Wednesday, 9 July 2008


Happy Hardcore, the people's music that never really went away, much as other people would have liked it to; first Scooter get a number one album, then Darren Styles' double CD package Skydiving goes straight into the top five and stays there. Formerly half of the duo Breeze and Styles - much played on Peel's show, lest any of us forget, and a few of their greatest hits are dusted down here, most noticeably the magical "You're Shining" lent immense extra poignancy by Lisa Abbott's cracked, straining voice - he has proved very astute; as with Jumping All Over The World, Skydiving is a double, one CD "hardcore" and the second "commercial," and 2008 pop is unlikely to get perkier.

As I say, the music has both survived and thrived despite blanket ignorance on the part of radio and TV, the true soundtrack of the British working class, the thrust you hear leaking out of every headphone on a council estate bus, music by and for The People; it would seem that, just as the Beatles are unlikely to vanish as a talisman for some demographics, equal numbers (and in 2008 Britain it's very likely to be equal) have never forgotten rave and what it once promised and what it can yet promise, to the splendidly great inconvenience of those who would presume to run our affairs.

The remarkable thing about Skydiving is that its Stylistic division appears both schizophrenic and entirely symbiotic; several tunes appear in different versions or mixes on both CDs and each version complements the other as naturally as the two versions of "Hey Hey, My My" which bracket Rust Never Sleeps. Listen to the "commercial" "Save Me" for instance and you might wish to shake yourself from the dream of a lost Howard Jones album, only much, much better; Styles seeks not to proclaim his changing of your world but sings in a pinched, enthusiastic, vibrato-free high voice, direct and truthful. Much of the "commercial" CD pitches itself in a late eighties recreation scenario far more securely than hamfisted revivalists like Neon Neon; again, the lightness is crucial to help see the light.

The divergence and convergence are best demonstrated by the two versions of the title track. The "commercial" "Skydiving" is fairly straightforward post-eighties pop of the quality to which the likes of McFly aspire, bouncing, bounteous and always with the hint of the rave lurking behind its aquamarine corridors of life, as well as the lyrics; most of Styles' lyrics repeatedly hark back (and forward) to the credos of rave, lots of skies and heavens ("I feel like I'm drifting through the sky/Through the heavens I can hear your voice"). But, and again crucially, Styles' outlook is always optimistic and filled with renewed awe; "Skydiving" is far from the only track where he emphasises the liberation of "feeling alive"; "Take me to a place where I can dream/So we can climb up above the clouds and feel/So free" - we are on very familiar territory here.

But also: "And as we fall I'll take your hand." On the "hardcore" versions the anticipatory beats are radiantly itching to go and the song kicks into fulsome, hands up, klaxons at the ready, stadium Happy Hardcore wherein Styles sounds even freer - the great axial lurch of his warped synth bass as he steps up the power is akin to the thumb of God pressing the remote control of eternity - and it's simple to understand why this represents freedom, rather than escapism, in the turgid, pitiless Britain of these times; here's a way out, here's a laugh and a smiley face in defiance of grey compromise, here's some of the finest pop music of current times. Like New Pop, no one can truly kill this floating but rock solid spirit.