Marmite-like in their appeal, HMT Hard Cru (the HMT stands for ‘Hoofing Massive Tunes’) have plotted an irreverent, tongue-in-cheek course through the dance music landscape. Champions of the much-maligned and misunderstood, go to an HMT party and you can expect everything from makina to donk, Ibiza classixxx to chart-topping trance – peppered with curveballs from the Lighthouse Family or Celine Dion, whether selections exhilarate or confound will probably vary person-to-person. HMT is a philosophy, an aesthetic, possibly even a lifestyle, and while it isn’t for everyone, we certainly dig.
Nightwave to Mumdance, the subversive trio encourage established names to defy expectations and have a bit of fun, especially if it involves reaching for the obnoxious or just plain stupid (the former’s transition from ‘Crazy Frog’ into ‘The Bells’ by Jeff Mills is nothing short of inspired). FACT Mag called them “pranksters,” but founders Cos, Dave and Gabe are unashamedly sincere about what they’re doing. With some birthday celebrations and an inaugural release for a newly-founded HMT label on the very near horizon, we caught up with them to talk memories, memes and regional scenes (in an act of goodwill they’ve also offered up a free download to announce newly coined genre, ‘harsh garage’).
Ahead of celebrating 5 years of HMT, what are some standout memories from previous parties?
C: We’ve been lucky to host Nightwave, Queen of Scots and all-round legend at HMT HQ twice, and she’s showed us up as amateurs both times. Can we get a [flame emoji] here? Thanks. In both sets she played a ridiculous tune, which starts out hardstyle, and then there’s a breakdown where it sounds like chiptune almost. The first time she plays it, the crowd goes nuts. We had a close to 11 month gap after that until we did our night together up in Glasgow (big up Amelia Bayler and Dave Shades too), and I’d been combing the internet driving myself mad trying to find this music, with absolutely no luck. She played the same tune again that night, with the same reaction – a total sweatbox, with people screaming left, right and centre. After the show I finally get the chance to ask her what it was. Turns out it’s Basshunter. So, yeah, thanks Jonas.
G: Mumdance and Happa encoring with Kelly Clarkson after an hour of hardcore assault in Leeds was something I’ll never forget. Then, on the following weekend, DJ Bus Replacement Service breaking in her stupefying David Guetta ‘Atomic Food’ > Tim and Eric ‘All The Food Is Poison’ > Bell Biv Devoe ‘Poison’ bit, before getting stuck in an emergency loop of Mel B for what felt like an eternity –– again, sheer magic. I was chronically sick that entire winter and the Sheffield show was so good it damn near brought me back to life.
I will also give a shout here to HMT OG’s hypeman, the enigmatic MC Surgeon, who memorably raised a dedication to recently-deceased Alan Rickman over the opening strains of ‘Take Me To The Clouds Above’, causing an entire club to break down in tears of hilarity and heartbreak.
D: Yeah, DJBRS playing the entirety of ‘Working as a Waitress in a Cocktail Bar’ in Sheffield and it going off unlike nearly anything I have ever seen in a club before. Sheffield generally was great (FAO: We’d love to line up another party there, promoters). Also some of the moments back in the early-ish days, around the time I got involved, in the Soho art basement we got to use for a year, with Surgeon on the mic and Beethoven’s ‘Moonlight Sonata’ getting dropped before a run of weepy trance.
You’ve warned people that if your approach to promoting seems “convoluted and formless,” they should just wait to hear what you’re going to play. How would you prepare the uninitiated for what to expect?
C: What little of the tracklist I’ve planned already involves playing lots of songs about luxury watches together at the same time. A Rolex Suite, if you will.
G: Look for the blind panic in our eyes around 4am. I once played ‘Superman’ by Eminem six hours into an all-nighter and Cos has still never truly forgiven me for it.
Taking an irreverent approach to cultural pastiche, with a heavy focus on memes, is central to everything you do as HMT, but can you describe it in five words or less.
All, in terrifying unison: We live in a society.
Anything to say to people finding it hard to believe that you could play something like a donk remix of Queens of the Stone Age unironically?
G: Just to be clear, it was a UK Funky flip of QOTSA by our in-house tinkerer DJ Space Heater. Unlocking the raw potential of Josh Homme’s none-more-horny enunciations, and placing them inside an exoskeleton built from one of most sultry ‘n satisfying club sounds of the 21st century – so you tell me: what’s not to love? [Please direct all answers to the RA comments section]
Scouse house or Wigan Pier?
D: Makina, GBX, Donk, Bounce. All regional scenes are pure and worthy. Makina is the purest.
If you could book any misunderstood artist, past or present, dead or alive, who would it be?
G: I was at the final ever Test Icicles gig so I’m actually okay for this.
C: There’s a much doted-upon theory at HMT Global Ent., where you can use Robbie Williams as a barometer for the national psyche. It’s probably complete crap, but imagine this: Knebworth-era Robbo, at peak charisma, but in an intimate venue. 1000 capacity absolute max. No cameras allowed. Just you, your mates, and a few hours with the greatest showman our country has ever produced. Double encore of ‘Angels’ at the end, obviously.
D: DJ DeL BoY.
Between HMT, Facebook’s Shit Music Group and other parties like Planet Fun, why do you think there’s an appetite for an alternative to chin-scratching and people taking themselves/music too seriously?
G: First of all, the denizens of SMG and PF are in many respects strides ahead of us when it comes to letting untrammelled absurdity course through their veins. Out to them.
You could make the case that dance music is in its Culture Wars phase. As commercial interests subsume underground institutions, slogans are cooked up to shill overpriced hoodies, and discourse over infractions to an unwritten ethical code exhausts even peripheral onlookers, it’s natural to retreat into an enclave of silliness. Speaking for the Cru, we variously grew up listening to Gouryella, Mr Wong and Duran Duran Duran, so it’s mostly about paying tribute to that – and if that chimes with people coming under friendly fire in the dansemuzik No Mans Land, they are more than welcome to seek shelter under our tent. It’s a big tent.
Right now it’s cool to be uncool, but sure enough it’ll soon be uncool to be uncool, and that’ll be cool.
With that in mind, is playing donk and bassline a subversive act?
C: There’s a broader debate about whether subgenres like bassline, hardcore and donk have been unfairly overlooked by the music press and critics as part of an innate snobbery. I think this is probably true, but it’s not something I feel particularly comfortable weighing in on because I grew up in Twickenham, and my middle name is Kenneth.
We play of it all primarily because we like it, rather than to make a particular point or because we’re trying to be subversive. As G said, we grew up listening to a real grab bag of stuff. He and I were at school together, and got into bassline (aka niche, as it should have stayed tbh) via listening to mixes by Bok Bok & Manara. All three of us also seem to have gone through a period where we got into breakcore and plunderphonics; one of my earliest floor-clearing experiences was putting Venetian Snares on at a friends 16th, and I’ve never looked back.
As much as I first got into it because it’s exciting and noisy, a lot of this stuff remains very funny in terms of the samples used, and the material picked to remix. Want to hear a drill and bass version of Justin Timberlake’s ‘Senorita’? No problem. A gabber/polka hybrid track called ‘Clearance Bin’? Sure, why not? The same is true of a lot of the genres you’re talking about – unlike with a lot of dance music people aren’t afraid to be funny.
G: There’s a sense of “ha-ha-ha” about it all right now which can quickly turn from laughing with, to laughing at – at which point it becomes a class safari, some kind of voyeuristic LadBible thing, punching down, trying to score cheap points by belittling alcopops and chipmunk vocals. We’re categorically, 100% not fucking about that. There are mind-bendingly creative producers and DJs working across all of this. We’ve been lucky enough to play on bills with a fraction of them and, without fail, they rinse us every time – yet we love it. To us, a label like Off Me Nut is the shining city on the hill. It’s fun, it’s DIY, it’s inclusive, and the tunes bang beyond belief. How can you not walk away inspired?
D: +1 on OMN. Sheffield is amazing to me, because you have OMN, CPU and Warp all operating at such a high level, but in totally different ways. I sometimes worry that the ‘proper’ end of the spectrum sucks up money, attention and state support. As clubs get harder to keep operate, club music has to be dressed up as art in order to justify its existence, often unnecessarily. High intensity and off kilter club music can, and should, exist outside of snack-sized shareables peddled by social pages prodigiously reposting video media, or occasional gallery installations. For better or worse, the ones we look up to are these ecosystems that thrive without interference. In many respects, they’re the real ones.
The last couple of years have seen a proliferation of DJs playing heavier dance music (hardstyle, trance, gabber etc.). Now in vogue, are you less inclined to reach for that sort of thing?
G: All the tough stuff is just a decoy for showing our truest selves. At HMT4, we had the plug pulled while trying to slide into ‘Easy Lover’ by Phil Collins. On the Manchester leg of last year’s Northern Tour, we got tackled by the bouncers while trying to force a lights-up encore of Lighthouse Family. The man couldn’t prevent Dylan going electric, and rest assured, the man can’t keep us down forever either.
C: Thinking about it, another plan I have for the Warphammer party is riding Sting over some speed garage. Why pick a side? Get you a man who can do both.
How do you feel about Denis Sulta gaining mainstream recognition for playing the sort of tasteful, mainstream trance cuts that have been your bread and butter since HMT first began?
D: Critical support for Comrade Sulta for playing that DJ Cammy edit of Celebrate the Summer at a DJ Rankin party. Bangers are a universal public good.
Following efforts to ‘cancel’ Rephlex royalty Aphex Twin and Luke Vibert, who’s next for the HMT chopping block?
G: “NO IDEA” c/o off-white ™
A landmark five years of HMT Hard Cru parties also marks the launch of the HMT label. Why does the world need obnoxious edits of kitchsy pop tracks?
G: We think the electronic world is ready to hear music that’s a bit cheeky, a bit zesty, and a bit provocative for the internet-native generation. Something new, something fresh, something carefree – something that’s never been done before. We call it Personal Computer Music.
Reworking d:Ream, Mary Mary, N-Trance and Justice, how rigorous was the process to decide what made it onto the first HMT release?
D: I’ll level with you here – not at all rigorous.
And finally, what’s next on the Hard Cru agenda following the upcoming festivities?
D: National Lottery funding.
C: There’s a few plans afoot for bigger scale events which we can’t really talk about yet, but that aside, I’d like to see us diversify beyond just music. One of my side-hustles is painstakingly hand making HMT merch for the boys, often by candlelight. Very genuinely, if anybody has access to a ceramics kiln in the SE-London area, or knows anything about making pottery glazes, please get in touch. I’ve already done hand-embroidered hats, bomber jackets, and boiler suits. Frankly if you can’t buy a slightly wonky tapestry of Judge Jules from the HMT Etsy page at a brutal markup price by the end of this year, I’ll be disappointed.
G: Virgil, you’ve got our number.
The HMT Vᵀᴴ Birthday takes place on April 27th at a secret SE London location – buy tickets here.