A kaleidoscopic light spins slowly from above, melting like makeup across the shadowy faces of gorgeous freaks. The people glide between each other, slipping behind dividers of chrome rods into booths of curvaceous vinyl, stopping just long enough to primp in one of the metallic bubbles threatening to pop off the wall. As the kissing hi-hats, snapping snares and sturdy kick drums of electro, italo-disco and tech-house tussle from speakers, androgynous arctic sex kittens and their handlers cruise the length of the room, brushing against a mix of sounds and a range of fashions from 1982 through, it seems, 2012.
It's a room where even queens can feel like kings, and where boys named Mary and girls named Chris -- fairies, fetishists and fashionistas with watchful eyes -- can turn an urban anywhere, anytime, into the here and now. Right here, right now, it's Brooklyn -- Williamsburg to be precise -- at a club called Luxx, nestled at the end of a lonely street, behind a twisted silver Frank Gehry-like facade, under a low ceiling. And for these people it truly is the center of the world: the world of Electroclash, a musical and artistic movement deceivingly tagged retro whose time is very much now.
The frigid yet funky genre of electro that resulted in the early '80s, when Afrika Bambaataa infused nascent hip-hop with Kraftwerk proto-techno is hot again. Once a sound relegated to booming from lowriders, electro has seen a club resurgence and its latest hybrid, Electroclash, has everyone joining the club. DJs all over New York -- and as far flung as Chicago's Felix da Housecat and Tommie Sunshine, Canada's Tiga, Germany's DJ Hell, Switzerland's Miss Kittin and even Atlantans Oliver Dodd and Bethany -- play tech-house, Chicago house, Detroit techno and other neo-electro sounds.
At Luxx, the crowd is hyperaware that Electroclash -- which synchronizes the visual culture, accoutrements and personalities of post-punk, synth-pop, new wave and the New Romantics with theatrical performances and the thump of an 808 drum machine -- is as much about fashion and attitude as music. Shades of original New York synth-punks Suicide, as well as Depeche Mode, Visage, Ultravox, and Gary Numan have made their way both overtly and covertly into the scene. There's a depth of intentional shallowness. Some just move to it. To others, it is a movement. And helping lead the charge is Larry Tee, an Atlanta native who's no stranger to the moves and movements of the era from which Electroclash draws its inspiration.
From the metallic mountain range of a DJ booth, Tee surveys all of Luxx with the black-rimmed eyes of a hawk, as the waiter, um, waitress, um, waiter weaves through a crowd not so much mixed as matched. Head bald and bobbing, 40-something Tee has been DJing long enough to remember the last time synth-pop ruled the clubs. Now he has lent a face to a resurgent but recontextualized sound that has found its way from Brooklyn to Berlin, from labels like Mogul Electro to International DeeJay Gigolos, across compilations with names like American Gigolo, Disco Nouveau, definingTECH, Tech-Pop or, simply, Electroclash, Tee's own compilation of New York-based bands. He even organized a fivelday NYC festival in October 2001 that drew several thousands and worldwide media attention.
Not bad for a man who proudly speaks of his Narcotics Anonymous-assisted triumph over four years of drug addiction. Now Tee's traded one addiction for another much healthier one -- shepherding the Electroclash movement and music. And the crowd in Luxx, this is his Electroclash flock.
Well, at least they flock to his two club nights there, Friday's "Mutants" and Saturday's "Berliniamsburg." As we talk outside the downstairs bathrooms -- the only semi-quiet spot in the club -- those who pass contribute to the interview. "He speaks prophecy!" ... "Tell it like it is, sweetie," say the "women" with large Adams' apples, snapping back their necks and snapping their fingers. The people are drawn to the no- one-bats-an-eye atmosphere, or else to the mix of funky tracks and funkier live performances that sizzle through the air. Or maybe it's because Larry Tee has a hell of a track record.
New Yorkers first got to know Larry Tee in the late '80s, for infamous club nights including Club Badd, Love Machine (home to RuPaul, for whom Tee helped write the hit, "Supermodel") and Disco2000 (started with a then pre-"Superstar" DJ named Keoki). But longtime locals may be more familiar with Tee from his early days in Atlanta, back when post-punk and post-disco had barely separated. Some may remember Tee DJing early-'80s house and industrial/electro at Weekends or the Celebrity Club, and his involvement with the Celebrity's highly thematic, unofficial house band, the Now Explosion -- a sort of disco counterpart to the B-52's. Or his production associations with Athens avant popsters the Fans and new-wave noise group Vietnam. Or from RuPaul, Lahoma van Zandt and Lady Bunny, who all made their way to New York with Tee in the late '80s to become queens of a never-ending Manhattan party. Much of what is now Tee's scene in New York has its roots in what Atlanta and Athens were back then.
"New York was grim when we got here [around 1987]," recalls Tee in his high-pitched, hurried cadence. "AIDS had wiped out nightlife culture. So we came in at a good time. New York needed that country sensibility, that friendliness. Athens had been wild, swinging and bisexual. I remember R.E.M. opening up for Love Tractor on a Tuesday night. Bands like Limbo District, the BBQ Killers. Everyone was switching partners, playing in each other's bands, having art projects on the side. The B-52's did nude art movies. At a blacklight party between two houses, where people were told to not wear white, Cindy [Wilson] showed up nude with white ribbons in her hair. One of my life goals after that has always been to work with her!"
Tee wouldn't meet his life goals in Atlanta or Athens. "They ran me out of town," Tee cackles. "My Celebrity Club couldn't take anymore. I put on so many depraved shows that it was either me or the Clermont Lounge. The town wasn't big enough for both of us, so I left it to Blondie and Britney Fairchild."
Tee wouldn't be the only figure in the Electroclash movement inspired by the little town of Athens, Ga.
If there's an act poised to become the global figurehead of Electroclash, it would probably be Fischerspooner, a part-pop band/part pop-art performance troupe that undulates with a quintessentially Electroclash blend of new wave melodies, bouncingly accented beats and electro-funk bass pulses, bridging gaps from OMD and Human League to Wire to Off-Broadway production numbers. Picture an avant garde adaptation of the "Thriller" video meets extreme cabaret and you're getting closer to Fischerspooner's spectacle.
While the full outfit is so swollen with members that Luxx could barely fit it, let alone an audience, into the club at one time, Fischerspooner is actually headed by two men who met at art school in Chicago: Warren Fischer, the musical director, and Casey Spooner, a flamboyant yet reserved frontman/star with strong family roots in southern Georgia.
"I couldn't write a better scenario," says Spooner, on a cell phone from a car in London, where the group is preparing for a performance. The group recently signed for a hefty sum to U.K. label Ministry of Sound, who will re-release their album, #1, in July, while developing further multimedia.
Fischer and Spooner met while Spooner was shifting his artistic pursuits from painting to experimental theater. Their first work was Southern gothic spoken word set to violin. A shared fascination with the pop culture of other countries -- which can rely on dated technology -- led them to the '80s analogue sound of electro. A desire to create a production that showed the future to be accessible rather than anonymous and sterile faux-modern led to Fischerspooner's highly controlled spectacles.
The duo debuted in 1998 at a New York Starbucks, a supposed statement on the disposability of pop. About a year-and-a-half later, when they played a Larry Tee Club Badd party at the legendary East Village Pyramid Club, Tee took to them and began brokering Fischerspooner's "illusion of excitement" to labels. While Spooner shared Tee's Georgia roots, his own time in Athens wasn't nearly as fabulous as Tee's era.
"I hung out a lot with this band the Chickasaw Mudpuppies," says Spooner, "and knew R.E.M. and several other bands. But I was always frustrated with their earnestness. I wanted them to be more presentational. I think now I'm working out those urges I wanted them to do. I remember Michael Stipe saying he was unhappy to have signed a huge contract, which I couldn't understand. I wanted him to use the money to do an extravagant Buzby Berkley-style video."
Now Spooner -- who, unlike Larry Tee, didn't romp through Backstreet, but instead grew up in "a country-club culture Ralph Lauren haze" -- wants to use his new position to return attention to where he's from: He'd like to see Fischerspooner's record in Best Buy and Wal-Mart. To that end, he wants to steer his group's performances away from being big-city-centric, simply preaching to hipster choirs. Spooner wants kids in places like Albany, Ga., to be inspired to find their own excitement. He'd also love for his relatives to share in his excitement.
"My past is not at all related to the illusion I'm living now," he says, "and I'd like to inspire people with a similar past, and finally show to my relatives what I do and that I'm a success at it."
Back in Luxx, Larry Tee discusses how the performance-art aspects of bands like Fischerspooner and other acts -- Omaha's The Faint, Detroit's Adult. and New York's A.R.E. Weapons, Soviet and W.I.T. (Whatever It Takes, the so-called "Madonnas of Electroclash") -- separate them from being either an innocuous bit of '80s nostalgia or a subculture like ravers, where there seems to be little respect of history, just a continuous regurgitating of what's presently around.
"The Electroclash bands have star power," says Tee. "They are fuckable, they have opinions, lyrical direction. They're not two fat square-headed DJs on stage. And they aren't just regurgitating the '80s. When people say how '80s it is, I really wonder if people actually think most kids grew up on Nitzer Ebb and DAF. Most of the artists are not what MTV sounded like. Once the industry is done with the house and trance and faceless, emotionless music, they'll realize what they are missing.
"You know," Tee reminisces, "I used to play what is now Electroclash at [former Atlanta club] Weekends. I had a 9-to-5 shift almost every night of the week, and you know I played a lot of stuff that sounds like what is happening now. I do think that one of the reasons I'm having such a go at it now was that I had time to practice the plans down in Atlanta, try some things with the craziness of the Now Explosion. There are echoes of all the things and people from down there, because we were so used to putting on shows, imagining new means of entertainment. But lectroclash is an explosion all its own."
In Brooklyn, Electroclash is here and now. But soon this could be your home. This could be anywhere.
Killin it. So damn sexy
ooooohhhh, I'm so excited!! I can't wait to see them together!
come on man you know you got a bromance. you probably still rock that OutKast…