What is Gabber Music?
Gabber is a genre of electronic dance music (EDM) centered at around 160 to 220 beats per minute (BPM) and driven by a four-on-the-floor kick drum featuring a distinctively distorted melodic pattern. Originally from Rotterdam and Amsterdam, it has given way to its own rave subculture.
In the broader spectrum, gabber is a recent and relatively unknown music style. One of the most extreme subgenres of EDM, gabber originated in the early 90s and failed to hit the mainstream. Today, it remains a mostly underground music genre with a small but fierce fan base.
In addition to being a bit too fast, loud, and noisy to play on the radio, gabber music was vilified once it was associated with neo-nazi movements in central Europe. Even though these movements constitute only a tiny fraction of what the gabber subculture represents, they have permanently affected its reputation.
That aside, it’s crucial to mention that gabber is about love, not hate. It’s a deeply interesting cult-driven music style with a fan base that’s mostly anti-racist and anti-fascist.
So, to better understand gabber, let’s look at how it sounds, how diverse it is, where it came from, and who are some of its best artists.
What does Gabber sound like?
Gabber music is fast, energetic, loud, and unapologetically extreme. Most gabber producers work with BPMs higher than 160 and rely on distorted kick drum samples, saturated closed and open hi-hats, screechy synthesizer patches, and hit samples such as vocal shouts and rave stabs.
The four-on-the-floor kick drum is the most distinctive element of gabber. One of the most common beat-drop techniques used in the style is to go from a kick-less section with noisy drum-and-bass hi-hats to an ultra-low kick-drum gabber pattern. As for the pattern itself, it’s based on a basic 8th-note loop with some 16th-note kicks playing in between.
While the kick takes center stage in gabber, the melodic elements are the distinctive part of each song. Gabber melodies tend to be repetitive, simple, and as loud as possible. There’s a clear influence of acid techno and acid house in the way the synthesizers sound and a constant reliance on effects such as distortion and saturation.
Is all Gabber Music the same?
Gabber music is a small subgenre in the wider context of EDM, but it has already inspired its own subgenre: Nu Style Gabber. Nu Style Gabber is slower than regular gabber, more melodic, and more sample-based (scenes from old movies, for example, are common source material).
That’s not to say that all gabber music that’s not Nu Style sounds the same. While there’s a certain rigidity to gabber in terms of creative freedom, there’s no denying many gabber artists have their personal, distinctive, and signature style.
Where does Gabber come from?
Gabber originated in the Dutch rave culture scene of the early 90s and eventually expanded outside of the Netherlands. It was designed to be an alternative to acid house and new beat and was often associated with illegal substance use. In Dutch, the word “gabber” comes from the slang “bargoens,” meaning “buddy.”
More than just a style of music, gabber was and still is, a youth movement in the Netherlands. Also known as hardcore, the movement was based around massive raves such as the Thunderdome. Gabber fans dance and dress in a specific way and reportedly enjoy items such as L’Alpina tracksuits and Nike Air Max shoes.
The evolution of Gabber Music
Gabber music, and its movement, are still alive. However, there’s no denying that gabber releases are not as frequent today as they were in the 90s. Most seminal gabber records were released between 1993 and 1998 and the style has been registering less and less output virtually since the turn of the millennium.
This is the approximate number of gabber records released per year since 1992 based on Rate Your Music’s database (see the full list here, under “Years Active”):
|Year||Number of gabber releases|
To draw a picture of how gabber music changed aesthetically over the years is, sadly, not as easy. Most seminal gabber artists relied on analog equipment and made their best work during the 90s.
With the arrival of the 2000s, the increasing popularity of the digital audio workstation (DAW) gave way to a small but noticeable new wave of “digital” gabber artists. Ophidian, who released the hard-hitting, techno-influenced album “Blackbox” in 2003 makes for one of the best examples.
Nonetheless, we can’t know for sure that the golden years of gabber have passed. In recent years, many up-and-coming electronic producers have revitalized the popularity of the genre.
Less associated with rave culture and drug use and more associated with Gen-Z iconography and the Internet, re-emerging styles such as digital hardcore, happy hardcore, and speedcore seem to be paving the way for the gabber-music to come (even if it’s not technically called gabber).
Quintessential Gabber Artists
While every best-of-style list is always cruelly subjective, I believe these artists represent the best of gabber music.
Yes, the hardcore god Paul Elstak was one of the great precursors of gabber in the 90s and continues to wow EDM crowds over the world.
Based in Frankfurt, the DJ Marc Acardipane is another hardcore giant who’s helped to bring gabber music to life. His live stream at the iconic Thunderdome is emblematic of his connection with the gabber movement.
Don’t be fooled by the name: DJ Rob is a one-man act now, but it started as a five DJ gabber act.
Some people enjoy gabber not because they’re into raving, but because they like when the music gets extreme. On that note and that note only, it’s worth listening to Sonic Dragolgo, whose hilarious 1999 album “My Sweet Honey Bunny” is now a cult favorite.
Far from the realms of gabber but surely inspired by gabber music, Machine Girl’s sound is perhaps the finest example of how gabber can still help to shape the music to come.
Gabber is the EDM subgenre for all fans of hardcore music who feel like their hardcore isn’t hardcore enough. Unfairly put aside by many fans due to its extreme sound and few bad political associations, it deserves to be revisited by all people who enjoy listening to music that makes you want to jump.
In the 90s and today, that’s precisely what gabber (Dutch for “buddy”) represents: moving your body to a nice beat and having fun with friends.