August 21, 2014

New Hardkiss LP '1991' Hearkens Back to Summer of Love

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In 1991, San Francisco was experiencing a second Summer of Love, but one impacted more by turntables than guitars. Still, like the hippie-rock scene that preceded it 24 years prior, its heady vibe began to carry year ’round for the Bay Area’s DJ/dance denizens.

It was during this freewheeling time that the Hardkiss Brothers established themselves in the Bay Area. The three—Philadelphians Robbie Cameron and Scott Friedel, plus South African Gavin Bieber—took on Ramones-like “surnames” and formed their label, Hardkiss Music. Hardkiss also gained significant traction with its underground parties and spacey disco grooves, releasing material under the names Hawke, Little Wing, God Within, among others.

Over two decades later—and after an extended period of the brand being dormant, which included the 2013 passing of Friedel (aka Scott Hardkiss)—the two remaining Brothers have put together a selection of fresh original material under the title 1991, a nod to the year of their origin.

“We got into the studio and it wasn’t smooth sailing,” admits Robbie. “We are very different in approach and it wasn’t easy to figure out each song—I feel and Gavin thinks. If we were building a house, he’s designing and I’m focused on building the foundation.”

A reflection of Gavin’s cerebral ways and Robbie’s emotional approach, 1991 revives their signature space-disco sounds with touches of saucy funk on “It’s Right,” flirtatious grooves on “Don’t Worry,” and shimmering vocals on “I Am Yours Forever.”

Simultaneous with 1991’s release come two cool singles. “Revolution” offers remixes by DJ Spun, Sleazy McQueen, Atnarko, Adam Warped, and a special Scott Hardkiss mix on San Diego’s Siesta Records. Also, “Retroactive,” on Austin’s Whiskey Pickle label, includes remixes from Hawke, Q-Burns Abstract Message, and Greenskeepers’ James Curd.

Both create music in their Marin County homes. Of their different studio and DJ set-ups, the only item in common remains a pair of Technics 1200 turntables. Robbie likes DJing with a combination of CDs and vinyl, only recently purchasing a Pioneer CDJ-2000. Gavin prefers to work within Serato.

Robbie enjoys his outboard gear, working with synths like Studio Electronics SE-1, Clavia Nord Lead, Roland JV 2080, as well as a variety of percussive instruments. He also has MOTU’s Digital Performer DAW/sequencer—courtesy of Scott, who initiated him into the possibilities of digital audio.

“I’m not a trained keyboard player, but I’m naturally rhythmic and I play percussively,” says Robbie. “I need that feeling. I have to groove more. Gavin has his ideas in his head and he executes through the laptop, using the tools he has there.“

Wholly virtual, Gavin uses Ableton Live 8 with third-party synthesizers and processors. He takes full advantage of Togu Audio Line’s free VSTs and Audio Damage VSTs, plus Sonalksis Creative Elements, iZotope Nectar and Stutter Edit, FabFilter Saturn, SoundToys, and RME Babyface Digital Analog converter.

“Working in the same room doesn’t always bring the best work for us,” says Gavin. “Usually, you have collaborations between people who have different skill sets. Two producers can’t do the same thing. We were in the same room to make some choices and decisions and try out different stuff, but we’re not plugging in and recording in the same room. The fact that Robbie and I can even work together is an amazing thing.”

A new practice for the 1991 album, and one that was done separately, is Robbie singing the majority of the vocal tracks. After singing dry into a Studio Projects C1 microphone, he then picks the best two out of a number of takes. At this point, Gavin chops them up, putting them through various processors and edits, playing around with the sounds until they turn out weird enough to satisfy both of them.

The chore of mixing 1991 was taken to Luke Argilla of the drum–n-bass duo Bachelors Of Science. “Robbie is such a bass-conscious musician, he was really adamant about getting some high-end sound,” says Gavin. “We had to find someone who could work with the lower tones, the bass and the kick. Usually, there’s about four different basslines, so we had to find someone who could work with that part of the sonic spectrum.

“I’m not the biggest drum-n-bass fan, but I like the way they zone in on a frequency and focus on the most microscopic detail. I just don’t have those skills in that range. There were times when we went back in and back in and back in, just to dial in some things that I would have let go weeks before.”

Can’t complain about the results.

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