Everyone and everything is a scroll away. In the gallery of your Instagram explore page, no one is a stranger—trust the algorithm and you’ll be only a DM away from someone that shares your struggles and desires. Among the CGI models and simulated influencers, you might even stumble upon some weirdos that stir up a nostalgic feeling; skinheads, metalheads, hardcore lovers–all those off-beat subculture icons that reigned the ’90s yet seem to have wind up in-between a trendy Balenciaga sneaker and some dusty archive shelf. But is this really so? Has the digital universalisation of culture really meshed pop with sub to a point where subcultures have withered amidst the double clicks? If so, are we losing something of value?
These questions have been keeping photographer Boris Postma and DJ duo Know V.A.’s brains busy, enthusing them to organise the club night and exhibition Strange Days and Modern Day Rouges, shining light on the state of youth subcultures in the post-millennial age. And who’d be more suited to lead the beat as a main act of the night than Gabber Eleganza—the Milanese gabber archivist and blogger whose kaleidoscope of talents stretches from rave culture research and music production to designer campaigns and a hardcore clothing line. The gabber frontier has brought a fresh flair to late-’90s rave sound and aesthetics, so we sat down with him for a chat on all things past, present and future just days prior to his awaited participation in Strange Days.
Many have tried to define and label gabber culture. But what does it mean to you personally if you could describe it in a few plain and simple words?
Escapism, euphoria, primitive intensity and culture.
How much is gabber, as both a music genre and a lifestyle, political to you?
I was a gabber in late ’90s–it was a way of life, entirely interwoven with my daily routine of music, places and people. Everything revolved around hardcore. Today, for me personally, it’s a form of art and, as such, it may have a political power to create communities and wipe out prejudices.
Where is the line between popular culture and subcultures? How do you distinguish one from the other?
Subcultures need popular culture to exist. If you want to be against something, that something must exist. Every subculture, be it political, counter-cultural or intellectual, is born through struggle and with a specific objective in mind. Lose the struggle and the objective–the subculture is done with. In pop culture, struggles don’t exist, since everything is within a dominant comfort zone.
Has the media and Internet age altered subcultures? Is their existence possible today when social platforms have done so much for inclusivity, making sure no one struggles as an outsider?
Yes, of course it’s possible! What defines an outsider is them not being understood by the mainstream options available. That desire and dedication to be part of something never changed, because it’s a human need to be accepted, regardless whether that’s on social media or not.
Why do you think gabber culture is re-emerging today? Especially in fashion, where sports and loose wear, jumpsuits and sneakers, typical for gabber, have rapidly taken over?
Gabber style is strong and iconoclast, but at the same time, minimal and androgenic. Put simply–unique. It shouldn’t come as a shock that the hungry and subculture-appropriative fashion world discovered gabber style.
Why is the archival aspect of your work important to you? How does gabber’s past, and the certain nostalgia around that culture, inspire you to produce new work?
The archival aspect is very important to me, because through searching, I learn. I define my Tumblr blog as ‘altered nostalgia’ and I refer to my work as ‘a melody from a past life keeps pulling me forward’. I’m so obsessed with 90s hardcore and early rave cultures, because, being born in 1985, I never got to experience and live in that culture. It’s a frustration that keeps pushing me forward.
What’s the creative process behind your blog and archival work? Does it have a structured beginning and end? Do you do it only via the Internet or you like to browse paper copy archives too?
In terms of the creative process, I must say I started this project with no specific goal in mind–it’s simply my passion to showcase the artistic potential of hardcore and post-rave cultures. Hence, when that passion fades away, the project will come to end too. As for the research itself, I’d say it’s via both the Internet and paper copies–I love mixing offline and online stuff, analogue paper with a digital flair.
You’ve said before that hardcore is a ‘feeling’.
Yes, because for me it’s related to a primitive feeling that is straight to the point. A true moment to myself, dancing alone in the dark and trying to escape from life and its meaning.
Has the demographic changed within gabber culture over the past decade or so? Do you see more race and gender diversity, for example, and why do you think that is so?
I haven’t been into the hardcore scene for several years now, but from a voyeuristic point of view, I have seen a lot of changes, yes. Hardcore is becoming a big business with festival mega-structures related to the EDM world, and against such transformations of the underground, new wave figures are emerging–non-binary DJs, queer parties and activist collectives that approach hardcore in a new and very creative manner.
What about the rhythm and style? Has the iconic minimal, pragmatic and simple beat and style changed over the years?
Hardcore music is very complex now and, probably, together with metal, has the largest number of sub-genres. It has lost its punk and naive attitude, but this is also a normal evolution of music genres, it’s part of the game.
Why should hardcore live forever?
Because it’s a human need.