here hasn't been a DJ who has helped shape a
movement as profoundly as Hell for years. His label.
International Deejay Gigolos. was a breeding ground for the cool and avant-garde. the birthplace of what came to be termed electroclash and its influence has sent ripples across the music and fashion industry. It can be heard in the Yeah Yeah Yeahs' day-glo art school punk. in the sound of Franz Ferdinand. even in Richard X’s collaborations with the Sugababes and Liberty X.
At 42 he's an unlikely leader of new school cool. but when you see DJ Hell in action it all becomes clear — the punk aesthetic brought to the dance world. His current album NY Musclc. recorded in New York. moves from aggressive techno to minimalism to torch song with ease. Alan Vega of Suicide. Erland (bye of Kings of Convenience. and Billie Ray Martin all make an appearance. Hell marries the old with the new. seamlessly creating his own musically muscular genre.
‘I would say that there is just good music and bad music.‘ he explains. And good music is something he knows a thing or two about. The defining tracks that have been released on his Gigolo imprint range from his own eccentric cover of Barty Manilow‘s ‘Copacabana‘. Tiga's ‘Sunglasses at Night‘. Zombie Nation's ‘Kernkraft 400‘ and Fisherspooner‘s ‘Emerge’ to Christopher Just’s ‘l‘m a Disco Dancer‘. All showed a freshness. a reintroduction of personality from the cold. faceless world ofelectronica.
Starting as a new wave DJ in Munich after moving from his hometown in Altemnarkt in Upper Bavaria. it was perhaps not so strange a beginning for a man such as Hell. who lives outside the accepted trends yet irreversibly shapes them. ‘Eor me it is the same attitude. Both punk and dance music are about doing it for yourself. Being able to do it all from making to releasing records. Just go and make it. don't care what other people think. Do it from the heart and it will be right. Electronic music is more about rhythm and dancing. EBM: electronic body music. It‘s a different feel but guitars can join in. there are no rules.’
His (now defunct) club nights at the Libella. out in the country. away from the city. gave him room to breathe. expand away from the influence of the fashionistas. Early releases on the likes of R&S. Disko B. Magnetic North and Harthouse were full-on techno assaults: raw. yet compact. and filled with fury and innovation. His ‘My Definition of House Music‘ ( 1992) is still a benchmark today.
But he got tired of constraints and realised the path to freedom was via his own record label. ‘I needed to be in control of releasing the music I love. It is the only way to do it right. From the music to the artwork you need to do it right from the beginning. A strong idea with Gigolo muscles.‘ And it became an idea synonymous with the experimental yet accessible. the filthy and the futuristic. Names like Miss Kittin. the Hacker. even techno legends Jeff Mills and Dave Clarke released tracks via Gigolo. their sleeves emblazoned with images ofArnold Schwarzenegger and Sid Vicious.
‘People see you’re DJ and give you a demo and it turns otit to be the best thing you have heard. Some people know to trust the label and approach me. as do some people we already worked with for years and were Gigolos before Gigolo started.
‘The sound of Gigolo is not based on one sound. I always say to the artists do what you want. I live by the same rules. If you feel it then other people will too. Don‘t follow the rules but follow the signs.‘
Whatever Hell may say. the label did become associated with a single sound: electroclash. A re-working of 80s electro. electroclash is an appreciation of the talent and llamboyance
‘IF YOU FEEL IT THEN OTHER PEOPLE WILL TOO. DON'T
THE RULES BUT FOLLOW THE SIGNS’
that came with the new romantic movement while adding a freshness. a punk rock attitude. an artistic sideways glance. It is an acceptance of fun into the world of clubbing. a break from the rigidity of the ‘superstar DJ '. a reinvigoration of live acts in the club world. Above all it‘s a reminder that clubbing should be an event. not an every day occurrence: glamorous. decadent but ultimately trashy. By 2000 Hell had yet another legendary (again. now defunct) club on his hands — Villa. recapturing the cutting edge of the Studio 54 years but with a modem bite. His clubs set the groundwork that others took as a comerstone. lt leaked to places such as London‘s Nag Nag Nag and Trash with nights such as Glasgow's Optimo coming up with similar themes concurrently and taking them in their own warped directions.
As with everything original and exciting. it filtered down to the mainstream. Without Hell here would be no Har Mar Superstars. no Raptures. no Peaches. no Scissor Sisters. Even pop embraced elements of Hell‘s erstwhile underground music. most evidently in the Sugababes‘ ‘Freak Like Me‘. and Kylie‘s ‘Can‘t Get You Out of My Head‘. Hell‘s was a sound that launched a thousand asymmetrical haircuts and ‘ironic’ mullets. Would Duran Duran be on tour again without Gigolos’ inﬂuence? But Hell stayed ahead of the game: ‘By the time this phrase [electroclash] came about I was already looking at different things. By then it was over for me.’
The next step was to relocate to New York to capture a new sound away from his native Germany. ‘I was surrounded by great people in a great city but for me NY Muscle is more like the soundtrack to my fave three films: 72m Driver, A Clockii'nrk Orange and Cruising.’ Hell‘s words encapsulate his restlessness. a vision beyond the music. As if to underline that. Gigolo’s 100th release comes in the form of a pair of skimpy panties from the sauciest of lingerie manufacturers. Agent Provocateur.
Now perhaps working on his highest profile gig to date. Hell is engaged in production work with P Diddy. already releasing the Kelis/P Diddy collaboration ‘Let‘s Get Ill”. ’I worked on some stuff with P Diddy and he’s a great guy.‘ he casually drops into the conversation. ‘He treats you like a best friend from the beginning but I also know that if I‘m not good enough for the job I'm not working the project.‘
His ‘Let‘s Fucking Rock' tour of the UK. taking in both Glasgow and Edinburgh (and surely no tour has ever had such an appropriate name). will be the best way to experience the Hell magic and madness. Sharp suited and immaculately coiffured he may be (he’s DJed couture catwalk shows for Versace) he‘s got a ‘take no prisoners' attitude when it comes to dancefloor kicks. Asked what to expect. he says: ‘lt’s always best to keep some secrets. you'll have to come and see.‘ Having played with Slam and Sativae (this time in association with Pogo Vogue) he knows the stakes are high. ‘The Soma and Sativae boys really know how to party so I think the gigs will be special. I know I have to be on top form. 1 think there is something in the water tip there. They don't come to stand and watch. Know what I‘m saying'."
So what‘s next‘.’ ‘Gigolo has lots of new material already lined tip this year. New releases by Psychonauts. Savvas Pascalidis. Richard Bartz and many more. And something a little different. but like I say. you have to keep some secrets.‘ As enigmatic as ever.
Let’s Fucking Rock is at the Arches, Glasgow, Sat 10 Apr and the Venue, Edinburgh, Fri 16 Apr.
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1—15 Apr 2004 THE LIST 13