Danny L Harle Is Here to Save '90s Rave with 'Harlecore'

Danny L Harle Is Here to Save '90s Rave with 'Harlecore'
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Popular music has been borrowing '80s synth sounds for what seems like a while now, both in the Top 40 and otherwise, with some examples sounding almost parodic at this point. (The Weeknd's wildly popular "Blinding Lights" comes to mind.) But what about the '90s? Love Inc., Vengaboys, Aqua, and Eiffel 65 are seemingly muse to few in 2021.

Enter British producer and PC Music alum Danny L Harle, arriving like some kind of rave saviour, with a high-concept debut full-length featuring an entire stable of alter-egos, all taking their inspiration from this sometimes overlooked decade of electronic music.

Indeed, cheekily titled Harlecore, it is full to bursting with '90s rave goodness — it's big, fun, and just a little bit dumb, all delivered with a massive meta wink from Harle himself, whose various personas (ranging from the ethereal DJ Ocean to the breathless MC Boing) get amusing name-drops from various genre-specific announcers throughout, just like in the days of yore. Detractors may venture that it comes across a bit trite or superficial at times, but a brassy surface sheen was a big part of the appeal of this music in the first place, and these tracks gleam like a new Sony Discman.

Much of the fun of Harlecore lies in picking out the various influences or references on display: the stomping synth line of "Interlocked" is reminiscent of Reel 2 Reel's "I Like to Move It," the unfiltered piano chords of "Piano Song" are straight out of "Charly"-era Prodigy, and the melismatic siren calls of "Ocean's Theme" (courtesy of what sounds like an uncredited Caroline Polachek, whose acclaimed 2019 debut Harle executive produced) are a winning exercise in downtempo trance taken from the BT or Paul Van Dyk playbook. There's even some faint gang vocals á la venerable German hardcore group Scooter, who have been carrying the rave torch with a straight face for the last 25 years.

Harle is a lot more self-aware however, rarely getting lost in the excess, and if a few of the lesser offerings on Harlecore veer close to sounding like merely a collection of tropes and knowing production techniques, a particularly arresting bass or synth line always arrives to save the day. The brisk 38-minute runtime means you're never far away from the next amusing flourish, and while the overall style and sound bank are definitely all '90s, the production is impeccably current, with everything popping as brightly as the album's sparkling cover art. (Fittingly, Harle himself looks like he's been taken out of an episode of ReBoot.)

Harlecore is '90s rave held up for review, assessment and full enjoyment, and if there isn't a ton of depth here, the breadth (with Harle essentially exploring four different sub-styles through his various personas) is more than impressive enough to make up for it. It's all pulled off with such glee and energy, that in terms of pure enjoyment, it's very difficult to fault Harlecore. (Mad Decent)