I AM Legend: An interview with Larry Tee
Larry Tee waxes lyrical about his quest for tomorrow’s sound, and what rock’n’roll is right now.
(Click images to enlarge)
Summer is coming – and as the summer heatwave dangles just out of our grasp, who better to talk to than a clubland legend? I was more than nervous standing in the office of Larry Tee, forefather of the ’90s New York club kid movement, pioneer of Electroclash and now owner of one of the most exciting clubnights in London, Super Electric Party Machine. Oh, and did I mention he’s legendary?
I AM legendary, but that literally gets you nowhere. I’m telling you, it’s like that Janet Jackson song, “What have you done for me lately?”, it’s totally all about that. What are you doing and how relevant are you today? And the rock stars of yesterday are the trash pit of today. Everything moves so quick, yesterday’s Deep Dish is now tomorrow’s Afrojack. It’s like things just go (slicing one hand into the other) bom bom bom bom – you don’t even wanna know what it’s like to be in an indie rock band right about now – I mean, you don’t even know. What’s relevant changes so quickly. ‘Cause part of what we’re trying to do with the club and this album is trying to figure out, “what IS rock’n’roll”? What things get people … excited. It isn’t really about ‘indie-dance-electro’ – I own the word electroclash, but god bless, that’s not gonna sell many CDs at this point. And it’s like well what is relevant, and what is rock’n’roll? So we sit around the office, and I make my coworkers go through this with me and say “whats hot?” and we’ll bounce things out and basically it’s anything but ‘normal’ – it’s things that cross different cultures, it’s things that bring together music, fashion, tv, rock’n’roll and just everything. And that’s what we did with this album – you know, the artists we think are cool now are alternative style rappers – meaning bad ass bitches like Brooke Candy, Azealia Banks, Iggy Azealia, even though she’s a terrible rapper, she’s got legs up to her mother fucking neck here, and she’ll look great at an awards show. She’s rock’n’roll.
I think she’s probably the least talented and the most commercial …
A$AP ROCKY – rock’n’roll. You know, gay acts have more cultural relevance at this point … I think probably the coolest soul singer is Frank Ocean. You know, he’s with all those straight dudes down in Oakland, California, he holds more cultural credibility – he got one of the only duets on Beyonce’s album. But what really has cultural relevance? It’s politicians, it’s designers, it’s reality TV stars – so with that in mind, we have Portia Ferrari who got the MIA Versace campaign, we got reality TV star Sharon Needles, she won RuPaul’s big hit Drag Race – that’s more interesting and relevant to people. We got nasty Lady Cartel, her new hit ‘Drugs Taxi Money’ is kind of what the kids are into – nasty, sexy drug raps that describe what the kids are going through. I wanted to source an articuate hot first generation African girl, kind of a cross between Kelis and Azealia, but incredibly articulate – nothing like Cartel, who is so white and ghetto. So a lot of what we’re trying to do is kind of identify what is it? What is this shit? What is exciting now?
I think what’s most interesting for me about both Super Electric Party Machine, the clubnight and the album, is they both hark back to the DIY ethos of the club kids of yesteryear. Now that dance music has gone full circle, and the “new” sounds of today are mostly an average rehash of the music I listened to on pirate radio in 1997. Electronic music isn’t punk anymore. So how do you keep London club life interesting, instead of paying £15 to go to a club in Leicester Square surrounded by chavs singing along to Disclosure? You do it yourself, like the Electroclash movement that became my own clubbing life ten years ago.
It was real DIY – as well as Do It Yourself, it was Do Your Own Thing! Nobody really looked alike, Ladytron never looked like Felix Da Housecat, didn’t look like Peaches … everybody had their own thing. And it was loaded with female voices, which is something that electronic music community was barren of.
There was a large amount of androgyny in the Electroclash scene. Men allowed themselves to be feminine again, inspired by the punk and Glam Rock of the ’70s. For instance, listening to Fischerpooner in a club, you wouldn’t have neccesarily assigned a gender to them.
And Tiga. Tiga says ‘I’m bisexual”, I mean he has 3 kids.
But it’s “Bowie Bisexual”, isn’t it? It’s being bi-sexual for a point …
Yeh, it’s bisexual for a point and actually a really good point! It’s like, who the fuck cares? You certainly don’t see Disclosure or London Grammar saying “we’re bisexual”! We don’t care is really what they were saying! And to me, that’s culturally relevant. And the songs on the album, even though they may be funny – there’s one song on there that’s just a list of names that hold a cultural charge of some sort … Ryan Gosling and Lil Wayne and Barack Obama are rarely mentioned back-to-back. And that’s kind of where culture is, to me it’s a mixing of everything. That’s whats interesting, and that’s why I did this album. I liked the personalities involved, and I wanted things that sound like my club. We play new music, we don’t wanna get caught up in the retro game. Because there’s money in that too.
Everywhere you go now is something retro, or DubStep – Super Electric Party Machine, as an album, doesn’t fall into fashionable traps. There’s not really a huge sense of what is going on in the charts, which is a brave move.
Its funny, I’ve had my biggest hits by doing things that I really shouldn’t do. In 1992, when I wrote ‘Supermodel’, it wasn’t the consensual wisdom that betting on a black transvestite would really make money. And it wasn’t something I did because I thought it would make a lot of money. And I didn’t do this album because I said to myself “I’m gonna make a butt load of money offa this” even though, having said that, Britney Spears new song, “you better work bitch” sounds a lot like my “You better work bitch” from ’92. I sent a demo to Madonna that had a drum intro with a shoutout of “You know you wanna” and she puts out her single and it says “L-U-V You wanna?” which sounds a lot like my intellectual property – it probably had nothing to do with the fact that it was given to her by her producer, William Orbit? Or does it have anything to do with Iggy Azealia starting out her song ‘Work’ with a sample of RuPaul saying “You better work, bitch” as she starts twerking to Ru’s work. So you know what, I never did it for the money even though I’ve done really well! But compared to my contemporaries like Afrojack and Steve Aoke, who are making 12 to 15 million dollars, I can’t just follow that sound and make a “bam bam bam bam bam bam bam bam bam bam bam” (sings a generic stabbing dance synth pattern) because it’ll make 10 million dollars! I really don’t live for playing bottle service crowds in Las Vegas, although I did it all last year – and that’s why my stuff is always gonna sound like my stuff, ’cause I’m not a good faker. Librans are terrible liars, and I couldn’t put something out that I couldn’t play at my own clubs – and where you didn’t leave with a hook jammed in your head. That’s point 2, Simon, when I go to a club, as well as wanting something that is culturally relevant, I want something that goes “I like the boys, I like the boys that go WOOT WOOT” you know, I want them to come out with a tune, or an idea, or a sound that sticks in their heads.
I’ve always thought that being a DJ should be about introducing people to new music, which is what your night does, but clublands DJs seldom seem to play more than chart fodder now.
Well, the sound we play now has nothing to do with what I played when I toured 4 years ago – it was the Crookers, it was sound effects, it was a totally different thing.
Even the Crookers have changed. Their album Tons Of Friends was the album that started the rap/dance crossover which is still dominating the charts – so much so that he has now had to go back to doing mainly heavy, instrumental techno to set himself apart from all the copycats.
I agree … you know, my last album had a lot of rap over dance music, and to me that still really works, but it doesn’t have the same punch even four years later – when you put out a new record you have to have some punch.
Acts like Odd Future are the future – they’re not doing it ’cause they wanna make a zillion dollars – they just happen to have good taste – and it tastes good! I’m all for it. I want more music that makes me feel something – even if it’s a poke in the eye, I wanna feel something. So that’s what we’re trying to do! And I have to be honest, I recently started my own line of clothing – this crazy, rockstar, trash line of clothing, because if I just wanted to be like every other DJ, and I dont think I ever have, I have to do what turns me on! I often find that DJs are the most boring people you’ll ever have to talk to in your entire life … if you met most of them you’d discover they’re I.T. specialists, they’re not rockstars at all! To be honest I’d rather hang out with a bunch of reality TV stars, fashion designers, female rappers and Mykki Blanco and get in a car to go and see the Beyonce show.
And that shows on Larry’s album. Among the hit list of “who’s cool”, we have my obsession of the past few months, drag queen Sharon Needles (often referred to as the Marilyn Manson of Drag) reinventing RuPaul’s classic ‘Supermodel’ and just like his friend RuPaul does with her highly successful TV show, Larry seems to be trying to give people an alternative to the mainstream culture they’re used to. The fact that rapper Princess Superstar is the most obviously famous person on the album is a testament to how underground a lot of these collaborations are. Perez Hilton is one of the more surprising collaborations on the album, but essentially he’s the perfect example of the internet and club culture that make the album what it is.
So, enough about work. When you’re at home, relaxing, what what do you listen to?
I listen to NOTHING. I absolutely never listen to music – when I’m getting ready for work, or when I’m working here in the office. When I went to visit my publicist they were playing some Indie rock crap and I was just thinking, “how can they think about the work”? If you’re really a music lover, you have to give your attention to it. I couldn’t have sex to music – ’cause I’d want to listen to the music. When I listen to music it has to be something that I don’t have to listen to! It has to be some kind of wallpaper – liquid valium coming out of my speakers – some kind of artsy techno that I dont have to listen to! Like a throb or a drum. My ideas dont come from pop songs, they come from what I hear on the tube. One day I heard this lesbian, and she said to this white girl across from her “damn, I look good ’cause my….” I can’t remember what exactly she said, but I remember writing it down, “damn I look good, ’cause my….” and then I switched it up: “so good, it’s hard to be me…” In the world is where I get my ideas.
So what’s next?
I think I might be doing more ‘feely-weely’ stuff – which is what’s in right now, kind of taking over from what Indie used to be before they realised they just didn’t want to get a job! Again, so clear it lost its integrity. So now they do it and we’ve got the indie bands that aren’t as exciting as they should have been but, oh my god, these producers are so dull looking – they don’t even show them anymore! It’s hard to find a picture of Disclosure – find a clear picture of Disclosure and I will give you a box of chocolates! That’s the new thing, the vocalist – Disclosure have huge hits with vocalists but you never really see the vocalists break out. Aluna – great vocalist, hot, she has legs up to her neck! Gorgeous. If you’re gonna do something now that’s not about being a rock star, it’s a label boss, which kind of reflects the government. If you ain’t got the cash, you’re not gonna play. If you ain’t the big boss man, it’s gonna be austerity for the artist. It’s about power not pop stars. Pop stars used to have the power to change the world, now they don’t have anything to say – they’ve been neutered. There’s some great Indie stuff, live music will always be relevant, but for now in the charts there’s gonna be very few surprises. You can’t not toe the line these days – as soon as you say something that isn’t right, you’re out!
On realising which magazine I was interviewing him for, Larry turned my attention to a rail of clothes behind me … his fashion line, TZUJI (shooshi)
Its name comes from Polari. It means to “make pretty”.
And I had yet another reason to fall in love with Larry Tee.
Larry Tee’s Super Electric Party Machine and Bodytalk are both now out on Carnage Music.