Masterpieces Of Rave

[A work in progress]

This is not another list of all music played at raves or dance parties at a certain time or place. It's a list concerned with that energetic, main room sound of the very early 90s - predating the melodic trance and hardcore movements that came later.

Some think of rave as the breakbeat driven sound of UK Hardcore; this is not that list.

Nor is it just concerned with big hoovers, mentasm stabs, sawtooth synths or uplifting pianos - proper rave is a bit less obvious and a bit more serious.

But defining exactly what rave is or isn't is even more difficult because it's more a feeling than a style: it can incorporate so many genres and styles, without ever being just one... techno, house, trance; elements of disco, new beat, acid, acid house, breakbeats. It can be a bit trippy, sometimes serious and unrelenting, other times euphoric... often within a single 5 minute track.
While much of it comes from mainland Europe, much of it doesn't (and just because it was released by one nation's label doesn't mean that's where the artist lived). It doesn't even have a fixed chronological date, although 1990 to 1991 might be its peak years - yet there are tunes from years either side of these that slot perfectly into a rave set.

Because it is primarily music to dance to, rave requires energy to carry the track and dancer forwards and there is a certain predictability to its structure so as not to trip a dancer up. Rarely is rave as abstract as techno, or as soulful as house; it doesn't try to distract you with wordy songs. While it has the most connection with 'trance', it doesn't wander around a theme as trance does, and there are not many massive breakdowns or slow builds to nothing.
Tempo is important - most rave tracks get played at about 125 to 128 beats per minute, a speed which not only lets one endure a full night of hard dancing, but is not so fast that it prevents inventive dance moves. It's subjective of course, but I submit that rave produced the best dancers since the breakdance era and hasn't been bettered yet.

Many first-wave producers of early underground movements (Chicago house, Detroit techno, UK hardcore, etc) were inexperienced in the studio, and some lacked much formal music training. In contrast, many of the producers on this list came to rave after years of studio and recording experience. They were using well equipped professional studios and this showed in the polish of their tracks, the originality of their sounds and the wide variety of influences and/or sample sources.

Here's a decent mix of non-cheesy rave:
and a decent rave megamix:

Notes about the list:
- First vinyl issue takes precedence; albums and compilations only included if containing different mixes or otherwise unreleased tracks.
- In no particular order; higher up the list are the essential classics - but there'll be a few obscurities too....
- Included are only the rave tracks of the release, these are not necessarily the best tracks of the release.
- Many artists had multiple pseudonyms or were members of multiple projects, so real names of producers and date of original release are given in notes.
  1. 1
    Rave This Nation
    R.J.'s Rule
    20 copies from $5.32
    Ramon Roelofs, 1991.
    A neat distillation of all the best elements of early rave from he who would gain later fame and notoriety as gabba and hardcore producer, Charly Lownoise.

    A. Rave This Nation (Mix 1: Raw Substantial).
    The ominous spoken intro is courtesy of the stage announcer off the 1970 Woodstock Soundtrack, but it quickly switches to a thumping kik, oscillating synths, speak'n'spell samples, driving pulses, paranoia inducing synth lines and filtered hip-house chants.
    When it can't go any further it goes into a dead break before starting all over again.

    B1. Rave This Nation (Mix 2: Fly-Tech Groove).
    A deeper start makes this more suitable for later in the night. Still kicks after the break.
  2. 2
    Horsepower Exclusive Remix
    Ravesignal III*
    33 copies from $0.62
    Christian Bolland, 1991.

    A1. Horsepower (Exclusive Remix).
    Builds on the original to generate blinding high energy exuberance. The "do it" samples and tempo changes are let go, but the echoing rim shots and saw tooth bassline remain. Over these fly blistering acidic synth lines that literally pull laserbeams out from the air above.
    Not to mention what is possibly the greatest mind bender of an acid break ever recorded.

    Probably CJ's best work and possibly the greatest rave track of all time.
  3. 3
    Ravesignal III
    Christian Jay Bolland*
    39 copies from $1.06
    Christian Bolland, 1991.

    A. Mindwar.
    B1. Horsepower.
    Both tracks are original and inventive, making sophisticated use of swirling synths and filtered vocal samples - but Mindwar has the edge for rave dancefloors. Horsepower is darker and its teutonic kick marked the beginning of the move of rave towards hard trance.
  4. 4
    10 copies from $5.32
    Tobias Freund, Uwe Schmidt, 1991.

    A. Phobia (Kickin' Mix).
    Absolute peak-time belter. None of the other mixes are worth a cracker, but this should be in any top 10 list of rave.
  5. 5
    Full On Sound
    22 copies from $0.66
    Morgan King, Nick Hook, 1991.

    B. Mayhem (Doin' The Apocalypso).
    Has there ever been a better name for a rave act, or a rave tune?
    Building trumpet intro, a growling "Yeaaaahhhh...." sample and a bad-ass kick drum.
    Two thirds in, there's a calming bridge section of a crisp breakbeat and warm pads before the mayhem begins again, going completely wack-out mental for the final minute where it seems like the sequencer has failed - full on mayhem!
  6. 6
    He Butcher
    Sound To Light
    18 copies from $7.49
    Alexander Metzger, 1991.

    B1. Breeze.
    Absolutely furious tour de force that remained in play well into the domination of trance and hard trance.
  7. 7
    Space 3001 (The Remixes)
    Space Opera
    77 copies from $2.00
    Christian Bolland, David Morley, Renaat Vandepapeliere, Aad de Mooy, Nick Halkes, 1990.

    A1. Space 3001 (The Trance Mix).
    A2. Space 3001 (The Team Mix).
    D-Shake (De Moy) reworks his masterpiece "Techno Trance" on the 'Trance Mix', with parts provided by the legends of R&S. It's fabulous big room stuff from the get-go: a huge, reverberating pad announcing its arrival. There's an industrial feel to the percussion and atmosphere - perfect for warehouse parties - and the call/response of "Turn It Up!" versus "Are You Ready?" builds energy and anticipation before an excellent Italo-disco bassline drags you through the track.
    It's much more stripped back than any of the other mixes and all the better for it, although Bolland and Hawkes have a great time throwing everything into the pot on the 'Team Mix'.
  8. 8
    Yaaaaaaaaaah (Freestyle Club Mix) / Techno Trance (Paradise Is Now)
    57 copies from $3.74
    Aad de Moy, 1990.

    AA. Techno Trance (Paradise Is Now).
    Epic buildup as the panned calls to "C'mon!" get louder and more commanding... then the sudden kick off and rat-a-tat percussion take over to shatter dancefloors the world over. Sasha used to play acapellas over the break to questionable delight of pilled up northerners, but this track deserves much more respect than that. Still being played by the likes of Carl Cox and Laurent Garnier to new school festival goers 30 years on; it's a true classic.
  9. 9
    Techno Trance (Remix)
    33 copies from $4.26
    Aad de Moy, 1990.

    A. Techno Trance (The Next Generation).
    Hard to top the original, but it's still pretty good; the first drop into the bassline is strong enough to bring a rush on.
  10. 10
    DJ Edge
    22 copies from $10.64
    Gordon Matthewman, 1992.

    B3. S.F. (Acid Mix).
    Ostensibly a remix of Digital Domain - "I Need Relief" but with all the cheese cut out. The late 80s house hook catches your attention before Ann Nesby cries "I need release!" and the acid line is allowed space to drive the track along. A rockin' party tune.
  11. 11
    Strings Of Life
    Rhythim Is Rhythim
    7 copies from $53.19
    Derrick May, Michael James, 1987.

    A2. Strings Of Life.
    Yes, it's 'The Techno Anthem' of the Second Summer Of Love - yadda, yadda - but it's also a masterclass of rave: big buildup, exuberant stabs, sudden changes in direction and the funkiest percussion that is just simply joyous to dance to. Faultless except for the fade out finish.
  12. 12
    Mr Monday*
    27 copies from $8.50
    Simon Monday, 1990.

    A. Future.
    Simon Monday may possibly be disappointed that despite his years on the electronic circuit he really only ever had one hit - but since that tune is a seminal masterpiece any disappointment is unnecessary (and he must've had some idea he'd produced a winner when he called it "Future").

    Two years on from "Strings Of Life" hitting British shores and again exuberant stabs bring this track to instant life before beginning a second phase where it meanders along with a bit of latino/balearic feel. All of this is only to raise anticipation for the coming break, where the stabs are allowed to build to a cacophonous frenzy that doesn't let up for the rest of the track.

    I think only 500 copies got pressed, and maybe only a dozen or so of those made it to Melbourne; but despite all this it was the number one tune of late 1990 - still being regularly played out two years later. At old skool parties a quarter of a century on it still gets some of the best response of the night.

    Like all masterpieces, "Future" splits opinion. Some love it, others despise it. But once you're locked into its groove at that break there's no escape. The first time I heard it, "Future" became my favourite track of all time and remains so even today - it'll probably be played to close out my funeral.
  13. 13
    Davide Carbone, Josh Abrahams, Steve Robbins, 1993.

    A1. Welcome.
    Mates Carbone and Robbins had been pushing underground dance as DJs and promoters since the mid 80s, and with the addition of studio skilled Abrahams were one of the relative few underground Australian acts to find any kind of success.
    If they had a flaw, it was that their collective musical knowledge often led to tracks that had too many ideas, or referenced too many other tunes. Some may say they lacked originality, but more likely they just needed the confidence to let originality win over imitation more.

    "Welcome" doesn't escape it's samples and references - the looped piano off D-Mob's "C'mon And Get My Love" is immediately familiar and so are the stabs at the break... Monday, May or both? Yet, the end result is successful in its own right, containing a certain deepness that made it a late night anthem across various rave and underground club scenes.
  14. 14
    Total Confusion
    A Homeboy, A Hippie & A Funki Dredd
    27 copies from $3.75
    Caspar Pound, Marc Williams, Tony Winter, 1990.

    A. Total Confusion (Confusion Mix).
    Hip-house for the hardcore. The 'Heavenly Mix' is an early morning tance weapon, but anyone who went to a rave where the whole room erupted into unified 'whoop-whoop' chants knows the power of the a-side mix.
    Bonus points for having the best breakbeat of all time.
  15. 15
    State Of Mind
    Energy 52
    11 copies from $55.05
    Paul Schmitz-Moormann, Harald Blüchel, 1991.

    A. State Of Mind.
    Any track that uses the "Total Confusion" breakbeat as a bed can't be all bad, and if you add rapid fire acidic blips and a fat as funk bassline you get something beyond good.
  16. 16
    Chile Of The Bass Generation
    Mental Cube
    29 copies from $5.32
    Brian Dougans, Garry Cobain, 1990.

    AA1. Q.
    The bleepy parts and low tempo show an awareness of the current heights of British techno, but then there's the laser beam pulses, effected bongo percussion and total euphoria of the melody that combine to push this tune forward... it's more a song without words than a simple tune. Perfect early morning energy reviver.
  17. 17
    Mental Cube
    1 copy from $265.96
    Brian Dougans, Garry Cobain, 1991.

    A. Q (Original).
    B. Q (Santa Monica Mix).
    The Santa Monica Mix adds more layers of melody. I prefer the original.
  18. 18
    Tao Nonstop / Ratio Tao
    Cosmic Enterprises
    10 copies from $53.19
    Harald Blüchel, 1991.

    A. Tao Nonstop.
    Very German: soft kick, Kraftwerk sounds, basic percussion, vocoder.
    Low tempo and kind of a musical cousin to Mental Cube's "Q" as well.
  19. 19
    107 copies from $1.28
    Adam Tinley, 1990.

    B1. Bass Line Changed My Life.
    The bassline is a killer. The strings are lush. The piano rocks.
    The first breakdown has you longing for more; the final break provides total release.

    Adamski's finest work.
  20. 20
    140 copies from $0.64
    Adam Tinley, 1990.

    A1. N-R-G.
    Six minutes of peak time party music that requires being played from start to finish without interruption.
    Pretty sure this was the first rave/techno track to grab me by the balls and drag me oh so willingly into a new world. Thank you, Mr Adamski.
  21. 21
    Hypnautic Beats
    21 copies from $12.76
    Giora Schein, Holger Wick, 1990.

    A. Hypnautic Beats (Ambient 1990 Mix).
    Weaves between aggression and bliss, and in between those points are spacey vocals in German that sound pretty malevolent to non-German speakers; the lyrics are actually rather silly - something about hypnosis ... 'you are getting sleepy', etc.

    A true node in between new beat and trance, but still very exciting in its juxtapositions of parts that give it dance floor energy.
  22. 22
    Life In Ecstasy
    Trust In 6
    10 copies from $19.99
    Andre Fischer, Lars Janzik, 1991.

    B. Life In Ecstasy (Instrumental Mix).
    Condenses a fair whack of parts into four and a half minutes and does so with coherent intensity. Very German and very good.
  23. 23
    Arcadia / Oh-One [The Candy Flip Remixes]
    Dayglo Dreams, Yin Yang
    20 copies from $18.74
    Daniel Mould, Ric Anderson-Peet, 1989.

    B. Oh-One (Oh-Too Mix).
    Candy Flip before they went pop. To 'candy flip' is to drop acid and ecstacy at the same time, and this is a recommended way of enjoying this tune.
  24. 24
    Stakker Humanoid
    87 copies from $2.19
    Brian Dougans, 1988.

    A2 Stakker Humanoid (Radio Edit)
    B Stakker Humanoid (The Omen Mix)
    Years ahead of the curve even at this early stage of his career, Dougans pushes British acid house way out of its comfort zone.

    The b-side Omen Mix is the longest and takes a while to peak, but peak it does; while the succinctness of the 7" Radio Mix makes it a better pick than than the 12" mix. DJs of a twisted bent will find that they can do maximum damage using 2 copies of this weapon, the parts phase wonderfully, and you can mix and cut between the various parts for an eternity of hallucinogenic mayhem.
  25. 25
    Overload EP
    Altern 8
    43 copies from $3.12
    Mark Archer, Chris Peat, 1990.

    A1. Move My Body.
    A2. Destiny.
    A3. Depth Of Sound.
    A4. Return To Techno City.
    B2. Reel Time Status.
    Much of this LP must've been written at the same time Nexus 21 was still their primary alias, and could've happily been released as such - I suspect a new fondness for samples might've been part of the reason a new alias was adopted.

    My rave pick is "Reel Time Status"; proto hardcore with a Todd Terry riff sample over Bobby Byrd's "Hot Pants" drumbeats. Very raw by later standards but still demonstrates the complexity that the duo had developed over the last few years' producing - the end of phrase accent from the "Car Wash" soundtrack by Rose Royce is particularly clever.
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