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Michael McKinney understands the cultural importance of Kreayshawn’s “Gucci Gucci.”
Hardcore will never die, but it will never stop being reborn, either. The appeal of fast-and-heavy club music is, at first glance, obvious: lace a kick drum with enough heft and you can level mountains. But to stop at sheer weight is reductive. Even the most stone-faced gabber tracks frequently carry a devil-may-care sort of glee; the skyscraping synths of hard trance can threaten to crack heaven in half; sometimes, a wall of drum machines is a fast-track ticket towards dancefloor euphoria. Once you get acclimated to the tempi and energies of hardcore—which are frequently, but not always, cranked into the red—the style opens up, revealing all sorts of beauties between its chest-cratering percussion.
ascendant vierge understand this. The duo, composed of art-pop maven Mathilde Fernandez and gabber mastermind Paul Seul, first met when Fernandez asked Seul to remix a track from her 2018 EP, Hyperstition. In its original form, “Oubliette” is a reverb-drenched piece of synth-pop, Fernandez’s voice tracing out a spare melody atop a bed of organs, MIDI string sections, and a bare-bones drum machine. It’s slow and a bit Gothic, so Seul’s edit lands as a gut punch: he speeds things up quite a bit and chops up Fernandez’s vocals, beefing up the rhythm section with a steamrolling kick drum and mile-a-minute breakbeats. Critically, his edit retains the high-drama energy of the original, even as it reimagines Fernandez’s music as a soundtrack for dimly lit warehouses.
While this may read as a bit of a left turn, it has plenty of precedent. Seul is a founding member of Casual Gabberz, a Parisian club-music collective that has been pushing gabber and hardcore into parts unknown since its founding in the early 2010s. In Casual Gabberz’s music, hardcore dance music is more of an aesthetic approach than a specific sound: gabber mainstay Von Bikräv evokes old-school hardcore heroes Rotterdam Terror Corps; Krampf finds the space between new-school gabber, hard techno, and hands-up trance; and Paul Seul pushes things into ever stranger territories thanks to his frequent dives into breakbeat and psychedelia. This is hardly a crew of traditionalists, in other words—Seul, in his own work and alongside affiliates, has long been working to push hardcore into new spaces, reimagining the sound of hard dance along the way.
It should come as little surprise that Fernandez, who grew up on industrial music and metal and has a similarly transgressive approach to songwriting, sought out Seul’s music in the pursuit of sheer weight. Seul’s makes a natural sparring partner for her: he has worked with plenty of vocalists in the past, and in that work, he has helped to broaden the spectrums contained in hardcore. ascendant vierge’s music doesn’t offer a one-to-one comparison with many names in contemporary dance music, but that makes their alchemy all the more thrilling. In their work, Seul and Mathilde have drawn up a kaleidoscopic vision of the hard dance continuum—early-’90s breakbeats, turn-of-the-century psytrance, hypermodern techno—without fitting neatly into any specific portion of it.
One collaboration beget another, and since then, ascendant vierge have gone on to release a handful of singles, a pair of EPs, and, in April’s Une Nouvelle Chance, a debut LP. Their discography, although trim, runs deep. This is the sound of two dance-music lifers exploring the style’s umpteen nooks, crannies, and mutations while proposing new forms along the way. With Une Nouvelle Chance, they take their operatic hardcore to another level, angling towards pop-radio ubiquity even as they offer a survey of hard-and-fast dance music: hardstyle, gabber and vocal house; hard trance, acid and straight-up pop belters. It’s a sprint through an entire musical continuum that imagines it as something that could take over the world, or at least the charts.
Ahead of their performance at Primavera Sound Barcelona, we got a chance to catch up with the duo, touching on the history and possible futures of hardcore music, the importance of uncertainty, and the power of underground club-music communities.