While waiting for Gabber Eleganza at the Horst Music festival run-down press room, I started to think how and why after more than 20 years there are people who still enjoy listening to the gabber genre. Personally, I was considering gabber, an early hardcore sub-genre of electronic music, somewhat old-fashioned. With that, I also began questioning myself; What can still trigger curiosity today on 180 bpm hardcore music tracks? In fact, I had the wrong approach to the quest because during the interview—and even more evident during the ‘Hakke Show’ performance—I realised that Gabber is not necessarily a musical genre but it’s something more intimate, closer to a philosophical approach and for some others that were on stage even a way of living.
Gabber Eleganza—the moniker for musician Alberto Guerrini—started as a blog back in 2011 where he aimed at creating a reference point on Gabber culture: “Everything started in an accidental way; I have always been a passionate fan of gabber music and my blog project aimed at recollecting also some ‘private’ material, not only official one,” he said. With the purpose of dismantling the usual gabber stereotypes which include the less desirable collection of junkies and fascists, Guerrini achieved success in reinstating a ‘romantic’ trait to the gabber culture and, suddenly, the blog had no reasons to continue. “I received a proposal I could not turn down for the artistic value,” he explained. “It was in 2016 at the Bicocca hangar in Milan for a project curated by Lorenzo Senni and by the legendary contemporary German artist, Carsten Höller.”
He then adds: “They had the idea to create a sort of soundclash by combining performances held on both European and African stages: I was playing as Gabber Eleganza for the first time inside a museum. The project was particularly interesting because broke the mould, and I like to break the mould, to grab things and put them into different contexts”.
Guerrini’s live shows began as performances, not as a DJ. He then further explains: “It was on that occasion, at the Bicocca, that I brought some gabber party friends of mine and there the idea of the show was born. Only later I ‘officially’ became a DJ and played solo as Gabber Eleganza.”
In response to my question, if there is room for gabber culture in today’s society, he confirms to me that it still exists, especially in Holland or wherever there is a rave culture. Nevertheless, he also points out: “Actually I’m not part of the gabber culture in the strict sense; I do perform at electronic music festivals, that also relate to art, LGTB festivals, techno festival… gabber is not only a musical style but it is very tied to aesthetics, in the way the gabbers wear and also the way the Gabbers dance.”
Last year, having moved to Berlin, Guerrini has committed his personal life to surround himself around other like-minded creatives: “It was for personal rather than for artistic reasons,” he said of the move. “Berlin is a city that has many stimuli but this entails also a lot of competition. In the end, if you have a project you believe in firmly, you can succeed even if you live in a small town.”
Later on, we would have attended the ‘Hakke Show’ performance, known to be remarkably flamboyant and uncommonly exuberant. He then explains with conviction: “The Hakke Show is a show where I basically play only ’90s hardcore, with a performance of gabber dancers, who dance the hakke moves. It is a dance style that comes from Holland and the word ‘hakke’ means to ‘cut’ because you cut the air with your legs and with the arms; it is a very energetic dance.”
He added: “During the performance, I try to be as hidden as possible, a little bit disguised in black because I don’t want the audience to watch me but to watch the dancers. I play for my dancers, not for an audience. The public should grab the energy emanated from my dancers unwrapping this almost primitive music, which is not that evident for an audience that is not used to hard-core or to gabber culture, or even just to rave in general. In the end, my show channels this energy and this is what I want to carry on.
Gabber Eleganza is willing to explore other ways to communicate the gabber culture. To do this, he opened a label called ‘Never Sleep’: “With which I will produce musical and other editorial projects based on different media. Now I have just released a photo book and around the end of December, the first EP will be released. I don’t want to necessarily produce hard-core tracks, but I always like to give a dash of rave and possibly keep an experimental perspective.”
The conversation continues to debate the relevance of gabber, to which Guerrini then highlights how he became accidentally a reference in the gabber scene: “When people read my stage name, they expect certain things, so I always try to do unexpected things, otherwise it would not be fun. I take my work very seriously, but rave culture is good and fun, so there must be a trade-off between the two.”