SYSTEM 7’s Steve Hillage and Miquette Giraudy have had a strong influence on the birth of psychedelic dance music, forging a unique identity in a space where techno, progressive and trance meet with the added element of Steve’s highly specialised techno guitar.
Inspired by the 80’s Acid House music explosion, System 7 have carved out a unique niche in the pantheon of the UK’s techno scene, hailed for their impressive earth-moving Festival sets,and work with some of electronic music’s true innovators from The Orb to Richie Hawtin who remixed their incredible ‘Alpha Wave’ classic.Having ‘helped birth the first official dance music stage at Glastonbury Festival in 1995’ booking Carl Cox and Richie Hawtin; championed and worked with Detroit’s Techno godfather Derrick May in 1990 on their acclaimed ‘Mysterious Traveller’ album, the duo broke the mould with their seminal dual album release,’Fire’ and ‘Water’ which was hugely inspirational to the generation of electronic artists that followed including Black Dog, B12, Autechre, and AFX from Sheffield’s seminal Warp label.
As they release their new double album ‘Field Of Deams’, which reflects their relationship with Japan and features Exclusive remixes from artists such as Ree.K, Funky Gong, Artman, Ubar-Tmar, and Asteroidnos, we catch up with Steve Hillage in what must be one of the most challenging years for the music industry:
Two years ago you released the ‘Cafe Seven’ album and the world was a very different place then. Here you are about to release your new album’ Field Of Dreams’ and what can listeners expect to hear?
The physical release is a double CD in a deluxe gatefold package and a 12 page booklet telling the whole story of our System 7 branded sake . CD1 is a DJ mix of favourite System 7 tunes and the new System 7 track ‘Field of Dreams’ which is based around samples of traditional music from the Akita region in Japan. CD2 features guest remixes by well known Japanese artists of the new System 7 track. We feel as well that as the DJ mix is not too different from a recent System 7 live set, it will fill a bit the current void for our fans who are unable to go to live events.
‘Field Of Dreams’ came out of your love of sake and the chance to create a unique sake and soundtrack at the same time. What are your favourite moments from this project?
One of the best moments was the first time we went to Akita. We were joyfully met at the airport by the Aramasa brewery team and immediate whisked up into the hills to visit the idyllic village where they grow their all-important organic rice for the sake. It was cherry blossom season and absolutely beautiful, and then straight away we were taken to the pure river where the water for the sake comes from. Images of this river are featured in the video and the CD booklet. When I think of ‘Field of Dreams’ I think of these moments, where we were in the honoured position to touch not only the soul of Japan, but a deep universal human experience.
The second CD is Remixes from Japanese artists of ‘Field Of Dreams’ and how did you connect with these guys and do you have a personal fave?
The Japanese remixers are all well known in the scene that we work in. We have known them for many years, and have done many gigs and parties with them on the same bill. Artman, in particular, was one of the first Japanese acid house and techno DJs, under his alter ego DJ Kudo. We appreciate all the remixes, but we particularly like those by Funky Gong and by Asteroidnos, who also helped us with the field recordings for the main track.
Having travelled extensively and performed in Japan, you have on going connection with the country and its people and can you talk us through some of the most memorable things on your journey.
With System 7 we’ve visited Japan 35 times now, and our appreciation has gradually built over this period, together with our relationships with close Japanese friends. There’s something about the unique way that Japan blends traditional spirituality with high technology that really appeals to us, as it does to many other techno artists, including people we’ve worked with like Richie Hawtin, Dubfire, Alex Paterson and many others. Of course we love the food, and things like Uniqlo, Muji and Tokyu Hands, and travelling on shinkansen trains, but it’s more than that. And we keep discovering new things, so each of our trips has been in some ways quite different.
1st gig in Japan:
We were booked with Orbital and Alex Paterson in May 1994 to play at the Closing Party of a major Tokyo club called On-Air. Our set was very well received and through this event we connected to some major figures on the Japan party scene, and it all built from there. First impression of Tokyo:- wow it’s so big!!
Performing Live at The World Festival of Sacred Music at Miyajima Island, Hiroshima in June 2001 Miyajima Island is in the sea about 20kms from Hiroshima, and it’s the site of a major Shinto shrine, and one of the most important ones in Japan. The festival took place in the shrine, and the audience of several thousand were on a dance floor floating on pontoons. It was a truly magical environment, with many deer wandering about, seemingly unafraid of humans. We were booked as the only electronic based act on a mostly world music and jazz-funk orientated line-up, including Jah Wobble, the late Bernie Worrell (of Parliament/Funkadelic), Bill Laswell, DJ Krush and a variety of brilliant world music ensembles. Somehow our performance really ignited the event and everybody loved it, and it was from this point that our profile in Japan really started to take off.
Collaborating with Rumiko Tezuka, the daughter of the late Osamu Tezuka, one of the founding fathers of Japanese manga,whose iconic graphic novel series ’Phoenix’ was the springboard for the S7 album and off-shoot singles ‘Space Bird’ and ‘Hinotori’ (‘Bird of Fire’) in 2007-08.
Rumiko Tezuka, unbeknown to us, saw us play at Miyajima and found our set very inspiring. A few years later, when we were touring Japan with our ‘Encantado’ album, Rumiko wrote us a letter introducing herself and saying she thought System 7’s music would fit perfectly with her late father’s Phoenix graphic novels. These went very deep into Buddhist and Shinto philosophy, Japanese history and wild science fiction. We didn’t know these manga books, so she gave a few English translation versions. We read these and were blown away and ended up acquiring the whole series. Rumiko’s original idea was for us to produce an EP for her techno label, Music Robita, but we ended up being so enthused by the Phoenix stories that we proposed to make a whole album for our A-Wave label, in collaboration with Music Robita. So ‘Phoenix’ became the next System 7 album, and our biggest success in Japan, with our ‘Hinotori’ video getting on national TV. We had many meetings about this project in order to set it up, and most of those were in Tokyo, in particular in the Kichijoji district, which is where a lot of the manga anime film studios are based. And yes much sake was drunk in the course of this adventure! Being introduced to the Tenkawa Shrine, dedicated to Shinto goddess Benzaiten (an equivalent to the Hindu goddess Saraswati, goddess of music, arts and all that flows, including water). System 7 have twice had the honour of being invited to play their music as a “hono” (dedication).
The Tenkawa shrine is dedicated not only to the arts in general but in particular to electronic music. A number of electronic music artists have played there, including most famously Brian Eno. It was also a favourite place of Rumika Tezuka’s father, Osamu Tezuka the great manga artist. The mountain at Tenkawa is regarded as having magical magnetic properties – people claim to have seen UFOs there. One of our friends and collaborators, Takashi Sudo, is a devotee of Tenkawa Shrine and helps them organise events. It is Takashi that set up our two dedication performances which were each attended by a few hundred people, a mixture of dedicated System 7 fans who are part of the Tenkawa network, and people from the local village. Each time it has been a wonderful experience, and yes sake has been sipped on these occasions.
Collaborating with Japanese rock band Rovo to produce the Phoenix Rising album (2013) and playing Live together on two collaborative tours in Japan and one in UK/Europe. Rovo’s figure-head and electric violinist Yuji Katsui also guested on Gong’s ‘2032’ album and the System 7 album ‘UP’.
We first met Rovo at the Hotaka Mountain Festival in 2002, and were intrigued by their performance. They call there style “Man Driven Trance” and it’s a hypnotic blend of progressive space rock and live played repetitive beats, with two drummers. After Yuji played on our albums we were invited to make a live collaboration with them as a form of exchange. It worked so well that we decided to make an album and a full tour. It was particularly wonderful to bring the over to play gigs with us in the UK and Europe, and we hope to do that again some time.
Steve Hillage also made guest appearance with the late synthesiser legend Tomita at the Free Dommune Festival in Tokyo in 2014.
The Free Dommune festival was organised by Naohiro Ukawa, who is the originator in Tokyo of Dommune, the original online DJ live stream event, that is the Japanese precursor of Boiler Room. System 7 have played at Dommune around a dozen times. Ukawa, a lover of electronic music, was working with Isao Tomita’s management and they had a wish for me to play with him, which led to me being invited to play on the festival event. I was excited to do it, as I had listened to Tomita’s early records in the 70s. Rumiko Tezuka was also involved, as Tomita had composed the soundtrack for her father’s Phoenix animation movies, which were very famous in Japan. It was quite poignant to be with them together, and also very touching to make this event with Tomita as it was one of the last major concerts he did before passing away in 2016. We were talking about me guesting on his next album, but sadly it did not come to pass…
2018 saw the release of your special System 7 branded saké from the esteemed Aramasa brewery of Akita.
We became friends with a bubbly techno-loving Japanese lady called Aiko Ikeda, who runs a really cool sake bar in Kyoto. It was Aiko who introduced Richie Hawtin to some of the sake brewers who participated in his Enter Sake project, and Richie is regular visitor to her bar when he’s in Japan. One night we were drinking there, together with our Japanese booking agent Shinya Suzuki, and I was particularly enjoying an Aramasa sake. Aiko said “ You should meet Yusuke Sato, the boss of Aramasa brewery – he’s a System 7 fan!”. Shinya said, half joking, “Oh and maybe he could do a special sake for System 7 like he did for Richie”. And we and Aiko looked at each other and thought, “hey that’s not a bad idea!” So the idea was born. That was in 2015. The next year, when we were back in Japan, Aiko arranged a dinner in Tokyo where we met Yusuke, and we got on really well. He was very enthusiastic about making a System 7 branded sake and the whole project quickly built from that point.
Did you get a case and what did it taste like – do you drink it hot?
We got quite a few bottles, but some are still in Japan, waiting for our next visit…. This is premium quality sake, and has to be drunk chilled, like good champagne. It tastes really amazing, with a very slight plum-like fruitiness. But there is no added fruit – it’s all down to the bio-chemical artistry of the sake brewer and the way they work the fermentation process. Creating an illusion of slight fruitiness in the taste is a speciality of the Aramasa brewery of Akita.
How does music making look for you going forward? How will you promote your releases without being able to tour etc?
We’re currently re-locating our studio, and when it’s finally reading we plan to make a new Mirror System, chill orientated album. Promotion has to be fully online orientated now. The big new online promotional tool we have is Bandcamp, and we’ve spent a lot of time this year putting our whole catalogue there, building up a follower base, and now we’ve just released ‘Field of Dreams’:
Particularly known for your Live sets at both festivals, events and clubs, do you think the Iive sector will survive the next year or so?
Frankly, if things carry on as they are, without some unexpected miracle, I think 2021 is not going to be great for live music, and I think many events that have rescheduled to next year will end up being cancelled. It’s not a question purely of government covid restrictions. People understand that the worst place for a highly infectious pandemic is in a crowd of people, taking loudly and getting merry together in close proximity, so even if the events carry on many people just won’t want to come and it won’t work financially. Maybe there will be some big advances in rapid testing that might make things more feasible. A vaccine could help, but I think this will take a long time to be fully safe and ready and also there is a lot of opposition to vaccines at the moment. So for a vaccine to have any kind of positive effect on the pandemic it will not be a quick thing.
What have been the biggest changes for you this year ? Anything you’ve really missed and why?
Obviously no live shows and no travel. We’ve missed it, yes, but at the same time we’re discovering a new chapter in our lives, so I can’t say it’s all bad….
If you could – how would you stage your dream show – socially distanced – and where would it be and for how many people and would there be anything special you would want included – videos, effects, etc
I don’t believe in socially distanced shows. Maybe our feelings will change if the covid thing goes on longer and longer, but for the moment a socially distanced gig with no atmosphere cannot in any way correspond to a “dream show”.
The ’Field Of Dreams’ double CD albums is a powerful cross cultural collab and collection of System 7’s diverse sounds and grooves, including rare and unreleased material; a DJ mix of favourite System tracks and a Remix CD of ‘Field Of Dreams’ from contemporary Japanese artists. Released on A-Wave Records on October 2nd.