Steve Hillage makes an annual appearance in my adopted home town of Hebden Bridge with his trancey outfit System 7. I don’t always go and see him as I’ve largely moved away from dance music and have found that I no longer have the staying power or necessary faculties to endure an extended early morning wig-out. That said, I’ve purchased most of his System 7 albums since the late Eighties, and particularly enjoyed both his ambient ‘Point 7: Water’ album in the early Nineties and the equally sedate Mirror System album a decade or so later. When I last saw him at the Trades Club in September, it was as part of a 20 year celebration of local club night Cabbage, where over 3 nights Steve performed as System 7 on the Friday, as Mirror System on the Saturday, and Eat Static did the Sunday slot. As with previous viewings, it turned out the Mirror System were mirror as in ‘alternate’ rather than ‘ambient’, with a particularly hardcore set sending me eventually scurrying for the taxi rank, having enjoyed Hebden’s own Tetchi, a more benign blend of beats and instruments, rather more.
‘Café Seven’, which came out some time in 2018 is, from what I can gather from the credits, something of a pot pourri of original compositions, collaborations and remixes and whilst it’s apparently fairly faithful airing of what you might hear live, it is in places for me somewhat more accessible, possibly because familiarity breeds context, but mainly because of a quite superb sound mix which elevates a formulaic mix based around the inevitable 4:4 kickdrum. Whilst ‘First Wave’ may appear to set the tone for some fairly standard fare, there are some choice moments at various points in the album. Best in show are Mirror System & Aija’s ‘Smooth Operator’, something of a dance classic, starting with pristine echoed synths and propelled along through some rather funky guitar licks; whilst System 7’s ‘Big Summit’ benefits from some Qawali-style sampled vocals which slice through the pounding backbeats. Even ‘A Smuggler and a Juggler’, a track that originally had me despairing for some variation, has enough hypnotic impact to grind me down into releasing my inner raver. Whilst the ‘And Justice Killed’ resurrects the rather crash-and-burn style of the first System 7 album, not entirely convincingly, ‘Elektra’ adds a more appealing spooked out feel, and the album winds down with ‘Cloudface’ (a remix from a Delia Derbyshire Appreciation Society track, no less) featuring glissando guitar, and the rather reflective ‘Golden Mission’ featuring probably the only extended guitar soloing of the album. A nice way to complete an album which refused to let me ignore it.
Whilst the Hillage die-hard may hold out for this spring’s gigs resurrecting material from Green, Fish Rising and Open, let’s not forget that System 7 are 30 years old this year and have a remarkable longevity and following which may have surprised those of us who heard their debut album all those years ago. Café Seven is still available at Planet Gong at https://www.planetgong.co.uk/bazaar/cd/system7_cafeseven.shtml