It’s hard to pick a high point from the numerous candidates which litter the musical career of Steve Hillage (member of influential Psychedelic nut-jobs Gong, solo prog-rock/fusion composer, ambient/new age pioneer, producer of bands like Simple Minds, Robin Hitchcock and The Charlatans), but certainly right up there in the 'high point' stakes must be the day he met Miquette Giraudy who (little know fact here) actually wrote and performed half of the album which would so influence ‘90s ambient dance music (more of which later) and, as TM-O's Andy Basire discovers, paved the way for their current project, System 7.
Total Music: Did either of you come from a musical family?
Steve: "My mother was quite musical and had me doing piano lessons from age four I switched to guitar age nine." Miquette: "My family were more into art and painting I first started working in the French movie industry but then switched to music when I discovered the synthesiser and electronic music."
Total Music: What memories, if any, does Steve have of early bands Uriel and Khan?
Steve: "Quite hazy memories recently refreshed a bit by the excellent reissue of the very first Uriel recording Arzachel."
Total Music: To outsiders Gong always seemed a hugely volatile unit, do you both remember those days with affection now?
"Great affection. We still see ourselves as part of the Gong family. One day we'll make another record with Daevid Allen who incidentally collaborated with us on one of the tracks on our new album Phoenix."
Total Music: What involvement did Miquette have with Steve during his solo work before coming together for System 7 (and is there any solo Miquette material out there)?
Miquette: "I played keyboards and synthesisers with the Steve Hillage Band and co-wrote a lot of Steve's solo material. I wrote and produced the whole of side one of the Rainbow Dome Musick album so I guess that was some solo material. I've got loads of other tunes and would love to do a solo album but can never find the time!”
Total Music:Rainbow Dome Musick was hugely influential on both the ambient scene and for bands like the Orb, but what was it that drew you both to the dance scene
"We got into club culture quite early on with funk and disco and then got into early electronic dance through Ktaftwerk and 80s electro. As the 80s progressed we started thinking about how to mix our psychedelic sound with dance music. After the acid house explosion there was simply no turning back!”
Total Music: Aside from yourself, and to a lesser extent Underworld, the guitar has been conspicuous by it's absence in most dance music (in fact there was a time when bands like Altern 8 could be found smashing guitars on the cover of the NME), why is this do you think?
Steve: "I think it's only possible to make the guitar work in dance music if you really study it and if you have good playing technique. It's really not enough to just pose around with a guitar and bash out a few heavy metal chords, I think that's really naff and I'm sure Karl from Underworld would agree. For me a real sign of success is if I've created a really cool guitar part that works in a totally credible techno way without people necessarily realising it's a guitar. Quite zen in a way. And of course if your musical career has been all about programming and DJ-ing how would you pick up the required guitar technique to make it work? Why bother even?”
Total Music: The album is influenced by the Phoenix books and images of Osamu Tezuka, what was it that inspired you about Tezuka's work and Manga in general
"The Tezuka Phoenix stories are amazing really psychedelic and all about travel in time and space with an additional oriental Buddhist dimension about reincarnation. The blend of the futuristic and the traditional past is also a great metaphor for post-war Japan and we love Japan - it's one of our favourite parts of the world. Rumiko Tezuka, Tezuka's daughter, is a big System 7 fan and she thought our music fitted very well with the Phoenix stories. We certainly agreed and it led to this quite ambitious project”
Total Music: Gong fans will be delighted to learn that you have collaborated with Daevid Allen on this album, was 'Strange Beings' an easy, enjoyable session?
"'Strange Beings' is a real fun kind of track but with a strange warped understructure. The Tezuka book we based it on is one of the wierdest of all the Phoenix stories. Daevid is also a fan of Tezuka, having been introduced to his work by one of his sons who is a manga freak. The sessions went great we're going to do some more work with Daevid soon.”
Total Music: There are a lot of collaborations on this album, do you work together with people in the studio, send ideas back and forth by computer or have finished pieces remixed
"In most instances it starts with us and the collaborator or collaborators all working together in the studio to come up with the backbone of the piece. Later on we send parts back and forth until the track is ready to be mixed. Generally the final mix is done by us in the A-Wave studio. In the case of Phoenix we sent translations of Tezuka Phoenix cartoon stories to the collaborators prior to starting the track, in order to come up with musical ideas that fitted the concepts behind the stories.”
Total Music: You also release music as Mirror System, what is it that makes a Mirror System project rather than a System 7 one (and are there any more Mirror System releases planned)?
"Mirror System is a vehicle that we’ve created for the chilled and downtempo side of our music. We’ve also recently developed a new approach that fits better under the Mirror System banner which is a new way of blending our downtempo side with chilled minimal techno. We haven’t done any tracks quite like that yet but we’d like to soon. Perhaps we might do a Mirror System Phoenix album. Watch this space....”
The Passion EP is available now and you can check it out on the soundcloud link above. There is also a Steve Hillage Band DVD Live at the Gong Unconvention out now. You can find more info on everything System 7 related at www.a-wave.com
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