In discussion with Hardrock Striker on “I’m A Cult Hero” (1989).
Do you have a past acquainted with this music? Is this the compilation that nailed down musical preferences you already had, or did you have a different background and were you just looking for something in that direction?
This is clearly the music I was listening to as a kid. Back then, my biggest dream was to be in a rock’n’roll band, no way I wanted to become a DJ (“what a joke I could have thought”) as this meant nothing to me, imagine playing guitar and being on stage screaming in front of a crazy crowd or mixing records, even a monkey could do it! Obviously, it’s only when I started DJing that I understood the power of it and realized my immaturity.
I chose this compilation because even if it looks like a pure rock record, many of the bands inside are using electronic, though I had no clue about it while I was listening to them. I discovered house in Los Angeles in the late 90’s, I went there to form a heavy rock band but I ended up going out with some friends who were doing house, especially Peter Black who introduced me to Doc Martin, the Wax connection, DJ Harvey. We started being friends, speaking about art, music and I discovered that he was also into New Order, Front 242, Ministry, Echo and the Bunnymen, Joy Division and that he was doing house too, so I thought this music finally wasn’t that bad! I started digging, to sum it up, New Order leads me to italo, italo to chicago, chicago to techno. We did a record company called Parisonic / Square Roots where I was doing reissues (already in 2003) of obscure stuff such as It Ain’t Chicago’s “Ride The Rhythm”, Mickey Oliver “In-Ten-Si-t”, Ralphi Rosario “In The Night” etc. I educated myself through the records I was putting out.
“I’m A Cult Hero” is a bootleg compilation with 80’s dark synth pop music, originally released in 1989. Why do you think such a record was released at a time when acid house ruled the clubs? Was this a reminder to what was going on a few years before, or even a counter-reaction to what followed? What might have been the motivation of the label to do this record?
I think that even if house and acid were blowing up at that time, dark synth-pop and minimal wave were still huge. Remember in 1989, Depeche Mode was also on the verge of getting the biggest rock stars in the world with the 101 Rose Bowl concert and the release of one of the best trio of singles of the 80’s: “Strangelove”, “Behind The Wheel” (Mmmh, the Shep Pettibone Mix!) and “Personal Jesus” which was a combination of rock guitars and electronic so it makes totally sense.
The motivation of these guys was primarily cash I guess but I honestly think they did an amazing job! There are two categories of bootleggers: the creative ones and the thieves, I guess they belong to the first one.
I think the tracklist on this compilation is consistently tasteful. All the tracks are remarkable in their own way. Are there still some tracks you particularly like, and some that you don’t?
I love all the tracks on it and your question is very interesting because as I told you, I was into rock so what caught my attention first was My Bloody Valentine, The Sound, The Damned, Sex Beat. However, I liked the other ones but I like them even more now. Especially the ones that carry a lot of electronics such as John Bender, Ministry, Hard Corps (a band that was in a way very close to Liaisons Dangereuses known for their famous “Los Ninos Del Parque”, a Music Box/Ron Hardy classic) because I can hear the matrix of what would later become known as “House Music” in the way I could love it. House inspired by new wave, minimal synths and rock.
The cover of “I’m A Cult Hero” displays the stage antics of Ian Curtis, thus it is already slightly morbid and also nostalgic. Do you think the music contained carries such sentiments, or is it of another persuasion?
Ian Curtis made his own decision, he was very young and that’s a shame but after all, everybody’s got the choice to do whatever they want, even if he wanted to end his life. I don’t think Ian was morbid at all (Joy Division in a sense paved the way for goths who were more into this morbid thing, I think). Moreover, I did this track years ago called “Control” based on some unreleased lyrics Ian did and if you look at those, it clearly says that what affected him the most was the problem he had by being with Annik Honoré and his wife at the same time, otherwise I don’t find any other reason for his suicide.
Music is always nostalgic in a way. I mean, every time there’s a backlash for one movement to bring on another one that looks more “credible and authentic”, you see some people saying “yes, this time real music is back again!”. This is what happened in the 90’s, when grunge appeared. Similarly, this is what’s happening today, after all these years where minimal was predominent, it’s now the time for house and deep house to be back again (and I even more realized it when I played at Panorama Bar recently, it sounded to me like people where waiting for it). In every genre, you have some wonderful tracks, the problem is when it started to become a genre, it suddenly brings all the people who had nothing to do with it before. And more important, it’s all about keeping the vibe of the original tracks and add a touch of modernity to them and/or bring some new ideas, elements on top of it. This is what makes the difference and eventually because of their improvement, this can even become a “new” movement, what an irony!
However coherent the compilations sounds, there are slight timeline differences in the line-up. My Bloody Valentine at an early stage, same with Ministry, punk veterans the Damned are covering a classic song by Love at a later stage, The Sound feature with a song off their first album, Marc Almond is featured with his side project Marc and The Mambas, Pete Burns with the band he had before Dead Or Alive, and there are other lesser known artists like John Bender or Cetu Javu. What do you think was the concept behind “I’m A Cult Hero” that made the compilation work so plausibly in spite of that?
To sum it up, this reminds me of something else. Few months ago, I was playing with Maurice Fulton in Paris, and a very well known DJ came up to meet and speak with him. Then, in the discussion, the “famous” DJ told him that he used to play some tracks that were just drums or some kind of very linear tools, but by mixing them together, it created another “brand new” track which was suddenly more powerful and interesting. Maurice looked at him very bored and told him: “Man, if the track is not good, I don’t play it. Period.” So I think the concept is very simple: the guys who did this compilation knew exactly what they wanted to do and I am pretty sure, they’ve been doing a lot of research and hearing it a zillion times before pressing it. They had taste and all the bands are good, this is why it works so well, it’s deal done, you can’t go wrong by compiling those, I guess!
Sometimes I wish bootlegers could work in major companies because if they are good, they will exactly feel what the audience needs and wants to hear at a certain time.
It is obvious that the futurism of the classic synth pop era led to developments that took another, maybe unexpected turn at the end of the 80’s. Is the music on “I’m A Cult Hero” nonetheless a predecessor of the house and techno which then came to be?
Totally true. Many people were into these sounds. Then came house and some new possibilities for those people who were just fans to go in the studio and do tracks, but because many of them were not “real” musicians, they were just using some slices of those pieces of music and this is how we got to where we are today. I am really thinking about synths and drum machines, however the way they made their tracks, because it was supposed to be a dance record rather than a rock record, modified the traditional structure of the songs. This is why you can still smell the feeling in it. Think about new beat in Belgium, it speaks for itself, I guess.
Were there even any more current artists around at the time the record was released, that also could have been included?
Let’s say Liaisons Dangereuses, SPK, Throbbing Gristle, Iron Curtain or even Chrome, who were a huge influence on both Trent Reznor and Marilyn Manson.
In countries like Belgium and Germany, there was an initial reluctance to give in to house and techno because there was a club tradition related to the music on “I’m A Cult Hero” that was still vital when the club soundtrack changed, whereas in the UK for example it was embraced sooner on a larger scale and maybe also more wholeheartedly. Then in Belgium New Beat came on, which approached it more, and in Germany the EBM and industrial scene led in parts directly to techno. How was it in France? Was there a strong scene for darkish synth music that slowly opened up to what was happening?
In France, there always has been a niche market for this kind of dark synth music that is still on today. The Rex for instance was all about rock before going house and techno. The owners did not want to bring these new sounds to their club, the change came up with people such as Laurent Garnier. Indeed, they finally realized they had to adapt their place to this new music and to a new generation of listeners, otherwise they would have to close. They were betting on the future and they were right. So in a sense, yes, rock in its more underground incarnation in France led to this techno house scene. However, remember, there’s a big disco tradition here and to me, I honestly think that many of those house guys were more inspired by Chic, Cerrone and Champagne than Hard Corps. Though there are few exceptions: The Hacker, Arnaud Rebotini and Terence Fixmer.
Did “I’m A Cult Hero” inspire you for your aspirations to work within the music business, both as a DJ and a label owner? Did this kind of music form a blueprint for what you wanted to do?
Totally, when I first started in 2000, I really wanted to bring a new vibe to house as this music was not speaking to me at all. This explains why in all the tracks I’ve been working on or that I put out, you will always find some kind of rock feeling, something raw and it’s the same when I am playing, I love old school stuff from Chicago and techno because it’s based on as much energy as my music, so let’s call it “hypnotic nrg” and I guess you understand the “Hardrock” Striker concept better!
It seems that with your label Skylax you combine both what was before, like the music of “I’m A Cult Hero”, with what came afterwards, with Chicago house for example. And you add a lot of styles and artists from other fields, too. Is this an attempt to hold up to an eclectic taste in music and trying to feature artists that represent a certain standard in their context, or are there other reasons?
To be honest, I am just releasing tracks that I feel good with at a certain time. I like so many genres from italo to Chicago to techno, rock. This is why I am using some aliases such as Cosmic Club. Maybe some people cannot really understand the label politics and my music, because I have never focussed on one style and stuck to it. So it’s kind of hard to say what the label and me are doing mostly, maybe we can call it leftfield, though I don’t like the term at all. This is why I signed Terre Thaemlitz (DJ Sprinkles) tracks too, because to me, his music comes from nowhere, you can hear the roots but the way he produces is so original, you can heardly even hear the kicks! I also like the fact that there is a message in everything he’s doing. Nobody never does an album such as “Routes Not Roots” that mixes a wide range of social themes such as identity vs. immigrant status; community vs. tranny-on-tranny violence; authenticity vs. cultural decontextualization; openly gay African-American club imagery vs. gay sex on the Down-Low; innocence vs. childhood fantasies of violence; HIV drug trials to tranny and women’s unemployment rates to sexually amorphous Japanese cross-dressers posing as high school girls, and more. This kind of work pushes house music out of its boundaries. This attitude and choices reflect my personality, I never wanted to be a strictly techno or house DJ, this sounds boring to me, it’s like building barriers between you and the others. I always wanted to play the music that speaks to me first and makes me excited, happy. I need to be into my mix, to surprise people, I need to be myself completely, I can’t lie. DJing is not a long linear highway. To me a DJ should be able to play wherever he mixes, he does not have to be a techno DJ for the techno heads, a house DJ for the house kids, he has to be everything. Remember Ron Hardy, Larry Levan, why they are so celebrated these days, simply because they were able to create an atmosphere and play versatile. A DJ does not have to adapt his style to the place where he plays, he needs to feel how he can move the audience with the tracks he has. It’s like mixing your soul with the others and try to make one.
How does that translate to the way you play as a DJ? Do you try to display all the different kinds of music you are interested in?
Yes playing various sources of music is the key obviously
What do you make of the renewed interest in synthpop and other 80’s electronic dance music in recent years? Is this a cyclical phenomenon or does it offer a quality that was lacking otherwise and it thus came back?
This all started to be big with DJ Hell and Gigolo, back then around 2000 (there was I-F and the Hague crew way before in a less cheesy way). Many people were fed up with house, deep house and progressive the way it was done. It was all over the place, too much funky beats, the same vocals and finally I guess the people wanted to hear something radically different. But to me, you have to blame the DJs for that, if they would have played more eclectic, this would have never happened. As I said, everytime there’s a “back to the basics” trend, everybody’s rushing to it, hammering the same thing everywhere forever. It’s like being a dubstep DJ: what does that mean?!!! You’re a DJ or not. So concerning this 80’s revival, I have no clue, time will tell if some of the tracks will be classic or not. For instance, we can say that the Dntel track remixed by Superpitcher is a classic and to me it brings something totally new that those guys in the 80’s could not have done. Same for Hercules & Love Affair, I like the idea of thinking it’s their idea and fantasy of the 80’s combined with their studio talent that makes their music sound so epic. However, we know that there are also plenty of Human League wannabees everywhere and it’s worse with the internet now.
It seems that legendary radio stations like Chicago‘s WBMX, who played both house and the European dance music it was inspired by in the same playlist, set a good example for the eclecticism that is acceptable today. Even so, are there limits to what you can or should put together in that aspect? Are there contextualisations that still bite each other?
To me it just depends on how you’re mixing your records and proposing the tracks to the audience and if the people are ready to hear it, if they are open minded. I have to say that people from Berlin are great for that, they are waiting and expecting you to bring something new, they’re pushing you, they want to be surprised.
How can you achieve to pay your dues to the original records and avoid being too retro to push things forward at the same time? Is it even possible?
First by signing those artists if I can! Second, obviously, it’s something that you can’t know really, it’s just a feeling you have when you’re in the studio and then you have to deal with the result. I clearly think it’s possible, this is what I always tried to do with my tracks and they don’t sound too retro because I am using analog and digital equipment. Playing and editing. Doing my best to be different and more important to be myself.
Considering how long the fascination with 80’s music is going on now, do you think it will eventually come to an end? Are the lessons to be learned from that decade learned at some point, or is that era filled with so many ideas that it could never stop?
It’s already ending. We are now in the early 90’s, I hope we will be soon in 2010! Good music from whatever era will never stop to irrigate modern music and this will never end.
Do you think there will be comparable fascination with the music of the 90’s at some point, or is this something different? Were the 90’s already realying so much on the 80’s, that you can’t really divide one decade from the other? To what styles of former years might the producers of the future go back to? And to which do they already do just that?
As I said and everybody used to say, it’s clearly back to deep house now. People will still be fascinated by the past, simply because some tracks that you think are commercial at a time appear to be so relevant at another. It just depends on the context you’re hearing it in and what it brings back to you. Mixing is playing with remembrance.