Turbocharged Freaks

Veteran NYC scenester Larry Tee was bored, so he engineered a social movement: electroclash

Before Larry Tee rediscovered electro, it was a fairly bizarre enclave, a sort of last refuge for producers looking to make dark, unsettling dance music outside the shopping mall that electronica was becoming. So it's to be expected that there would be resistance to Tee, who has explicitly modeled his plan for marketing electroclash on the grunge explosion. The backlash to the fledgling movement has been severe and swift. Soon after the festival, he and DJ Hell parted ways, with the latter telling Tee, "Larry, you put on a good drag show, but this music is important."

Miss Kittin bristles when electroclash is mentioned in interviews, Adam Miller of Adult., who played the first festival, described his feeling toward the word as "hate" and Alex Murray-Leslie of Chicks on Speed said in an interview that her group's intention was to avoid being "locked into that dreaded shoebox of electroclash hell!"

Is this just the usual queasiness artists have with pigeonholes -- the proverbial biting of the hand that promotes them -- or something deeper? Electroclash as a term has been in circulation for scarcely more than a year, and already the haters are sharpening their knives. One New York scenester proclaimed on his Web site, "Larry Tee's 'electroclash' is phony rebel posturing at its worst; he and his puppet acts would like nothing more than for 'electroclash' to go mainstream."

Besides Tee's McLarenlike zeal to take fringe culture to the bank, other criticisms that dog electroclash are that it's mere re-enactment of a not particularly substantive decade and that its vaunting of surface over content makes for disposable product. Indeed, electroclash is not music that requires headphones -- the sounds are thin, the production values are often rather Fisher-Price and the singing is best digested without too much scrutiny. As such, the old-guard electronic-music journals such as XLR8R, URB and Mixer -- magazines that purvey the notion that techno is worthy of deep listening -- have remained largely silent on the movement.

But Tee has a spin for every barb. According to him, the music's immediacy is its greatest asset. "Electroclash by its nature is really democratic," he says. "Anybody can be an electroclash star -- you just get a rhythm box, have some stage presence and some good new ideas and people will clear out of your way and allow you to express yourself however the fuck you want to. So of course there are going to be naysayers -- people always want to end something before it starts."

Indeed, Tee knows a thing or two about riding a trend from flare-up to fizzle. Miraculously, this is the second mass movement of which Tee has been at the center. He arrived from Atlanta in 1989 a seasoned DJ, having traced dance music from disco to new wave to early electro before outgrowing Atlanta.

"When I showed up in New York, there were no DJs, period, so I completely destroyed the city," he recalls. "Basically I came at a time with RuPaul and Lady Bunny. It was a good time to be a DJ, and house was the language."

It was also a good time to be into ecstasy, towering platform shoes and all manner of really freaky shit. This was the club-kid explosion that was documented on Geraldo at the time, in which New York youth milked trust funds or sold drugs to keep up with models, quasi-celebs and other 48-hour party people. Tee co-wrote RuPaul's hit "Supermodel (You Better Work)" and fell in with the scene's most notorious promoter, Peter Gatien. Tee has the distinction of naming Gatien's most storied party, Disco 2000, "the one that ended his career, I'm proud to say," he recalls with a giggle.

The fallout from those endless nights for Tee was drug addiction and his eventual descent into club-scene pariah status. During the mid-'90s, doormen would go out of their way to torment him, overlooking his name on guest lists and not letting him into parties. He continued to DJ but fell out of love with the music he was spinning. "I fiddled with trance and techno and trip-hop and dip-hop, and, honestly, I lost connection with anything that excited me for a long time," he says. "But I got clean in '97 and started looking around for new stuff. I ran into groups that were electronic but they added rock & roll star power and political content and the aggro sexuality of Peaches, and I said, 'Wow, this is a new hybrid that I can actually jump around to.' I needed something really politically incorrect that celebrated all the worst aspects of contemporary living but that could drop some really sweet tunes in, too. Electroclash came along just at the right time for me. I'll be the first to admit I'm the first rat to jump off the sinking ship."

As to the depth of some of its lyrics -- take Miss Kittin's "Suck my dick, lick my ass" chorus from "Frank Sinatra" as an example -- Tee agrees that it can be a little shallow but responds, "The next wave of artists coming up looks to be pretty musical and with some content that makes you stop and think." He points to his latest recruits -- Mount Sims, Bis and Whatever It Takes -- as examples of electroclash acts that are moving beyond the first generation's two-dimensionality. "I'm really excited about where it's headed," he says. "And, yeah, not everyone's going to buy it, and that's good, too. I don't want everybody to like this music. It already has so many appealing factors that if everybody liked it, it's doomed. And it's doomed anyway."

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