#16. 2021 saw Club Harlecore open its doors to the Internet, a 24-hour web-based rave spot featuring a quartet of mystical DJs brought into our reality by maximalist pop producer Danny L. Harle to coincide with the release of his first full-length album, Harlecore. Surprising as it may be, Harlecore is indeed the debut studio album from the majorly influential electronic dance musician who has been producing and remixing since 2012/2013, when he became a founding PC Music signee. His time with that culture-defining label saw him busy and ambitious, steadily piecing together an eclectic catalog of singles and remixes that bridged into a more commercial sphere that tended away from long-form projects. Now at Mad Decent, Harle appears to be rethinking his approach to releasing music, with Harlecore representing a sort of compromise between the scattershot singles-centric path, and a cohesive, wholly conceptualized LP.
Its 13 tracks united by the aforementioned “Club Harlecore” premise, this project allows itself to take the form of a subgenre sampler under the guise of flaunting the voices of these long-tinkered-with personae, the digital sprites depicted on the knowingly cheesy album art and seen spinning at virtual DJ booths, each assigned a particular sonic aesthetic. Harlecore spends its 37-minute runtime cycling through these characters to thrilling effect, taking listeners on a tour of various hardcore stylings in the process. Assumed default persona DJ Danny and the Hudson Mohawke co-masterminded DJ Mayhem bear most of the tracklist’s weight and the least aesthetic distance between one another, the former placing Harle in romantic, trancey, happy hardcore mode (the anthemic “Take My Heart Away,” not only the peak of this sound and album, but of the year in total), the latter gnashing gabber homage with big, stomping basslines interlinked by fluid synth melody. Harle’s madcap DJ Boing (a U.K. hardcore side project with PC Music’s Lil Data) and the new age/ambient DJ Ocean (whose music is driven by Caroline Polachek vocals) provide something resembling interludes that diffuse and instigate Harlecore’s extra high energy strategically. The result is a surprisingly vital and well-timed release from an artist who has long been content to move at their own pace. Perhaps an acknowledgment of the shifting cultural attitudes toward the music celebrated here and Harle’s own role in re-popularizing it, Harlecore stands as one of the year’s best even when considered apart from the narratives spun by and surrounding its creator, an unapologetic celebration of the rave spirit and pop music’s most empowering qualities.