HMT Hard Cru’s output is unrestrictedly referential. No corner of pop culture from about 1990 is safe from these vulturous aesthetes, whose whole being is seemingly dedicated to churning out hysterical acts of subversive collage. With a love of big tunes at their core, they are bringing a half-forgotten era of hardcore, Ibiza classics and donk crashing back into currency, folding our habitual listening and clubbing practices inside-out. Even an idle scroll through their Facebook page with its garish colour schemes, arresting product placements and overload of memes has the effect of a pair of strobes being crudely implanted behind your eyeballs. Clips from their London-based club nights-cum-Dadaesque performance pieces present a similarly relentless approach.
Though jarring, it is a completely intoxicating phenomenon, like those first rushed swigs of cerulean WKD in your early teens. There’s something distinctly northern about this alcoholic image, which is fitting since the crew are about make their way up the country and onto the cobbled streets for a mini tour that will screech into HiFi on 16th February, and sees the fabulous Mumdance join them on stage along with trusty Leeds techno troupe Treehouse.
With Dave, Gabriel and Cosmo’s absolutely allusive approach to art in mind, we wondered what would happen when we turn the mirror on them, forcing them into self-referentiality for a minute over e-mail:
Your bio suggests that your love of club anthems, hardcore and ‘Hoofing Massive Tunes’ is some kind of ailment, if not a full blown disease. Why do you perceive it this way? Also, is it contagious?
C: For my money, it’s already endemic. When the mood is right, show me the man or woman who doesn’t absolutely lose it to the weird horn sounds at the start of Rozalla, and I’ll show you a liar.
G: I sure hope it’s contagious or we could be looking at Hard-Fi arena tour 2007 levels of low turnout for the tour this month.
HMT has been in existence for just over a year on Facebook, maybe longer in real terms. Could you run us through what you have you achieved in that time?
G: Cos & I have been optimistically flirting with the idea of becoming a rave duo called Ledge & ‘Arry since we were teenagers, so this is effectively a gestation of that dream. In real terms the parties have been happening on and off for about four years; we had a letter change in the name a couple years back and have shamefully lost count – it’s not even a particularly high figure, HMT666 was actually no.14 or something. Facebook followed because we could all stand to spend a bit more quality time with Zuck. I’d love to say since its crystallised into a “thing” we’ve been an effective trojan horse in the industry, normalising York and Hardfloor for the masses once more –– but Denis Sulta has beaten us to the punch with that one already. So we’re a touch short on bankable achievements. Full communism looks within reach now thanks to the Donkapella, so we’ll gladly take credit for that.
As a Wigan lad, I understand this fascination with donk. I also grew up as a rocker, which I also identify with through references to Queens of the Stone Age and more on your Soundcloud. I spent so long trying to separate myself from donk and dance music in general, yet have ended up being among it and definitely feel nostalgic for it – but the donk scene in Wigan is now dead. Would you say nostalgia is one of the main influences on your work, or is it a nostalgia for something you weren’t participant in?
C: Nostalgia is definitely a big motivator, but I think it’s more than that. Even though there’s something especially beautiful about simply seeing a room of people losing it to Dannii Minogue in 2018.
For me the best DJs are people who mix old and new, so for instance Mumdance who’s joining us at HiFi on the night will play a set with a lot of upcoming or unreleased out-there bassy stuff, but then blends in a piece of hardcore like Jimmy J & Cru-L-T. There’s nothing on the nose or wink-wink about it at all. He just fucking loves it, as he should.
One of my favorite tracks from last year was Nightwave’s rework of Darude’s “Sandstorm”. We were lucky enough to have her play one of our parties in November, and the energy was insane. Because of all the memes, Sandstorm is kind of like a musical punchline at this point – you can’t credibly play it out, which is a shame because at its core it’s still a great dance track. All it takes is a relatively simple edit to bring that out: everyone forgets that they’re listening to Darude, and focuses on how good it actually sounds. Nothing is worse than playing something out purely for laughs – even if it’s nostalgic, it can still be crap. Ironic DJing is solipsistic and a waste of everyone’s time, we may misfire from time to time, but we only play music we love, hand on heart.
D: I used to really like Blackout Crew’s “Bbbbounce” when I was at school. In the video this guy (unexplained, and not in Blackout Crew) sitting in a Ferrari who would occasionally be brought into shot in the foreground. Very inspirational aesthetic.
There’s this false dichotomy between ‘music that doesn’t take itself seriously’ and ‘credible music’. I genuinely think donk and hardbass are underrated; a scene having a sense of humour doesn’t mean you should disregard it out of hand (cf. PC Music). I absolutely rinsed that donk send up of Jeff Mills’ “The Bells” last year, both because it was funny but also because it slapped. Expect it to be a likely tour anthem.
Are you taking the mickey out of the ‘tastemakers’ with your plan to take their mantra of ‘play anything’ to a new extreme? Is it out of disdain for the music press? Or do you simply want to make your musical output as heterogeneous as possible?
G: Here, I reach for the evergreen words of fêted scholar JC Chasez (Pop; 2001):
“Now, why you wanna try to classify the type of thing that we do; We’re just fine doing what we like, can we say the same for you?”
Also technically I am the music press, so yes, disdain runs extremely high.
You are also massive advocates of ‘carnage’. What would be your definition of carnage?
G: We are, but in a more tactile way. Carnage that comes from DJ Bus Replacement Service unloading a whole Russian torrent’s worth of audio detritus onto a crowd greeting it like manna from heaven. Not lads in Solardo shirts scrapping.
Possibly my all-time favourite memory of playing out ever ever ever came at HMT4. We hit a run of piling Thomas Bangalter related tunes on top of each other with increasing velocity, then pulled it back from the brink by taking a hard left into ‘Digital Love’. It genuinely felt like time was slipping during the “why won’t you play the game” vocoder part: pink lights began reflecting off a disco ball, the booth got rushed, a sea of seemingly infinite friends in front of us raised anticipatory air guitars aloft, someone was waving a power tool around –– and the whole place went absolutely spare when that cloudbursting solo finally kicked in. For the briefest of moments it was transcendent, like kissing the face of God. That’s our kind of carnage right there.
D: Oh that “Digital Love” moment was full adolescent headrush levels. I sort of identify that form of quote unquote carnage with that warm nostalgia of being really really fucking drunk as a teenager; when everything is rushy and equal parts optimism and nihilism.
The outrageousness of your mixes and productions somewhat belies their genuine quality. Without wishing to break the spell, may I ask why comedy and irreverence takes centre stage in your work?
G: Often these visions come down to us out of nowhere – like Diamond Version, Portishead and Lumidee forming a unified latticework of sonic excellence – and we feel compelled to answer the higher calling. Other times, when time-stretching Noddy Holder over “Summer Jam 03”, or punching in airhorn samples with the nimble dexterity of Araabmuzik, it is quite simply an extension of our happiness to be alive.
D: I think the word ‘comedy’ is maybe a bit strong though. Where the productions are concerned I definitely get a buzz out of shoehorning one piece of music into a wrong idiom with my trademark irreverence! Can you put a crying laughing emoji here thanks. (Here you go: 😂 )
One of the biggest aspects of this is your use of memes. Crude photoshopping runs all the way through your aesthetic. What do you think resonates with users so much with regard to the meme format? And why does it work so well as the expression of the HMT worldview?
D: To be honest a lot of what I enjoy most about HMT is the three of us sitting in the group chat, riffing on concepts. A lot of the visual stuff falls out of that. Or there’s an opportunity too good to miss: the ‘millennials can’t afford houses because of avocados’ news story broke the day we lost a venue on account of the landlord wanting to turn it into a cafe or something, so we quickly leapt on current affairs to buy time. In a roundabout way avo toast much saved that party.
Me and Cos once made a short film comprising a boy racer footage and Vin Diesel work-out videos. For the soundtrack we sampled the first note of Tokyo Drift by Teriyaki Boyz, used that to play a MIDI file of the Liebestod from Tristan and Isolde, and stuck some engine sounds and tire screeches on it. The climax was someone popping a champagne bottle trackside, while Vin grimaces at the camera, accompanied by all this surging engine noise and a pounding operatic crescendo. We projected it onto the wall of the gallery (we were doing the party in the gallery basement) and stuck a load of old tires on plinths dotted around the room like bits of sculpture. It was incredibly stupid and we had about 3 days to pull it together, but it was so much fun.
C: The space we were using for that party was an art gallery by day, and to justify our being there they wanted us to frame the night as performance art I think? Anyway, like Dave said, we stepped up with only a few days notice. I’d thrown together this whole spoken word performance where we’d made a little stage out of a camo-print bass-bin enclosure and I was going to read out bits of Tokyo Drift and quotes from a tape pack i’ve got of Vibes at Helter Skelter, as well as some really shocking amateur poetry. All this was to go with the film. In the end, we had to call it off though, because they’d left all of the artwork in the gallery space from a show that had finished the day before, and builders had been in that morning without a pack down. We had people banging on the door to get inside and dance while we were ferrying hundreds of thousands of pounds worth of sculpture into a back room.
G: …hence the power tool guy.
Before being in HMT, Gabriel, much of your mixes and radio shows were based on ambience, jazz, electronica and deep house. Is HMT an outlet for your wackier side, or is it a full shift in focus?
G: Form is temporary, K-Klass is permanent.
When did you first drink WKD, and why has it become such an inspiration for the Northern Tour you are about to embark on?
C: My favorite moment at one of our first nights in London was managing to move several people on a packed dancefloor to tears by playing the “Candlelight Version” of Cascada’s “Everytime We Touch” unmixed from start to finish. That’s like WKD: although it’s cheap and synthetic, it’s also incredibly delicious. Stains the soul blue as well as your clothes. A memento of simpler, better times.
I actually went to uni in Leeds and barely saw any WKDs in the clubs – my drink of choice was a Sour Apple VS, which I trust you’ll now be stocking on the night as per our extensive rider (thanks in advance). Although I’ve been teetotal for rocking on 8 years now, so it’s more for overall feng shui of the evening.
D: I’ll admit a lot of the WKD stuff comes from me. I think I probably first had one when i was like 15 at some sort of village hall type birthday party – real mf “Cotton Eye Joe” hours. And, to Cos’ point, the thing is that it tastes genuinely wicked. I also like that it’s a synthetic flavour without an analogue in all of nature: it’s just ‘blue’. I don’t think it’s supposed to be blueberry, I think it’s just ‘blue’. There’s something life affirming and courageous about the idea of confidently asserting that ‘’blue’ is a flavour’ as a business model and getting away with it. It’s a pretty remarkable achievement. I guess you could bracket it with stuff like the development of the Haber-Bosch process and the Apollo missions; humankind conquering and transcending nature itself – the world reconstituted in our own image.
What are you looking forward to most about your trip up north?
C: Revisiting my spiritual home at Cosmos World Buffet on Boar Lane.
D: I’m gonna try and go see my nan in Shipley around the Leeds/Manchester leg (wholesome). Also chips and scraps.
G: Hanging with all the sound people we’ve booked and watching them play us off the park night after night.