The massive outpouring of grief from the international dance music community when Scott Hardkiss passed away in March 2013 was a testament to the beloved legacy of Hardkiss.
The legendary San Francisco DJ-production threesome, including "brothers" Gavin and Robbie Hardkiss, was instrumental in kick-starting the U.S. rave scene in the early '90s. And while the trio favored renegade parties and an underground DIY ethos, thanks to a slew of commercial hits, they also became an entry point into electronic dance music for their generation's mainstream.
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These days, Gavin and Robbie are keeping the Hardkiss legacy alive by producing, performing, and even having dusted off their old Hardkiss Music catalog, making their classic vinyl records available digitally for the first time. They also happen to have a stellar new album out, titled 1991, which features some of Scott's final work.
Crossfade caught up with Gavin Hardkiss ahead of Saturday's exclusive 1991 listening party and DJ set at Do Not Sit on the Furniture. We chatted about Hardkiss's two decades in the game, the new album, and the state of electronic dance music.
Crossfade: How did Hardkiss first form? Did the three of you have a grand concept in mind when you first set out to make and play music together? What glued you together creatively in the beginning?
Gavin Hardkiss: We started as a ragged group of DJs throwing warehouse parties and magical soirées in San Francisco during the early '90s. We'd use the funds from these escapades to buy studio time and equipment to make sound experiments and produce original dance music. We launched a record label called Hardkiss Music, which took our sound global with vinyl releases, and opened the door to jetset international DJ careers. This is all at the time when Avicii was in diapers and the MP3 was not yet born.
We were into indie rock, house, techno, funk, go-go, disco -- all kinds of cool music. We were never genre purists. In fact, there isn't a style of music that Hardkiss doesn't like. We were into taking chances and experimenting with these influences to make a new hybrid sound. There was generally a curious and humorous approach to creativity, which would backspin into a deep emotional counter-balance.
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How did Scott's untimely passing last year impact Hardkiss?
This was completely heartbreaking on so many levels. It's hard to overemphasize the important role that Scott had on our Hardkiss identity and the growth of electronic dance music in the U.S. Wherever we play, he lives on, because he's alive in the music.
What are your thoughts on the evolution of electronic dance music since Hardkiss's '90s heyday? Where do you see yourself fitting in today's electronic dance music landscape?
The electronic dance music scene, like so many American cultural phenomenons, enjoys regurgitating and then swallowing itself with the belief that it's fresh and new. This is amusing to watch, but can also be depressing. I try not to pay too close attention, but there are always a few nuggets that are tasty. What were we talking about again? Carnival rides? Wallpaper? There's so much good music now, you just gotta dig a bit to find it. Nowadays you mostly don't have to pay for music. It's rain down from a cloud. So there's no excuse listening to the same old shit. Back in the day, I had to rent records. I swear to God, the only way to get the newest sounds, growing up in Johannesburg, South Africa, was to rent vinyl and record to tape. Hardkiss has always been very independent and on the periphery. Not quite what's going on at that moment, but if you're curious, you'll find us. You'll be happy you did.
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Like many of your '90s rave era contemporaries, especially fellow San Franciscans Dubtribe Sound System, your brand of electronic dance music touched on the spiritual and transcendental. What are your thoughts on how so much EDM today contains vapid, superficial lyrical content and messages? Do you think the role of electronic dance music should be to push messages of substance and expand people's consciousness?
Pop music is cool. But when I'm on a dance floor, I like something different, something I've never heard before. That may be spiritual or transcendental, but it could also be sexy and provocative. I live in a cocoon in Northern California with no TV or radio, so I've filtered out a lot of the noise. Music is magic. I like it when music breaks down barriers, when personal and group dynamics get warped. The cage doors fly open and multiple personalities spill out. I guess you could call that expanding consciousness. You can
also call it getting down with your mother-funkin' self.
What can you tell us about the new Hardkiss album 1991? Is there a concept or theme tying the tracks together? What was the creative process like while working on the album?
For three years, Robbie Hardkiss and I worked on new material in San Rafael, California. There were like two dozen songs in the mix. The demo of 1991 sounds a lot more haphazard and tongue-in-cheek. But after Scott passed away last March, the album started to take on a different shape. The more emotional songs became more relevant. As much as we tried to make the album sound like it's from 2014, the emotion and subject matter became more about what we had created together in those early wonder years. Thus, the title. You can feel Scott's spirit throughout, but particularly on songs like "Revolution" and "Broken Hearts."
So what does the future have in store for Hardkiss? Where do you plan to take the newly relaunched Hardkiss Music label? And what's next for you on the production front?
The goal is always to get the music heard by as many people as possible. That's why I do this, I like to turn people on. We're touring now as DJs and would like to see that morph into more of a live show. Next year is the 20th anniversary of the Hardkiss album Delusions of Grandeur, a collection of the first eight vinyl releases on Hardkiss Music including "Out of Body Experience" by Rabbit in the Moon. It made the Billboard dance charts, went to number one on the Rolling Stone alternative album chart and became one of the most important records of its time. In the mid '90s, a lot of people found electronic dance music through this record. We have some big plans to commemorate the album, which has never been
Cubic Lust, your debut novel, was published last year. What prompted you to write a novel in the first place? Where did you draw your inspiration for the book's story and themes from? How much of it is autobiographical and how much fantasy?
I started going through my travel journals from the '90s and I found some decent pieces of writing. We were DJing in Florida and other East Coast destinations a lot, so there were adventures and then long flights home to California. That's where I would write, on the plane. I collected stories in a similar way that I collect songs, as I work on an album. Next thing I knew, there was a crazy narrative that brought them all together, like a mixtape or something. It became a story about a DJ's 24-hour adventure in Hong Kong at a high-society wedding. I've never DJed at a wedding and I've never been to Hong Kong.
As an artist, I don't like to leave anything unfinished. I need to take it from the studio into the public arena in order to feel like it's done. So I self-published the book through Amazon and now I'm working on the screenplay. Hunt me down in Miami and I'll put you in it. I need some badass gals and a horse that can fly.
So what can we expect at Do No Sit on the Furniture? What does a Hardkiss DJ set deliver in 2014?
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I'll bring some raw sexy tunes and mix it up with material from the new album. Don't expect a rehash of the past. I live in the present, eternally. Get there early because we're planing on having a listening party early in the night. I'll first play the new Hardkiss album 1991 in it's entirety. Then we'll dance.
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Gavin Hardkiss' 1991 Album Release Party. Saturday, July 12. Do Not Sit on the Furniture, 423 16th St., Miami Beach. The show starts at 10 p.m. Call 305-450-3809 or visit facebook.com/DoNotSit.