It may surprise you to read this, but “House Music history” has never been that interesting to me. I just like stories – narratives as big and epic and sloppy as Creation itself – and I don’t care all that much when they happened, or if they’re still happening.
Dwelling for too long on the past is a fairly depressing experience, though, especially when you come across some lost souls who still reside there. Under the guise of “paying tribute,” what they really want from people is to build a statute to the legend of their youth. There’s tons of this now, and we can’t get away from it. As what marketers liked to call “Generation X” matures into middle age, we’re wading through a flood of nostalgia – a malady that, it should surprise no one, was once thought to be an actual disease.
Hardkiss isn’t a nostalgia trip. It’s not dead history, venerated because it’s gone and and because it took a piece of our misspent youth with it. It’s alive. And it’s a novel – a crazy, psychedelic novel without beginning or end and a cast of characters so loud and large that even the author can’t keep track of the plot anymore. It’s not the Greatest Story Ever Told, but it’s a pretty good one, and the best part about it is that it’s still going on, still unwinding like a ball of yarn rolling down a staircase seven miles high.
About a year ago, I wrote a very long (for a magazine, anyway) story about Hardkiss, beginning from just before the Big Bang (San Francisco 1991) to the release of the album that brought them full circle, also called 1991. I subjected Gavin and Robbie Hardkiss to several hours of interviews each. Later I sent an email with a half-baked idea for doing something with all of that material (I guessed about 10,000 words in a raw transcription) left on the cutting room floor.
Keep it, Gavin told me. The 20th anniversary of Delusions of Grandeur was coming up in 2015. Would I be interested in writing something for it?
The Atom Bomb and You and Me
It’s still weird to me that other people know about the Hardkiss album, Delusions of Grandeur. I mean I know plenty of people had it – and many that still do – but it’s such a deeply personal album for me and I still get that hipster longing – that feeling of wishing it was mine and mine alone.
Everyone has one of these records – one that seemed to track their lives perfectly for awhile and then fade into the background. But I got the opportunity to write the liner notes for mine.
“It’s a rare and dangerous sensation to cup an atomic bomb in your hands,” is the lede I settled for, and as massively overwrought and dramatic as that sounds, it’s the truth. People can debate how popular or influential Delusions of Grandeur was and is, but it remains as explosive as ever, even if you don’t like it. It was, in a way, the first album of a certain type, heralding the dawn of the new American rave scene. It was also the last album of the pre-internet era. Other influential albums were released at the same time, of course, but Delusions was never released digitally. That’s rare. The only way people heard about it, for the most part, was word-of-mouth and whatever articles from old copies of URB and XLR8R had been digitized.
At a time when everyone was turning their retirement nest egg into digital feed, Delusions stubbornly refused to be processed.
I discovered this record more or less at the time it was released, and more or less because I heard the name “Hardkiss,” heard them play and then fled to Gramaphone to find anything by them that was accessible.
The apocalyptic artwork on the front was like nothing I had ever seen. The name “Hardkiss” was another mysterious sign, like a rune you could meditate on. And the music – both the actual sounds and beats and FX, and the format in which it was presented – made it easy to hook your stoner, hippie, deadhead, burnout, punk rock or acid jazz friends on Hardkiss dope and from there lead them on to the subterranean beginnings of the American rave scene. You just looked at it and it could fit into your record collection next to Prince or REM or Joy Division or whatever music you listened to before you fell for electronic music in a big way. It just did.
People have warned you not to meet your heroes, but people are full of shit. What I know from all of their personalities from those conversations and interviews is mirrored almost perfectly by the character of their respective tracks that were collected on Delusions. There was Scott Hardkiss – the restless soul, ambitious to take in everything and to own it too. If that’s not that man that made “Raincry,” I don’t know what to think. Gavin Hardkiss is an adventurer – the practical romantic, who named his most famous track on here after a painting he never made. Robbie Hardkiss is kind, and you hear that in the Little Wing recordings which make up the beating heart of Delusions of Grandeur.
The Atom Bomb and Everyone Else, Too
But there’s still more. There are so many stories that four of them have probably eloped and conceived several new stories in the time it took to write this. What I learned from writing the liner notes to my own favorite album – the Physical Graffiti of my 18 year old ravey world – is that the Hardkiss novel is vast, and populated with some of the most fascinating people I’ve ever come across.
Each of these people have their own story, they only for a time intersected with the story of Hardkiss. This is a collection of some of the most mad, most fascinating people there has ever been. If the walls could talk they wouldn’t have even now shut up about it.
There’s David Christophere, whose crazed, electrified cybershaman persona is probably easier to understand than the person behind it. Rabbit In The Moon is due for a tremendous reappraisal in the coming years – the man is one of the true geniuses of our generation.
I’m not even sure how to explain Rabbit In The Moon (or Hardkiss, for that matter). I asked someone who knew David personally, who paused for a minute with his jaw set before saying, “He’s like Timothy Leary , except that you’d actually like to have a beer with him.” There it is.
There’s DJ Three, whose encounter on Delusions marked the start of a career that is still “in progress” as well. About two years ago or so, he played with Kate Simko at a gig here and I hadn’t the faintest notion it was the same DJ Three behind “Burning Spear,” the “phase” of the infamous “Out of Body Experience” that appeared on Delusions.
And there’s Wade Randolph Hampton, memorialized in dozens of pithy portraits copied back and forth in the books of the various nostalgia merchants that came before us, and who is probably the most fascinating figure in the whole saga. Essentially: think of everywhere that rave culture initially took hold in America, pull the curtain back and you’ll find evidence that Wade Randolph Hampton was there. The man’s timing was (and still is) uncanny, and impeccable.
There were many more people that deserve to be added to this list. I didn’t have the chance to talk with many of them. I regret that as far as it goes, but what a writer will never be forgiven for is passing on a story. I hope someone else picks up a few of these – I really do. The Hardkiss Brothers were probably the most interesting people in my world in 1995, but there is a breathtaking number of freaks and weirdos, gods and saints connected by a cultural genealogy which has this strange album as a common branch.
And while you’re here, the remastered version of Delusions of Grandeur with my liner notes as well as many other treats – including a massive collection of rarities, bootlegs and other catalog candy from Hardkiss – are available directly from the boys via pledge music.