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Gabber Eleganza’s new book Hardcore Soul joins the dots between northern soul and hardcore

© Ewen Spencer

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When it comes to the visual archiving of nightlife subcultures, we’re currently spoilt for choice.

The rave, with its themes of collectivism and unity, has become the focus of art exhibitions across the world while the sartorial style(s) have been mined by fashion designers with one eye on the futurist past.

Alberto Guerrini’s glorious Tumblr archive is one of the internet’s most informative and abundant vaults of dancefloor memorialisation. First launched in 2011, Guerrini has tirelessly collated a visual history of gabba, hardcore and related post-rave subcultures, alongside the ephemera that surrounded them. Think shaved heads, Kappa (really, loads of Kappa), lo-fi videos, futuristic magazine spreads and misty-eyed ravers erratically shuffling or contorting their limbs to pitch-shifted vocals and relentless beats that are pushing 190bpm.

What’s important to note is how instrumental Guerrini’s archive has been to the resurgence of gabber itself. With the fringe sound – and accompanying fashions – back to the spotlight, gabber has been reevaluated, with parties cropping up and IG accounts (shout out @ukgabbers) created solely to document the genre’s new wave.

In recent years, Guerrini himself has been bridging the gap between the gabber aesthetic and sound. He released his debut EP Never Sleep Vol. 1 on Lorenzo Senni’s Presto?! label in 2018 and presides over the “curative party series” Part Time Raver. Now, Gabber Eleganza moves into a new chapter with the inauguration of its companion label Never Sleep this week (16 May) alongside the release of a book, created in collaboration with photographer Ewen Spencer, and mixtape entitled Hardcore Soul.

How this two-chapter book differs from Guerrini’s usual style, however, is in its juxtaposition of gabber in dialogue with northern soul. The first volume is a collection of unpublished images by Spencer, whilst the second chapter features Spencer in conversation with British contemporary artist Mark Leckey – someone who is well accustomed to digging deep into UK subcultures.

Ahead of the label’s launch, we catch up with Guerrini to talk working with Spencer and Leckey, future plans and where northern soul and gabber collide. Scroll down to see a collection of exclusive images from Hardcore Soul.

Why did you decide to start a new label?

It has been a natural step. I was looking for a way to bring all my projects under one hat, so 2019 was a good starting point for Never Sleep, a platform for all my projects – publications, zine and records.

Hardcore Soul brings northern soul and hardcore into alignment. What are some of the similarities and differences between these two subcultures and how have you chronicled them together?

In terms of music and style they are clearly very different, but what we wanted to expose was the total dedication of those two dance scenes as a music cult that changes the individual throughout life, which you’ll hardly find somewhere else.

[Some of the] common points are the need for aggregation, the research of the aesthetic and the definition of the individual/collective. Stomping music and youthful enthusiasm, drugs and adrenaline. For all the purists out there, this coexistence would be outrageous, but for me it is the pure expression of the sweat and body in the act of escapism. Dance or die!

Hardcore Soul, Gabber Eleganza
© Ewen Spencer

Can you tell us more about the collaborative process between Ewen Spencer and yourself? How did you both approach the curation of the book?

I met Ewen in spring 2017 whilst working on a common project, and we started to talk often about our projects. We spent a night out drinking beer, eating vinegar chips and talking about the “good old days” – as a gabber raver for me and as a Souldier for Ewen. Finding many common points, the [idea of the] book worked out naturally from me and when I asked him, [he] was immediately enthusiastic, especially because most of the pictures were unpublished material.

I curated the project: from the creative direction to contributors involved, music and concept and Ewen supported me with all changes and ideas. He’s a saint!

How did you first connect with Mark Leckey?

He texted me on Instagram to join him in London for his NTS show as a guest. He interviewed me for the show. We spent the afternoon talking and chilling. Mark is a legend, so for me it was an absolutely stunning spring afternoon.

Why did you choose to work with Ewen Spencer and Mark Leckey in particular? What drew you to the idea of featuring the two together in one conversation and book?

Ewen and Mark are friends, so it was easy to put them together in one conversation as a special feature for the book. I just asked to them to talk about “dance,” what it means for them to dance, when they discovered [dance music] and the feeling of dancing alone in a club environment. I built this idea after our meeting with Mark at NTS, it was a natural step.

How do you feel about the gabber resurgence?

I’m happy about it because I fought a lot to help a re-evaluation of this (in my own way). There’s a lot of interest around, sometime it’s just hype and a speculative thing from the last-minute fan, but mostly I see many serious and interesting things around: music, articles and visuals. Hardcore and gabber is full of suggestions and it’s always good when new eyes change the perspective in a new way.

Where do you see yourself taking Never Sleep in the future?

I wanna create a good network for different artists from different backgrounds and an environment to experiment without limits, freely sharing ideas and a platform to push the rave boundaries forward.

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