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Scott Hardkiss: Technicolour Dreamer

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Twenty years ago, electronic dance music in America was a much different beast than the Las Vegas-friendly industry it is today, divided into underground factions such as house and techno-rave [as they called it]. It was mainly the house and techno coming out of New York, Chicago and Detroit which enthralled and obsessed UK clubbers and record spotters, then in the throes of that amazing period which saw clubs up and down the country regularly packed and cavorting. Every week seemed to bring gargantuan new tunes which pushed out the boundaries and detonated crowds, throwing up new musical mutants as different styles collided and the clubbing communities, anywhere from Glasgow’s Slam and Leeds’ Back To Basics to Full Circle near Slough and Open All Hours at the Ministry,  revelled in the ongoing fun and uproar.

Around 1993, I was writing a weekly reviews column for Echoes, DJing all over the shop and working on my own Secret Knowledge project with aptly-named American singer Wonder. Twelve-inch singles started turning up from a San Francisco label called Hardkiss, which were totally unlike the banging techno and trouser-napalming proto-trance mayhem sprouting at the time.

Hardkiss was run by three brothers called Scott, Gavin and Robbie, who weren’t brothers by blood but shared a  spiritual and musical bond. Scott’s first big one turned up in 1993 under his God Within moniker on white vinyl with sleeve photo consisting of seven naked girls intertwined into a skull shape. Inside, were two versions of ’Raincry’ plus ’Daylight’, which basically blew my heart out of the back of my head as funky breaks were draped in ethereal wails and translucent  synth melodies, sprinkled with a deeply-resonant soul which seemed to put some kind of spell over crowds when I played it out. It hypnotised anyone from hardened tech-heads to staunch housers.

It effortlessly became the number one tune in my chart that week of June, 1993, me gushing at the time, ‘Wahoo! The latest release on San Francisco’s Hardkiss label is just what the doctor ordered after the full-on techno rampancy of the past few weeks. A soothing balm for the brain which marks the solo debut of Scott Hardkiss. The lead Submerged Mix is widescreen, deep and haunting as it winds its way over another of those funky, percussive shuffles which seem to characterise a lot of San Francisco music. Surreal, atmospheric and emotional…Meanwhile, ‘Daylight’ features a kind of medieval choir, unhinged percussion and typically shimmering wall of intertwining tones and melodies. Up there and out there.’

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And so it went on. Further gorgeous roof-raisers and soul-soothers gushed in from the Hardkiss compound, continuing to defy time, space and the rules. Scott turned in another beauty with his remix of Gavin’s Hawke outing ‘Three Nudes In A Purple Garden’, retitled ‘3 Nudes Having Sex On Acid’, one of the greatest six in the morning hugs-and-smiles last tunes of all time, with all the right warm melancholy and throbbing groove action. It worked for me with frightening results anywhere from Liverpool’s Voodoo to Manumission’s back room.

Other gems followed, including the two Crucial Introspection sets on Gavin’s Sunburn offshoot, which featured the string-adorned ‘Whywhywhy?’ [which reminded me of Chic], ‘Indian Summer’, titanic ‘Acid Funk’ and ‘The Phoenix double-set, which included the seismic ‘Someday My Plane Will Crash‘. Scott also gave me a slinky remix he’d done of Elton John’sBelieve’, stretched to a dramatic ten-minute dub. 1995’s Delusions of Grandeur compilation roped a load together into a beautiful, throbbing colossus.

Everyone fell in love with Scott when he turned up around 1994 to make his now-legendary DJing debut in the UK, slaughtering the Drum Club, Ministry and Basics. He had that natural magic when spinning, a master of dropping the perfect, unexpected bomb which would tip the already-stoked crowd into screaming mania, from beat-heating Hardkiss tackle to Primal Scream. His 1997 Essential Mix is still talked about in hushed tones.

That’s when we first met and quickly hit it off. He was lovely, hilarious company and the sort of bloke you could burble on about music with for hours on end. Scott loved a Secret Knowledge tune we’d made called ‘Sugar Daddy’, which made my day. I ended up spending time with him in the carnage of the Winter Music bash in Miami after the brothers had laid waste to a tine restaurant on Ocean Drive, although the crowning memory has to be when Secret Knowledge were invited to play a dance music festival in San Francisco, which the Hardkiss crew had something to do with. I DJ’d, Wonder demolished the crowd singing her heart out on our Secret Knowledge/Delta Lady tunes and afterwards we descended on a mansion party somewhere in the city, which included a hot-tub at dawn then Scott, kindred spirit Derrick Carter and me playing back to back between shots and falling over. I ended up at Scott’s place and didn’t get away until the following evening, battered but unbelievably happy.

As happens, the scene splintered and Scott moved to New York, growing disillusioned with playing giant, money-driven trance raves so moved into soundtracks, although he still did the odd remix, like Secret Knowledge’s comeback single, ‘Mojo’ around 2000. We communicated a bit by e-mail in the noughties and planned to get together when I made it back to New York. For various reasons, that was never allowed to happen but I was pleased when he finally released his long-planned solo album, Technicolour Dreamer in 2009, all beautifully-crafted songs with Scott and a mermaid on the cover.

I don’t know how he died and don’t want to. I do know Scott had a transplant operation in 2011 to help restore vision in his left eye and that he leaves a wife called Stephanie and daughter Llana so our thoughts should also be with them as their loss can‘t be imagined.

I can only remember one of the most talented and engaging one-offs it’s been my pleasure to encounter in nearly 45 years of consorting with music types. Scott was special and I wish we’d managed to hook back up. Getting my old Hardkiss tunes out, they still tower above most of what came out in the 1990s’, like a soft-focus tsunami of brilliance, boasting a spirit almost vanished today. If you’ve never heard Scott’s stuff and want to get an idea why he was so special, check out God Within on Youtube.

Scott liked putting quotes on his back covers, ‘Raincry’ carrying the message, ‘If we are to achieve greatness in life, we must live as though we were never going to die.’ Scott had already achieved that greatness but I wish he was still here. 

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