When I started really seriously getting into house music in the mid-90's I found myself enamored with a small London imprint by the name of Luxury Service. After a few of its impressive releases permanently landed in the DJ bag I had declared it my favorite house music label. Luxury Service, though not well known today, was the home to some of the earliest works of music producers we've all become big fans of, including Rob Mello, Luke Solomon, and Justin Harris. Another producer who recorded for Luxury Service and really grabbed my attention was Kenny Hawkes. There was something unique about his music ... it seemed deeper, but not in the sense of "deep house" but in that it gave the impression that there was something else going on here ... like Kenny was trying to do more than just make "tracks," actively working to move the genre forward even as it was still quite young. So, I'm a bit fuzzy on the time period but it think it was 2000 and I'm regularly DJ'ing at Orlando's Knock Knock (my favorite venue ever). My main weekly night DJ'ing the club was Thursday, as I was usually spending my weekends haunting airports at that time, but Thursdays became a nice, tight little night of cool tunes and forgotten bar tabs. I caught wind that Kenny Hawkes was to be on the US east coast and was looking to DJ somewhere on a weekday for a small fee in between his better-paying weekend gigs. My night was tiny (we didn't charge a cover, either) so the budget was minimal but Kenny was down, and he came to Orlando and tore apart the rickety Knock Knock DJ booth and undependable sound system with spectacular tunes mixed as only Kenny could. (side note: I have part of this set on a cassette tape somewhere, which I need to find) We hit it off which was easy to do as Kenny turned out to be a warm and hilarious person, really into his music. He became quick friends with some others in Orlando as well and a nice little bond was formed, with Kenny returning to Orlando multiple times over the next couple years and DJ'ing at Knock Knock once again.
I would run into Kenny in my travels (he was also spending a lot of time in San Francisco in the early 00's, as was I) and we kept in touch online, sharing tracks and remixes. The last time I saw him was a couple years ago when by chance I got booked to play a party in London with Kenny at The Egg. It was a great party and, gladly, though we were DJ'ing in different rooms our times didn't overlap too much so I could hear most of Kenny's set. He was on point ... I hadn't really heard him out live since those early Knock Knock sets (and never on a sound system as good as The Egg's) and he sounded great. After he played we sat in the 'chill out' area of the club and talked for almost two hours as the rising sun pounded our eyes.
Kenny Hawkes passed away last night in his home town of Brighton, England. Such sad news ... our music has lost one of its true troopers. There's a lot that could be said here after all the reminiscing above, but I'm not really finding the words to say it. I have loads of friends who knew him much better than I did and my condolences go out to them. There is the cliché of "the music lives on" but here it really is fitting ... as I said above, Kenny seemed to want to push the music forward and created tracks that, at least to me, spelled out where house music might be going. This was (and is) inspirational and has a lot to do with the sounds I'm making and the attitude I have when making them.
A lot of Kenny Hawkes' music is getting posted around which is so great and moving. But I haven't seen my favorite bit from Kenny's oeuvre mentioned yet which is this remix for Toob:
There's just something completely special about this. Such a sleek remix, very technical but also quite warm and melancholy. The build is so subtle but undeniably effective. To recall what I mentioned above it seems there's "something else going on here" ... Kenny wasn't just going into the studio and knocking out a remix. It seems to me he was really trying to touch the future. Man, I'll miss that guy.