DJ Hell - To Hell And Back
3D’s Cyclone chats with German producer DJ Hell, in Sydney this month to play Stereosonic.
The stylish DJ Hell – AKA Helmut Geier – may be the Godfather of electroclash but today he lays no claim to the decade’s most outlandish dance phenomenon. The “anti-superstar DJ” will soon unleash his bravest project yet. But, before that, he’s returning to Australia for the first time in eight years.
Hell is a man of contradiction. He perceives himself as a futurist but constantly draws on his love of punk, disco, new wave, Chicago house and Detroit techno –the ’80s signifying his creative epiphany. He revels in the avant-garde, decadence and eccentricity, and is soccer-mad. But, despite his party animal persona, Hell is a health freak who disavows drugs and insists that he’s never drunk a bottle of beer – heresy for a Bavarian.
The Munich native is currently based in Berlin, but he remains a Bavarian loyalist. “I never left Munich,” he says. “I still keep my flat there, and so I decided to live in two cities.”
Hell, who briefly resided in New York, adores Berlin’s sense of freedom. David Bowie, then into Krautrock, presaged Berlin’s electronic era when in the ’70s he settled there to record Low. “David Bowie said he never felt such a great freedom around him as when he lived here,” Hell muses. “I think this feeling of freedom – and artistic freedom – is still around here. There is some magic about Berlin [in] the last 30 years.”
Geier was among few Europeans to be recognised by the suspicious Detroit techno clan, befriending Underground Resistance’s “Mad” Mike Banks. Jeff Mills unwittingly christened Hell’s International DeeJay â€¨Gigolo Records when he made a wry observation that superstar DJs are like gigolos. Hell has fostered countless Gigolo stars, including Miss Kittin & The Hacker, and issued enduring tracks like Zombie Nation. Nevertheless, the Gigolo enterprise was almost terminated. Arnold Schwarzenegger threatened legal action over the label’s subversive appropriation of an old bodybuilding image as its logo. That’s now history – and in 2008 Hell fancies himself as Germany’s Andy Warhol, cultivating the playful alter-ego ‘Andy War-hell’.
Early, Hell yielded the classic My Definition of House, which the Belgian powerhouse R&S licensed. An underground album, Geteert Und Gefedert, materialised in 1994, but Hell generated wider interest four years on with Munich Machine, many assuming it was his debut. Munich Machine, the title a tribute to Giorgio Moroder, comprised Hell’s bizarre ‘French touch’ take on Barry Manilow’s Copacabana. He followed with 2004’s cult – albeit under-promoted – NY Muscle as electroclash waned.
Next Hell will deliver the conceptual double-album Teufelswerk (‘the devil’s work’), split into Day and Night. He aired the single, The Disaster, at the Berlin Love Parade.
“I was supposed to record this new album mainly in Berlin, but suddenly I was more in the studio in Vienna with people like Peter Kruder – he’s one of the guys from Kruder & Dorfmeister,” Geier says. “I went there to his studio and worked with a lot of musicians – even a lot of jazz musicians – for the Day album. The Day album is a new sound for me. It shows where I come from, but it doesn’t jump into the ’80s – it is going far back into the ’70s. There’s another album called Night – and this is my definition of club music today. There’s also some references to soundtracks like Liquid Sky or A Clockwork Orange that went into both albums. So it was a lot of work, it took me a year, and I pushed it to the maximum. Right now it feels like I can’t do it better.”
WHO: DJ Hell
WHAT: Plays Stereosonic at Manning Bar
WHEN: Friday 28 November