Wednesday, February 14, 2018

how big was the creative core of hardcore?

The first time I had any real face-to-face contact with hardcore scene leader types was meeting Goldie in the first months of '94.  We'd made contact a few months before, towards the end of '93, when I was still in NYC and doing a big piece on jungle - the first anywhere - for Vibe. Did a big phone interview for that. Then, not long after moving back to London at the start of '94, I went round to the G-man's gaff. He lived in a tower block off of Englands Lane  - he was something like the permanent house-guest of the documentary maker who had gotten him involved as a young man in a doc about graffiti. The flat was full of G's canvases. I was living in Belsize Park - first time north of the river since I was a baby - and so we were almost neighbours. Then Goldie introduced me to Rob Playford - we met up for a curry in a place on Camden High Street.

During the meal, I asked them how big the scene was. Because there was no way to know really - it seemed massive to me, in my own head, based on the energy of the pirates and the sheer number of them.

I remember Rob seeming slightly evasive or even sheepish as he offered, "Fifty thousand?".

And that did seem smaller than I'd imagined.

Many years later, in response to an enquiry from a scholar or student researcher, I had a bash trying to work out the demographic dimensions of the creative core of rave.

All based on estimates.

There was at that time a particular old skool nuttah website that seemed to have audio clips of most every rave tune from 91/92/93.

This is probably ten or more years ago, but there were 2604 tunes up there, which seemed immense. and they were stretched  across a 4 year period, 1991 to 1994.

I guessed that even though this chap was a total fiend,with a completist streak (there was a fair amount of dross up there, but then again the point of the site was not to be a filter but an archive, a data bank), in all likelihood he must only have had about  50 % of the tunes actually released on his site.

For 1992 -  the most populous, explosive DIY-gone-crazy year (which was also hardcore rave's peak of commercial penetration, the first half of the year anyway) - this bloke had got audio clips for 872 tunes.

I decided the real figure for hardcore releases in that year might be more like 2000 tracks. 

Most 12 inch releases then would just have two tunes, an A-side and flipside. But you did get a fair number of 3-track, 4 track  - even 5 or 6 track -  EPs.

So let's say that there'd have been 750 individual 12 inch releases in this one year period within the genre of UK hardcore rave music, loosely defined. 

So that means roughly 15 new tunes a week. Which does chime with my vague general sense of going into hardcore/jungle stores and that being the number of brand-new new tunes that would be up on the wall behind the counter. A constant flow of white labels.

Given that many producers released several things a year and that producers also operated under pseudonyms, I’m going to guess conservatively that each producer released 3 records that year.

So that would lead you to conclude that this were around 250 actively releasing-stuff producers in the UK within the hardcore zone. Some producing under multiple names to confuse things and create a deceptive sense of plethora and profusion.

There's a probably a lot of amateurs who never finished their tracks, or ones that did but never grubbed together the money to put them out, and quite a few borderlines that were barely released or came out on dubplate only. (And are now being reissued as expensive reissues). 

In the not-quite-released zone, I remember one Ruff crew show in '92 where a producer called E had brought his tracks to played, including a fantastic one that sampled Pink Floyd's Wish You Were Here, but that never actually came out. It's the first tune on this tape -


Anyway, let's go with the estimate of 250 actively releasing producers.

Now, how big was the scene?

The biggest raves that summer drew 30 thousand, but you have to guess that this was not everyone in the scene in attendance -  people stayed for local clubs or lived too far away across the country. Even the mega-est rave must have only managed 1 in 3 of the rave massive at most.

A really big underground rave tune could sell 25 thousand, except for the rave pop crossover ones  like Prodigy or SL2. But following a similar principle as above,  no tune would be bought by everyone.

So let’s say that the rave massive was somewhere between 75 thousand and 100 thousand

With the first estimate of rave population you get 1 in 300 as the ratio of producer-participants to consumer-participants

With the second figure it diminishes to 1 in 400!

 That’s a lot of smaller than I thought.

I'd imagined that the punk-redolent DIY principle would have been more rife and rampant.

I guess human laziness, a sensible awareness of one’s own lack of musicality, or just not being prepared to cough up the dough for the initial start-up costs, would ensure that the majority were happy to be just punters.

With the collapse of the rave audience and the coming of darkness in 1993, the ratio of producers to consumers would go up dramatically -- the harder the core, the more of a component of active  producers / DJs you would have. In Chris Cutler's terms, the more "engaged" a music scene.


So with Playford's guess of 50 thousand  - made in early 94, when the scene was still under the sway of darkness, the jungle crossover explosion some months away, still contracted to a hard core -  then the  ratio of active music-releasing artists to punters becomes 1 in 200. 

Equally the more commercially successful the music is, the less participatory and "engaged" it is. You have a lot more mere punters happy to sit back and enjoy. 

2step would be another period in which the ratio of producers to consumers goes down again, owing to its massive pop success and across London domination of the pirate airwaves.

Grime, in the early 2000s, would have gone back to having high ratio of creatives (aspiring MCs, producers, deejays). Indeed in its fundamental unpopularity I would compare it to the improv or noise scenes...

Going back to the creative core of H-core question, I suppose one could go to Discogs and attempt to actually count the number of producers (especially as it useful displays all the pseudonyms and alter-egos and aliases each one uses).

But I'm guessing the result won't be too far off the 250-ish sort of figure that I kinda pulled out of my arse there.

It won't be drastically off, I don't think - like 2500 producers. 

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