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Hippie Chic 

Foxgluv's emergence on the rave scene has been a series of happy accidents and absurd coincidences

Wednesday, Mar 15 2000
Arranging the sights, sounds, memories, details, connections, and synchronicities that revolve around Foxgluv into a story is like interpreting a riddle. Asking more questions and following possible leads gets you as close to the truth as peeling the layers of an onion gets you to the absolute center. Foxgluv isn't a group -- it's a fairy tale, a Choose Your Own Adventure novel that spans 10 years, two continents, and the entire course of the West Coast rave scene. Its members' best description of themselves is "elf commandos," somehow a fitting introduction to their project and overall worldview.

The three members -- D, Urth Gurl, and Sage -- do make music together. Their sound is mobile house music -- "mobile" in the sense that they move through many styles fluidly; "house" because that's the musical foundation to which they always return. And also, "mobile house" because that's where it literally originates: a Telestar RV, currently orbiting Santa Cruz. Urth Gurl contributes "words, words, words, and sometimes they have their own tune, they come out in song form."

Sage plays guitar, and "fills the irresponsible role. I fill it very well, and that makes sure everybody else is very responsible."

D "deals with Sage, and I work all the wires and knobs and buttons -- sampler, drum machine, analog gear, the live music and the studio, the arrangements, play some bass, play some keys."

Before leaving his native south London, D sampled his entire record collection -- widely eclectic as a result of his years DJing in the fabled acid house scene there -- and used it as the basis for the instrumentals he shapes around Sage's guitar soloing and Urth Gurl's lyrics. "Each song has its own feeling; it takes you to a different place," Urth Gurl says, sitting outside on a clear day in downtown Santa Cruz. "Everything with words and music is like a map, which helps you travel and journey and can deliver you to a different place. That's why there are so many different types of music and so many different places to go. Sometimes [our music] is jazzy, sometimes it's hip hop, sometimes it's just house, sometimes it's really raunchy and raw and punk and all about just feelings, without words to describe it."

Urth Gurl easily lists numerous levels of meaning behind the group's name, and their implications for its creative vision. Foxglove, a flower in the snapdragon family, is cultivated as a source of digitalis, which she explains is used for "heart stimulation. It's very akin to the Ecstasy vibe. Please don't go out and actually take digitalis, though," she says. "But on a vibrational level, it helps open the heart, something we are very much trying to do with the music. But also the digital part, the digital age, and digits being your fingers -- fingers being your magic wands and fingers are creating all this magical music as well -- pressing buttons, playing guitar, DJing.

"Another meaning," she continues, "is the whole fox thing -- we're all wearing these human body suits, we're all in physical form, but we don't know where we really came from. Through the Ecstasy, through the acid and these other cultural movements, we realized, hey, we're more than our body. So in our glove suits, in the underground music scene, we've been like foxes. Foxes can survive in any situation -- there's a type of fox for every type of ecosystem on the planet -- snow foxes, desert foxes, mountain foxes, they even live in London. They're scavengers, they're dealing, they're making it work for them. In the beginning of the house movement, it was so underground that you would recognize people who knew, like a secret society. It's about going underground in your fox glove camouflage to survive."

Urth Gurl is from Los Angeles, and went to college in New Orleans. Watching George Bush's presidential acceptance speech in 1988, she worried that the number of references he made to God signaled the takeover of the religious right. So, deciding she needed to take a break from America for a while, she followed a friend to London. She got a job at a New Age bookstore, where her duties required that she "dust off the magazine rack, which was all cobwebby, you can imagine, because it was all super witchy and bloodstone and dragon's blood, right out of English Gothic lore. I started to see all these magazines with the most outrageous psychedelic covers and delicious art that was incredibly attractive, and when I opened the pages, it was 'Sixties Hippie Meets '90s Techno Person' and I was like, 'They're talking about me!' Because I always had this internal conflict of wanting to go live in a treehouse or becoming a CEO in my Formica super leather desk commanding worlds."

The magazines she discovered were documenting the emerging "zippy" culture in Britain, a high-tech tribal ethos that embraced mushrooms as readily as drum machines. She met one of the publishers when he was dropping off his magazines at the store, and he invited her to a picnic. "Little did I know that everyone I'd know for the next decade was at that this picnic," she recalls. She quickly took over distribution duties for the publisher, changing her name to Magnolia Thunderpussy for the position.

D was at the picnic -- he was doing design work for Encyclopedia Psychedelia magazine and DJing for the Sugarlump Soundsystem, an early crew that provided music at the otherworldly happenings then taking place. Zippy culture involved many older, "head"-type writers and artists from the '60s who were quite affluent, and who loaned out their country homes for the kids to throw extended parties, fueled by the mushrooms that grew on their properties. Urth Gurl ended up eating lots of them, which were wrapped in newspaper like traditional fish and chips. She began hearing voices -- voices that named her Urth Gurl and told her to keep moving around the countryside.

She traveled through the Welsh mountains with a girl who lived with her horse and squatted in empty houses. "We were kind of this Goldilocks crew -- 'Hey look, they have some champagne in the pantry!' We actually wound up squatting Robert Plant's house while he was away. He had great mushrooms growing in his garden. And this voice seriously said to me, 'You must go to San Francisco. There are some children you must meet there.' So I took all my mushrooms because I didn't have any money, and they said, 'Turn us into cash,'" she laughs. "It turned out there was a Grateful Dead show going on and I came home laden with pound coins. So I bought a ticket to San Francisco, and at the same time Mark Healy [a journalist for ID magazine who later threw the famous Toon Town raves in S.F.] and Alan [who kick-started the Full Moon parties with the Wicked crew] also decided to move out too."

While his Brit friends were seeding the rave scene in California, D was establishing himself around Europe as DJ Shakra, getting invited to play in Iceland, Russia, and France, and honing his skills in the studio. But soon he too was ready for a break from the harsh environs of south London, and decided he'd like the fresh air in Santa Cruz.

Urth Gurl was busy trying to figure out how she could enjoy the San Francisco lifestyle with such high rents, and wound up inventing the smart drink, the icon that went on to represent rave culture in the mass media. In London, ravers would drink sugary concoctions as an alternative to alcohol, which doesn't mix well with Ecstasy. A product of a good hippie mom, Urth Gurl had been heavily vitaminized from an early age and taught to be health conscious at all times. So she decided to sell organic fruit smoothies at raves. Her first juice bar was at the debut Come Unity party. She ended up making about seven bucks.

"My advertiser-marketing mind was like, 'What's wrong, what happened? How come they didn't want our shakes?' So I went into the quick redevelopment phase, and since Mark was a journalist, he was doing all this stuff on smart drugs. I contacted one of the publishers of smart drink books and formulated an herbal drink that would create a specific response in your system to allow you to have additional energy or be more awake or have your mind and creativity flow. The next thing we did was this huge bar at Toon Town and we went super-mega-deluxe, extra glitter, bubbles, hot chicks, go-go dancers, and everyone got introduced to our smart drinks."

Her bars began to travel the world's party circuit and she ran a successful business bottling her elixirs for years. Meanwhile, D came across an old tape he and Urth Gurl had made on a four-track almost as a joke in their early England days. He started remixing the songs in a studio and realized they were actually brilliant -- the words interacted with the music perfectly. They decided to get serious; Urth Gurl put her business on hold and the two bought the RV. Some updated versions appeared on the first Foxgluv release, 1998's cult uv 8, and some are still being rerecorded now, 10 years after they were first conceived.

"I keep finding out more and more about these people as we go along," says Sage. He was brought into the fold because D and Urth Gurl wanted a soloist, a musician to add the live element to the project. And in classic Foxgluv fashion, their meeting was full of serendipity and magic.

"One morning I woke up after one of the most vivid dreams I'd ever had," D remembers. "I was in a club on the pier in Santa Cruz and I was setting up my gear to play with Jimi Hendrix. Everyone knew Jimi was coming to play and I'd made the beats for him, but just before I woke up I realized Jimi was dead. Literally two days later we were walking in the farmers' market [the quintessential Santa Cruz experience, held each Wednesday] and I saw this cat standing on the corner, and we were both wearing electric-blue jogging suits. I was checking him out; he was listening to a Walkman and I asked him what he was listening to and he said drum 'n' bass with guitars. 'I'm diggin' it.' So I said, 'I make drum 'n' bass.' And he said, 'Well, I play guitar.' So I told him about the dream, and he pulled up his sleeve."

On Sage's arm was a tattoo of Hendrix's face.

About The Author

Darren Keast


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