DJ Hell: Just a Gigalo
- Words: Daniel Siwek
“Who’s that gigolo on the street/With his hands in his pockets and his crocodile feet.” –Neneh Cherry
It’s 10AM, Brazil time. I’m given the hotel alias of DJ Hell (born Helmut Geier), the mastermind behind the International DeeJay Gigolo label, and told I’ve got a one-minute margin to get the call through or he’s going swimming. South America’s long been a hotspot for German tourists, but Hell doesn’t have much time to rest. He’s come to rock Rio: promoting his company, his recently re-released album, NY Muscle, and, as always, “looking for new Gigolos.” Brazil is where he’s found the label’s third Gigoletta, Romina Cohn, and he’s always on the prowl. “I don’t know what will happen once I stop travelling,” he nervously projects. “I found most of the artists on the way.”
Hell didn’t just pull up to Gigolo’s first release: David Carretta’s 1997 “Innerwood.” There was a lot of fahren auf die Autobahn before becoming an A&R man and label owner. It started with Hell driving to Munich from the bumfuck town in Bavaria where he was born in 1962. By the late ‘70s, he was a teenage punk rock DJ, and eventually he was exposed to the experimental yet automated sounds of Detroit techno, Chicago house, and UK acid. Hell’s irreverent sets earned him a reputation, and a slot at Berlin’s Love Parade 1992, where he unveiled his first single, the self-pressed white-label “My Definition of House.” Showing off a fascination with Juan Atkins’ style of motor-booty bass and Jeff Mills’ “punishing beats,” Hell says he “liked the idea of funk being raw, but also being new and futuristic.”
Offered an album deal with Disko-B, Hell constructed the full-length, Geteert & Gefedert (1994), with Gigolo-in-waiting Richard Bartz. Hell continued to perfect his industrial and darkwave-inspired techno but his sophomore release, Munich Machine (Disko-B), four years later, showed an artist who had loosened up enough to admit his love of Euro-disco (via an updated version of Barry Manilow’s “Copacabana”). “[The stage] was already set for [Gigolo’s] silly/serious approach,” he declares, “but we had no idea how seriously people would take our silliness. It’s okay to be comedians, but we never sacrifice the art.”
Overexposed But Underground
“In the beginning we started [International DeeJay Gigolo] with a ‘from a DJ to a DJ attitude,’” Hell explains. “We were trying to [make] exclusive material that DJs really appreciated and played in clubs.” The zeitgeist began in the year 2000. Hell was simply following his instincts, putting out the new wave of electronic pop artists, but by 2001 his stable looked like the Superfriends of electroclash. “We had Miss Kitten, Fischerspooner, Mount Sims, Vitalic, and Tiga,” he says, listing each with the pride and prejudice you feel for a pair of kicks that may have been the rage last year, but you’re now reluctant to flaunt.
After electroclash exploded, Hell and NY promoter/impresario Larry T exchanged public quotes and criticism over who created it and why it should be killed, though much of the hype/bickering seemed contrived. “I don’t want to say the name,” Hell starts in on you-know-who, “but if you look at the artists they were trying to push, some of them don’t even exist anymore. You can’t fake the funk. You need something more than just a cover of a magazine.”
“There’s no sellout shit,” testifies Canadian DJ/producer Tiga, a former Gigolo. “That’s a big deal for a label that got as much hype as Gigolo did. Other labels would’ve been doing that cheesy Eric Morillo mix,” he says, recalling the success of his electro cover version of Corey Hart’s “Sunglasses At Night,” “but Hell makes music that’s not fucked with.”
Even though Hell used T’s Williamsburg club Luxx to film his video for “Keep On Waiting”–and got dissed even more for including P.Diddy and Princess Superstar in the clip–he is keen to prove that Gigolo has always been about the music. He insists that, for every accessible dance track he’s put out, you must also “talk about The Residents, Throbbing Gristle, Tuxedomoon, or D.A.F.” And he hopes listeners won’t buy into the pigeonholing. “I hope that after the electroclash hype, especially in America, they don’t just focus on the big names,” he states. “There’s always something avant garde behind the door.”
The Gigalo Factory
While they call theirs the “Gigolo style,” it’s hard to pin down. An artist like Savas Pascalidis plays a sort of neo-Italo, in-house producer Abe Duque makes jacking, Newcleus-meets-EBM techno, and Mount Sims is on a concept album desert trip. And that’s not even considering rock acts like Psychonauts and Crossover–shit, they play guitars. “Every artist has their own fantasies,” confirms Hell, “but I can recognize what’s right for us in two seconds, and we all believe in the [concept of the] ‘Gigolo Factory.’”
Greatly inspired by that other “Factory” foreman, Andy Warhol, Hell’s a collector of characters in the best sense, right down to his transsexual muse/mascot Amanda Lepore, who he’s sure “would’ve been a ‘Factory Superstar’ if she was around in Andy’s time.” He’s also got Warhol’s prolific work ethic: now approaching 160 releases, he promises a lot more in 2005; “We’re putting out a new record almost every week!” he says.
In German, the name Hell doesn’t have anything to do with the devil; in fact, Geier’s moniker closer translates to something that shines brightly. Perhaps this Gigolo’s future is so “hell,” he’ll have to wear shades…at night, of course.
International Sin Set: Six Essential Gigolos
A former Marine Corps mechanic, producer Abe Duque now calls his Hollis, Queens garage his studio. Duque was in on the ground floor of NY techno and met Hell through notorious DJ/drug dealer Lord Michael when he had a residency at the Limelight. His new album, So Underground It Hurts, collects the singles he released on Abe Duque Records, and he describes it as “jacky techno and electro that’s on the bang-bang tip.” He also produced and contributed to Hell’s NY Muscle.
On Amanda: “Hell’s got something for her, but all I got is conjecture”
On Miss Kittin: “She once told me she was a supermarket checkout girl.”
Pick This Gigalo: “Because I skip the bullshit and cut to the good stuff!”
David Bowie and Bryan Ferry had cabaret diva (and rumored hermaphrodite) Amanda Lear. Andy Warhol had the first transsexual movie star. Candy Darling. DJ Hell’s in good company with Amanda Lepore as his muse. This former Pat Fields employee/club kid likes the fact that her face has replaced Sid Vicious as the new label mascot. “Hell knows that I dress like a movie star, but have punk sensibility,” she says. “I’m an icon, too.
On Hell: “He’s never pimped me out, but he’s got good taste.”
Pick This Gigoletta: “Because I’m the most famous transsexual in the world with a fully functional vagina!” [And one of NY Muscle’s bonus tracks is “I Am Amanda Lepore.”]
Paul de Homem-Christo–the younger brother of Daft Punk’s Guy Manuel–has his own achievements to tout (“I found some polyphonic ringtones of [my single] ‘Be Right Part 2.’ What an honor!”). He also cites differences between his and his brother’s music: “I quit sampling, like, five years ago. They didn’t.” His “Lalaland” single (Gigolo #142) will hopefully inspire a whole album. Paul enjoys “being paid to travel around the world, playing clubs, and sometimes going back to the hotel with girls.”
On Savas Pascalidis: We once had a contest making phrases out of his name in French: How are you? = Savas (Ça va?); Don’t play the vinyl! = Pascalidis (Passe pas les disques).”
On XLover: “Their singer has the longest nails ever!”
Pick This Gigalo: “Women, if you’re looking for some action with a tiny, firm butted young boy, call Play Paul at 1-555-TINY-BUT”
She may be an Astralwerks artist now, but Caroline Herve will always be remembered for her Gigolo turn. Her collaboration with The Hacker, “Frank Sinatra,” helped tip an avalanche that is still claiming victims.
On Meeting Hell: “We met in Marseille when we played together in a rave. In the afternoon we went swimming and Hell cut his feet on a mussel. He was bleeding and limping all night. The next day Hell drove my diesel car to David Carretta’s house in Toulouse, where we spent the week playing petanque and eating BBQ.”
On David Carretta: “He taught us how to have style and dress up.”
On Hell: “He’s more like an electro Don Corleone. Like the father of the family, he’s protective, convincing, and always has the last word.”
With a show that rivals those mythic Klaus Nomi at the Pyramid performances, Matt Sims is hoping his Ultra success won’t tarnish him for good. Spending a lot of time in his head, the desert, and Brian Eno’s Before And After Science, Sims says of his follow-up, Wild Light, “It’s a far more personal album. I was going through a lot of things when I wrote it.” While he insists he’s “nobody’s bitch,” he concedes Wild Light has that “dark edge that all Gigolo artists have in common.” Sims met Hell over the Internet.
On David Carretta: “He’s the future of hard, dancier, more industrial music. He references Front 242’s Geography but applies it to Italo-disco, taking that industrial edge to people with large mustaches doing cocaine off mirrors on a yacht off the coast of Italy!”
Not many producers can say they’ve worked for the master of sleaze-pop, Prince–in his Paisley Park studios, no less. Bryan Black brings what he learned in Minneapolis to a new crew of sexy muthafuckers, XLOVER. They’ve got vocalist Nina Rai’s stage antics, a drummer and bassist who are adamant about touring the world, and a new debut, Pleasure & Romance. With Princess Superstar guesting on a cover of “Darlin’ Nikki,” Black promises to bring back “that perverse, yet classy pop” that Prince once mastered, and says the rest of the material is “about the rush of experimenting with your sexuality, the thrill of the chase, and the devastation when it’s over.”
Pick These Gigalos: “If nothing else, because we have the sexiest singer and we’ll lead you on, until suddenly it ends with a bang!
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