Filed under: Interview
Possibly the most famous Jock to emerge from Germany’s bulging pockets of electronic musicians, Helmut Josef Geier, A.K.A. DJ Hell, boss of renowned electronic label International Deejay Gigolo’s recently visited Tokyo to perform at Wire and promote the Japanese release of his latest long player ‘New York Muscles’, recorded and inspired by his time spent there. With over 20 years of involvement in the industry 1992’s hit ‘My Definition of House Music’ sprung the unknown Munich producer into the limelight he has remained. Since then he’s collaborated with a multitude of renowned artists from Larent Garnier to more recent efforts with P Diddy and through his label has launched the careers of some of electronica’s biggest stars such as Fischerspooner, Tiga, The Hacker and Miss Kittin. Not cutting any corners Higher Frequency made the most of this opportunity to go to the heart of Hell.
Interview by Laura Brown (ArcTokyo)
HigherFrequency (HRFQ) : This is your fifth time playing at the Wire festival. How did you get involved initially?
Hell : I know Takkyu Ishino, the main producer. I think it was his idea. I’ve been coming to Japan for maybe 10 years. There was a time in the ’90’s when I was coming four or five times a year, again and again, doing tours and promotion, and now I’m here again. There are so many friends I have here, so I can’t just come and go, I have to stay. This time it was just promotion and playing at the party, so there are a lot of people I’ve missed. I want to see them but it’s just not possible because of the promotion schedule and playing at the parties and of course doing the shopping. Also very important! Buying new shoes, that’s always on the list, one or two days we have to do the…. we call it ‘hard-core shopping’.
HRFQ : Your latest album NY Muscle, which was originally released last October worldwide, was just released here in Japan as domestic manufactured product through Victor Entertainment. In previous interviews, you’ve mentioned that this was not intended as an Electroclash album, but something beyond that. Can you tell us a bit about the concept behind this album?
Hell : Did I say that? You can’t repeat yourself all the time – we call it electro-funk, out of Detroit. I just don’t try to repeat myself and do the same thing again and again. I would say, if I’m going to do an electroclash album, it’s easy to do. I know all the artists. I know all the singers. I was even responsible for the hype, for some kind of action with Fischerspooner and Miss Kitten and crossover, and a lot of bands I pushed with Gigolo. I was thinking if I go this way, they will crucify me, people won’t like it, even I wouldn’t like it. Because this was the stuff we were doing in the 90’s. Now it’s 2004 and there are some new ways of doing innovative dance music. That’s the reason I went to NY to work with people like James Murphy or Alan Vega. I think they really do some new kind of, modern electronic dance music. It was more based on rock music and the music from the early or late 80s. Bands like Liquid Liquid, ESG, also new wave bands like Gang of Four. The list of influences is endless, but I think this is very clear in the album, what I try to say. It’s always difficult to give a definition, because the album is very personal it’s also dangerous to walk this way. Because if you give too much of yourself, people will misunderstand it and there will be a lot of misinterpretation, but I think the album is very clear musical wise. I think a lot of people like it. I don’t know how many people buy it, I have no idea. It’s not a top seller in the charts, but it’s exactly what I want to do, and for this album, I took my time. There was no pressure for releasing it next month or this time or that time. I’ll leave tracks on the mixer for whatever time it needs and there was no pressure. But I think a lot of productions are done in limited time, and I think you can hear it. It’s not. They weren’t thinking to the end. They thought having studio time is very limited so were just pushing it out because there was no time. This album took a lot of time, nearly one year to do. I rearranged things a lot and redid things on the album, but one day I was thinking that I have to finish it. I have to find a moment to say, ‘this is it’. It’s not easy, but still I would change something here or something there, or do some other stuff, but I found the time to say, ‘this is over’ and then released it. And now it’s in Japan. It was already released in Europe in Oct/Nov. 2003, so it’s going to be released in Brazil in Jan 2005, so it is a long way to go for the album. I’ve done a lot of interviews, a lot of promotion to explain, but now we’re here in Japan, and it’s going to be released again. We still talk about the same things and it’s always interesting for me as well to see how Japanese people understand this kind of music.
HRFQ : I think the title of this album sounds unique especially to Japanese. How did you come up with this title?
Hell : The titles always come during the production. I don’t have titles before. Some day there was NY Muscle in my head. I tried to do different artists in every interview, why I choose NY Muscle. So many interpretations in this title already… no I will find a new one, let’s think about it. I already have a lot of different meanings… I was living in NY, because I love the city, because I love the people there. I think the muscle really touches you when you are there – you’re really busy all the time. You keep going forward, no taking a break. It’s always forward and forward, more, people are busy. Asking people to come to the studio. I was doing a lot of training as well, to get the muscles. To be in shape, but it’s nothing to do with… well maybe somehow. There are so many muscles in NY. Muscle guys, muscle girls, muscle dogs. The album before was called Munich Machine, now NY Muscle and the next album will be based in Berlin… There’s a lot of meanings about the NY Muscle – a lot of meanings. It just sounded good. It’s powerful. It says something…
HRFQ : You are currently producing new tracks for Puff Daddy. Can you talk about that a bit?
Hell : Somehow he liked my album, I gave it to him. I went to Bad Boy recording studio and he did some stuff with Kelis, a song called Let’s Get Ill. And I was like, this is something really out of this world. Puffy doing some Techno music with Kelis in such a great way. I was really shocked when I heard it the first time in Miami. He was playing at the [Miami Winter] music conference and I was sitting there, I was nominated for best DJ, and I didn’t win, but that was a good thing I think. I didn’t want to win. Then I would have had to go up and say something. There was a lot of people – strange people. So Puffy came and did Kelis live – Let’s Get Ill with Kelis and I was shocked. I couldn’t believe it – nobody could believe it. So that was the beginning of the story. So I tried to get in touch and do some remixes and I did one later on for Let’s Get Ill. He really liked the remixes I’d done, and somehow we got in touch. He called me on the mobile and said, ‘I love you’… I love what you are doing. Let’s meet and talk about it and at the same time, I gave my album (NY Muscle) to his manager and he listened to it. He completely freaked out about the music and asked about two songs from the album but I didn’t give them to him. He’s the type of artist who buys the music. People produce music and give it to him for his album and he puts his lyrics on top of it. I said, ‘I’m not selling my music, because it was done for me and I won’t do something like that. If you want stuff like this, I’ll do more music for you, but not these two tracks.’ So that’s the situation now. I’m still giving him stuff and producing stuff in the same way NY Muscle was made. Some stuff he said was too scary… so he didn’t pick it. I’m still doing stuff for him but it isn’t finished yet. It was great to see that a guy like Puffy and his audience are into this kind of stuff I’m doing. That’s not too bad. Also if you live in NY for like a year, I was there already in ’94 and earlier. I was pretty influenced by Hip Hop and R & B and I think R & B music right now – the Neptunes and all these great producers are influenced by electronic music so they strip down the beats and the sound is really electronic. Even Missy Elliott is doing it, not only the Neptunes. All these guys are influenced by minimal and electronic music and they put it inside their music with different beats, so I came there and heard this new kind of R & B music and hip hop, and I was totally influenced by that. A lot of songs – even one song of Puffy called ‘Bit Boy of Life” had great production and unbelievable song writing. I was really influenced by that as well. So I think that’s why they were digging my stuff because I was bringing some of their stuff, rhythm-wise in my music, so they were thinking it was fresh.
HRFQ : What collaborations are you working on? What other projects are you currently working on?
Hell : I did a remix for the Pet Shop Boys for one of the greatest songs ever, ‘West End Girls’ and I did some work with Grace Jones from the old days and it’s going to be released soon. But I really want to push it forward and work with Grace on new material, not just always do remixes, just work on new stuff. That’s one of my future plans. There’s so much stuff, remixes for artists, a new single coming, the third thing, fourth and fifth thing that I’ve planned already out off the album and I’m doing a movie for Gigolo records, the last seven years of Gigolo. It’s going to be on DVD, more like a documentary. There’s also some footage of an old Wire festival on there, very private footage. Musically I’m already thinking about the next album, but it’s too early because I’m still promoting this album. I’m going to produce other bands as well, so if the time is right and I get the right offer… I had some ideas already to produce albums. I will be in the studio and will play the producer, give the direction for it. I don’t know which band now, but there’s a lot of bands that I would like to produce, old and brand new bands.
HRFQ : What new artist have you been listening to recently who has been breaking new ground or pushing the boundaries of music?
Hell : I can’t tell you because then they will sign them. No, it’s like. The good thing with Gigolo is that all the new artists, they really want to be on Gigolo. They believe in the label and they’re really behind it. If they get offers from different companies, they give me the option to sign them, then it’s a good thing. It makes it easy for me. I don’t have to please them and travel behind them. They are coming to me but I’m always looking for new talent, even while I’m here. In Japan, people give me CD-Rs and are sending me a lot of stuff and I’m always looking for new talents. It’s already a big change going on inside the company. We had like once a year, we’re doing a party there’s always new bands. We did it like last weekend and the weekend before Wire, in Berlin it was a big success. It’s like all these bands performing and a drummer and a bass player and a singer. Small band from London called X-Lover. And they have a blond Indian-born girl, kind of like a stripper girl – a dancer, she really knew how to perform – she had a great voice – they are more in like an electronic rock direction, but also a lot of disco influence, so they are pretty hyped up already in London, but they gonna sign to Gigolo and I’m going to try to push them, and maybe bring them to Wire next year. People would love it! Because she’s like a really great singer and performer and she has special star potential. There are so many new bands and artists that I already follow and push them. A lot of people from Paris. I signed 3 new guys [from] Paris and they are doing their own kind of style – really Pop-y I would say. But absolutely great songs and it’s going to be played all over, I’m sure. A new style – we don’t have a name for it. I will not come up with a new name – like Electroclash, and things. They call it ‘Disco-pogo’ or ‘Electro-punk’. But we don’t come up with the names. Music speaks for itself and Gigolo is a very strong branding. We don’t need any names. I have a name that’s called Gigolo Rock. But we don’t put stickers – I think it’s very clear because it is Gigolo and it’s rock, and you should know what it is. Gigolo Rock.
HRFQ : Have any Japanese artists given you their work for consideration on the Gigolo label? Are you interested in signing with any Japanese acts if they have enough potential?
Hell : The problem, or not the problem, is that when I get Japanese CD-Rs, they always try to sound like Gigolo. I was always thinking that they should find their own identity with their own background. Not try to sound like European artists. There were people like Ken Ishii or Fumiya Tanaka, or great innovative guys who found their way of doing it, but I’m looking for the new guys. There’s a new [Japanese] label releasing their first records and it’s really something fresh. They call it ‘Blow’, I found it yesterday in a shop. They have a CD compilation and two 12″, brand new label and it’s a really modern way of dance music. I’m proud because it’s not too far from Gigolo’s way of doing things. It’s really up to date dance music and it’s a label out of Japan… There are a lot of labels that do techno music or house music, but they are in between all these genres and I think they are going to have a lot of potential. The stuff I always get from Japanese artists, they try… so I always tell them, ‘don’t try’. But I’m still looking. I would be happy to have some Japanese gigolos, that would be great.. There was one guy who played at Wire – Kagami – and I was like ‘wow’, he was hot. He sent me some stuff and we were close to release it and he would be the first Japanese Gigolo, but then he was signed to a Japanese label, Frogman and so they pushed the album. It is all over the shops, so there’s no reason to push it again, the same thing. So I was going to try to get more stuff. But I think he’s cool with the Japanese label, I don’t need to push him, but I play his stuff. And he’s really really talented. Maybe after Wire this year, there is more stuff coming… I hope so.
HRFQ : The now famous Fischerspooner became so because you brought them to light with your International Deejay Gigolos label, Miss Kittin too. What kind of criteria do you bear in your mind when you sign new artists as A&R?
Hell : There’s a lot of funny stories, but they came already like finished products. I don’t have to talk to Fisherspooner as how to do the shows or how to do the covers. They come up with the whole finished product. They have very strong vision about the videos and even about the graphic designs and about photo shoots, about the live appearances, about the music. I don’t have to change anything. Miss Kittin was not the same way because when they started they had no experience, so sometimes I give a little advice. I don’t tell them, ‘put some makeup on, or wear this dress’. But they were growing up and touring all around the world. Even Fischerspooner and other bands, they were influenced by that, so now they’re becoming more and more sure about what they are doing. So they start wearing masks, leather masks or special outfits for live performances. I think it’s show time, even for a DJ. When people are on stage they should think about it. It doesn’t matter what you do, but I think it should be something special. My part is to give the artist the freedom to do whatever they want to do. If they want to perform naked, they should do it, that’s fine. I’m just there to let them know that they can do whatever they want. There’s no limitation. That’s my part and that’s a good part…
HRFQ : Mainly in the UK, it is said the super-club era seems to be over, and many people are now more interested in going to smaller venue. Have you seen the same kind of trend in your home country, Germany?
Hell : In England, they were based on selling the product, selling everything, the record. Like Ministry of Sound… Selling the jackets and the t-shirt, selling the compilation from the last summer… it was all business and I think people realized it wasn’t just based on the music. It was based on the music as well, but I think it was too much business and I think people really realised it. I think they pushed it too far and didn’t take care of the music, so people got tired of it. Why should you go to a club, and listen to the same kind of house music they were pushing over the years, again and again. Even the big fishes, the big guys were playing the same stuff… easygoing, not too experimental, kind of regular stuff. So they have to change. I don’t know what they do now, I don’t care. In Germany there a lot of big clubs opening right now with new concepts. Sven Vath is opening Cocoon and I would call it a super-club, because it’s like huge. There are different areas – an area where you can eat really great food, bars and a lot of situations. It’s a very unique kind of club and maybe it’s a new area for Germany, with electronic music, but then you need some people behind you with a lot of financial support and in Germany it’s different. In Berlin, the main city with electronic music, is having so many space for doing parties, illegal parties… so many clubs. I think somebody counted and there’s like 150 clubs every weekend, doing electronic music. A lot of illegal clubs, a lot of normal discos playing house music and Berlin is one of the most interesting cities about electronic music nowadays. It’s always something special to play there. There’s a really high level of understanding about the music. The crowds expect the new stuff, you really have to play the hardest shit, not just play the regular. I never do that, but if you play the regular stuff, they won’t like it. You should do something special because people in Berlin have a lot of music knowledge. That’s why Gigolo moved to Berlin and we’re going to start doing business from there, start a club night and see what’s going on. But Berlin is the city to be in when you talk about electronic music in Germany, maybe also Frankfurt because of Sven’s club. We will see. I’m going to play there on Fri.
HRFQ : Can you tell us a bit about the structure in your decks? Are you interested in new technologies, like Final Scratch or Traktor?
Hell : I did a mix compilation with Traktor and but I had the first version and it was not ready for the clubs. Now they have a new version because Final Scratch and Native Instruments are working together and I didn’t saw the new software. There’s a second or a third maybe already on the market. I had the first one to see how it works and get the experience and maybe try to help them, how a DJ’s going to use it in a good way but it was pretty hard with the first version to do a mix. It was completely perfect at the end, you couldn’t hear any mistakes. These days I’m working with a lot of CDs and even if artists send me MP3’s. I burn them onto a CDR and play at club nights, so I have two turntables still and I have two CD players. But there is a new Technics player that’s on the market now and I’m pretty happy because it’s a really nice piece of art, the design and how they made it is perfect. Pioneer is firmly established as the CD players everyone uses in clubs and that’s what I’m using. Effects from Pioneer mixer, turntable and CD player, so I’m pretty busy with that. Also if there is a Final Scratch system coming, I don’t think I would want to have my whole collection with me all the time. Because before I’m going to a night, I prepare my set and I’m pretty busy with my 100 records and my package of CDs. I have so many possibilities to go. I don’t need my whole catalogue with me and laptop. I think it’s a good tool with all the effects. It’s a new way of DJing. But you should not only base a set on Final Scratch, you should use vinyl and CD-R and MP3. But the Final Scratch is the future. I think there are DJs just doing the Final Scratch and I think that’s not the future. You should use every piece and create something new. I think Final Scratch is really good for the DJs, but for me, I don’t want to say I’m old school, but I want to use all the stuff. But Final Scratch, it’s not my type. I’m a vinyl guy.
HRFQ : Any messages or advice to Japanese fans?
Hell : I don’t like to give advice. Like Nirvana said, ‘come as you are’. I love to be here, I love to meet the people, do promotion and marketing… Don’t stop believing in Gigolo.
End of the interview
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