In the midst of Deathfest insanity, there was no time to report that the death-metal community lost a beloved innovator a few days ago: Mr. Steeve Hurdle, best known for his work in Quebec's Gorguts (specifically, on the awe-inspiring 1998 album Obscura) and in the spin-off project Negativa. My sincere condolences to his family and friends.
Despite all the amazing work he did during his lifetime (see above; that's Hurdle on the right, playing guitar and singing lead—in that inimitable anguished, sobbing style of his—throughout most of the song; the footage was posted by Hurdle himself, in tribute to Gorguts' then-drummer, Steve MacDonald, who had committed suicide in 2002), I can't help but think of a missed opportunity when I think of Big Steeve, as he was known. A little over two years ago, Steeve was scheduled to perform at the Stone in NYC, both solo and in a duo with Craig Taborn, but he was turned away at the border and the gigs never happened. I'll never forget how bummed I was when I heard the news. I was worried then that I'd never get to see Hurdle perform live (I got into Gorguts only well after he'd left the band and, as far as I know, Negativa never played in the U.S.), and it turned out to be true.
When I had the opportunity to sit down with Craig Taborn last year, I grilled him incessantly about his experiences working with Steeve. The two had met on MySpace, of all "places," and connected in person when Taborn played Montreal with David Binney in the mid-aughts; then Toby Driver of Kayo Dot booked the NYC Hurdle gigs, and Taborn visited Hurdle the week before the show was scheduled to occur. At that point, the two jammed. Taborn described the session to me in an e-mail:
"Steeve and I did not record that day, unfortunately; at the time, we were expecting to play the next week in NYC and I knew that would be recorded. It was fun, though, playing with him, especially [once] we got past the idea that i was a 'jazz' guy and so certain things had to happen a certain way. We fused immediately, maybe more because his way of playing sounded so comfortable to me, because I have really listened to those recordings for hours on end and learned everything, so it felt very home-like to me."
Of Steeve's work with Gorguts, Taborn said:
I corresponded briefly with Steeve himself after the Stone cancellation. I couldn't help asking him what he had been planned for his two sets. This was his reply:"Obscura really turned my head around about a lot of things compositionally and in terms of sound. Really a groundbreaking album and still full of secrets for me."
From: Steeve Hurdle
Date: February 20, 2010 3:48:12 AM EST
To: Hank Shteamer
Subject: RE: sorry to hear about cancellation
I remember feeling so disappointed and tantalized re: the NYC Hurdle show that never was. Now, it's hard to feel anything but sadness.
Steeve Hurdle's body of work is small but timeless. (It really just comes down to Obscura, an incredible three-song Negativa EP, some live material and early work with the band Purulence; speaking of the latter, anyone know if Hurdle appears in this clip? Hard to tell…) I have no doubt that open-minded listeners will continue to discover it and marvel at it. Hurdle showed me a new frontier in metal, something feverish, hallucinatory, terrifying at times, soul-plumbing, mercilessly extreme. Listening to, say, the excruciatingly drawn-out prog-doom dirge "Clouded" from Obscura (a track on which Hurdle was the sole composer; on much of the album, he collaborated with bandmates Luc Lemay and Steve Cloutier), you could tell that this was an artist who was going to keep pushing and pushing, whether anyone followed him or not. The grotesque array of squiggles, scrapes and squeals that made up Hurdle and Lemay's guitar vocabulary on Obscura and beyond—one of the most insular, unmistakable musical languages I've ever heard— screamed the message that metal was a limitless form of expression.
Whatever I could write here pales next to what you'll see and hear in the Negativa clip below. (Big Steeve is the first person that shows up in the vid, jokingly requesting that the viewer "Be quiet" when entering the studio; he's also the one starting off the song with the insane fretboard tapping.) Innovative technique in the service of unfettered imagination; from-scratch invention of form and content; willing something into being that has never before existed. There is no higher achievement. Genre is irrelevant here. It's simply creativity, and Steeve Hurdle was a master creator. Let us honor his memory.
P.S. Go here for some info on Hurdle's life outside of music.
P.P.S. Invisible Oranges has posted a moving Hurdle tribute by Doug Moore of the band Pyrrhon.