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System 7: Partying Is Not an Escapist Phenomenon

Monday, December 3, 2001
Given that he's always been one of dance culture's most influential, if relatively unrecognised heroes, it's unsurprising that Steve Hillage's trance band System 7 remain one of the world's greatest dance bands, up there alongside the Chemical Brothers and the Prodigy. The term "band" is significant, since it's in the live arena where System 7 are at their best, producing fantastically powerful tranced out house music of truly exceptional dance floor ability.

Coming up in the 70s with prototype electronic band Gong, Hillage was one of the first people in Britain to host outdoor sound system parties, in the process meeting younger dance floor enthusiasts including Paul Oakenfold and the Orb's Alex Patterson. Immersing himself in rave culture from the beginning, he also hooked up with early US pioneers including Carl Craig and Derrick May and in the new year hopes to releases an album worth of material co-produced with the Detroit legend. And his own System 7 music (co-produced with his long term partner Miquette Giraudy) remains seriously high quality music, twelve years and 6 albums since they formed.

The band's standout album remains their 1993 progressive house classic 777, though new album Seventh Wave is an equally impressive and highly listenable collection of tunes. The record is out now via ther own label A-Wave.

"One of the next things we're planning to do on A-Wave, is an anthology of all the tracks we've done with Derrick May," says Steve Hillage, chatting to Skrufff's Jonty Adderley this week about his new album Seventh Wave and a 30 year career, based on playing electric guitar and electronic music. The former Gong guitarist has carved his own highly individualistic path throughout his career and remains one of dance culture's most thoughtful and experienced commentators.

Skrufff: You've described your new album has having a theme of "house meets trance", what prompted this angle-

Steve Hillage: "Firstly, we like house music and we also like trance; not all house and not all trance but our tastes extend into both those realms. When we first started our active adventures in dance music in the late 80s at that point these distinctions didn't exist- there was acid house and in a way all the sub-genres that have since sprung up have developed from that original explosion. I'm constantly surprised by some of the people on the trance scene and their hostility to house music, which they associate with commercialism and lack of spirituality. If you look at the musical history of house there's a strong spiritual element that goes right back to funk and gospel.

Secondly, we visit Ibiza quite a lot and you'll find that if you know where to look, there are some amazing underground trance parties, there, though their locations are jealousy guarded. On a weekend there you can start at some fantastic trance party on a cliff top on a Saturday night, then go to Space on the Sunday to hear a long Danny Tenaglia set. For me, that's a good weekend and I suppose that's reflected in our album."

Skrufff: You formed System 7 in 1989, right when acid house started, what drew you into the scene-

Steve Hillage: "We'd been involved in dance music in the 70s when it was a funk thing, during those days of Parliament and Funkadelic and we used to have parties at Ridge Farm in Surrey. We tested out the prototype Turbosound, sound system rig in the 70s and the guy that designed it was a funk freak. We used to throw these parties with a massive PA in a barn or field. I was also a keen student of electronic music and it was obvious in the late 70s where things were developing. I followed electro and watched the whole thing develop.

We stopped doing our rock band at the end of the 70s because we got quite bored of the rock format and I was largely concentrating on record production for the first half of the 80s. Then as the house thing started to build we had a kind of 'Eureka' moment and discovered there was a new way<