about looking at the history of gabber and comparing that to contemporary style and how it plays into it,” Spencer explains. Up until now, he and Guerrini have only spoken online, regularly swapping fanboy facts and trivia about the subgenre via Instagram DM (“I’m a superfan of Alberto’s!” Spencer gleams). Chatting over tar-thick coffees, they agree that contemporary fashion from Vetements to Palace is sure testament to gabber’s continued influence on youth culture.

Suddenly, “See You In 2017” doesn’t seem all that long ago.

Alberto, how did you get involved in gabber?

Alberto Guerrini: I lived in the countryside, in Bergamo, Lombardy. Bergamo is one of the birthplaces of gabber, which centred around two big clubs. One of these big discotheques is called Number One. I started listening to hardcore music in primary school, aged ten or 11. A little later, a friend told me about Number One. He said that people do things like the human pyramid there – things you can see now on YouTube. People there take drugs and wear super-fluoro. At the same time, another guy I knew who went there was smart – he had shaved hair and would wear a black tracksuit, with Air Max. Someone told me, ‘Hey, that guy’s a gabber.’ And I was like, ‘What is a gabber?’ They said that, when you go to hardcore nights in Italy, you can choose to be a gabber, or a hardcore warrior – the classic raver look, y’know? Fluoro.

So ‘gabber’ was the name of a style trend before it became a genre label? Describe a typical gabber to me, Alberto.

Alberto Guerrini: The cliche is that they come from working-class families. Gabbers worked 14 or 15-hour days and needed something hard to listen to, to relieve the stress of the week. People that go to the hardcore shows there are definitely working-class – you have a little gangster in you, a little bit of a delinquent. You look a little scary with a skinhead. Everyone takes speed. I’ve had problems in the street because of my skinhead – I’ve been punched a few times.

Ewen Spencer: What I didn’t like about acid house when it came about was the scruffiness of everyone – I rejected anything scruffy. When I think about gabber, what appealed to me was that it was clean. Clean-cut, a slim silhouette – it was practical for the rave.

Ewen, what was your experience of gabber in the UK?

Ewen Spencer: My own personal experience of gabber was in the early 90s in Newcastle. We used to go to a club on a Monday night called Loaded. They would always do a gabber session for about an hour – it felt like everyone really went for that hour. There’s something about the style and fashion and attitude of all those movements – the northern soul movement in the 70s, then house music, the soul weekenders and funk in the 80s. Just that whole lineage – gabber is a part of that. It’s the same kind of story – working-class kids from industrial cities wanting to look good for the weekend. It’s that kind of speed and energy that people were seduced by.

History repeats itself, and there’s always something for young people to rebel against.

Ewen Spencer: They tried to (stop people clubbing) in the 90s – and where do people go (clubbing) now? The death of superclubs is probably a good moment. Everyone was up in arms about the idea of (London club) Fabric closing down – I quite liked it really. I believe in that kind of change. There are a lot of kids in south London who are putting on their own raves now. Fucking hell, that’s revolution, you know?

“Gabbers worked 14 or 15-hour days and needed something hard to listen to, to relieve the stress of the week. They were definitely working-class – you have a little gangster in you, a little bit of a delinquent” – Alberto Guerrini

Can you talk about your project for Dazed, Ewen? You’re linking up 90s gabber dress codes with today’s trends. Beyond that, you believe in the radical potential of creating your own nightlife scene…

Ewen Spencer: Yeah, that’s a good way of putting it – your radical potential. For me, it’s the way you dress, the way you talk and the way you carry yourself, and the music kind of accompanies that. I see a lot of kids walking around who are clearly fascinated by sportswear. And a lot of kids shaving their heads. There’s a kind of nostalgia for that football aesthetic, which seems to be mixed with a sort of gabber aesthetic at the moment.

Alberto Guerrini: I think this is the reason I started Gabber Eleganza. When I discovered what a ‘chav’ was about ten years ago, I thought, ‘Why does this guy look like me, like a gabber kid?’ Through my blog, I can find these (historical) connections (to) the new wave of this kind of fashion. There are many, many clubbers these days who use the aesthetic in their own way – but aren’t involved in gabber.

Ewen Spencer: It’s fascinating that Gabber Eleganza, the blog, has become very popular. It’s lovely to hear that it’s followed by lots of kids who are into Vetements.

What about the actual sound of it, Ewen? Did you enjoy gabber’s abrasiveness?

Ewen Spencer: It was seductive, it was interesting, but I wasn’t immediately sold on it because at the time I was a soul-music boy. But it was less to do with the music and more to do with the movement, style and invention of something like that. It’s about the power of youth, how it can create something out of the dancefloor and out of circumstance. It’s grace under pressure. On repeat.

Alberto Guerrini: It’s absolutely the hardest music in dance. When you first hear it as a teen, it stays with you your whole life – because it’s super-hard, like a punch in the face. The typical gabber sound is without melody, it’s really industrial, really raw, super-distorted. In Germany, the absolute godfather of hardcore is Marc Acardipane. For me, gabber is a mixture of UK happy hardcore, Belgium new beat and the fast-and-furious beats of The Prodigy. Mix that with the industrial, oppressive sound of Marc Acardipane, and you create a harder sound. The birthplace, Rotterdam, is the perfect middle of this, geographically. The cliched idea of gabber that people have is that it’s cheap music for cheap people who take drugs.

“What have kids got left to rebel against? What seems to be left is the revolution of the dancefloor” – Ewen Spencer

It’s not, though, is it? It’s more about the moment, the music and dressing pragmatically for a long night’s raving.

Ewen Spencer: Yeah, the pragmatism. I’ve been having a conversation with (British artist and nightlife documentarian) Mark Leckey about a lack of a labour movement in this country and possibly throughout Europe. What have kids got left to rebel against? What seems to be left is the revolution of the dancefloor. For me, it shouldn’t be underestimated – the power of it. Because it does create individuals who want to do things differently. 

Gabber Eleganza's The Hakke Show will be coming to London's Rye Wax on June 8. Click here for more info.

Models Hugo Lesourd, Thomas Mougenot, photography assistant Connor Wieczorek, styling assistant Bianca Raggi, archive images from gabbereleganza.tumblr.com, casting Ewen Spencer