Psytrance and hardcore techno are 2 distinct electronic music tribes. Psytrance is typically characterized by psychedelia brought by morphing sounds that make your mind float above the clouds, while the main element in hardcore is an energetic, grounding and distorted kick drum which vibrates through the whole body at a fast pace. The peaceful neo-hippies and the aggressive gabbers are seen as stereotypes of these movements, but there is a lot more to these scenes than their mainstream crowds and music. In the last 5-10 years there has been a parallel development in the psytrance scene similar to what happened to hardcore in the 1990’s. More and more psy artists from around the world started to experiment with 180-200 bpm and faster tempos, sometimes even with speeds similar to speedcore. The psytrance scene has traditionally been quite strict about tempos, which have usually been around 130-140 bpm, below, or up to 160 at best, with a few exceptions here and there. Now however, more and more people are opening up to the energies and possibilities of faster rhythms. In this article I’m going to discuss the various interpretations of the fusion of hardcore and psytrance aka “Psycore”, developments around it, artists you should check out as well as my personal cross-subcultural experiences. In addition to my own investigations, I also contacted some of the pioneers of these hybrid styles to ask about their views on Psycore.
Some early prototypes of “psycore” can be traced back to 1992. The Speed Freak’s first EP, or his track ‘Citrus’ a year later, for example start as what you’d consider ordinary acidcore, but they also have very rave kind of vibes and soon things start flying around giving a psychedelic effect similar to psytrance. Subculturally these have little to do with the goa trance of the time, but some similar ideas are there.
One example of an early psytrance track I could find, which experiments with a 190 bpm tempo, was ‘Kikapelaus (A Spugedelik Return To Monoverse)’ by Huopatossu Mononen from 2001. This track is in the psy subgenre called suomisaundi, which originates from Finland and is by default one of the more convention-breaking psy styles, or as one suomisaundi artist I know puts it: “the breakcore of psytrance”.
In 1996, Michel Klaassen aka Leviathan and his label Cenobite Records started to push a style that combined the Ruffneck artcore/gabber sound of the time with influences from goa trance and hard trance. This style came known as the Cenobite style, trancecore or psycore.
Michel describes his label:
Trancecore , Psycore or Acidcore – call it what you want, but Cenobite listens to all. I think there are many tracks that could be categorized in that style and there is many other styles you can mix it with. I really like dark melodies, but also fast trancy riffs, breakbeats, of course some acid synth sounds, there is so much you can explore, we try to make songs, a musical story with a beginning, middle part and end. We see Cenobite as a really wide range of styles concept, and music & sound as our playground. When producing music you have to follow that gut feeling and take some risks, if you really like it, nothing else matters, dare to be different.
Cenobite also likes putting messages in the tracks sometimes and the story arc is influenced by the Hellraiser mythos. The Cenobite style never truly spread outside the gabber scene. Michel tells that underground illegal tekno parties are the places where the music scenes and styles are mixed more openmindedly in The Netherlands. He has also played the occasional psytrance dj set with his Tellurian alias at events like Ground Zero Festival.
Michel tells about the difficulties in collaboration between the 2 scenes:
If you have 1 psytrance area on a festival, it could be hard for the people to buy a ticket for only 1 psy area. Also, it’s really hard to get booked on a psytrance festival with Psycore and I think it’s because of prejudice. The thing with Hardcore also, it sounds really aggressive, but the people on most parties are happy & peaceful. Would love to be the final act on a psy festival or event.
Cenobite had a break in early 00’s before making a comeback in the second half of the decade. Meanwhile, artists like Ferox and his online Trancecore.nl community carried on evolving the sound and merging it with the millennium developments of Dutch hardcore.
Psycore in the Psytrance scene
The popular free music portal and psy netlabel Ektoplazm describes Psycore as follows:
The faster end of the psytrance spectrum, clocking in at 180+ BPM. Almost certainly an extension of darkpsy but a lot of it isn’t really that dark–just fast and crazy. Although it is certainly an acquired taste it enjoys a great deal of support worldwide. Psycore is also related to neurotrance or hi-tech.
Infect Insect from Macedonia is a pioneer for this experimental sound that was coined with the term Psycore. Here is what he had to say about his vision:
Long story short, by some synchronicity of events the psycore inception started as experimentation with audio forms and music genres for the sake of testing and shifting the human frequency treshold (towards burning).
The basic concept in the works was the hermetic philosophy and the trinity of virtues: psychedelia (change and pattern), core (depth and rhythm) and noise (entropy and resonance).
It started somewhere around 2002 and fermented with first releases in 2005, on some psytrance, noise and hardcore labels. The french NABI-Records hosted the first releases.
The sound is a hybrid form of hardcore, industrial, psychedelic and noise, and the blend seemed to have high power and potential. It is not very dancefloor oriented, but rather mindfuck oriented.
It was good to see it spread through the psy scene as the heavy underground version of psychedelic trance and some other artists as my good comrade Datakult and the rest of the Nabi gang seemed to follow the path.
From statistics it looks like the legacy is mostly spread in countries as Mexico, India and central Europe.
For psycore bpm would be somewhere in between 160-180 bpm, going forward to 200 would turn it into speedcore or above that noisecore. A perfect tune would be the one that sounds faster at lower bpm.
When doing psychedelic you can’t go into higher tempo, because you lose the extra space for syncopation, modulation and pattern definition, sound loses clarity which you need to tell a story and things start to distort with higher FM, thus you enter noise, am aware of this since I do both psycore and noisecore.
The general idea of psycore is to overcome the static form of hardcore genres (speedcore, acidcore etc), which are more rhythm based and lack the diversive morphing sound of psychedelics.
That concept is too dry in my terms, a rhythm should be only a backbone not the front face of a track, the fish skeleton. Another preference is live played / recorded sound over sequenced / automated.
On the other hand psycore should bring a harsher, faster and harder side to psytrance which was lacking back in the days.
When you are on a psytrance party you know psycore is playing when 2/3 of the crowd leaves the floor.
In addition to psycore, fast bpm’s in psytrance are nowadays most commonly associated with hi-tech as well as some darkpsy artists. The borders between these 3 subgenres also interlap as we go into the faster tempos. Darkpsy is similar with a lot of hardcore in that the tone is dark and the themes often depict darker sides of humanity. It is sort of a rebelling contrast within the psy scene continuing similar ideas as industrial, metal and hardcore, although in psy-fashion often with a spiritual twist leaning more towards eastern spirituality and native tribes than judeo-christianity.
Apuruami Records from Mexico is one of the first darker psy labels to release tracks crossing 200 bpm. Digital Darkness is one such artist:
As well as aGh0Ri TanTriK from India who at times explored speedcore/flashcore bpm’s:
Hi-tech is a psy subgenre that has popularized and brought higher bpm’s to wider psy audiences in recent years. The term was invented by Osom (Kindzadza & Psykovsky) from Russia to describe their music and grew into a relatively big movement worldwide. In contrast to the dirty and rough sound of psytrance’s own psycore, hi-tech focuses more on clean dynamics and detail in production. It is not necessarily dark and can express many emotions. The positive thing about this is that it proves that fast music does not always have to identify with dark, so there are no such artificial limits. Sometimes people classify music that is technically the same as hi-tech, but faster or more extreme, as psycore. What is considered as faster and more extreme varies from person to person, so there is no universal consensus on where exactly this shift to psycore happens.
Psycore in the hardcore underground
Now that we have discussed what are considered the Psycores in the gabber/mainstream hardcore and in the psytrance scenes, there is still more to be said about developments along the borders of the underground hardcore techno scene and underground psytrance.
Around 2007, there was a project happening by a Russian duo called Inshizzo who started hybrid experiments without outside influence. Alexey Karlin (aka M.M.C. and MushroomJet) of the duo had a background in darkpsy, whereas the second half Sergey Shevelyov (aka Brainfilter) was into idm, frenchcore, hard techno, breakcore and noise. They created a unique cocktail of experimental core and psy with fast tempos. The bassdrums in their tracks are more hard hitting and distorted than in regular psy, yet keeping more fluid dynamics and not trying to cover a very wide frequency like in a lot of hardcore techno. Their boundaries pushing albums were released on Sergey’s Acidsamovar Records and they were also featured on labels such as Flurokarma and Entity.
Splatterkore Reck-ords from the UK started doing CD releases in 2008 and later became a free netlabel based in Berlin. The label has been mainly associated with the underground core scene, but supports freedom of expression and has released a wide variety of underground electronic music promoting cross-subcultural hybrid experiments. In the label’s early years, artists such as OmniPresence (aka Junkie Kut) and Azamat Softsleeve were pushing psycore with high speed psychedelic trance combined with distorted kicks and breaks. OmniPresence also used distorted vocals similar to digital hardcore. Their vision of psycore or “psykore” was to have mostly separate segments for psy, hardcore, speedcore and breakcore beats to create an energetic fusion. Infect Insect was also releasing on the label. In 2012, Kid Corrupt’s track The Mad Revisionist, with its rolling distorted hardcore kick (similar to a psy bassline), inspired Splatterkore’s Cross-Dimensional Contamination compilation that featured underground psytrance, hardcore and various psycore experiments by 36 artists.
I began collaboration with the Splatterkore collective inviting them to my parties in Finland, starting with their 2010 European tour, and playing at their parties in Berlin as well as releasing on the label. In 2013 I played at CEREBRAL CHAOS Anniversary II – ACID THEATER, which Splatterkore co-organized with Cerebral Chaos, a crew dedicated to dark, experimental and uptempo psytrance. A year before they had also done a psytrance + core collab party at which a certain psy artist came exposed to the psychedelic side of hardcore and speedcore. A year later, he performed as Coredyceps at this party on Splatterkore’s Cyber Dungeon stage. His vision has so far been the most intense experience for me personally in this evolution of psycore. The stage also had an especially strong presence of French flashcore and speedcore artists among others and I was there with my shamancore. The bigger stage hosted by Cerebral Chaos had some of the most intense music that psytrance had to offer.
The party definitely exposed the crowds to new music as 2 scenes were exploring each other. As I understood from the locals, there was also some minor tension between the crowds. One thing to mention about Berlin is that people there tend to stick to their own subcultural cliques. From what I’ve heard there are even 4-5 distinct crowds of hardcore who are not really collaborating with each other. But as Splatterkore founder Zoe Mindgrrind puts it: “Fuck your ego scene wars, we are one!”.
Another interesting and original cross-dimensional artist to mention, who has also released on Splatterkore, is Rose Red Flechette from Pittsburgh. His music is not always necessarily fast, but it is very rough and has unconventional structures combining ideas from industrial/rhythmic noise, core and psytrance.
Psytrance and the Teknival scene
As Michel told above, there is collaboration happening in the free party / free tekno scene, which hosts some forms of hardcore as well. Sometimes tekno/tribe labels include psytrance tracks, or a combination of both, on their vinyl releases and some variants of tribe music such as the so-called “mental tribe” are very psychedelic themselves. Some cultural clash also does happen unfortunately. For example the famous Boom Festival in Portugal dedicated to psytrance has an Anti-Boom counterpart happening. Usually these kinds of counter parties happen when events like Boom promoting seeming oneness between electronic tribes become too commercial and exclusive. The Teknival scene on the other hand promotes a free and temporary autonomous zone (TAZ) and there are some aesthetic differences as well which might play a role in the separation, although in the end both crowds might have a lot in common. Apart from the cultural differences, different budgets, money philosophies and such hierarchies are also one of the bigger obstacles in the collaboration between the more experimental hardcore and psytrance tribes.
Fast music identity and the desired psychedelic effects
Internet memes surrounding hi-tech, darkpsy and psycore often mock “the lesser” slower subgenres in a similar adolescent fashion as hardcore techno memes and troll with who is the fastest or hardest. This is perhaps where there is still some growing up to do with fast music in general as it associates it with some kind of ego games, when in fact for the people who enjoy it it is actually about the cathartic bliss that is achieved by shaking at the peak of ones physical limitations.
Although many artists, beginners and pioneers alike, seem to cross the 200 bpm mark nowadays, I still found some rejection towards higher bpm’s particularly in the psytrance scene. A common element that came up was the FM lead, which is used in many modern psy subgenres, including hi-tech. It was also popular in the hard dance subgenres hard nrg and freeform in the last decade. Elements such as this can give the feeling of an intense speed and energy rush in the head, even if the bpm itself is not that high. Many say that it, and other smaller mind expanding elements and details, lose their purpose at higher tempos. I also found differing opinions and that psy can also have faster bpm’s. Fast music can of course also be psychedelic and there are various psychedelic hardcore subgenres to prove that, but they would require articles of their own, so let’s not go there this time. One way to combine the mind expanding elements, distorted kicks and fast tempos is fractioning the sounds in short separate bits as is done in idm and flashcore music. A more constant psychedelic flow can also be achieved at intense speeds, but we also have to remember that music and its effects are very subjective to the listener and the same effects might not be felt by all.
The future of Psycore
To sum things up, Psycore is a term used in many established contexts and there is not only one right way to use it or make it, leaving room for experimentation. At the moment there is more and less psy and core collaboration happening in the free party scene and select few underground core/psy parties. Earlier this year I also had the honor to play my psychedelic hardcore/speedcore music as Teknoaidi at an underground psy party in Oulu, Northern Finland. Sometimes there is an advantage to smaller local scenes, because the people are more exposed and open minded to many music styles. The experiment went surprisingly well as the crowd was warmed up with some fast suomisaundi and hi-tech sets before I played. It felt like there is definitely more to be explored here. I hope to do more cross-subcultural collaboration in the future and to encourage others to do so too and to expand their minds and possibilities! On the surface psy and core are like two different worlds, and they are cool for what they are doing, but this holistic fusion of mind (psy) and body (core) from inhibited dualism to uninhibited oneness and having a dialogue beyond our comfort zones is something that the world in general could really use more of. Let the new multisubcultural underground tribes emerge!
What are your experiences of this collaboration and is there some Psycore that should have been mentioned? Please share in the comments section below!
Thanks to Leviathan, Infect Insect, Inshizzo, Tekhne Freq, M-Core Da Omkor and others I may have forgotten for your input on Psycore!