Sunday, May 18, 2008

Fish Rising
Motivation Radio
Rainbow Dome Musick

Uncut, 2006

by Simon Reynolds

In the Seventies, Steve Hillage was simultaneously a cult guitar hero wowing huge crowds at festivals like Deeply Vale and a straggly-bearded symbol of everything that punk reviled. In 1976, the year of “Anarchy in the UK”, Hillage had his numbers jumbled and was flying 1967’s freak flag high on L, which featured covers of The Beatles’ “It’s All Too Much” and Donovan’s “Hurdy Gurdy Man” (this reissue adds an “Eight Miles High” remake done with kindred spirit Todd Rundgren). With his Hendrix-like ditties about “Electrick Gypsies” and slick virtuosity, it’s hard to think of an artist who’s been more hopelessly out of synch with the Zeitgeist.

Yet now that our sense of pop time and historical sequence is utterly jumbled thanks to retromania/iPods/downloading, it’s easy to decontexualise Hillage’s music and salvage what’s good about it. The clean separation of the production on 1975’s Fish Rising might have seemed clinical at a time when the “cutting edge” was Dr Feelgood recording their debut in mono, but nowadays that kind of CD-friendly gloss and filigree just sounds normal. The guitarist’s flashy pyrotechnique is frequently a thing of sheer splendour. And Hillage could be lyrical when he toned down the quicksilver-nimble acrobatics and went into meander mode. There’s plenty of that on Fish, whose aqueous textures and aqua-utopian concept pick up where Hendrix’s “1983... (A Merman I Should Turn to Be)” left off. Another thing that’s striking about Hillage’s music by the time of 1977’s Motivation Radio is its sheer funk, the hot rhythm section of Joe Blocker and Reggie McBride shimmying and strutting on a par with the Blockheads.

There’s also a sense in which Hillage wasn’t behind-of-his-own-time but actually way in advance. A synthesizer fan since his Gong days, he employed three keyboard players in his live band, including girlfriend/creative partner Miquette Giraudy. On Motivation’s “Searching the For the Spark”, the arpeggiated synth-ripples are basically trance fifteen years ahead of schedule. In 1979 Hillage and Giraudy released the fabulous Rainbow Dome Musick, whose side-long tracks “Garden of Paradise” and “Four Ever Rainbow” pioneered the wafting ‘n’ shimmering ambient techno that would soundtrack the early 90s post-rave chill-out culture. So hats off to Hillage.


Listening to this first batch-of-four in your ongoing reissue program, it’s surprising how funky your music was. It makes your reappearance in the Nineties making dance music on the techno scene more understandable.

I was a massive Parliament-Funkadelic fan. And obviously a huge admirer of Hendrix, whose music could be really funky. Then from the late Seventies onwards, I became
increasingly disenchanted with the progressive rock scene, and that’s why we developed the funk side of things. At the end of the Seventies we stopped doing the live band, I’d become dissatisfied with the limitations of the live rock experience. Instead, all through the Eighties, I followed the development of club music. Around 1987-88, club music got psychedelic, with acid house, and it struck me that this was what I’d been waiting for.

I met Alex Paterson and he invited me down to Land of Oz, which was the first chill-out room. He told me he regularly played Rainbow Dome Musick, which was my first album without beats, just floating sounds. When I entered Oz, Alex happened to be playing Rainbow but he was mixing those atmospherics over beats. And when I heard the floaty textures with the beats put back, it was like a big lightbulb going off above my head. Miquette and I formed System 7 later that year.


Marcin said...

hi simon, check this site:
they've got hauntology mix :)

Robin Carmody said...

Hillage is one of the few pop people I've ever chanced upon (never having lived in the sort of place where you might do so as a matter of course) - he used to post on the (far-right-dominated, even before their views were effectively legitimised over here) UK political newsgroups back when I was a regular contributor to them (when Usenet was still, just, a source of genuine interest), six very, very long years ago.

As I recall he was initially fairly soft-left - still defending Blair in 2002 because the demographics and culture had changed, you couldn't win elections off union members anymore, etc. - but turning against Blair over Iraq the following year.