Greg Hunter takes us on a rather rare trip through music history. Why rare? Because he’s a man of few words with a prolific history who presents an awkward challenge (for any discerning journalist). Yet there’s still plenty to talk about: whether it’s his work with the The Orb or the Matrix film soundtracks, or with Killing Joke or Derrick May or Juan Atkins – and plenty beyond. These days though – he’s known more as a maestro of his own unique electro-acoustic ethno-dub-chill vibe. But he might just play some sexy techno. So leave behind your expectations and be sure to get a taster when he plays the Chill stage at this year’s Midnight Sun Festival.
Greg is a rare breed of artist who seldom speaks about himself. He’d rather indulge in belly laughs over totally random anecdotes.
“I’m looking forward to the vast swathes of ice-covered Fjords at the Midnight Sun Festival. And to the endlessness of no time, and to the crystalline shards of pure light which will sweep majestically into the distance as a solitary penguin is silhouetted against the ever-lasting sunset.”
That’s very poetic Greg – but really??? “Yes Anu. It’s inspired me to maybe belt out some penguin-infused organic bass prog and Arctic dub step.”
Yes okay Greg – but there are no penguins in the Arctic circle. “Well then I look forward to seeing the LundeHunde with his six toes. And hopefully snow-blindness won’t get in the way. Or at least I’ll hear it through my one remaining non-frost-bitten ear.”
And what else? “I’m also looking forward to seeing the Fjords in all their Scandinavian glory after reading Terence McKenna. And I’m sure when we get there we’ll develop some kind of telepathic Norse code to communicate with penguins.”
Norse code? See what we mean?
Greg is often likened to a futurist with a penchant for making music way ahead of its time. Just whizz back to 1995 and check out the Number Readers which he produced under the Subsurfing moniker with Japanese artist Ryoji Oba. Fans who have been looking for it online will be pleased to hear a track from the album was re-released in just March this year.
Despite a prolific career – he’s only ever given one other interview and that was to a Marie Claire reporter who flew over to Egypt to discuss his work with the country’s female musicians on Alien Soap Opera – produced with renowned artist, Amir Abdel Magid.
We laugh at the irony – Greg, the very antithesis of consumerism -appearing in this perversely commercial glossy. “Yes, I suppose that was quite funny,” he tells me quietly, “but I didn’t like it,” and we cackle some more.
Greg’s long-time friend – the producer and former label manager of Dragonfly Records, Darren Sangita – launched Spectralite with him in 2010. “Greg’s work is light years ahead of the sonic spectrum. In fact, he’s helped set the stage for some of the greatest musical talents we know today. You could say he’s taken the future of music with the history of music – and then fused them together in an original, world class way.”
Re-invention with alias projects like Subsurfing, Alien Soap Opera, Wåveshåper, Dub Trees, Celtic Cross and Dubsahara has kept the creative flow in motion. He’ll do random mash-ups that will take you by surprise too like this Plastikman remix.
Greg has worked with luminaries from across the spectrum – and his discogs list does little to justify that life-time of dedication. But some who do top the list include The Orb, Youth, Killing Joke, Julian Marley, Derrick May, Juan Atkins, Marshall Jefferson, Ahlam / Assala, Kalahari Surfers, Juno Reactor, Simon Posford, Crowded House and Paul McCartney.
Greg was into psychedelic space rock, following the likes Gong and Hawkwind before he found himself at Butterfly Studios – the underground den which belonged to Killing Joke bass player and music producer Youth – and where Goa trance was kicking off and the likes of Joti Siddhu, Ott and Shakta were honing their skills.
By now, Greg had already remixed an Alien Sex Fiend track for Youth while tape op-ing and assisting – and it was his first ever session.
Youth tells us: “Greg was one of the first mixers I worked with to get that holographic 3D sound. And he’s one of the few engineers I could put on a rock project because he’d just get it. He also got trance, though dub was his main forte. He was a great pleasure to work with and he also became a good friend. I’ve learnt a lot from Greg.”
Not many people had anticipated the eruption of rave culture at the time – but they knew they liked it as Greg tells us: “It all happened quite organically but at the time, you didn’t know it was going to become this massive thing because you’re just hanging out with your mates. It was just a laugh.”
At the same time, The Orb were stirring up a storm as pioneers of the chill out movement and Greg was enamoured by it all while working in the studios of Steve Levine – which is where he met Alex Paterson.
“I was listening to that sort of thing anyway, so it was really good for me to work with The Orb rather than the old fogeys I was working with at the time.
“But now of course, I realise they weren’t old fogeys at all – they were the likes of Gene Pitney and David Courtney from The Who, but at the time, for me, they were just a bunch of old farts doing music without bass drums.
“But Steve was also working with Boy George and Culture Club. So one day The Orb came into the studio and I did that session with them.
“They said they liked it so they came back and we did another one and it was for Fluffy Clouds – and that’s when I met Youth again. And because it went so well, Alex said ‘come and do the next album.”
Youth recaps the time: “It was really great when he came on the Orb as a mixer because he really understood where we were coming from – he’s quite psychedelically inclined. And though he’s very quiet, he throws his anchor deep and can create some amazing atmospheres with just a few tweaks and twiddles. It’s very organic too when you’re working with him. His sound is constantly morphing. He’s very, very creative.”
It was 1991. Greg had been involved with both albums for The Orb before going on to work with Youth at Butterfly Studios after the band moved from Big Life to Island Records. He said he was in his element at Butterfly because he got to work with the likes of Derrick May, Marshall Jefferson and Juan Atkins.
“The people who were at Butterfly were the luminaries I was interested in. Juan Atkins was the best session with Model 500. He’s amazing. And he was signed to Apollo too like Subsurfing was – it was the same label as Aphex Twin – and I was really glad about that.”
A year later, Greg joined former member of The Orb, Kris Weston/Thrash to launch an insane remix of the Killing Joke track, Requiem.
Greg’s music has reached a highly dedicated niche of music lovers who value the attention to detail and stylistic quality in his work – including Hungarian belly dance sensations, Attraktív Kollektíva who tracked him down so they could perform specially to his live set at Ozora.
Although critically acclaimed for what he’s achieved musically, there’s plenty of work for which Greg is rarely credited – including projects such as Matrix Reloaded and Matrix Revolutions.
Last year he produced an EP with The Egg and recently flew back from Tokyo where he finished a third album with Japanese ambient/techno maverick, Hataken for their project, Wåveshåper. Electroglyph is the result: an otherworldly production punctuated by distorted leads and unusual samples.
We get back onto the subject of the Midnight Sun Festival. “We will go as Discordians of the Ice Age to the land of the Viking,” he says before adding, “do you think it will get dark?”
We discuss the possibility of watching animals (hippies?) in their natural habitat before getting onto the subject of the line-up.
“Of course it’s going to be epic. And it’ll be great to see artists like Ott and Shakta and of course Mauxuam. I play right after Mauxuam’s six hour set. Not sure what I will play yet – it all depends on the feeling I get when I’m there, but I might be tempted to play some techno and bushprog.
Under his independent label Mutantra Records, Greg plans to share something new.
“I like this Zenon style of music known as bushprog. This is what’s exciting me at the moment – so I’m listening to artists like Grouch, Merkaba, Tetrameth and Evil Oil Man, and I would like to start writing some Zenonesque music soon.
It could be bush prog, it could be techno, it could even be penguin-dub, or some Norse code-inspired bleeps, or even something deep and groovy to warm up the cockles of your tranced-out being as you embrace the Arctic climes of the Midnight Sun. Whatever he plays – it’s well worth coming to find out.