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Electroclash titans

The latest musical movement to infect hip clubs from New York to Berlin has its roots in the Atlanta/Athens scene of the '80s



A kaleidoscopic light spins slowly from above, melting like makeup across the shadowy faces of gorgeous freaks. The people glide between each other, slipping behind dividers of chrome rods into booths of curvaceous vinyl, stopping just long enough to primp in one of the metallic bubbles threatening to pop off the wall. As the kissing hi-hats, snapping snares and sturdy kick drums of electro, italo-disco and tech-house tussle from speakers, androgynous arctic sex kittens and their handlers cruise the length of the room, brushing against a mix of sounds and a range of fashions from 1982 through, it seems, 2012.

It's a room where even queens can feel like kings, and where boys named Mary and girls named Chris -- fairies, fetishists and fashionistas with watchful eyes -- can turn an urban anywhere, anytime, into the here and now. Right here, right now, it's Brooklyn -- Williamsburg to be precise -- at a club called Luxx, nestled at the end of a lonely street, behind a twisted silver Frank Gehry-like facade, under a low ceiling. And for these people it truly is the center of the world: the world of Electroclash, a musical and artistic movement deceivingly tagged retro whose time is very much now.

The frigid yet funky genre of electro that resulted in the early '80s, when Afrika Bambaataa infused nascent hip-hop with Kraftwerk proto-techno is hot again. Once a sound relegated to booming from lowriders, electro has seen a club resurgence and its latest hybrid, Electroclash, has everyone joining the club. DJs all over New York -- and as far flung as Chicago's Felix da Housecat and Tommie Sunshine, Canada's Tiga, Germany's DJ Hell, Switzerland's Miss Kittin and even Atlantans Oliver Dodd and Bethany -- play tech-house, Chicago house, Detroit techno and other neo-electro sounds.

At Luxx, the crowd is hyperaware that Electroclash -- which synchronizes the visual culture, accoutrements and personalities of post-punk, synth-pop, new wave and the New Romantics with theatrical performances and the thump of an 808 drum machine -- is as much about fashion and attitude as music. Shades of original New York synth-punks Suicide, as well as Depeche Mode, Visage, Ultravox, and Gary Numan have made their way both overtly and covertly into the scene. There's a depth of intentional shallowness. Some just move to it. To others, it is a movement. And helping lead the charge is Larry Tee, an Atlanta native who's no stranger to the moves and movements of the era from which Electroclash draws its inspiration.

From the metallic mountain range of a DJ booth, Tee surveys all of Luxx with the black-rimmed eyes of a hawk, as the waiter, um, waitress, um, waiter weaves through a crowd not so much mixed as matched. Head bald and bobbing, 40-something Tee has been DJing long enough to remember the last time synth-pop ruled the clubs. Now he has lent a face to a resurgent but recontextualized sound that has found its way from Brooklyn to Berlin, from labels like Mogul Electro to International DeeJay Gigolos, across compilations with names like American Gigolo, Disco Nouveau, definingTECH, Tech-Pop or, simply, Electroclash, Tee's own compilation of New York-based bands. He even organized a fivelday NYC festival in October 2001 that drew several thousands and worldwide media attention.

Not bad for a man who proudly speaks of his Narcotics Anonymous-assisted triumph over four years of drug addiction. Now Tee's traded one addiction for another much healthier one -- shepherding the Electroclash movement and music. And the crowd in Luxx, this is his Electroclash flock.

Well, at least they flock to his two club nights there, Friday's "Mutants" and Saturday's "Berliniamsburg." As we talk outside the downstairs bathrooms -- the only semi-quiet spot in the club -- those who pass contribute to the interview. "He speaks prophecy!" ... "Tell it like it is, sweetie," say the "women" with large Adams' apples, snapping back their necks and snapping their fingers. The people are drawn to the no- one-bats-an-eye atmosphere, or else to the mix of funky tracks and funkier live performances that sizzle through the air. Or maybe it's because Larry Tee has a hell of a track record.

New Yorkers first got to know Larry Tee in the late '80s, for infamous club nights including Club Badd, Love Machine (home to RuPaul, for whom Tee helped write the hit, "Supermodel") and Disco2000 (started with a then pre-"Superstar" DJ named Keoki). But longtime locals may be more familiar with Tee from his early days in Atlanta, back when post-punk and post-disco had barely separated. Some may remember Tee DJing early-'80s house and industrial/electro at Weekends or the Celebrity Club, and his involvement with the Celebrity's highly thematic, unofficial house band, the Now Explosion -- a sort of disco counterpart to the B-52's. Or his production associations with Athens avant popsters the Fans and new-wave noise group Vietnam. Or from RuPaul, Lahoma van Zandt and Lady Bunny, who all made their way to New York with Tee in the late '80s to become queens of a never-ending Manhattan party. Much of what is now Tee's scene in New York has its roots in what Atlanta and Athens were back then.

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