- Hyperpop and rave meet on the virtual dance floor.
- Danny L Harle's new album reimagines the experience of clubbing as a virtual, online space. Sound familiar? Harlecore debuted in the form of a four-level nightclub accessed via an internet browser. You can move around and enter different rooms, with an aesthetic taking cues from '90s PC blockbusters Doom and MYST. Most of us have some experience with this concept by now, a year into the pandemic, with entire festivals happening on platforms like Twitch or Minecraft. What might have seemed like radical high art outside the pandemic now feels like everyday escapism, reimagining a place for all of us to gather and listen to dance music and collectively lose our shit once again.
The music on Harlecore seems designed to make you lose your shit, at least if you're a fan of the gaudy dance music he's been making since the early days of PC Music. It's a blaze of an LP where hyperpop meets rave, with intricate production, Eurodance melodies and a continual drive towards the ultra-euphoric. Though the album's sound is consistent, it's split across the club's four levels, each inhabited by a different Danny L Harle alter ego. First there's DJ Danny, a solo alias that focuses on the lovesick trance of his best-known work. Then we have MC Boing, a mákina project with hyperactive screamed vocals—imagine Keith Flint yet somehow more maniacal—and the ethereal ambient stylings of DJ Ocean, a collaboration with Caroline Polachek, whose vocals waft through the rarefied air like a chillout room in 2112. Then there's my favourite, DJ Mayhem, a gigantic wolf who plays hardstyle with a rough gabber edge. (Hudson Mohawke helps Harle out with that one.)
With these outlandish characters and a virtual environment that plays on every cliché about nightlife, Harlecore has an air of pastiche about it. But the songs are undeniable. Every hook is engineered to penetrate your brain—songs like "On A Mountain" or "Shining Stars," with its strange, squeezed vocal processing are the kind that live in your mind rent-free after your very first listen. And then there's MC Boing, whose unhinged shouting ("We are driving in a car! car! car! car!") is belligerently catchy. The result is a kind of sensory overload that's not too far off from bouncing around room-to-room in some maximalist superclub.
The DJ Ocean tracks act as respites between the rave mayhem—maybe you're hanging back and drinking a bottle of water, or chatting shit at the bar—while even DJ Mayhem tones things down on "Interlocked," an important breather during the album's barreling opening stretch. This kind of pacing and world-building elevates Harlecore beyond its interactive gimmick, and highlights Harle's approach to art, where there's no low or high brow, just ecstatic feelings rendered in radio-ready hooks and mind-bogglingly good sound design. But what makes Harlecore brilliant to some is the same restless impulse that might make it unbearable to others. "I came to a conclusion at the end of my studies that the music I make should actually just be a collection of the things I think sound good all in a row," Harle told Noisey in a recent cover story.
In this insatiable drive for pleasure, Harlecore transcends any coherent analysis. It's making fun of dance music and celebrating it at the same time. It's an intoxicating mix of old hard dance styles and nouveau pop aesthetics. This irreverent approach is key to the hyperpop world that Harle finds himself at the centre of, where it doesn't matter how serious or silly something is, as long as it bangs. And for those not normally keyed into the hyperpop world, the way Harle mixes the sickly sweet sounds with techno bona fides should appeal to anyone with an ear for melody—these songs are designed to penetrate your brain and stay there.
The zeitgeist-y feeling bleeds into the Harlecore website, which is vaguely unsettling: an interactive club where you listen to pounding dance music completely by yourself, surrounded by NPCs. But as fans clamored online on release date, all experiencing the online club at the same time, it created a palpable, if virtual, moment of community and togetherness. Harlecore is the souvenir, a collection of dance music so deliriously upbeat you can't help but surrender to it.
01. DJ Danny - Where Are You Now
02. MC Boing - Boing Beat
03. DJ Mayhem - Interlocked
04. DJ Ocean - Ocean's Theme
05. DJ Danny - On A Mountain
06. MC Boing - Piano Song
07. DJ Danny - Do You Remember
08. DJ Mayhem - All Night
09. DJ Danny - Take My Heart Away
10. DJ Ocean - For So Long
11. DJ Mayhem - Shining Stars
12. MC Boing - Car Song
13. DJ Danny - Ti Amo