Cruising over the Brooklyn Bridge away from Manhattan’s lofty skyscrapers and towards his home in Williamsburg, Larry Tee and his entourage are discussing an important topical issue currently facing New Yorkers.
“Yeah, I’m kind of bored of the whole skinny jeans, cotton scarf, ’80s revival and sneakers thing,” says Kevin, Larry’s righthand man and fellow DJ/producer.
“Well, you know it’s all about the nerd now,” says Larry, his Atlanta drawl still intact after more than 20 years living in New York City.
So, according to Larry, geek is chic. And he should know. Sitting cool as a Long Island iced tea in the back of the sleek black Lexus navigating us through Brooklyn’s sun baked streets, the man who invented electroclash looks every bit the king of geek chic.
Wearing a distinctly nerdy pair of glasses he designed himself (from his Fuck Me Shades range), his T-shirt is custom-made from a limited collection by a local designer and it’s teamed up with a pair of well-cut black trousers. Hanging in the back of the Lexus, freshly pressed and sheathed in clear plastic are two dinner jackets — one electric blue, one bright red — that he’ll chose between to complete his outfit for tonight’s launch party for his new album ‘Club Badd’, taking place in the Webster Hall, in Manhattan.
Outfit aside, Larry’s inbuilt barometer for what’s hot and what’s not is so finely tuned that he’s managed to be at the centre of every club cultural maelstrom since the late-’70s. Back then he still lived in Atlanta and was hanging out with Michael Stipe (pre-R.E.M), DJing at new wave club 688 and “being fantastic” in a band called the Fans, who produced the B52’s hit ‘Rock Lobster’.
“It’s funny when people talk about all the phases and different kinds of music I’ve been into because, you know, I really haven’t changed that much,” says Larry. “It’s always been about putting on a show and having some fun, being anarchic and challenging what’s going on in youth culture at whatever time.
“For this album, the internet is where I went talent shopping. For electroclash it was the record stores but there aren’t any left now.”
‘Club Badd’, out now through Ultra Records, is a collection of electro-house, funky rap and fidgety rump shakers laced with lyrics about “penises, pussies, hipsters, Agyness Deyn, transvestites and sex, sex, sex — and more sex”.
After bagging loads of media attention for coining the term ‘electroclash’ in 1999, launching the careers of the likes of Fischerspooner and W.I.T, releasing nuggets via his now-defunct Mogul Electro label and putting on not one but two ‘Electroclash’ festivals, the spotlight has been off Larry in recent years.
During this period he’s been working on ‘Club Badd’, an album packing more attitude than Lilly Allen on a bad hair day. By scouring the internet blogs, checking out what’s topping online blog chart Hype Machine (hypem.com) and just generally mining the web for the kind of talent that makes him tick, Larry pooled together his favourite digital era stars to work on ‘Club Badd’.
Included are electro popstrel Mel Merio and her producer boyfriend Christopher Just, toxic rock god Jeffree Star, UK tranny Jodie Harsh, fidget house hero Hervé, Youtube singing/comic sensation Kelly, Diplo collaborator Roxy Cottontail and even celebrity blogger Perez Hilton.
Like the Andy Warhol of dance music, Larry’s chosen to work with a collection of artists each uniquely talented in their own right, just as he did when he kicked off the electroclash movement and pulled together bands such as Chicks On Speed and Fischerspooner to play alongside DJ/producers like Miss Kitten and Felix da Housecat. And just as Warhol did with the Factory, Larry’s showcased each of his collaborators in their element, using ‘Club Badd’ as the platform.
‘My Pussy’ features vocals from transsexual icon Amanda Lepore, the self-created walking work of art and close friend of Larry’s. The vocals on ‘I Love U’ come from seven-year-old video star Amanita, who also happens to be Lepore’s goddaughter, while Larry’s own “techno banger” bootleg of the track, where he’s segued the vocal part of track with the intro of Carl Orff’s classical hit ‘Carmina Burana’, comes with its own Bart B More mix that’s currently being slammed by DJs like Jesse Rose, Mstrkrft and Steve Aoki, and is tearing it up on internet blogs.
Meanwhile, the peak-time, hip house Hervé ‘Goes Low’ mix of ‘Licky’, featuring vocals from Princess Superstar, is still getting heavy rotation despite being first aired at the Winter Music Conference in Miami two years ago.
“I started writing ‘Club Badd’ five years ago because I needed wild and nasty songs that people would listen to in a club and say, ‘I can’t believe I’m hearing this!’” says Larry. “I really miss that about going to clubs. The whole excitement and shock factor that you should get.”
Judging by his history, you’d imagine it would take a lot to shock Larry Tee. As we park the Lexus and ride the lift to his vast loft apartment he’s openly delving into the murkier corners of his past with the same breezy manner someone else might use to discuss the weather.
During the early 1990s Larry was one of New York’s biggest house DJs, with a residency at The Roxy, as well as guest slots at the biggest clubs across the city.
“When I look at my contemporaries from the house music era, like Frankie Knuckles, David Morales, Roger Sanchez and Erick Morillo, it was me who had all the good clubs back then,” says Larry. “But I totally lost it chasing boys and drugs while they got all the gigs then went off chasing real estate in Mallorca.”
Larry’s drug consumption started getting out of control when he hooked up with murderous club kid Michael Alig to co-promote the notorious Disco 2000 parties at Limelight, in Manhattan, in the mid-’90s.
“That whole time was a barren period when it came to music,” says Larry. “The whole ‘club kid’ scene that came from those parties was about characters and personalities rather than musicians and DJs.”
Before long Larry was too wasted to DJ and instead hosted the ‘Hot Body’ contests at Disco 2000, plucking gym-fit, cute clubbers from the crowd and getting them to prance around semi-naked on stage.
Following the collapse of the club kid era, after Alig was jailed for the murder of drug dealer and club kid Angel Melendez, Larry descended further into his addictions, while living in a loft space above an auto shop run by an Italian American family that also happened to be next door to Twilo.
During the day, while the “normal Italian and Hispanic auto workers” were fixing cars, Larry’s stream of drug dealer friends and fellow addicts would troupe in and out of his loft.
“There was always some drama up in my loft because of drug dealers and robberies and I was having the worse time in my life,” says Larry. “I got caught in a drug gang kind of lifestyle. Everybody was selling drugs out of my loft. I was living there with 20 straight boyfriends. They were just boyfriends so they could have a place to stay when they needed it and they were doing drugs. It was crazy.”
During this time Larry not only had no energy or desire to DJ, he also stopped listening to new music. If he did get a gig he’d turn up but be unable to play.
“I suddenly got caught in a vortex,” says Larry. “I never did heroin, thank god. But I was what you’d call a garbage head, which means I did every other drug I could get hold of. I’m surprised I got out of that whole moment without being arrested because the drug dealers would stop at my house before they would go into Twilo.”
By the time the whole club kid thing had imploded the police had cracked down on clubs in Manhattan and under the strict hand and zero tolerance policy of then Mayor Guiliani many of the bigger clubs closed down. A lot of Larry’s friends cleaned up their acts and one finally convinced Larry to go to Narcotics Anonymous (NA).
“I don’t do drugs now and haven’t for 11 years but I do still think drugs are fabulous,” says Larry. “Some drug experiences can break down your prejudices and open you up but I just took it too far.”
When Larry emerged clean and serene from his drug stupor New York was gripped by tribal house fever.
“I hated the whole tribal house thing,” says Larry. “I found the music so boring. It had no attitude or personality attached to it.”
So, typically, Larry started looking for something new. Before long he found it trawling the record stores and picking up techno and electro imports from Europe. Club Badd was the name of Larry’s first ever electro party, started at the Pyramid club, in Manhattan, in 1999. Only 300 people were allowed into its tight confines but when Larry put on the then-unknown New York band Fischerspooner to play live, the club was packed out with queues around the block.
“It was the coldest night of the year but people hung around in that queue for hours,” remembers Larry. “It was about then that I said, ‘Hmmm, maybe there’s change coming.’”
From there Larry started booking DJs such as DJ Hell and Tiga to play alongside him. By the time he hosted the Chicks On Speed album launch party there (for their ‘Un-Releases’ album) in early 2000 he’d conjured up the term ‘electroclash’ to describe the style of music played at Club Badd.
Five slammers straight from Larry’s box…
1. La Roux ‘Bulletproof (Blogula Remix)’
“But it was definitely about a whole scene and not the just music,” says Larry. “That’s kind of what separated what we were calling electroclash here in New York to what DJ Hell was doing in Europe. In Europe it was more about electronic, techno-orientated producers with an electro feel and we were all about taking it somewhere else with the clothes and the show and the attitude and it was much more of a mash-up of sounds — it wasn’t pure electro.”
When demand for his parties got bigger, Larry ditched the Pyramid and started his Berliniamsburg party at the Luxx, in Brooklyn. Berliniamsburg attracted a hoard of “colourful hipster types”, as well as fashionistas such as the Dolce & Gabbana duo, Hedi Slimane and Naomi Campbell.
“Even feminist writer Susan Sontag came down,” says Larry.
“Everyone was curious.”
Larry’s parties have always attracted a potent mix of cool kids, music aficionados and fashionistas. The Celebrity Club parties he put on in Atlanta before moving to New York in 1989 were regular hangouts for supermodels Christy Brinkley, Cindy Crawford and Claudia Schiffer. These catwalk legends were the inspiration for Rupaul’s1993-released bitch house track ‘Supermodel (You Better Work)’, co-written by Larry, produced by Eric Kupper and then remixed again by Larry. Rupaul and Larry were old friends from Atlanta who’d moved to NYC together. The record sold over three million copies putting Larry in the spotlight but also launching Rupaul’s career internationally.
Thirteen years later Larry’s still making songs about supermodels.
“Agyness Deyn lives in the loft below me,” says Larry. “I bumped into her in the lift when she was moving in and I’d already done the ‘Agyness Deyn’ track with Jodie. I waited ’til we got to know each other a bit better before I gave her a copy of the track. She still hasn’t told me what she thinks but we’re still talking so…”
While he flits around his loft getting ready for the party tonight Larry chatters away about the projects he’s currently working on. Mid sentence he points to a studio stack filling one corner of the loft.
“I’m putting all of this out on the sidewalk next week for anyone to take away,” he says. “I just don’t need it anymore.”
The 24-track mixing desk, speaker stacks and amp he’s referring to are what he used to record ‘Club Badd’. From now on, he says, he’s doing all his production work on his laptop using Ableton and Logic.
He’s just started a new remix partnership with his roommate Alexander Technique and under their recently coined name Blogula they’ve just finished remixes for La Roux, Little Boots and Steve Aoki.
After a career spanning over 30 years it’s right now, says Larry, that he feels at his most creative. And it’s the internet and the shifting power from record labels to the blogs that’s inspiring him. That, and all the cool new music he hears and discovers every day.
“If you take away all flipping of the switches and the production work I’m still a party DJ at heart,” says Larry. “I think that’s one of the reasons I’ve survived so long.”