Scott Hardkiss and I had an unexpected, and unwelcome, connection over the past few years. When he first complained to me about his eyes and how his vision was getting fuzzier I shocked him by responding, “It’s not keratoconus, is it?”
I had been having my own battle with this degenerative eye disease starting the year before this conversation, even losing my driver’s license as I couldn’t pass the eye test for my renewal. So, Scott and I had this really odd thing in common and spoke a lot about keratoconus and what we were doing to deal with it. I decided on a combination of special contact lenses and my usual glasses, worn together to give me passable day-to-day eyesight. Scott took the gutsier route; he opted for a corneal transplant in the most affected eye, something I couldn’t even contemplate. But Scott was gutsy in many ways and, unfortunately, this time it didn’t pay off. The transplant wasn’t successful and he struggled with this for the past couple of years. As a result, Scott had to wear an eye-patch for which he received no end of ribbing … I did my part by remarking that it made him look like a Bond villain. As awful as the situation was, I’m sure there was a part of Scott that sort of liked the eye-patch. It added to his artist mystique and charismatic aura that I know was so important to him. Scott aimed to live, and project, the creative life.
I remember when I first spoke to Scott. I had previously met Gavin and Robbie when they played a rave in Orlando around 1995. They visited my record shop and I handed them a tape of early Q-BAM productions. Scott wasn’t with them and seemed sort of an enigma. Soon after I was constantly in touch with Hardkiss office poobah Niven, putting together a three-song EP for their new off-shoot label Sunburn.
Maybe three days had passed after I sent “Toast,” the third song, to San Francisco when the phone rang in my record store. On the line, in his inimitable way of speaking, came, “Hi, Michael. This is Scott Hardkiss.” He wanted to talk about “Toast,” how it had moved him, and that he was excited to release it on Sunburn. He had some suggestions, such as trading the electric guitar for an acoustic, which I balked at (I didn’t have an acoustic guitar, for one thing) but he didn’t seem to mind. I still remember this sort of hippie-ish thing he said to me then which really meant a lot to this producer who was just starting out, unsure of his craft. I hear it in my head exactly as he said it, and those who knew Scott probably will hear it exactly the same way when they read it. Scott said to me, “This isn’t a song … it’s a living being.”
After many visits to San Francisco (it almost seemed like I was living there for a while) I acquired a west coast family that Scott was a big part of. We kept in touch after his move to New York and I’d see him when I was up there for gigs or biz. Oddly, though, I don’t think it was until after our first keratoconus conversation that we started actually working together musically. First, I remixed his track “Beat Freak” off his ambitious Technicolor Dreamer album … it’s actually one of my favorite remixes I’ve done, and Scott made me feel good by praising it almost every time we spoke thereafter.
He told me his affection for my remix inspired him to be extra-aspiring for our next collaboration, his incredible remix of my track “Balearic Chainsaw.” Now, my original is kind of simple, admittedly done as an afterthought in the recording session for a different song, but DJs responded well to it and it grew on me. I decided to put together a proper single for it and who better to remix a song with “Balearic” in the title than Scott, right? So, Scott, who is quite gutsy, as you may recall from a previous paragraph, took this simple song and turned it into a swirling and epic nine-minute masterpiece. This endeavor sums up Scott Hardkiss to me perfectly … I would have been happy with a standard remix that expanded on my original and made some feet move in the process. But Scott, being Scott, enlists in-demand session vocalist Stevvi Alexander to add a whole new vocal track. And then, if that weren’t enough, phones up DJ Afro from Los Amigos Invisibles to add a live flamenco guitar track. On a remix. That was Scott: gutsy, ambitious, and living the creative life.
Several years ago I was thumbing through a music magazine and skimmed over an interview with Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth. He was asked the question, “What is your ultimate goal?” I’ll never forget Moore’s answer as it really struck me and gave me something to strive for. He said, “To live a creative life.” Today I realize that’s what Scott Hardkiss did, and it’s what he showed to others, including myself. His inspiration will live on, and I’m actually feeling inspired right now just thinking about him. Goodbye and hello, Scott. Yes.
(This post originally appeared on my Q-Burns Abstract Message blog.)
When I started really seriously getting into house music in the mid-90s I found myself enamored with a small London imprint by the name of Luxury Service. After a few of its impressive releases permanently landed in the DJ bag I had declared it my favorite house music label. Luxury Service, though not well known today, was the home to some of the earliest works of music producers we’ve all become big fans of, including Rob Mello, Luke Solomon, and Justin Harris. Another producer who recorded for Luxury Service and really grabbed my attention was Kenny Hawkes.
There was something unique about Kenny’s music … it seemed deeper, but not in the sense of “deep house” but in that it gave the impression that there was something else going on here … like Kenny was trying to do more than just make “tracks,” actively working to move the genre forward even as it was still quite young.
So, I’m a bit fuzzy on the time period but it think it was 2000 and I’m regularly DJ’ing at Orlando’s Knock Knock (my favorite venue ever). My main weekly night DJ’ing the club was Thursday, as I was usually spending my weekends haunting airports at that time, but Thursdays became a nice, tight little night of cool tunes and forgotten bar tabs.
I caught wind that Kenny Hawkes was to be on the US east coast and was looking to DJ somewhere on a weekday for a small fee in between his better-paying weekend gigs. My night was tiny (we didn’t charge a cover, either) so the budget was minimal but Kenny was down, and he came to Orlando and tore apart the rickety Knock Knock DJ booth and undependable sound system with spectacular tunes mixed as only Kenny could. (side note: I have part of this set on a cassette tape somewhere, which I need to find)
We hit it off which was easy to do as Kenny turned out to be a warm and hilarious person, really into his music. He became quick friends with some others in Orlando as well and a nice little bond was formed, with Kenny returning to Orlando multiple times over the next couple years and DJ’ing at Knock Knock once again.
I would run into Kenny in my travels (he was also spending a lot of time in San Francisco in the early ’00s, as was I) and we kept in touch online, sharing tracks and remixes. The last time I saw him was a couple years ago when by chance I got booked to play a party in London with Kenny at The Egg. It was a great party and, gladly, though we were DJ’ing in different rooms our times didn’t overlap too much so I could hear most of Kenny’s set. He was on point … I hadn’t really heard him out live since those early Knock Knock sets (and never on a sound system as good as The Egg’s) and he sounded great. After he played we sat in the ‘chill out’ area of the club and talked for almost two hours as the rising sun pounded our eyes.
Kenny Hawkes passed away last night in his home town of Brighton, England. Such sad news … our music has lost one of its true troopers. There’s a lot that could be said here after all the reminiscing above, but I’m not really finding the words to say it. I have loads of friends who knew him much better than I did and my condolences go out to them. There is the cliché of “the music lives on” but here it really is fitting … as I said above, Kenny seemed to want to push the music forward and created tracks that, at least to me, spelled out where house music might be going. This was (and is) inspirational and has a lot to do with the sounds I’m making and the attitude I have when making them.
A lot of Kenny Hawkes’ music is getting posted around which is so great and moving. But I haven’t seen my favorite bit from Kenny’s oeuvre mentioned yet which is this remix for Toob:
There’s just something completely special about this. Such a sleek remix, very technical but also quite warm and melancholy. The build is so subtle but undeniably effective. To recall what I mentioned above it seems there’s “something else going on here” … Kenny wasn’t just going into the studio and knocking out a remix. It seems to me he was really trying to touch the future. Man, I’ll miss that guy.
(This post originally appeared on my Q-Burns Abstract Message blog.)
Well, I hope that 2007 doesn’t turn into the year when my heroes start all dropping off (just as this other Wilson recently did).
Tony Wilson. Yeah, he was certainly a bit influential in the way I (and many others) view the presentation of music and musical artists. His Factory Records label wrote the playbook on how to develop an eclectic, boutique-style record label and yet maintain a homogenized image that practically sold the label as an artist of its own. The plots, techniques, and excesses are legendary … perhaps the most famous being how the elaborate cover art to New Order‘s “Blue Monday” cost so much to manufacture that Factory actually lost money for each copy sold. And it is generally recognized as the biggest selling 12″ in history.
Sure, Blue Monday’s lozenge-cut sleeve cost so much to print that the label actually lost more money the more copies they printed. But even that isn’t bad business. It’s an investment in mystique, and a bold statement that lavish elegance counts more than profit. “Some make money, others make history,” is how Tony put it.
I suppose that’s what Wilson showed me … that the choice exists to go that commercial route and create ‘art’ by committee, thus improving chances towards an accelerated yet temporary monetary success. Or you can live for your art and let it envelope every part of your being, to where the message of the music or writing or whatever comes through in every aspect of what you do. The creative life. Being satisfied with solely making ‘history’, even if it’s exclusive of its own.
Here’s something interesting: I totally remember my first exposure to Factory Records. My grandmother used to live on the beach in Melbourne, Florida, and as a young ‘un I would stay with her two or more weeks out of every summer. In addition to the pleasures of being stationed mere yards from the ocean and in the vicinity of my ever-spoiling grandmother, I looked forward to these visits for two other reasons: the really amazing college radio station WFIT which completely ruled in the ’80s (and is now light commercial jazz or something else sinister) and a little hole in the wall record store called Play It Again. I would find myself at Play It Again at least a few times each visit and, though I would rarely have the money to buy something each time, I would spend a couple hours just looking through the racks at the cover art of the LPs.
Now, because at the time Melbourne was blessed with a great college radio station Play It Again had quite a healthy ‘import section’ (as we used to call it in those days). I was around twelve years old and oblivious to the cooler happenings in the British underground at the time (I was into new wave synth-pop that you’d hear on top 40 radio circa 1980) but I dug the ‘import section’ because the covers were cooler and a bit mysterious. And, wouldn’t you know, the only covers I remember seeing at the time were two odd Peter Saville designed LPs: New Order’s Movement and Everything’s Gone Green. It was probably a couple years until I’d actually even listen to New Order but for some reason, the striking starkness of these covers, the absence of band photos or information beyond what was absolutely necessary (song titles, producer name – Martin Hannett! – and label info) really hit me as if I were looking at a moon rock in those record racks. I remember thinking “New Order” was an ominous band name, and it was as if this wasn’t a record album but an invite to some esoteric cabal. I didn’t buy anything from the shop that day but those covers and the name New Order stuck in my head until a couple years later when I finally gave in and bought a vinyl copy of a new album called Power, Corruption, and Lies.
So I guess my point is that this was what Wilson pioneered: his modus operandi so infected everything he was a part of that even a twelve-year-old kid looking at an album cover in Melbourne Beach, Florida, could pick up on his intentions and be affected. Of course, he didn’t design the covers or produce the music but Wilson was the glue that put all of this together to fulfill a master plan. He put up with Martin Hannett’s legendary studio tantrums and Peter Saville’s constant missed deadlines because he knew the result was more important. Everything had to perfectly fit into the Factory paradigm and there was no budging. Wilson believed early on that, through this, he’d be one of the ‘others’ making history. That’s pretty groundbreaking and important and we’re all still trying to catch up. Thankfully he left behind one hell of a playbook for us to follow. (Now if only more labels today would follow it … but that’s a different rant entirely)
Here are some other related Tony Wilson links that you should check out:
– 24 Hour Party People … an utterly fantastic film by the prolific Michael Winterbottom chronicling Tony Wilson’s life during the heyday of Factory Records and The Hacienda. It was stated a few times in the Metafilter thread linked above that a good way to remember Wilson is to watch this movie. I added to that thread that I think an even better homage (after watching the film at least once, of course) is to watch the film with Tony Wilson’s commentary track playing. His thoughts on how he and his history is cinematically represented give you even more of a feel for the man then the wonderful film does.
– From Joy Division To New Order … an excellent but somewhat hard-to-find book that, despite the title, is mainly about the history of Tony Wilson and Factory Records. It’s written by a close friend of everyone involved so it’s filled with tons of insight and juicy tidbits.
– Paul Morley, who was there in many ways, pays tribute to Tony Wilson in the Guardian
– How Tony Wilson changed the face of pop culture in Slate
– The always interesting Bob Lefsetz on Tony Wilson
– Factory Communications Ltd. – A Chronology
– Melody Maker article on Factory Records at the New Music Seminar in 1990
– Factory Records Image Bank … the inspiring early Factory-related design work of Peter Saville.
(This post originally appeared on my Q-Burns Abstract Message blog.)