steve hillage

Steve Hillage has been reaching for the cosmos with his music since the 1960s. For the past few decades, he’s done so with a Steinberger L series as his primary instrument. Photo by Peter Hart

50 years of evolution from art-rock to R&B to pulsing EDM have kept the British guitarist—and his Strats, Gibsons, Steinbergers, and effects—dancing along the cutting edge.

Steve Hillage belongs to an extremely exclusive club. It is made up of guitarists who, after six decades, are not only still recording and performing, but continue to evolve as players and artists. Really, outside of Jeff Beck and John McLaughlin, what other guitarists from the ’60s stand with Hillage in releasing new music that sounds, well, new? In System 7, his current duo with longtime partner Miquette Giraudy, the guitarist takes the echo effects that have been part of his sound since the invention of tape units and syncs their digital versions to programmed beats and synth arpeggios for music best described as “guitar meets EDM.” This is viewed by Hillage as part of a natural progression, which comes as no surprise since Hillage is considered one of the pioneers of progressive rock.

From his earliest school combos with keyboard player Dave Stewart (not of the Eurythmics) through bands like Khan and the highly respected prog stalwarts Gong, a stint as guitarist for Kevin Ayers, a live performance of Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells, and a solo career spanning over a dozen recordings, the London-born Hillage has been pushing the sonic limits of rock guitar. Yet, despite complex arrangements and swirling synths, Hillage’s music has never been your typical prog. On records like 1977’s Motivation Radio, 1978’s Green, and 1979’s Open, and especially his live recordings, his compositions embrace decidedly more “urban” rhythms than those of bands like Yes or ELP.

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