Larry Tee Talks: 'L.A. Has a Better Club Scene Than New York'
Larry Tee has floated through contemporary club history like Forrest Gump on ecstasy, seemingly everywhere you'd want to be. Growing up in Atlanta, he hung out with R.E.M. and co-wrote fellow Atlantan Ru Paul's 1992 hit "Supermodel (You Better Work)." In 1990s New York he became a DJ on the club kid circuit, manning the decks at Roxy, Twilo and the Palladium and MCing festivities at the infamous Disco 2000 parties at the Limelight. He was a central figure in the club kid movement during much of the drama (murder, mayhem) depicted in the 2003 film Party Monster.
By the turn of the millennium, Tee had sobered up. In 2001 he organized New York's Electroclash Festival to showcase a refreshing movement he was sensing in clubland: The fusion of art, '80s influences and electronic dance music. The term electroclash stuck, particularly for acts such as Fischerspooner, Ladytron and Peaches. Some critics dismissed the movement as contrived, and by the mid-'00s the scene seemed to have died off. But a funny thing happened: The elements of electroclash came back with a vengeance. The nu electro movement - Justice, MSTRKRFT, Simian Mobile Disco - borrowed heavily from Tee's playbook and, today, there's nary a hotter sound.
Tee, of course, is back in the limelight, soaking up the new sounds and spitting them back out via his spring long-player, Club Badd, released on Ultra Records. He DJs Friday at King King. We recently caught up with him.
LA Weekly: Throughout club history, you've always been where the action is.
Larry Tee: I totally know where the bodies are buried.
What inspired you about electroclash?
Certainly the '80s influenced the sound. But what inspired me was not so much the '80s. I liked that it was so radically different. Fischerspooner took dance and performance art to another level. Nobody in the '80s spit out blood in head-to-toe couture. I don't remember anybody as crass as Peaces or as political as Chicks On Speed. I like that individual-ness and that rebellious spirit saying we're not all going to dress alike or have a similar sound. I really thought electroclash was distinctly modern. That's what appealed to me.
Some critics, me included, felt electroclash was contrived - that it wasn't coming from the ground up, but rather was conceived by folks like you to start a trend.
The name actually came from the Electroclash Festival run by me and my boyfriend at the time. What I felt was that there was no alternative in New York at the time. You could listen to oldies in the hipster clubs or tribal house in the dance clubs. Everything had stalled and there were no more options. People stopped gong out.
The whole hipster thing was already happening. We gave it an outlet at our club in Brooklyn called Luxx. They had to use some oldies, '80s and industrial to make it work. It was about not having enough options for the new generation that didn't relate to tribal and trance. It was about having an alternative to nameless, faceless, brand-less dance music.
I had to fluff it a little with some artists to make the scene seem bigger than it was at the time -- to create attention for it. But that all sorted itself out with the talent: DJ Hell, Tiga, Peaches, Fischerspooner, Felix Da Housecat. Everybody thought it was a flash in the pan, whereas some of the indie bands of the time came and went. And these acts are still making a lot of noise.
Did you coach bands to adopt a certain look or sound?
Absolutely not. I get way too much credit for electroclash. I did a band of my own called The Whip. They were way too beautiful to be electroclash. They weren't Disney at all. I did image work with The Whip. But everybody else did their own thing. I was just the cheerleader. People who liked electroclash were tired of what the record companies were offering.
It also took a little of the piss out of the superstar DJ scene - British and European guys playing linear beats all night.
I'm not sure I'm totally anti that. In fact, all the DJs associated with electroclash are now festival DJs now. Tiga can sell out a 5,000-capacity room. I'm sure the trance guys still make their money. But after the economic meltdown I would definitely rather be a DJ associated with electroclash than trance. I would hate to have to apologize for trance. I like the fidget stuff, the blog-house stuff, Steve Aoki, Justice. I like baile funk. I lived above [New York club] Twilo during the superstar DJ heyday. I was the promoter they used to get the Friday night party started, the one where they broke Sasha and [John] Digweed and Carl Cox in this market. Happen it did.
But those guys were standing in the DJ booth playing very narrowly defined, four-on-the-floor genres.
Totally. Those guys were so anti-electroclash. They so totally didn't get it. It's odd when people like Deep Dish had a hit with a guitar riff [with 2005's "Flashdance"]. And then Basement Jaxx used Peaches. When electroclash started everyone came out and said this is really dumb, this is so '80s, why do we have to put up with Peaches? Now Peaches and I are doing Paul Oakenfold's party in Las Vegas at The Palms. What we don't always get right away can be blessed relief for a sagging career. Didn't MSTRKRFT open for Sasha?
Digweed ... That nu electro movement - Justice, MSTRKRFT, Crookers et. al. -- seems to take many of its cues from electroclash.
Crystal Castles and MGMT and a lot of these new groups, not to mention the Lady Gagas of the world, have definite inspiration from electroclash. Steve Aoki -- people can bad mouth him, but he totally makes sense. All of them have been so good to me. MSTRKRFT used my song to open their tour. I have a song on Steve Aoki's new album. The nice thing is they are appreciative of me. It's cool that Steve moved from being a celebrity DJ to being a really credible electro, blog-house DJ. When I first heard him I wanted to hate, but I can't really hate.
I can't really hate Lady Gaga, either. I wanted to hate her. She's spitting out blood on the VMA Awards like Fischerspooner used to do. But I can't. I'm doing a gig with her in L.A. coming up. She's taking all the told tricks from the electroclash and using them nine years later. But I say, "Larry, lighten up bitch." She did write her own songs, they're clever Europop nuggets, and nobody else is doing that. She borrowed from electroclash, sure. Who didn't? I can't wait to remix her. And Madonna, boy does she need me too.