An Interview w/ DJ, Designer & Hitmaker Larry Tee

Larry Tee:  We all had Hip Hop names. ‘Cause when I used to enter DJ  competitions at all-Black clubs in Atlanta, I had to come up with a name. So ‘Larry Tee’ was like Spoonie G, Busy B. You know, it came from Hip Hop. And weirdly, it just stuck. I really never liked it, ‘Larry Tee,’ but my friends called me Larry Tee, and it just stuck.

Johnny Sagan: This is Planet Rock! I wanted to first take it back to your roots, like RuPaul, and say that in my reading of your life story, as someone who views you as a mentor, I feel like your life has been a Game Of Life, where each place that you’ve popped up on your soul’s journey has been a different cultural touchstone. Where did you come from? Who are your parents? Why did they, how did they get to Seattle? Just tell us that part of the story first, please.

Larry Tee: My parents are Canadian. They were in the Midwest, which is fucking cold. 

My dad came from a really smart family — his brother and sister were both one of best students in Canada in their respective years.

My mom was also a little go-getter, and she knew she didn’t want to stay in the cold, so they moved to Seattle, and my folks are up there. And then in Nanaimo and Vancouver, we have a lot of Canadian family over on that side. 

I was there for six years, and then we moved to Atlanta, Georgia, or outside of Atlanta, Georgia.

And that’s where I got my flavoring. You had a choice in Atlanta. It was either going to be Southern Boogie, which was Lynyrd Skynyrd and Black Oak Arkansas, those like really redneck Boogie bands, or you could get Funk.

(…or Mother’s Finest. There was one Rock band that was like really badass, with a Black female singer, named Mother’s Finest. But besides that, I always went with The Funk.) 

And then when Hip Hop first started is when I kind of was like 18, just old enough to get to a club. So I’d go to the Sans Souci, which was an all Black club, to compete in their DJ competitions.

I won every time and they absolutely loved it when I would do my MCing. With my voice? They all crowded around the DJ booth. ‘Cause I was playing the tunes! 

Like the very first run DMC 12-inches, the B-sides with the beats, and all these weird 12-inches that I was able to get for 25 cents each, just as they were coming out. 

And literally they would crowd around, and every time, they voted me the winner, except for once, and I really should have won that one, but it was only fair at that point. It was getting a little bit bad that I was always winning, but I was ‘ah-slayin’ even then!

Johnny Sagan: I’m sure you did! Can we just pause real quick and sing the praises a little bit more directly of Black American culture. So can you talk about that experience and that cultural initiation that led to you being able to win consistently as a DJ by the time you were 18?

Larry Tee: Well, you know, they really loved the fact that I worshiped their culture. And then, you know, at the end of every one of my sets, I’d play something like Hamilton Bohannon, ‘Let’s Start, Start The Dance,’ and that’s what we’d do, so they, they knew I was serious when I would pull out Bohannon and they were all like, “oh no, no, NO, he is NOT!”

And that was great. But then I started playing at the New Wave club. I played at the New Wave club, 688. At the time, things like Schooly D were happening, and New Order, and I was more about the big dance beats, ‘cause I wanted to turn it into a disco, but I still had to play a lot of that, you know, Anti-Nowhere League and Nick Cave kind of stuff, ‘cause it was a New Wave club.

Then I moved to the New Wave Disco or it wasn’t a New Wave disco, but it became a New Way of Disco once I got there, because at the time they were still trying to hold on to HI-NRG ‘cause they were trying to keep it real white.

Johnny Sagan: Patrick Cowley.

Larry Tee: Yeah. And that, that Hi-NRG totally kept the Black people out of any clubs — still will. If you play it there, you will not find a Black person in your club. But I kinda did a mix of everything from Chaka Khan to The Smiths to the Flying Lizards to Donna Summer, too.

We just played everything at this late-night disco. And that’s where I kind of learned how to actually mix mix, because I would have to learn how to mix from the Smiths and to some New Wave dance music stuff and into downtempo hip hop.

But you know, at one point I got a gig at The World in New York where Grandmaster Flash was following my set, and I had a 12-inch copy of Liquid Liquid’s, Cavern, which he had already ripped off like 10 years previous, and he said, man, can I buy that record off you? And I said — I knew I had another one, another one or two of that one at home. And I sat and I said, Absolutely. Just cause I knew it was a story that I was going to be able to tell until the day I died, that I sold him a copy of his own fucking record.

I love White Lines, but the original was like, you know, the original. 

Johnny Sagan: So speaking of White Lines, I wanted  to ask about the Gay scene in Atlanta when you were coming up. Was it a mixed Black and white gay scene? Was the Black Gay Mecca status of Atlanta already in place? Was it a Gay gateway for the South?

Larry Tee: You know, there was this DJ named Angelo Solar, who slayed, he was a Disco DJ.

And I remember him breaking into things like The B-52s and Kraftwerk’s Numbers, and the crowd not knowing what to make of it, but then they were the biggest songs. You know, Planet Claire and stuff like that. But when he was deejaying, the crowd was 50% Black. And 50% white.

And then at certain point, the Gay scene started shredding, because this was all before dance music was really like it is now, and then they decided they were just going to go Hi-NRG, kind of as a way to clear out the club and keep it from being such a mix, because it was way too crowded. No matter what it was, it was the most crowded. Sometimes it would take you 30 minutes to even get to the dance floor, the main floor was so full. So at some point they just decided, we have enough people for two clubs here, let’s just make it a white people’s club. And so they started playing this terrible music.

At that point, I moved over to New Wave. I kind of left the Disco there and then moved over to playing, you know, New Beat and the early House and stuff like that over at Weekends.

So I kept moving, but there was a point where it shredded, even though it started mixed, really mixed, and Oh My God, the energy, when Angelo Solar would throw down Lady America, with this piano break that went Dum DUM Dum Dum Dum DUM, from Voyage and literally it was the SONG of Atlanta!

Voyage was HUGE as a Disco song… 

Johnny Sagan: Yo, we have to make a playlist to go with this interview for sure! 

Larry Tee: Lady America, Lady America, which I sampled later for one of my songs called Charlie. It has this piano riff that is slaying, and that was the song he went into that literally, you probably could have heard the disco down the street, because the place would just go mental!

And I mean, he was definitely like the Junior Vasquez for me of Atlanta, Georgia.

Johnny Sagan: Your memory for these riffs, and for these moments, is key to people understanding what a role model you are for us as creatives, because if you can harness those moments and those memories, and sample the right thing at the right time, that’s how you make legendary music. Legends beget legends. 

And so from your earliest days clubbing, you were attuned to that naturally. And I mean, obviously that’s how you must’ve become friends with Lady Bunny and Rupaul and The B-52s, so tell us about how you met that crew. 

Larry Tee: Well, you know, I was in a band called The Fans. They were this New Wave band that won the Village Voice best single of the year, one by Kevin Dunn and one by The Fans, two years in a row. And it was right before New Wave happened, and they were New Wave before New Wave.

And they produced this new band called The B-52s. They did their first single called Rock Lobster/52 Girls, and they put it out on DB records, which was a little Atlanta label. And then of course, that’s when Punk hit, mixed with Disco, and, and of course New York went mental for The B-52s.

And when I was playing with The Fans, when we’d go and play Athens, Georgia, because The Fans were really big in Athens too, Michael Stipe used to come. I was 18, and he was 17 at the time, and we became boyfriends. That was my first boyfriend, Michael Stipe from REM, when he was 18.

Later, I started running my own club, where I would book, like, Michael’s sister’s band called Oh-OK. Or I had The Black Crowes. I had the The Butthole Surfers, literally it was a pizza parlor, but we still managed to put The Butthole Surfers in there because we had trans go-go dancers, and it was the sickest club you’ve ever been in. 

They were the sickest punk band ever. They would cut up cockroach photos and throw them into the crowd, with extreme lighting effects on, and Gibby Haynes would come out with nothing on but netting pinned to his body with clothespins, and then just take it off AT the crowd, and the punks would get sprayed with clothespins.

Or they’d turn on a strobe light and tear apart stuffed animals. And their stuff sounded so fucking crazy. 

Johnny Sagan: One of the best band names ever too. 

Larry Tee: Oh, yeah. So we had this club there, and all the Athens fans were so good at that point, because they had Pylon, which was like The B-52s meets the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, but with a really Disco backbeat to it. A straight… ‘Gnnt-CUT. Gnnt-CUT,’ so it was really danceable. And then there was Limbo District– 

Johnny Sagan: Here’s the question we have to ask an expert like you: Disco is this magical influence, one of the strongest musical influences of the 20th century. And thus of the 21st century. What would your definition of the origin of Disco or the formula for Disco in terms of influences and musical history be? 

Larry Tee: Well, I mean, you know, before Disco, everybody, they would dance to things like Manu Dibango, Soul Makossa–  

Johnny Sagan: Which is an African take on Funk. 

Larry Tee: Yeah, it was like the African take on Funk. But you know, there were some, there weren’t many, there weren’t many Disco songs before KC And The Sunshine Band came up with that album.

And when they just put together that thing, like really slow–

Johnny Sagan: And they were coming out of Florida, so that’s the Caribbean influence, but Caribbean Funk was in turn influenced by Black American R&B that they were literally hearing on their airwaves… 

Larry Tee: KC was white, but the band was definitely not. They were like, they were like sped-up Funk. They just realized, they said, well, let’s…what if we just put a straight four? To Funk. 

‘Cause it was slow at first, like Donna Summer’s Love To Love You Baby was 100 beats per minute. It was, Disco was really slow and, and  (singing) ‘Lay-dee Bump…,’ all of the early Disco hits were a kind of Funk, but with a straight four.

And then it started getting faster when the Germans got involved, when Kraftwerk sped it up, and when Giorgio Moroder made I Feel Love. I remember I was riding in a car, in Marietta, Georgia, where I lived, and suddenly on the radio, I Feel Love by Donna Summer came on, and I literally had to pull over to the side of the street, because I couldn’t drive and listen to I Feel Love at the same time, because it was so fucking radical.

And I literally, I went from where I was right to the record store and bought it. I just couldn’t live two seconds without that, just knowing that that record was out there somewhere. I already knew Donna Summer, but the first single, called I Remember Yesterday, was a total sleeper dog. And so I didn’t know if there was anything good on there, so I hadn’t bought the record, but when I heard I Feel Love, literally I had to stop my car. 

Johnny Sagan: I think another thing that’s inspirational about your story at this point, when we’re still in Georgia and talking about the Athens scene, is, you know, a lot of young people in the scene were at the dawn of a new decade.

The new kids who are just coming out in 2020 in the scene, they’re locked in, because there is no ‘out’ in 2020, you know, so obviously a lot of artists in their process of becoming don’t know how great they are necessarily until they live it out.

But your story shows that people like the Butthole Surfers were fucking stars when they were still playing the pizza parlor in Georgia.

Larry Tee: They were one of the original Punk bands. They could have played a much bigger place. It’s just, they loved us so much.

When they came to our club, they couldn’t believe their eyes that they found this weird ass club where Punk Rock bands could play with transvestites dancing on the bar. They just couldn’t believe it. 

At one point, Lisette, one of our really sleazy drag queens, started provoking the punks, and the crowd was so full in there, because The Butthole Surfers could have sold out 10,000 tickets, and our place really could, you could put 300 in, max.

And Lisette started playing with the punks, and the punks, literally, were going to kill them.  And so Lisette just ran down the bar, drinks flying everywhere, jumped off the bar and ran into the back with the punks totally in fast pursuit. And when they ground through the door and Gibby was wearing nothing — who is, like, he had long hair, he looked like Satan personified, where he had the clips all over him. And this netting and he was bare-naked and he pulled back the curtain and the punks, I,– Gibby’s like six foot four, the punks went, Oh, Gibby Sir! Oh, he’s a friend of yours? Oh, well, uh…literally they were horrified.

They were so intimidated by Gibby that they just all turned around and it was  like, WHEW…’cause they would’ve killed her. 

Johnny Sagan: Exactly. What made you guys turn your thoughts to moving to New York, and what was it like to move to New York in this era? 

Larry Tee: Well, you know what, we had made a lot of movies there with RuPaul.

She always got to play Diana Ross, and I always got to play the murderer or the porn star…the villain, always. 

Johnny Sagan: Can we see these movies?

Larry Tee: Yeah, they’re online. You know, they’re movies like Starbooty, where she plays the international woman of mystery, she’s like posing as a hooker, but as she says, is also a spy for the FBI. And they’re trying to get this pimp that’s been killing the local hookers…or Mahogany II, which is the sequel to a Diana Ross movie called Mahogany. And I get to play the Anthony Perkins character, that guy in Psycho, he played her manager, and he tries to kill her. He tries to run her off the road in a rage, of course I always had to play the murderous villain in every movie.

There’s this one called American Porn Star, where RuPaul is the porn star and I’m the pornographer. And at one point, the male lead can’t do his cumshot. So I have to do a cumshot on RuPaul’s back that we recreate with Jergens lotion– And RuPaul…we have satin, red satin sheets, and of course there’s a closeup on the hand, grabbing the red satin sheets, and then this squirt of Jergens going up her back, and then this look on her face where she kind of goes,  (grimacing) Ohhhh, but then the next scene you see, she’s calling her mother, and she says, No mom, I’m fine. She’s crying. And she said, No, mom, I’m fine. Yes. I’m still working at the library, I’ll, I’ll send you the money… You know!

Johnny Sagan: Oh My God! I can’t!

Larry Tee: They’re all SO entertaining, they…they’re so much funnier than anything on the RuPaul channel now. 

Johnny Sagan: Wait, tiny sidebar — whatever happened to Diana Ross? Why did she disappear from the music industry? Was that a fabulous retirement on her own terms? Or did she…did something happen?

Larry Tee: She was sick of it. She was done with it. She had done everything there was to do.

Johnny Sagan: So she’s just collecting Fabergé eggs? 

Larry Tee: Yeah, she’s got everything. She married one of the richest men in the world. She’s just like, she doesn’t need it. You know? There’s nothing she didn’t do. 

Johnny Sagan: Okay. So that’s a sidebar.

So then your story next is, you guys were making these amazing films in New York. They were getting seen, but were you like, invited to the Chelsea Film Festival? What was happening in New York that you couldn’t just keep doing in Atlanta?

Larry Tee: No, it’s just, we had done Atlanta. We had. There was nothing left to do there. And literally it would have just been more of the same. And we were both 28. 

So we got in a van, and you know, as we were coming over the Tennessee border, we did some coke, just a freckle of it. And we flipped the van.

‘Cause the tire blew out. So we actually flipped the van and it flipped completely over, and the back busted open, sending all of our belongings, disco balls and wigs, and bad RuPaul outfits, all over the interstate, right over the Tennessee border. And then the van flipped back up. And I remember just sitting there like, and Ru nudged me and said, Hey, I think we should get out of this van.

‘Cause I was like, it was in shock, because literally we flipped the van. And so we put new tires on–

Johnny Sagan: I was gonna say, I feel like cocaine is actually the secret ingredient in the rise of Disco. The real dark crystal of that time. 

Larry Tee: It didn’t hurt! I’m sure it kept people up.

But anyway, we fixed the van and then we got the tires put on. The side was soldered shut, we couldn’t slide the side door, we had to go through the front. 

And so we actually drove the van, after we got the tires put on, we were so tired, we were close by to Jim and Tammy Bakker’s PTL, a Christian theme park. So we went right to the Christian theme park to sleep because we knew it would be uneventful, and Tim and Tammy Baker were so entertaining.

We said we’re alive, we’re here, let’s just go to PTL, which was Praise The Lord. 

Johnny Sagan: Yeah, you found some Good Samaritans.

Larry Tee: The park was called ‘Heritage USA.’ So we stayed the night at Heritage USA and then wobbled our way up to New York finally. It took us about three days, but we did finally get there. 

Johnny Sagan: And just to keep it really real for the New York kids, where did you stay when you first came here? 

Larry Tee: When we got up there — actually you can see us arriving in New York – me, RuPaul and Lahoma, who is another drag queen – on the Internet. And we lived in the meat market. We lived in this three-story townhouse in the middle on Gansevoort Street, which is now the most expensive part of New York, in the meat market.

We had a three-story townhouse with a roof, we could get up on the roof too, and a backyard. And we spent 400 a month each, to live in this place with this guy who, his videos are all getting so far now. They use them in Kenzo ads, and they’re recycling his videos of Stephen Sprouse fashion shows, or legendary interviews with Keith Haring at his private parties, going down to his basement to his weird home nightclub to dance to underground Latino Freestyle… 

Johnny Sagan: It’s Nelson Sullivan you’re talking about, right? 

Larry Tee: Yeah. So we moved down with Nelson Sullivan, who was already connected with The Village Voice, Michael Musto’s Village Voice, and Michael, he sped up our immediate ascent as being the new stars of New York, because literally every column, he would write about what we were doing.

And so literally within a year I was running every club. I had the Rock And Roll Fag Bar at The World. And I was doing Saturday night there with Grandmaster Flash, all within a year. And I was doing my own parties at The Underground called The Celebrity Club, where we had Diane Brill and, and Diamanda Galas, and Deee-Lite as guests.

They would come and be the guest of the week. And it’d be a bunch of club kids, it was like the beginning  of the Club Kid era. 

Johnny Sagan: And I think this is part of how your experience paves the way for a lifestyle that continues to nurture artists in New York City to this day.

Because in the era of the playlist and the smartphone, especially, and the CDJs, it has become an absolutely essential survival skill, but also a Philosopher’s Stone of a creative skill, for Downtown New York and Brooklyn kids to provide DJing services as a potentially preferable lifeline to a financing of their lifestyles…preferable to sex work and drug-dealing, that is. And to day jobs!

Now you can be a DJ! Follow the Larry Tee path to success Downtown, and you can actually get paid.  (Larry grimaces) 

Larry Tee: Please don’t follow that path! 

Johnny Sagan: Hello! 

Larry Tee: So we started Disco 2000 with Michael Alig, right? ‘Cause I was doing my party called Love Machine, which had Lady Bunny and RuPaul, and Lahoma as the host.

But then we started doing a Wednesday party called Disco 2000, where it was kind of the first place to play Techno in a club, in New York, was at Disco 2000, as a regular weekly thing. 

And that’s where the Club Kids really started becoming really famous, and then did the Geraldo show.

And, you know, I did The Hot Body Contest, where every week, on the main stage at three o’clock, I would get, I would ask people to get up out of the crowd, and for a chance to win 50 bucks, they would strip butt naked. 

There’d be like, five strippers fresh from their job. And then four club kids, wild random people, like one dude took his leg off and won! It was like, ‘HE earned it!’

And there was once this 300-pound woman who got up on stage, and, she won easily the first time, but then the next time, she and this little skinny, totally naked cowboy dude with a cowboy hat got up, he was like a little scrawny thing and he got up on her shoulders, and they, they wobbled up to the front of the stage, and it looked like they were going to fall off from that high stage onto that packed crowd.

And the crowd literally cleared out, because somebody would’ve gotten killed, but they got it balanced. And then she lost, even after all that — 

Johnny Sagan: What could top that?!

Larry Tee: This 300-pound woman — this is New York City — she lost to the stripper who won like every week, it was like all the ravers, the drug dealers out front, they all liked this girl named Rachel, and every week practically, she would win unless we would just force her not to win. 

We would, just to have some variety…but the crowd really, they always really, really liked her ’cause she had big old stripper tits 

Johnny Sagan: One question I have about that time, that’s kind of a connection to what’s going on today, is, you know, this is the time when Ronald Reagan and George Bush The First were, like, ruling the country with their, like, neofascist vibes, similar to today. 

And yet it was kind of like Paris In The Terror. ‘It Was The Best Of Times, It Was The Worst Of Times,’ it seems, because creatively, you guys were being so innovative, and ‘To Thine Own Self Being True.’

So did you feel that you had to fight society to get away with this? 

Larry Tee: You know what, luckily when I got to New York, the AIDS thing, there was already some remedies, so it wasn’t as terrifying, even though Nelson died like a year after we got there.

Not of AIDS, we don’t know what he died from. He had some heart issues, but nobody even asked. New York had been through such a dark time that nobody even asked how Nelson died, he had no AIDS symptoms or anything like that, but everybody just assumed, ‘gay person died…’, ’cause everybody died.

So that’s why we got up there and everything took off. 

At the time, the only thing that was really happening was, Suzanne Barsch had a club full of people that all dressed in black, and it was at the Chelsea Hotel. It was at a place called Sauvage.

And it was like, not fun that she totally got the club kids and the drag queens from our scene, ‘cause she was like, ‘My boys, my boys, it’s Disco, Disco! What’s up now Larry Tee, Disco, is it Disco again? Disco, Disco, Disco, my party, my bar!’

Johnny Sagan:  You got caught up with The Archons Of New York!

There’s the Icons and there’s the Archons… 

Larry Tee: She was definitely…well, it was a funeral. I could see why they were all dressed in black.

Johnny Sagan: The Yin And The Yang. 

Larry Tee: After that, I did the Roxy for four years by myself, and then I started rotating with Frankie Knuckles.

He would do one week and I would do the other, and that was great too, but that’s kind of also when the Roxy turned into where the white boys went… before that it was like after the Roxy was a Hip Hop club, and just everybody went there, but it was a lot of drag queens and gays, but then after that, it just went all white boys.

‘Cause John Blair took over. 

Johnny Sagan: Let’s quickly talk about Frankie Knuckles, may he rest in peace. 

Because this is one of the bridges, too, from that time to this, because the 2020s are really the regeneration of the rainforest canopy of all the people who died too young in the Eighties and Nineties, because culturally, we’re absolutely seeded by that forest-fire conflagration of emergency social circumstances. And there’s a motto that I’ve heard in recent years in the streets that I really love. Which is ‘Hip Hop Raised Me, House Saved Me.’

Did you get a chance to sort of talk, verbally or telepathically, with Frankie Knuckles, about his kind of spiritual path that led to House? Or how would you describe the duality between Hip Hop and House that leads then to Techno and leads to Electroclash and leads to all the forms of music today.

Like what did it feel like to be present at the birth of House, and then to be playing with Frankie Knuckles? 

Larry Tee: Well, you know what, actually the birth of House came a little earlier. By the time Frankie got to New York, that was when they were learning to sell House.

But the birth of House came while I was still deejaying in Atlanta. That’s when the classics, the first series of classic House, the ‘Gotta Have House’ …Music Anthem, and ‘You Used To Hold Me, you used to kiss me,’ you know, all those House music classics, the original ones. …or Inner City, you know, ‘good times, good times, good times,’ those all came when I was still in Atlanta, but then when I was playing the Roxy, literally that’s when Top 40 discovered House. 

So I, literally, the two years I was deejaying the Roxy, every song I played went to Number One in the country. 

Gypsy Woman, which is like the only Deep House Number One record of all time, really, that’s like real, legitimate deep Jersey House, I remember when that came out I immediately put it as my Number One song on Billboard because it was the best thing I ever heard in my life. And they gave me a gold record for Gypsy Woman for having made it a hit.

Johnny Sagan: You got to see how things can be made a hit. And you were a hit-maker at a moment where truly deep, truly soulful stuff was able to cross over. And that must’ve inspired you and RuPaul. So tell us about that moment.

Larry Tee: Well, RuPaul and I, we went to Milan, we got a gig in Milan to perform during Fashion Week. And we went to go see the Gianni Versace show when Gianni was still alive, where he used all the supermodels as runway models. 

‘Cause at the time they were either print models or runway models, he broke that wall by using all the most famous faces as runway girls, too. And we saw that show and we came back and I wrote Supermodel because we had gotten to see some, just some brilliant stuff backstage, Naomi, screaming to Linda and Christie, WAIT UP because she needed a ride over to the Jil Sander show…so you know, we saw that whole culture in Milan. 

And when we came back, Supermodel was after the Top 40 run of House. It was like one of the first hits after. 

And it peaked at Number 40 on the chart, even though it sold Top 20. But there were no House Music songs anymore. It was two years, and then radio just said ENOUGH, but also that was when I quit being the DJ at the Roxy, and so the sound had changed from like having those songs that the whole crowd would love, to being more ‘pots and pans,’ more that deep, underground thing.

Johnny Sagan: ‘Track-y!’

Larry Tee: Because during those two years, we’d have 2000 gay boys, and they were all doing ecstasy and they had nowhere to go afterwards. They’d all be tweaked out of their heads. So I would go and drag the Roxy crowd with me over to see Junior Vasquez. And it was an all-Black crowd at the time.

The white boys weren’t really that cool with that weird mix. ‘Cause John Blair’s boys are really white, but they were high, and they needed somewhere to go, so everybody just went over to the Sound Factory, and that’s kind of when Junior blew into being the superstar, the Madonna remixer superstar, and really probably my favorite… outside of the one DJ I remember growing up with in Atlanta, Angelo Solar, Junior Vasquez is my guru, my DJ hero for house music. 

Johnny Sagan: On that point of Junior Vasquez — ’cause I think we should make a kind of a playlist and I think this is going to be very educational for people — please slightly wax poetic about what makes Junior Vasquez such a great DJ. 

Larry Tee: Well, yeah, I mean, he had been doing those long, super-long sets, so he would sometimes just play a Madonna a cappella, just because everybody knew he was doing the Madonna remixes, so everybody would go running to the booth in The Tunnel, or The Palladium, thinking Madonna was there in the booth. Singing it live, which she had done before. 

And he had Rocket Man by Elton John a capella, he’d just stop the music and play, you know, the Elton John a capella, which enough… nobody has that.

So he had, like, the Crown Jewels, and he was creating a whole new sound out of these classic bits and pieces and these weird off-sounding records, which I now call ‘Weirdo House.’ It’s these one-off records that were really unique, but, put in his hands, he would make them really burn. 

And so he had this whole series of classics that he kind of created, and he took some of the Paradise Garage classics that he would do, in this windup of classic hits, and so he was a total master, so he would put the effects on them and he would just fry everybody in there.

I remember one time, right when I got sober, somebody said, Hey, would you take Kraftwerk out for the weekend? They’re in town. And I said, of course.

So I took the guy that invented the rhythm box to Pat Field’s to buy clothing for his daughter. Because there was like some 3D clothes that he wanted for his daughter, so I took him to Pat Field’s and took him around town. And then I said, well, we could go to Sound Factory. And they said, sure. We went to go see the remixer Francois Kevorkian, who took Trans Europe Express and sent it through a filter so fucked up that literally, it sounded like Tour De France, it was a totally different song with this thing. 

And meanwhile, while he was tearing it up, the, one of the wax dummies of Kraftwerk, he was looking at these Latin girls dancing, and he was like, he had to be 60, but he still looked like them, the red and black suit with the red tie, he was dressed as Kraftwerk, and he said, “Do you think that I would have a chance? With this kind of girl?”

And I was like, you never know, I mean it’s worth a try. But when I took him to see Junior at the Sound Factory, they said Junior, we have Larry Tee here with Kraftwerk? 

And, ah, Junior said…NO! 

Johnny Sagan: The shade is real, but that’s that legendary shade! 

Larry Tee: He didn’t want to know. He didn’t want to meet Kraftwerk. 

Johnny Sagan: He didn’t want to meet Kraftwerk, and later he dropped a legendary dub called If Madonna Calls, I’m Not Home. 

But, another teachable moment that you just mentioned that I think is actually really powerful for these Indigo Children to contemplate is, you said that you got sober at the height of Junior Vasquez at the Sound Factory. 

Can you tell that story? I think that’s really powerful for people to see that you don’t have to be fucked up to be turnt. 

Larry Tee: I got sober actually, when he was doing, the Palladium parties. It was after…I think when he returned to the Sound Factory space is when I was sober.

But you know, I had to stay away from it for a little while, the big room thing. And that’s why doing Electroclash was…safe for me, is because it was a totally new crowd. And it was like, you know, some people leave cities and do another city. 

I did a different demographic.

Johnny Sagan: You crossed the River Jordan to Brooklyn!

Larry Tee: I got a loft with the skyline of Manhattan in my window, and I started a club there.

And I would bring people in, like you know the crowd was like Larry Clark and Fischerspooner and Peaches and, Susan Sontag and Chloe Sevigny. We had this whole new generation of hipsters that I cultivated ‘cause I needed a change, a totally different change.

‘Cause I wasn’t feeling House! 

So I started the Electroclash thing with that festival and, and then Brooklyn exploded on me when the club happened. 

And literally there would be, when the train would come in, there would be a hundred people coming off the train and heading towards Berliniamsburg, which was my Williamsburg New Wave Disco club. My Electroclash club. It was called Berliniamsberg.

Johnny Sagan: Wait, what year is it that we’re talking about? 

Larry Tee: 2001. …I mean, everybody from Dolce & Gabbana to Naomi Campbell came.

I remember we had this song called Supermodel Incorporated, which was like an Electroclash trashing of Supermodel. And it had a list of the new girls.

Instead of, the traditional supermodels — Naomi was one of the old girls in the original — this was like Karen, Christie, Kirstie, Karen, Karson, Karly, Karyn, Khristmas, ’cause everybody was a K name at that point but it was really neat. It was ‘walk your ass down the runway and get paid, modeling is an ugly business.’

And it was like the Electro version of Supermodel, which they used in the movie Party Monster, for the scene at McDonald’s when Michael Alig hosts a rave at McDonald’s.

Johnny Sagan: I love it. Let’s talk aesthetics because, for me, what I feel I’ve always been picking up from your music and your taste is that, unlike say a track-y, you know, Berlin Techno sensibility, where it’s wordless, you like for a person’s personality and wordplay to shine through. And that’s what was so brilliant about Electroclash. Junior Vasquez played his Bitch Tracks, but then it could be very tribal and wordless for long stretches, but then Electroclash had all of this verbal inventiveness.

Larry Tee: Well, we definitely did the Bitch Track too with Electroclash. I mean– 

Johnny Sagan: That’s what I’m saying. 

Larry Tee: Frank Sinatra’s Dead, the ‘hahahahaha’ song that was like such a blazing, ah, a classic. 

And then, you know, I had this Black transvestite who now makes clothes for the Pirelli Calendar. I used her as my Electroclash Bitch Track voice, and her name is Tobell Von Cartier. 

Johnny Sagan: Yes. She’s still in the scene now, she has a TV show…

Larry Tee: Yes, called Come On A My House, and we’re still really, we’re still good friends. I would use her as my Bitch Track voice, but it was like very cold. She was from Mississippi, so she has that rich — and I just did another track with her called Black Pussy Surprise.

‘And the surprise is…. there ain’t no pussy!  (clicks tongue) Ooooo, it smells like, butt, dick, and pussy in here: Badussy.’ 

Johnny Sagan: BADUSSY!

Larry Tee: Badussy. She was like, Mmm, you like chocolate? What about chocolate with nuts? (Clicks tongue) And it was like this, like this run of the nastiest, most filthiest, rottenest lines, which…every one of them could have been a Junior Vasquez hit.

Johnny Sagan: Well, right. And that is, that is your genius as a hitmaker, is that, you know the nasty shit is the real shit, and the shit that sells and that deserves to hit. 

And you proved it once again with Electroclash, but then what led you to decamp to the only other city in the world, or one of the only three cities in the world that — the other two cities that can stand up to the genius of New York as a cultural cauldron? 

…Everyone has to have their London Period. How did your London Period come about? 

Larry Tee: Okay, well, you know, when Electroclash…it put me into the world of the International DJ Star, because when…everybody found out about it, suddenly I was deejaying all over the world, and then when Electroclash wasn’t working anymore, I started another big club called The Bank down in the Lower East Side, it was huge.

Johnny Sagan: On the Bowery?

Larry Tee: Yeah. Right on the Bowery, at the old place where Rauschenberg used to have a studio back in the Sixties and Seventies. 

Johnny Sagan: Amazing. You’re the Rauschenberg of The New York Underground. 

Larry Tee: The Andy Warhol, thank you. Rauschenberg, he was gay, but he was closeted, and he didn’t like Andy, because Andy was so un-, he was so out.

Johnny Sagan: Out and about.

Larry Tee:  Yeah. Yeah, I mean, there was no way Andy could act like he was not gay. They didn’t like him. He wanted them to like him, but anyway, we went down to the LES, I did this club there, and so I started making my own hits with my stars, like Amanda Lepore and Sophia Lamar. 

And, then I started using people like Princess Superstar, as a rapper, and Roxy Cottontail. And then Perez Hilton and Jeffree Star…who is a reality TV star who has his own makeup company that’s worth just, millions. 

Johnny Sagan: Icons Only. Icons Only. 

Larry Tee: But we did all weird stuff. Most of it was like really weird people or like, we did a remix of Shoes, by Kelly. 

Johnny Sagan: Yes! Let’s Get Some Shoes…

Larry Tee: Oh My God. Let’s get some shoes. 

Johnny Sagan: Can I Borrow That Top?

Larry Tee: Can I borrow that top?

Johnny Sagan: This is a teachable moment for the kids, because people will tell you that weird stuff doesn’t have a big enough potential fan base. And…the opposite is true. The truly weird is what moves the culture. 

Larry Tee: Then I sold my record to Ultra Records, with Licky on it, which was in two Number One movies.

It went Gold, it was on 50 different compilations and Steve Aoki put Santigold rapping on top of it, when it already had a run with Princess Superstar on it. And then Sean Garrett, the Beyoncé producer, rewrote it for Shontelle. And it went Gold for Shontelle. So that was like a Gold record for me, when I turned 50, the song Licky.

Anyway, I did have a bunch of hits with like Afrojack, and Steve Aoki and Santigold, and Princess Superstar and all these guys. 

But by that time, I was working so much and it got so expensive in New York that nobody could go out! So the clubs sucked, and it was all bottle service. 

The only people that could go out would buy their own bottle service, and you couldn’t even meet anybody at a club, because you had a little rope on your bottle service area, and it was, it was so sucky, even in Brooklyn, it was really hard to do anything.

And I was deejaying nonstop, so I just said, you know what? Let me just go, and I’ll go do my thing over– I’ll just move to London, ’cause I knew London would still have a little bit of life — ’cause New York was dead dead! 

It was kind of dead there too, but I managed to really flip it around and we got a lot of things rocking there too, and had big parties with like Charlie XCX and Years And Years. All these Euro hits, with It stars like Conchita Wurst, the Eurovision song winner, the drag queen winner of the Eurovision Song contest. 

We had the…really cool club in London for six years. And then I moved to Berlin, just because I had, in London, opened a clothing company called Tzuji, which, you know, we dressed everybody from, Missy Elliot to Jimmy Fallon and all these rappers, Sean Kingston, Kid Ink…and, it, the bullet list goes on and on… the B-52s.

Johnny Sagan: Have you always been as much of a devotee of fashion as of music, or was fashion…a later interest in life? 

Larry Tee: You know what, no, I always loved the fashion part! I was the only DJ who ever that thought, before they were going to play for three to 5,000 people, I would think, oh my God, what am I going to wear?

Nobody — Frankie never cared. None of the DJs ever cared. They never said, Oh, what am I going to wear? 

I was the only DJ that ever thought about that!. And with my history of the B-52s, and Electroclash, and all that, I said, Oh, ummmm…all my hits are about fashion! 

Johnny Sagan: Facts! 

Larry Tee: Or cultural. They were cultural hits.

So I thought, Oh, God…as I moved to London, I know I’ve met all the current [designers], you know, I’m good friends now with the designer over at Dior, and I just got to meet these incredible designers. And once I got into their studios, it was like a Eureka…

Johnny Sagan: It was like a recording studio, but tangible!

Larry Tee: Yeah, it was like, Oh my fucking… I literally almost passed out when I went to Alton & Brooke and they unreeled their fabric, because they’re brilliant print makers. And I just thought I was going to have a heart attack when he rolled out this fabric… I couldn’t believe it. And so I realized, Oh yeah, I need to do this.

Johnny Sagan: Question, can you give us a sidebar for the kids of some of your favorite fashion designer influences of all time to go with all the music influences that you’re able to reel off? 

Larry Tee:  Okay. Yeah. Designers, my favorites. Of course, I love Versace, because Versace was so trendy.

You know, he’d be doing New Wave before New Wave, he’d be doing… I mean, literally sometimes music would follow his thing. He was doing New Wave before New Wave showed up, literally. He was a huge influence on other people.

But I also like…Fiorucci. There was a shop in New York called Fiorucci, where…everything happened, and they invented designer jeans and they would have plastic jackets and skinny ties and lightning bolts. So I loved Fiorucci.

You know, but I also really liked the… the more fun designers.

I remember when we went to Milan and we saw the Jil Sander, who is like one of the biggest in the world, it was like women’s suits. And it was in grays and browns. I remember just thinking, What was that about? Because I liked something that was like, flash.

I like swag more than anything. And so of course, I loved anything that like, somebody that looked crazy as fuck would wear. That’s what I really love! 

So at first my brand was crazy as fuck, and that’s why we got so much placement, immediately, on, you know…all the TV shows need that. X Factor needs that, or, you know, The Tonight Show needs that.

And then over time, I said, wait a minute. I really wanna actually…dust off Fiorucci and be the…designer for Fiorucci, and give them the sportswear that people can’t resist, you know, that you go, what the fuck is this? 

They already have a language, the cute little angels on there, and their graphic things and their biker jackets, their logo with the name…So they already have great things in there that I could just totally trash and turn into a whole ‘nother thing.

But for me, that was where the fun was. And Halston. You know, I really liked how glamorous he was, and how wearable he was… everything he did was very simple, but you could wear it on at Madison Square Garden, and still look like a million bucks.

Johnny Sagan: It was not just classic, it was classic-cal in that sense, of being minimal and elegant–

Larry Tee: He invented it. He invented it! 

Yves Saint Laurent. You know, I like that kind of glamour too.

Johnny Sagan: Saint Laurent is very full of cultural references also, which I think you would dig. 

Larry Tee: That’s what I liked. 

I liked all that, where he had taken whatever was happening. 

Whatever designer… that could take in the moment, and then reinterpret it, or even beat people to the moment.

Johnny Sagan: Channel the moment.

Larry Tee:  Yeah, where they could actually influence the moment, as opposed to quickly imitate it after it happened.

Johnny Sagan: So what zeitgeist brought you to Berlin? 

Larry Tee: Well, you know what, once I started my clothing company, I said, what the fuck? I don’t know what I’m doing!

And it was all happening so fast. Literally. I remember right before I moved, I was in Paris and I was DJing this huge party at Palais De Tokyo.

And there was the guy that was the Haus Of Gaga guy, he was there. 

Johnny Sagan: Oh, Nicola Formichetti.

Larry Tee: Yeah, Nicola Formichetti was there. And so was Alexander Wang was there with all the hot new supermodels of the moment, and Olivier Theyskens from Balmain. 

Everybody was backstage. And my girl was singing my song Body Talk, wearing my huge smoking-hand sweater dress.

Johnny Sagan: Oh yeah, we know that dress…Oh That Was YOU?!

Larry Tee: Yeah, big smoking hand sweater dress, singing my song with all these people there. 

And I was like, fuck, I don’t know what I’m doing. I’m going to go broke doing this! 

Johnny Sagan: Real Talk!

Larry Tee: And well, I also knew that that the fashion business was designed to just…kill every designer before they could get there.

Johnny Sagan: Just like the music business!

Larry Tee: Yeah. It’s just like…they’re just a bunch of leeches, sucking everything dry.

It’s like, Okay, well you really need to put on a fashion show. 

I said, Oh, okay. Well what would that mean? 

Johnny Sagan: How much it’s gonna cost!

Larry Tee: It’s like, Well, we’re going to need 10,000. For the thing. We need 5,000 for the models, 20,000 for the PR…20,000, 20,000, 20,000, 20,000…

Johnny Sagan: You Ain’t Never Lied, Larry!

Larry Tee: And so I said, Oh, this is a scam! There were no more designer stars anymore. Since Vetements, there hasn’t been ONE….designer breakout brand, outside of (rolls eyes) WHAT?! 

Johnny Sagan: Facts! And Vetements was an industry pirate of Hood By Air! 

Larry Tee: Totally, totally! 

Johnny Sagan: The White Supremacist version of Hood By Air! 

Larry Tee: Virgil Abloh could be considered probably a big designer, only because, ah, designers became useless and nobody really gives a fuck.

Cause they all look the same. Ah, Virgil Abloh’s show looked like a Prada show that looked like a Louis Vuitton show that looked like the Dior show. They all have the same colors. They have the same trends. They were all the same…Givenchy looked like Burberry.

Johnny Sagan: The Style Council Is Real! 

Larry Tee: Yeah. And so, they ruined it, they killed the Golden Goose by turning it into that kind of thing.

And so now really, Virgil Abloh…if you can make a really good sweatshirt, then you’re what they want. You know what, whatever. Yeah, I’m not putting him down. I’m not crazy over his clothes, but he’s a genius. 

I mean, you gotta give him credit for making it work, because in this industry, God Bless, anyone would have to be an absolute genius to make it work.

‘Cause there’s just no way to win. It’s not set up to win

Johnny Sagan: Yeah. Exactly, no, I mean, he’s definitely a messenger. He’s one of God’s prophets, for sure. One of God’s PROFITS.

Larry Tee: Totally. You know, but, but that’s what leads it to now, because… once I realized there’s no money in music, or in fashion, I realized it’s all going to be content in the future.

And that’s it, if you’re going to do fashion, you better be on Project Runway, or you better be.. not a contestant on Project Runway or Making The Cut or Next In Fashion. You’ll go nowhere even if you win. But you have to be a reality TV star.

If you want to be a pop singer, you better be on Disney. You better have come from Disney, which Selena, Ariana, all of them came from Disney. Justin Timberlake, Ryan Gosling. 

And if you’re going to be a designer, you better be one on TV. 

Johnny Sagan: So are you saying that the appeal of Berlin is its livability, because in an Age Of Reality, the contentment makes for better content in that city? 

Larry Tee: Well, in that it’s like it’s very much like New York in 1987, now. 

Meaning, there’s a lot, you can get everything you want there now. It’s big enough that you can…eat vegan if you want to, and have a Bulgarian foot massage. 

But it also has the underground, all the kids there know it’s still cheap.

So you can live in whatever neighborhood works for your hair. Meaning if you’re a scrunchie, you can live in Neukölln. If you’re…kind of, together, you can live in Mitt. If you’re kind of dirty, if you’re 50, but you used to be a punk, you live in Kreuzberg. But you can still afford to live in any neighborhood that matches your haircut. 

Johnny Sagan: With that, Drops Mic, this interview is finished. We can always have you write another Letter From The Editor, but you just wrote your Graydon Carter Letter From The Editor!

Thanks. Thanks. Thanks Father.

And if you can’t Come To Berlin, go out into the streets and protest, because Socialism will win!

Larry Tee: No, we’re in the midst of an awakening. It’s great. Even though it’s a pain in the ass to be in New York or any of these cities, here we had 200 people die — I mean, that’s not so bad. 

But it’s that time where, you better get your act together, and you better behave and stop being a billionaire and stop being a social media idiot or a president.

They’re all gonna go. When people no longer need them, these people are going to be thrown to the side like carcasses, because this awakening is happening, but you’re either going to get on it, or you’re not. 

Some people thought it was going to be like, The Rapture. Everybody would just fly out of our bodies…HELL no! They’re going to take all these evil bitches and TORTURE them, until they’re absolutely dead, until they’re chased down the street like Mussolini! When these fuckers, these Putins and Trumps and Bolsonaros…they’re all going to be dragged behind taxi cabs at some point.

Johnny Sagan: Goddddd Knows, Lawdamercy! LOVE you! Love you, Larry. Thank you. Been a privilege. 

Larry Tee: Nice to meet you. It was a pleasure to meet you.

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