With a new EP just released on Do Not Sit, we catch up with the San Fran veteran
Just landed in stores is the Perc Groove EP by Gavin Hardkiss, which packs three dense house cuts that blur the lines between deep, melodic and tribal styles.
It's the first time the San Francisco veteran has recorded for Do Not Sit Recordings, the Miami-based label headed up by Behrouz, but it's arguably only surprising that it hasn't happened sooner. As Gavin explains below, the pair have known each other for over 20 years, having held concurrent Friday and Saturday night residencies at the same San Francisco nightclub back in the 90s.
Having the man who is widely credited – along with his Hardkiss brothers Scott and Robbie – with having helped birth the San Francisco rave scene back in the early 90s sign an EP to the label is undoubtedly a feather in Do Not Sit’s cap. It's also just just one more indication that this rave survivor isn't slowing down just yet – as you'll read below, he's got plenty of new projects in the pipeline and he’s still as excited about music as he ever was.
Here’s what he had to say…
The Perc Groove EP is out to drop, so let's start there… what can you tell us about the making of the three tracks, and how you would you describe them if you had to review the EP for iDJ readers?
“Making music is what I love to do and I have a bucket of unreleased songs that I keep on a private Soundcloud page so that I can listen in the car, share them with friends and see if there’s any congruency or themes. My good friend Behrouz found a few that fit his palette. Voilà … there’s a release on Do Not Sit, a label that I absolutely love.
“I don’t do genres and I don’t keep up with what’s ‘hot’, but this is how I would describe this EP…
“One for the warehouse. One for the submarine. And one for the desert throwback. This EP might be the shoehorn for settling into a new pair of Hardkiss shoes. Then dig further into the signature sound that exploded onto the scene in the 90s and continues to detonate in small packages. Old shoes are comfortable but it’s high time for some new kicks.”
The EP comes on Behrouz’s Do Not Sit label. How did you first hook up with him?
“Behrouz and I DJed at a club called 1015 in San Francisco in the 90s. He played Saturday nights and I played Friday nights. We rarely crossed paths and didn’t run in the same social scene then but there was always mutual admiration.
“More recently and early in the evolution of Do Not Sit, I DJed in Miami and we got some quality time together. Both of us are lovers of an international sound with a unique ear for a wide range of psychedelic sounds, influenced by our years in SF. He asked me if I would be interested in releasing music on his label. It’s quite rare that I release music on anything other than Hardkiss Music, but I told him that I’d love to.”
You're widely credited with having helped put San Francisco on the house/rave map back in the early 90s. What are your fondest memories of those early days?
“So many crews with their own stamp and flag and sound were creating life-changing experiences. I loved travelling to backwater country. My focus was the record label Hardkiss Music and it was those records that infiltrated every corner of the USA with a sound that no one had heard before. On weekends, we got to play in all 50 states and return to San Francisco and our Hardkiss crew.”
Are you still based in San Francisco? If so, what's the club scene like there these days?
“Yeah, I live over the Golden Gate Bridge in San Rafael. It’s a 20-minute drive so I can still stay connected with a healthy distance. I DJ in San Francisco almost every weekend.
“Algorithmic tech people took over the city and it’s a different place now, but I’m building a new love affair with it. Enjoying the anonymity of it. So much great music passes through and there are solid venues like Phonobar, Public Works, Audio, Midway and 1015. It still has that pulse and doesn’t miss a beat, but the faces have changed.”
Some 30 years on, both the world and the electronic music scene/industry are very different places! In what ways have things changed for the better – and for the worse?
“There’s such a wide range of music now. Something for everyone. There are so many talented artists with the tools to make expressive art. During the social media age – roughly the last 15 years, call it The Age of Illusion – you needed social media and content hyperactivity to keep up.
“With the amazing developments in the NFT space, it feels like we’re at that moment again where technology is empowering the artist. DIY and authentic creativity can be rewarded.”
You record both as Gavin Hardkiss and as Hawke – how do you see the difference between the two identities?
“I know … it’s confusing! The Hawke material is usually non-genre-bound concept albums. Big ideas and experiments with multimedia. For the most recent Hawke album, Dark Art Of Light Work, I released the double album with a book about how the imagination creates reality. The first half of the album is uptempo and the second half slides into downtempo, ambient and drone. The Hawke albums are experiments with sound and experiments with collaboration.
“The Gavin Hardkiss material is usually made for DJs, and I DJ under that name. More people know that name but I’ve actually released most of my music – five albums – under the name Hawke.”
Does the way you work stay the same with either hat on, or do the different identities also relate, not just to different musical styles, but also to different methods or approaches?
“I love making music and it’s all an experiment and I thrive in that space of creating something out of nothing. The left brain kicks in after the song is done and I have to figure out how to get the song released. I don’t like to leave music on a hard drive – that’s a crime. Think of the eternal hell of millions of unreleased songs. They’re confined to hard drives until the end of time. Poor things.
“As long as I’m finishing songs I’m good. The projects define themselves and that is part of the exploration. That’s what Dark Art Of Light Work is about: how the imagination creates reality. Each song has its own genesis and story.
“For the new EP on Do Not Sit, each of the songs tell their own story. Perc Groove started with four samples that sat well together. Then I was listening to one of my son’s favourite rappers freestyling on YouTube and I loved the tone of his voice. I’m not sure it’s a good idea to say his name, but he had just been killed. I wanted to immortalise that moment: not so much the rapper being shot, but my son and I listening to his freestyle. I grabbed the YouTube and did some pitch changes and it all sounded nice. Like five trees that fall in a forest to form a house.
“Debonnaire is another track from the EP that had been sitting on a hard drive and wanted out. That song was finished a few years ago: it started with a drum machine break pattern which many consider a signature Hardkiss sound, and then I kept layering. There are almost too many layers but it still sounds good and lush. The end product sounds like something DJ Spun from San Francisco would have played in those early days, or a track from my first Gavin Hardkiss mix CD called Weekend.”
A few years ago, in the wake of Scott's tragic death, you and Robbie reinvigorated the Hardkiss label. But it seems a while since we heard anything new – is the label currently on hold or…? And do you have any other plans to work with Robbie again any time soon?
“The Hardkiss label has been active, though it’s a challenge to break through the noise and get heard. There have been several solid releases featuring some of my favorite artists. Oona Dahl remixed the single Grapeseed Meditation. Lee Reynolds remixed WarPeace. Nick Warren and Nicolas Rada remixed Bells Of San Anselmo. There’s also a couple of releases with Nigerian artist Bisi. And we wrote and recorded Better the week before the George Floyd murder and that came out soon after and is quite a strong social justice song.
“Will I be recording with Robbie again? No doubt about it!”
Finally, apart from the EP on Do Not Sit, what else is coming up/going on for you right now that iDJ readers need to know about?
“I’m most excited about rehearsals this week for a live show in Orlando. We’re doing the Hardkiss classic Delusions Of Grandeur live with a choreographed video by the guys from Colourfeeders who do all the big shows at the Midway in SF.
“I’m performing with David Christophere from Rabbit In The Moon, who produced Out Of Body Experience and the epic Riverandrain remix of The Phoenix which are pillars of Delusions Of Grandeur. As much as I move the dial forward, fans love that old Hardkiss sound so we’ve been remixing and enhancing the old material, giving it a fresh coat of paint and eye-candy and presenting it in an interesting new way. We’re gonna be dropping NFTs of classic Hardkiss cover art.
“To this day, Delusions is still in a lot of top DJs’ crates: we see videos on the socials with Seth Troxler, John Digweed, Lee Burridge and others dropping those songs. Delusions Of Grandeur LIVE is ripe for a tour, so if there are any agents that wanna book it then get in touch!
“It’s a beautiful coincidence that Delusions will be live in Florida on the same weekend that the new EP comes out on a Florida label. The world works in mysterious ways and great music never ages.”
Words: Russell Deeks
The Perc Groove EP is out now on Do Not Sit Recordings