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Hardcore Soul book: Alberto Guerrini and Ewen Spencer
Courtesy of Alberto Guerrini

New book Hardcore Soul is a tribute to British rave culture

Gabber Eleganza's latest project celebrates the seemingly disparate scenes of hardcore and Northern Soul, with contributions by Ewen Spencer and Mark Leckey

Alberto Guerrini, for those who don’t know, is the man behind Gabber Eleganza – an artist and DJ exploring the diverse yet synchronic history of the 90s rave movement. Having first created a Tumblr back in 2011 as a means to curate a cumulative retrospective of the underground rave scene, now, Guerrini launches a new book, Hardcore Soul, which delves two seemingly disparate scenes: Happy Hardcore and Northern Soul. Drawing on the similarities between the two, Guerrini explores the forces that unite the devotees of each. “My approach was not to focus simply on aesthetics, but on socio-anthropology,” he explains.

In this instance, Guerrini joins forces with photographer and Dazed alumni Ewen Spencer, who is renowned for his documentation of youth and subculture, from Northern Soul to acid rave, and has worked with everyone from adidas to Supreme. “His photography captures that impalpable moment when something is about to happen,” says Guerrini. The two first met in a Dalston pub, bonded over their mutual fascination with British rave culture before, eventually, Hardcore Soul was born.

The book itself is released in the form of two volumes, with the first featuring a collection of photos by Spencer – organised non-chronologically, the rave and hardcore scenes become one. The move was intentional, according to Guerrini, with the disorganised nature of the images diminishing the perceived differences between the two, and demonstrating the shared sensation of unity and euphoria that spanned them. The second book features a conversation between British artist and Turner Prize winner Mark Leckey and Spencer, who jovially relive their experiences and memories of these movements, as they corroborate on the familiarities which link rave and hardcore.

Here, we present an excerpt from Hardcore Soul: a preface written by Dazed’s own Jack Mills.

They say that the shape of UK looks like a well-dressed man riding on the back of a pig.

It's an image that speaks to the inherent absurdities of the British mindset – the ways we challenge ourselves in order to feel embraced, the ways we champion debasement, and the ways we disguise our own vanity. It’s especially true of the ways we like to party, which in most British towns is less a means of escape than a display of solidarity. Signature dress codes, self-annihilation and mob rule mark the British night out, evidenced on every bile-dappled high street this side of Jura. How many times have you witnessed the melancholia of a smart man whose eyes are so poisoned they resemble two setting suns? Dancers so unmoored they’re busy drawing concentric circles with their feet?

Tribal-wear has always existed in nightlife culture, especially in Britain. From the goths in parasols lining the steps of St Paul’s Cathedral in the early 80s to the acid-washed whistle blowers of the Haçienda, when it comes to going out, dressing the same way as your friends feels mutually supportive. It's the glue that says we’re in this together, that whatever happens tonight, we’re doing it as one.

Ewen Spencer is a photographer who has paid witness to many of these armies, who has chased the contrails of club culture from Newcastle, were he was raised, to Brighton, where he was a student. In his graduation year Ewen was propelled back north by a student grant, and spent long weekends on the carpeted dancefloors of student union raves documenting the northern soul scene he had loved as a teenager. Seen here, ravers in buttoned-down shirts and shrink-fit jeans are captured in moments of crystalline solitude, like meteors shooting through a blanket sky.

Later, for legacy press like The Face, Dazed and Sleaze Nation, Ewen drifted into the goony leftfield of late 90s happy hardcore. “Different styles, but the same attitude,” recognises publisher and clubbing obsessive Alberto Guerrini, whose book edits the two eras of Spencer’s work together in order to tell a wider story about the nature of British nightlife. “...Tribes built around the loneliness of dancing.”

Spencer’s introduction to these mercurialities was on the dancefloor of the legendary Newcastle party palace Rockshots. It was also where artist Mark Leckey learnt to dance, visiting the HI-NRG mecca regularly during his time as student at Newcastle Polytechnic. Leckey’s 1999 documentary Fiorucci Made Me Hardcore is seen as the definitive paean to the dying embers of the 20th century British party scene, and remains a centre of gravity for Ewen’s work.

While much has been made of the political and personal implications of UK dance culture, what this book shows is that while the dancefloor can serve as one of society’s strongest unifiers, when the lights go up and the party’s over, all Britain is is a smartly dressed raver riding on the back of a pig into oblivion.