4-beat (also known as hardcore or happy hardcore) is a breakbeat style of music that emerged around 1993. It evolved from breakbeat hardcore emanating from the United Kingdom rave scene. Due to the sheer scale of the United Kingdom rave scene, the popularity of this particular music was largely limited to England where it was almost exclusively produced and played.
Breakbeat hardcore was originally referred to as hardcore by ravers in England. As such, this evolved style was also alternatively known as hardcore or happy hardcore -- the latter meaning a happier variant of this breakbeat styled hardcore, thus happy hardcore (i.e. happy breakbeat). Darkcore was the short lived counter-movement to happy that occurred at the same time.
The name happy hardcore should not be confused with other things that are also referred to as happy hardcore, as that term is much shared across the world to describe different sounding things that have their own development.
Also in this article, 4-beat is not a musical term commonly used to describe a drum beat time signature found in most types of modern music, but is rather a specific name used to describe a breakbeat music style.
The use of individual nicknames by DJs rather than recording under a band name is common. These same artists would be widely found DJing on the English rave circuit. These individual artists would also collaborate with other individuals under joint releases with & or versus designations.
Typical characteristics of 4-beat are for compositions to be around a tempo of 150 to 170 BPM (beats per minute). At the core of these compositions would be a fast looped, sometimes complex rolling sampled breakbeat, along with a combined bass drum every four beats to the bar - hence the name of 4-beat.
These rolling chopped breakbeats were not too dissimilar to those found in jungle music. A deep sub bassline could also be found to work with the breakbeats, though not as prominent as found in jungle. Both 4-beat and jungle styles would be common under one roof at raves during the early-to-mid-1990s.
Tracks would have a somewhat basic keyed happy sounding chord before bursting into an Italo house inspired catchy piano melody. This would be the hook of the record, where rave crowds would respond by making noise by blowing whistles or air horns. This could be accompanied by weeping and uplifting strings.
High pitched samples due to the fast tempo of tracks could be found in this music but not in every release. It's deemed more of a stereotype associated to this style.
Due to other influences - largely the bouncy techno style - its inherent breakbeats and sub-basslines would later become surplus to requirements by 1996.
While ambiguous as a term, 4-beat only indicated that this style - unlike jungle music and its earlier breakbeat hardcore predecessor - used a common if somewhat insignificant four beats to the bar bass drum complementing the obligatory breakbeats. 4-beat does not mean it was void of breakbeats - a common error assumed by most.
Several record labels including Impact, Techstep Records (London) and United Dance Recordings, displayed the 4-beat logo on their artwork alongside the "recognised form of 4-beat" slogan. This logo may also have been used on records to easily distinguish this and jungle music in record shops.
In England, hardcore was the terminology used to describe their breakbeat driven rave music style of the early 1990s, with happy being used to distinguish the happier variant of this breakbeat hardcore music, thus happy hardcore (i.e. happy breakbeat). This term was however less favoured by producers creating this music who instead used 4-beat or even just plain hardcore. Darkcore was the short lived counter movement to happy that occurred at the same time.
DJ Sy - another artist at the forefront of this movement - said, ""happy" hardcore (what a f***ing stupid name - always makes me think of "nappy" hardcore) of '94 onwards..."