Photo: Juliana Bernstein
Damian Lazarus at Day Zero Tulum 2019
Damian Lazarus Discusses Day Zero 2020, Spiritual Awakenings, Meeting Tiesto & '90s London Raves
The globetrotting house music wizard dives deep into the beginnings of his magical Tulum event, cutting his teeth in the '90s underground U.K. club scene and his biggest hope for the new year
British DJ/producer/mystical event wizard Damian Lazarus' well-loved sound is much more of a mood than genre. The music he favors is ethereal, emotive and takes the listener on a journey. His parties often take place in awe-inspiring locations, from the expansive dustiness of Burning Man to the jungles of Tulum, Mexico. His DJ sets tend to last for hours, often until the wee hours of the morning.
With his iconic house and techno label Crosstown Rebels, which he founded in 2003, Lazarus has helped catapult the careers of fellow underground game-changing DJ/producers, including Maceo Plex, Jamie Jones and Francesca Lombardo, to name a few.
In addition to throwing down at major electronic music events (Amsterdam Dance Event, Desert Hearts Fest, Lightning In A Bottle, Art Basel Miami) and legendary clubs around the world (Miami's Club Space, Ibiza's DC10, Berlin's Watergate), Lazarus has been carefully curating his own beloved events, namely the Day Zero and Get Lost series.
The Recording Academy caught up with the globetrotting wizard, who called in during a rare moment of downtime in Mexico City, in between debuting a new party to close out ADE and bringing the spooky vibes to Los Angeles' HARD Day of the Dead. He dove deep into the surreal beachside origin story of Day Zero (which returns to Tulum on Jan. 10, 2020), what makes a great DJ set and more. We also revisited his teen and young adult years in London, where he got a healthy dose of club life during the then-burgeoning rave scene.
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About last night... what a night!!! The inaugural “LAZARUS” party at @demarktkantine closing out ADE. This was around 7am this morning at the end of a 6 hour session, I think my face sums it all up. Thank you everyone in Amsterdam that came and helped us make this a night to remember and special thanks to @shishibabylon and all the guys at the club for helping us make something so special
You were just at ADE not long ago. How was that experience for you?
It was really good, actually. Funnily enough, I was just at lunch here in Mexico City and saw Tiësto. I had to tell him about what I did at ADE because it was because of him that I started something new there this year. Many years ago, I was in Chicago about to play a show and the promoters said, "Oh, do you want to come see Tiësto play? He's doing an early evening thing." I'd never seen him play before, so I was really intrigued.
So we went and they took me to the green room. When Tiësto arrived, he made a beeline directly to me and was like, "You're Damian Lazarus, right?" I had no idea that I'd be anywhere on his radar. And he said, "I've got to tell you that your name is the best name in dance music. You know what it means, Lazarus, in Dutch?" And I was like, "No, I have no idea." And he says, "Well, when we go out on the weekend and then your friends call you in the week and they're like, 'What did you get up to in the weekend,' you're like, 'I got really lazarus.' It means to get really wasted."
So this year, I decided to create my own event in ADE; of course I just called it "Lazarus." Because people in Amsterdam would totally get it, but anywhere in the rest of the world, it's just my second name. That was on Sunday, so it was an ADE closing party. It started at midnight and I played all night until 7:00 a.m. That was really special. I also played Circoloco as well, which was on a Saturday.
I tend to just go in for a couple of days. I don't really go for the business meetings and stuff. I know it's very worthwhile for promoters and management but I find if I need to talk to someone or have a meeting about something, I can just pick up a phone. I don't need someone to tell me where to go and have a meeting.
I was always curious about that; is it really like the electronic music mecca that it's made out to be, or is it just a cool space to be when everyone's there?
It really is. I mean, first of all, Amsterdam is a really cool city on so many levels. They have more clubs per capita than anywhere else—throughout the year, not just during ADE. While I was there, I was polling quite a few of my friends and people in the industry about how useful it's been for them that week at ADE and everyone loves it as a business opportunity and also as a good chance to go out. It's one of the best places to go and do business but have fun at the same time.
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Recently, you shared some details for your Day Zero 2020 event, which I think is the seventh iteration of it.
This will be the seventh, yeah, we took one year off.
What are you most looking forward to, especially as we plummet into this new decade?
That's a good point. I just look at it as 2020, I haven't really thought about making a big statement with the new decade. Well, Day Zero began at the end of the Mayan calendar, which I saw as the beginning of a new opportunity as opposed to the end of the world. This time in the world is very difficult, there's a lot of unrest. I think for people in our world to gather together as a community, to celebrate with a backdrop of this beautiful jungle and incredible music—Tulum is a really an incredible place to create a joyful experience for people.
Every year, my mission that I set before my team is to make the next event even more impressive than the last. So we're in the planning stages at the moment and we have a lot of fresh ideas. After every event, we're fine-tuning the minutia of the experience. There's so many things that we plan out at this event. Everywhere you look, everything you smell, everything you touch, everything you do, every place that you go has been well considered by us before you get there, because we want this event to be a full sensory overload. We take pride in it and work very hard on it. So, I'm looking forward to this year.
I would love to hear a little bit more about the origin story of Day Zero and what throwing the party each year means to you, to be able to share it with people.
I had a very spiritual awakening back in 2012 on the beach in Tulum. A medicine man I'd seen earlier that day suggested I stand beneath the moon and stars and raise my arms up towards the moon at a certain hour that night. He wouldn't give me any more information about what I should expect to happen. Fortunately, I remembered to do it later that night and I had the most incredible energy—force field—connection with the universe. It was like a physical being.
You know that feeling when you're young and you try poppers for the first time? Not saying that that's a good thing to do, but imagine that feeling for like 20 minutes; nonstop connecting to the universe. So I had this incredible experience and I took that as a signal to create something that I had rolling around in my head. I'd been going to Tulum for many years; I've been going there for well over 15 years now.
I was playing in Playa del Carmen two years before the BPM festival began there. I'm very connected to that area. But I'd always refrained from DJing in Tulum because it felt like a very beautiful, pristine, secret place that maybe shouldn't open its doors to parties. I knew that the first time I would play music there and bring electronic music to the natural beauty of the area, I wouldn't be able to stop. So I prevented myself from doing it.
And then a couple of people started to come see the area and ask me to play it. But then I had this experience and I could see that I was really fighting against the winds of change. More and more people were discovering Tulum and the hotels, the restaurants and bars were building up. I could feel there was something coming. So, the Armageddon was supposed to be coming on the 21st of Dec., 2012, so I started to plan Day Zero then as a way to reset and recharge, and, like I said, gather people to create a very special experience.
Sharing the experience means the world to me. This has been by far the most thrilling ride that I've been on in my career creating parties and stuff. And now we just started to open it up outside of Tulum for the first time this year. We just created Day Zero Masada at the Holy Mountain in the Dead Sea area. We had 15,000 people there for an incredible first show, I was very happy with how that went.
So now we're looking up where to go in the future. The idea of Day Zero is to get the best electronic music, forward-thinking, future music with ancient civilization. So we like that juxtaposition of the two things going hand in hand. For seven years now, we've been connecting with the Mayans in the ancient area of the Mayan jungle, complete with the
Cenotes underground. We delve into the Popol Vuh, which is the creation story of the Mayans, and work out performances around these ancient Mayan stories and connect with Mayan spiritual leaders from that come and join us.
We really try to show the new young generation the differences in historical background to how people used to live and the stories and the influence that these people have had on the world. But the thing is to not do too many because each event takes about a year in advance to plan. So yeah, so we have two running now, Masada and Tulum, and we'll see where we go in the future. And the Get Lost events which are really big as well. So yeah, it's a little bit busy.
Damian Lazarus at Day Zero Masada | Photo: Karim Tabar
Your sets are known for having a journey element to them. When you're DJing, say at Day Zero or in other special places, do you feel like you're connecting to something?
Oh yeah, 100 percent. Well, at my events, when I start playing there's an extra buzz around the place because it's like, "What's he going to do? What's he going to bring?"
You've set the bar high for yourself.
Yeah, I do. Every year I try to make it better and I spend a lot of time trying to find some music that is really going to make people go bananas. Of course, over seven years, it's difficult to continue to find those records every time, but I work very hard at that. I never plan a set, I never know what I'm doing from one track to the next, whether it be at Day Zero or anywhere else. When I'm DJing, I kind of tell myself I'm playing Sudoku or chess, so I'm always thinking two, three or four moves in advance.
So, I'm telling a story but I'm thinking about them throughout the whole experience. Of course there's some records that work really well together and you want to throw them together a few times. I like to think that I save my best work live at Day Zero or Get Lost. Of course I love to play at sunsets or sunrises. And the beauty of throwing your own event is you get to choose when you play and work everybody else around you. [Laughs.]
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thank you everyone. After the initial amount of tickets sold out in literally milliseconds, we added another bunch, which also sold out in record time. Please give us a day to regroup and we will announce the line up and put the remainder of tickets on sale on FRIDAY 18TH OCTOBER (5pm GMT) Tickets of Trust for DAY ZERO TULUM 2020 will go on sale this WEDNESDAY 16TH OCTOBER (5pm GMT) >> http://bit.ly/DayZero2020 General Admission tickets will be available shortly after following the announcement of the amazing line up. Tickets of Trust are limited to 500 and are first come first served. We can’t wait to share this Day Zero with you all. Ticket link in bio
What has been one of the most powerful moments from your Day Zero events?
Oh my god. There's so many. But you've got to remember that I'm the kind of person that can't just rock up an hour before my set. I've got these events that I run from beginning to end every year and I generally am playing at the end. So I'm spending 16 hours running around the festival site showing my friends around, having fun, experiencing it for myself and making sure everything's working properly. And then I have to start playing.
It all kind of blurs into one. I could tell you that the magical moments are many. But I actually take more pride and enjoyment in reading other people's comments and what people react after these events, especially after Day Zero events. People do find them quite life changing. I've had people meet on the dance floor there and they're married within 12 months. There's people that write to me and tell me that they literally had their life changed. They were going through some trauma, and the energy that they felt at Day Zero helped them kind of rearrange and reorganize their life and their thoughts.
You never know how much of this is actually true. But if someone's going to take the time to write to me and tell me a story like that, then I want to believe it. So I think that's really the best thing that comes out of it for me, the fact that I get to make so many other people happy and that's the main focus.
I love that. What do you think is essential to a great DJ set?
Well, obviously the ability to read the energy in the crowd. Many times I've walked into a room and I feel that there's no vibe, no energy. And I think to myself, it's not that difficult to change this, you just need to be aware of it. Really focus on what music is going to lift people's spirits in time. I think it's important to be innovative but not too overly technical. Of course, it's important to mix and blend your music perfectly, because no one likes to hear dodgy mixing.
And I think there's a very fine line between showboating and really being into what you're doing. I like to think sometimes I'm a performer, but only realize that afterwards, when I let myself go, because I was really feeling the music in the booth.
Last year, you released Heart of Sky with your Damian Lazarus & The Ancient Moons project. Can you talk a little bit about that album and creative group?
Basically what happened was when I first made the first Ancient Moons album back in 2015, Message From The Other Side, I worked with so many different musicians from all over the world. I'd been touring and finding amazing musicians from Egypt, Pakistan, New York. I somehow managed to record all of these amazing people and I was making the new Damian Lazarus album. But once I realized that I had all these incredible other voices and musicians on this record, and it felt very cinematic and it also felt like I could perform this live, I realized that I should create this fake band name, which was The Ancient Moons.
Once I decided to take the project live, I actually had to put The Ancient Moons together. So when it came around to making the second album, I started to work with the band that I found from the first time. So we actually then did become a band making music together. Whereas the first album, I made it with a producer and some guest musicians.
I think that The Ancient Moons project's some of the best creative work I've ever done. But it's not something that I could just knockout every time I'm in the studio. Right now, I'm not working on any new Ancient Moons material but I'm focusing on doing a little bit more kind of straight ahead Damian Lazarus club music right now.
In fact, I've just made this track with Diplo and the band Jungle, which we're still trying to decide what to do with. I've just done a couple of remixes. I just worked on a remix with Teddy Pendergrass. And I did a remix for Art Department. I just did this really killer remix of this Rosalía track. I'm just waiting for her to listen to it and see what she thinks.
But yeah, so that's where we're at. I mean, maybe next year I'm thinking about some Ancient Moons material probably towards the end of the year. I'm already kind of pretty hectic for 2020. I'm already a bit busy for the first half of the year. And I have family at home as well. I need to prioritize my kids right now. So yeah, quite a lot going on.
And then with Heart Of Sky—
Heart Of Sky is actually from the Popol Vuh story. Did you see the film that we made? It's called "Heart Of Sky," by Jessy Moussallem, an amazing film director from Beirut. It's a 15-minute film that we made in the fields of Lebanon where they make Lebanese hash. So it's all the families of the community of people that are making hash. They've never allowed themselves to be filmed before. Obviously, the soundtrack is music from the album.
That's super cool. Zooming out, when did you first start getting into music?
Music was always kind of around in the house. My mother, in the '60s was involved in the the [Rolling] Stones scene, and hanging out in Carnaby Street and stuff like that. And my dad was more kind of into Motown and soul, Isaac Hayes, James Brown. So I had a really good combination there, but my grandfather really was the most influential person for me because he was proper East Londoner, really into the show tunes and musicals. He and I used to have a lot of fun with music together.
But it wasn't really until I was about 11, 12, that I started to buy music and be obsessed with listening to the radio and finding new music that I liked. By the time I was 14, I'd persuaded my parents to let me buy some turntables and a mixer. And I got myself a Saturday job in a very cool record store called Groove Records in SoHo, Central London and then just went on from there.
I did a gig for Pirate Radio, and then went to college and started making parties there. It wasn't really until around 2001 when I had the City Rocker record label that people really started to take notice of me. I always knew I wanted to be a DJ but I wasn't very good at it. It took me ages to work out how to mix properly, but maybe that was because there were so many different styles of music that I was into. So by 2001, I managed to really hone in on and focus on it.
When we were running City Rockers, we started this party called 21st Century Body Rockers in London. We did it for 10 weeks, every month during 2001 or '02. We had DJs like Soulwax and I was the warmup DJ. It was there that my friends said to me, "You're actually getting quite good at this. You should think about it as a career." It wasn't until I got friends and loved ones telling me that that I really thought I could make a go of it. And within a couple of years, I was playing at Circoloco [at DC10 in Ibiza] for the first time, and the Sónar festival [in Barcelona]. I guess the rest is history. [Chuckles.]
I started Crosstown Rebels in 2003 and it was pretty much seen at the forefront of underground electronic music since then. So that always kept me at the front of people's minds, I think, because I was always working with a lot of cool people and discovering new talent and putting on great parties. I guess my DJing skills improved. Things started to get better and better.
Do you have any photos from these 2001 parties? That would be amazing.
I'm not sure they're really for GRAMMY.com. [Laughs.]
Did you have a favorite club or place that you went to when you were younger in London?
There was one club that was really influential for me and helped shape my wide range of appreciation for music. It was called That's How It Is. It was every Monday night at Bar Rumba in London and was run by James Lavelle and Giles Peterson. They were playing anything from all the early Mo Wax stuff to rare groove or funk to jazz to techno. And then they kind of started to discover the jazziest end of the drum and bass sound. It was just this melting pot of all these amazing new, fresh sounds, like Massive Attack, all that stuff coming out at that time. I was on the dancefloor every Monday for a good few years.
But then, you know, I also went to Rage, which was the primary kind of early jungle party in the U.K. There was a couple of things I went to New York as well when I was young. But yeah, so many places have influenced and inspired me. And they still do. I sometimes think back to various places I've been to and I think how I can create something like that.
"One positive thing is that in times of economic hardship, you tend to find that's a really good time for underground music to really come out of the cracks."
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What is your biggest dream that you hope will come true in 2020?
A few. I don't know. The world's fked right now really. It's starting to really get people down. But one positive thing is that in times of economic hardship, you tend to find that's a really good time for underground music to really come out of the cracks. I think it's been getting a little stale, a little safe. I think we've lost that kind of punk and DIY attitude in electronic music right now.
As a label owner, I'm finding it really hard to find really unique, new voices in electronic music. I mean, I do have a few people that I've discovered recently that I'm really excited about, but I think that something needs to happen.
I think that maybe the current state of the world and the climate crisis and everything else hopefully will take music more underground because people are struggling, I think, mentally with figuring out how to deal with all the issues that we face. When keeping your eyes open and not walking around with your eyes closed, you can't escape the fact that the world is fked. So I'm looking forward to some exciting new musical trends to come through.
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Photo: Courtesy of Atlantic Records
Inside Tiësto's Pulse-Pounding Musical World: 7 Keys To His Global Superstardom & Journey To New Album, 'Drive'
On the heels of releasing his seventh album, 'Drive,' Tiësto details the secrets to his long-term success as one of dance music's biggest stars — from collaborating with artists he loves to staying true to himself.
Tiësto has been at the top of his game for the past 20 years. With a reliable string of monster hits, starry collaborations and an immense stage show, the beloved DJ/producer has been a revolutionary force that helped electronic music explode onto the global stage.
Now, the GRAMMY-winning Dutch superstar is back with Drive. His seventh album, it features all of the star's typical calling cards, from heart-pounding singles perfect for the dance floor to a cadre of buzzy artists lending their vocals (Tate McRae and Charli XCX included). Naturally, its advance singles have already collected over 3.5 billion streams.
While on a brief respite from his busy touring schedule, Tiësto took GRAMMY.com through his massive career, recounting his collaborations, inspirations and how he's stayed relevant.
Songwriting Rooted In Inspiration
When it comes to Tiësto's creative process, the producer admits "it's always different." That includes the process leading up to the inner-working of Drive, his first album since 2020's pandemic-era The London Sessions and his first conceptual album since 2009's Kaleidoscope.
"Sometimes I'll hear a sound that inspires a melody, other times I'll hear a lyric or a vocal and I know exactly what I want it to sound like," he says. "I'll start messing around and having fun with it," he says. It's that adventurous spirit that results in unique production techniques, from his signature vocal tones and pounding synths.
His Blockbuster Live Shows Impact His Studio Work
Early on in his bubbling career, Tiësto was one of the first DJs who regularly played expansive, theatrical sets which wood record-breaking masses of people. It was in the summer of 2007, during a nearly six-hour set at the Los Angeles Sports Arena, when he performed what was "the largest-ever single-DJ show in North American history, featuring full-production and arena-scale theatrics the likes of which the dance community has never seen," according to Reuters.
As a result, he says his stage show is always top of mind when he's in the studio. "My main goal is thinking about how the song can fit into my performances," he explains.
One performance that stands out as one of his most memorable? "Being the first DJ to close the main stage of Coachella."
An Ear For Smash Hits
Proving his status as a hitmaker, Tiësto teamed up with pop star Ava Max on Drive single "The Motto," which first dropped in 2021. The song has since reached the top of Billboard's Dance Chart and has garnered one billion streams on Spotify.
"I had the idea for the song but needed the right vocal," he remembers of the global hit. "Once I heard Ava, I knew it was a perfect fit. Her voice is just incredible, and I can't imagine the song any other way."
A Career Built On Collaboration
"It really varies, but generally I find myself collaborating with artists whose music and voice I really love," he explains. "It's all about getting the best song possible and not just putting a name on the record."
To that end, Drive includes features from the likes Colombian star and GRAMMY nominee Karol G (she lent vocals to their hit single "Don't Be Shy", which marked her first-ever English song) and British pop star and GRAMMY winner Charli XCX (the sizzling track "Hot In It.")
Disparate (And Unexpected) Influences
Considering his towering stature in dance, one would think Tiësto would cite an act from the genre as an early inspiration. But that's far from the case when it comes to two of his bigger influences. He mentions classic rockers Iron Maiden, whom Tiësto calls a "childhood favorite," and notes his love for Elvis Presley.
"Perhaps because of my connection to Las Vegas, I love the music of Elvis," says the producer, who has played several Vegas nightclubs throughout his career, most recently holding a residency at Zouk. "He's one of my all time favorites."
Knowing When To Slow Down
Even with a jam-packed schedule of nightclubs and festivals, Tiësto is quick to note that his key to staying sane on the road lies far from the club.
"There's no better way for me to unwind than relaxing with my family," says the father of two. "And when they can't be there, they are my first FaceTime after a show."
Straying From Trends
In the fickle, fast-moving dance genre, Tiësto has been a rare case of a multi-decade success story. In his mind, staying grounded is the key to that longevity.
"The industry and trends are always changing, I think it's all about evolving your craft over time but staying true to yourself," he says. "I've been through many eras in my career because I like to keep it fresh and am inspired by everything around me as well. Staying true to your sound and not being highly influenced by trends is key and how we push the dance culture forward."
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Photo: Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
A History Of Casablanca Records In 10 Songs, From Kiss To Donna Summer To Lindsay Lohan
As the Casablanca Records story hits the big screen with ‘Spinning Gold’ on March 31, revisit some of the hits that have defined the now-reinvented label’s legacy.
Over the past five years, some of the most famous (and infamous) stories of the music industry have hit movie theaters, from Freddie Mercury’s meteoric arrival in Bohemian Rhapsody to Elton John’s breakthrough years in Rocketman, and most recently Whitney Houston’s remarkable rise in Whitney Houston: I Wanna Dance With Somebody. Now it’s time for the big-screen debut of a name that might not be as familiar: trailblazing record executive Neil Bogart.
Bogart is the outsized personality at the center of a new biopic, Spinning Gold, which hits theaters March 31. The film tracks the monumental first decade of Casablanca Records, the larger-than-life label that Bogart dreamed up in the summer of 1973.
The industry upstart defied the odds to become one of the definitive labels of the 1970s, with a highly eclectic roster that included KISS, Donna Summer, Village People and George Clinton’s Parliament. At the same time, Casablanca Records typified 1970s excess, with infamous stories of drug-fuelled parties, flagrant spending and unchecked egos — all rich material for a big-screen treatment.
Written and directed by Bogart’s eldest son Tim, Spinning Gold stars Jeremy Jordan as Bogart alongside a cast of current music luminaries in key roles, including Wiz Khalifa as George Clinton, Tayla Parx as Donna Summer, Ledisi as Gladys Knight and Jason Derulo as Ron Isley. (The hit-filled soundtrack is just as star-studded.)
After he was pushed out at Casablanca, Bogart went on to found Boardwalk Records (signing a young Joan Jett) before his tragic death in 1982, at the age of 39. In the decades since, Casablanca has had several lives, including its reinvention as a dance music label in 2012.
To celebrate the release of Spinning Gold, we’re taking a trip back through 10 of the label’s hallmark releases from the 1970s to the 2010s.
KISS, "Rock and Roll All Nite" (1975)
Neil Bogart’s first gamble as a label boss was on New York shock rockers KISS. Bogart signed the band to Casablanca Records on the strength of their demo tape, recorded with DIY grit alongside former Jimi Hendrix producer Eddie Kramer. While initially dubious of the group’s garish makeup, he backed their lean and mean 1974 debut album, KISS, even as it failed to ignite the charts.
As detailed in Classic Rock Magazine, KISS played Casablanca’s launch party at Los Angeles’ Century Plaza Hotel, bemusing the glamorous crowd to a flurry of smoke bombs and a levitating drum kit. Bogart stuck by his hard rockers, and in 1975 they released Dressed to Kill, featuring the undeniable anthem "Rock and Roll All Nite," one of KISS’ setlist staples to this day.
As the story goes, Bogart, who is a credited producer on "Rock N Roll All Nite," challenged songwriters Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons to write the definitive KISS song. Later in 1975, the band hit No. 9 on the Billboard 200 with the live album, Alive!, and their fire-breathing, fake-blood-spitting path was set.
Parliament, "Give Up The Funk (Tear The Roof Off The Sucker)" (1976)
If KISS represented one extreme of Casablanca’s early catalog, George Clinton’s Parliament confirmed there was no rulebook. Bogart recognised Clinton’s shambolic genius early on, signing the bandleader and his funk disciples to Casablanca in 1973. After a pair of slow-burning albums, in 1975 Parliament released Mothership Connection, an outlandish concept record exploring afrofuturism in outer space.
On an album that sounded like nothing else out there, "Give Up The Funk (Tear the Roof off the Sucker)" was a supremely funky standout. It became Parliament’s first certified million-selling single and gave the group the cachet to build their signature stage prop, The Mothership, which landed theatrically mid-show in a swirl of smoke.
Donna Summer, "I Feel Love" (1977)
Bogart’s circle of gifted friends included Giorgio Moroder, the Italian producer behind the hallowed Musicland Studios in Munich, Germany. In 1975, Moroder played Bogart a song he’d produced for an up-and-coming American singer named Donna Summer, who was living as an expat in Munich after appearing in the musical Hair.
That song was "Love To Love You Baby," a slow, slinky disco number that, on Bogart’s insistence, morphed into a 17-minute version. In its extended form, "Love To Love You Baby" seduced dance floors and took disco into a new realm of slow-burning sexuality.
In 1976, Summer returned to Musicland Studios with Moroder and his studio partner Pete Bellotte to record "I Feel Love," released on Casablanca the next year. Still exhilarating and influential to this day, the record’s futuristic synth sound cemented Casablanca as the go-to disco label.
Village People, "Y.M.C.A." (1978)
With Donna Summer now a certified star, Bogart found his next disco hitmakers in Village People. Founded in 1977 by French dance producers Jacques Morali and Henri Belolo, and fronted by vocalist Victor Willis, the group emerged from and celebrated New York’s gay club culture, with each member adopting a "macho man" persona and costume.
Village People’s third album on Casablanca, 1978’s Cruisin’, featured the instant earworm "Y.M.C.A.," which hit No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1979. A winking advertisement for the fraternal pleasures of the Y.M.C.A., the song became a gay anthem and paved the way for future hits "In The Navy,” "Go West" and an actual song called “Macho Man.”
"[Casablanca] was a very trendy label," Belolo recalled to DJHistory in 2004. "Neil Bogart was known as an entrepreneur who had the guts to take risks, and he was a very good promoter."
KISS, "I Was Made For Lovin’ You" (1979)
Released on their 1979 album, Dynasty, "I Was Made for Lovin’ You" proved even KISS weren’t immune to disco fever. Coming two years after the hard rocking Love Gun album, this glam, light-on-its-feet return had some fans reeling.
Co-written by Paul Stanley with pop songwriters Desmond Child and Vini Poncia, the single sold over 1 million copies and remains a favorite sing-along at KISS shows. To this day, its detractors include none other than Gene Simmons, who never liked his pop-tinged vocal part.
Cher, "Take Me Home" (1979)
While Casablanca was founded on new talent, by the late 1970s, the label was courting already established stars. With 14 albums to her name by 1977, Cher met Neil Bogart through her then-boyfriend Gene Simmons. After a run of underperforming releases, Cher came around to trying disco.
"Take Me Home," Cher’s shimmering foray into the still-hot genre, unleashed her inner disco diva, which she explored further on two Casablanca albums, Take Me Home and Prisoner. While the legendary singer later strayed from disco, the lush, Studio 54-soaked sound of "Take Me Home" is testament to Casablanca’s gravitational pull.
Lipps Inc., "Funkytown" (1980)
As the 1970s ticked over into the ‘80s, Casablanca went looking for the next sound. Behind the scenes, the label was in turmoil. With Polygram now overseeing Casablanca, co-founder Larry Harris quit and Bogart was pushed out. Disco’s popularity was also waning in the wake of the infamous Disco Demolition Night at Chicago’s Comiskey Park.
If times were tough, you couldn’t hear it in "Funkytown," a party-starting track by Minnesotan funk/disco band Lipps, Inc. Featuring Cynthia Johnson’s peppy vocals over a perfect marriage of synths, strings and cowbell, the song was a surprise hit for Casablanca and a gentle clapback to the disco doomsayers.
Irene Cara, "Flashdance…What A Feeling" (1983)
Throughout its first decade, Casablanca was closely aligned with Hollywood — after all, the label took its name from the Golden Age classic starring Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman. In the mid-’70s, the label even merged with a film production company to make Casablanca Record And Filmworks, Inc.
Following Bogart’s exit from Casablanca, the label struck gold with Irene Cara’s "Flashdance…What A Feeling" from the 1983 dance drama Flashdance. Produced by label mainstay Giorgio Moroder, the song is a pure hit of 1980s nostalgia, elevated by Moroder’s synth and Cara’s roof-raising vocals.
"Flashdance…What A Feeling" won the GRAMMY for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance and the Academy Award for Best Original Song, giving Casablanca Records one last victory lap before it folded in 1986.
Lindsay Lohan, "Rumors" (2004)
Two decades after Jennifer Beals spun and vaulted through the music video for "Flashdance…What A Feeling," Casablanca was relaunched under Universal by veteran music exec Tommy Mottola.
One of Mottola’s early signings was "it-girl" Lindsay Lohan, who was coming off star-making roles in Freaky Friday and Mean Girls. Lohan’s 2004 debut album, Speak, featured the bonus track "Rumors," a club banger with spiky lyrics aimed at paparazzi and rumor-mongers hounding her every move. A long way from the halcyon days of KISS and Donna Summer, "Rumors" is still a time capsule to a quainter era before Instagram and iPhones.
Mottola’s other mid-aughts signings included singer and actress Brie Larson (long before she was Captain Marvel) and pop artist Mika, whose 2007 album, Life in Cartoon Motion — and particularly its infectious lead single, “Grace Kelly” — was a breakthrough success.
Tiesto, "Red Lights" (2013)
After its brief mid-2000s run, Casablanca Records went quiet again — that is, until its next relaunch in 2012 as a dance/electronic imprint under Republic Records. Capitalizing on the EDM boom at the time, Casablanca snapped up Dutch superstar Tiesto and his label Musical Freedom.
In December 2013, Tiesto dropped "Red Lights," the lead single from his fifth studio album, A Town Called Paradise, released on Casablanca the following year. A surging dance-pop confection built for Tiesto’s then-residency at Hakkasan Las Vegas, "Red Lights" endures today as a three-minute flashback to EDM’s heyday.
While Tiesto is no longer with Casablanca, the label has been a steady home for both veteran and rising dance acts over the past decade, including Martin Solveig, Chase & Status, Nicky Romero, Felix Jaehn and James Hype. Meanwhile, Lindsay Lohan has remained with the label, releasing her club-ready comeback single, "Back to Me,” in 2020.
Bringing the story full circle, a resurgent Giorgio Moroder also landed back on Casablanca Records in 2016. As the story of Casablanca's glory days hits the big screen, the label's latest chapter is still being written.
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Photo: Rachel Kupfer
A Guide To Modern Funk For The Dance Floor: L'Imperatrice, Shiro Schwarz, Franc Moody, Say She She & Moniquea
James Brown changed the sound of popular music when he found the power of the one and unleashed the funk with "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag." Today, funk lives on in many forms, including these exciting bands from across the world.
It's rare that a genre can be traced back to a single artist or group, but for funk, that was James Brown. The Godfather of Soul coined the phrase and style of playing known as "on the one," where the first downbeat is emphasized, instead of the typical second and fourth beats in pop, soul and other styles. As David Cheal eloquently explains, playing on the one "left space for phrases and riffs, often syncopated around the beat, creating an intricate, interlocking grid which could go on and on." You know a funky bassline when you hear it; its fat chords beg your body to get up and groove.
Brown's 1965 classic, "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag," became one of the first funk hits, and has been endlessly sampled and covered over the years, along with his other groovy tracks. Of course, many other funk acts followed in the '60s, and the genre thrived in the '70s and '80s as the disco craze came and went, and the originators of hip-hop and house music created new music from funk and disco's strong, flexible bones built for dancing.
Legendary funk bassist Bootsy Collins learned the power of the one from playing in Brown's band, and brought it to George Clinton, who created P-funk, an expansive, Afrofuturistic, psychedelic exploration of funk with his various bands and projects, including Parliament-Funkadelic. Both Collins and Clinton remain active and funkin', and have offered their timeless grooves to collabs with younger artists, including Kali Uchis, Silk Sonic, and Omar Apollo; and Kendrick Lamar, Flying Lotus, and Thundercat, respectively.
In the 1980s, electro-funk was born when artists like Afrika Bambaataa, Man Parrish, and Egyptian Lover began making futuristic beats with the Roland TR-808 drum machine — often with robotic vocals distorted through a talk box. A key distinguishing factor of electro-funk is a de-emphasis on vocals, with more phrases than choruses and verses. The sound influenced contemporaneous hip-hop, funk and electronica, along with acts around the globe, while current acts like Chromeo, DJ Stingray, and even Egyptian Lover himself keep electro-funk alive and well.
Today, funk lives in many places, with its heavy bass and syncopated grooves finding way into many nooks and crannies of music. There's nu-disco and boogie funk, nodding back to disco bands with soaring vocals and dance floor-designed instrumentation. G-funk continues to influence Los Angeles hip-hop, with innovative artists like Dam-Funk and Channel Tres bringing the funk and G-funk, into electro territory. Funk and disco-centered '70s revival is definitely having a moment, with acts like Ghost Funk Orchestra and Parcels, while its sparkly sprinklings can be heard in pop from Dua Lipa, Doja Cat, and, in full "Soul Train" character, Silk Sonic. There are also acts making dreamy, atmospheric music with a solid dose of funk, such as Khruangbin’s global sonic collage.
There are many bands that play heavily with funk, creating lush grooves designed to get you moving. Read on for a taste of five current modern funk and nu-disco artists making band-led uptempo funk built for the dance floor. Be sure to press play on the Spotify playlist above, and check out GRAMMY.com's playlist on Apple Music, Amazon Music and Pandora.
Say She She
Aptly self-described as "discodelic soul," Brooklyn-based seven-piece Say She She make dreamy, operatic funk, led by singer-songwriters Nya Gazelle Brown, Piya Malik and Sabrina Mileo Cunningham. Their '70s girl group-inspired vocal harmonies echo, sooth and enchant as they cover poignant topics with feminist flair.
While they’ve been active in the New York scene for a few years, they’ve gained wider acclaim for the irresistible music they began releasing this year, including their debut album, Prism. Their 2022 debut single "Forget Me Not" is an ode to ground-breaking New York art collective Guerilla Girls, and "Norma" is their protest anthem in response to the news that Roe vs. Wade could be (and was) overturned. The band name is a nod to funk legend Nile Rodgers, from the "Le freak, c'est chi" exclamation in Chic's legendary tune "Le Freak."
Moniquea's unique voice oozes confidence, yet invites you in to dance with her to the super funky boogie rhythms. The Pasadena, California artist was raised on funk music; her mom was in a cover band that would play classics like Aretha Franklin’s "Get It Right" and Gladys Knight’s "Love Overboard." Moniquea released her first boogie funk track at 20 and, in 2011, met local producer XL Middelton — a bonafide purveyor of funk. She's been a star artist on his MoFunk Records ever since, and they've collabed on countless tracks, channeling West Coast energy with a heavy dose of G-funk, sunny lyrics and upbeat, roller disco-ready rhythms.
Her latest release is an upbeat nod to classic West Coast funk, produced by Middleton, and follows her February 2022 groovy, collab-filled album, On Repeat.
Shiro Schwarz is a Mexico City-based duo, consisting of Pammela Rojas and Rafael Marfil, who helped establish a modern funk scene in the richly creative Mexican metropolis. On "Electrify" — originally released in 2016 on Fat Beats Records and reissued in 2021 by MoFunk — Shiro Schwarz's vocals playfully contrast each other, floating over an insistent, upbeat bassline and an '80s throwback electro-funk rhythm with synth flourishes.
Their music manages to be both nostalgic and futuristic — and impossible to sit still to. 2021 single "Be Kind" is sweet, mellow and groovy, perfect chic lounge funk. Shiro Schwarz’s latest track, the joyfully nostalgic "Hey DJ," is a collab with funkstress Saucy Lady and U-Key.
L'Impératrice (the empress in French) are a six-piece Parisian group serving an infectiously joyful blend of French pop, nu-disco, funk and psychedelia. Flore Benguigui's vocals are light and dreamy, yet commanding of your attention, while lyrics have a feminist touch.
During their energetic live sets, L'Impératrice members Charles de Boisseguin and Hagni Gwon (keys), David Gaugué (bass), Achille Trocellier (guitar), and Tom Daveau (drums) deliver extended instrumental jam sessions to expand and connect their music. Gaugué emphasizes the thick funky bass, and Benguigui jumps around the stage while sounding like an angel. L’Impératrice’s latest album, 2021’s Tako Tsubo, is a sunny, playful French disco journey.
Franc Moody's bio fittingly describes their music as "a soul funk and cosmic disco sound." The London outfit was birthed by friends Ned Franc and Jon Moody in the early 2010s, when they were living together and throwing parties in North London's warehouse scene. In 2017, the group grew to six members, including singer and multi-instrumentalist Amber-Simone.
Their music feels at home with other electro-pop bands like fellow Londoners Jungle and Aussie act Parcels. While much of it is upbeat and euphoric, Franc Moody also dips into the more chilled, dreamy realm, such as the vibey, sultry title track from their recently released Into the Ether.
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Photo: Steven Sebring
Living Legends: Billy Idol On Survival, Revival & Breaking Out Of The Cage
"One foot in the past and one foot into the future," Billy Idol says, describing his decade-spanning career in rock. "We’ve got the best of all possible worlds because that has been the modus operandi of Billy Idol."
Living Legends is a series that spotlights icons in music still going strong today. This week, GRAMMY.com spoke with Billy Idol about his latest EP, Cage, and continuing to rock through decades of changing tastes.
Billy Idol is a true rock 'n' roll survivor who has persevered through cultural shifts and personal struggles. While some may think of Idol solely for "Rebel Yell" and "White Wedding," the singer's musical influences span genres and many of his tunes are less turbo-charged than his '80s hits would belie.
Idol first made a splash in the latter half of the '70s with the British punk band Generation X. In the '80s, he went on to a solo career combining rock, pop, and punk into a distinct sound that transformed him and his musical partner, guitarist Steve Stevens, into icons. They have racked up multiple GRAMMY nominations, in addition to one gold, one double platinum, and four platinum albums thanks to hits like "Cradle Of Love," "Flesh For Fantasy," and "Eyes Without A Face."
But, unlike many legacy artists, Idol is anything but a relic. Billy continues to produce vital Idol music by collaborating with producers and songwriters — including Miley Cyrus — who share his forward-thinking vision. He will play a five-show Vegas residency in November, and filmmaker Jonas Akerlund is working on a documentary about Idol’s life.
His latest release is Cage, the second in a trilogy of annual four-song EPs. The title track is a classic Billy Idol banger expressing the desire to free himself from personal constraints and live a better life. Other tracks on Cage incorporate metallic riffing and funky R&B grooves.
Idol continues to reckon with his demons — they both grappled with addiction during the '80s — and the singer is open about those struggles on the record and the page. (Idol's 2014 memoir Dancing With Myself, details a 1990 motorcycle accident that nearly claimed a leg, and how becoming a father steered him to reject hard drugs. "Bitter Taste," from his last EP, The Roadside, reflects on surviving the accident.)
Although Idol and Stevens split in the late '80s — the skilled guitarist fronted Steve Stevens & The Atomic Playboys, and collaborated with Michael Jackson, Rick Ocasek, Vince Neil, and Harold Faltermeyer (on the GRAMMY-winning "Top Gun Anthem") — their common history and shared musical bond has been undeniable. The duo reunited in 2001 for an episode of "VH1 Storytellers" and have been back in the saddle for two decades. Their union remains one of the strongest collaborations in rock 'n roll history.
While there is recognizable personnel and a distinguishable sound throughout a lot of his work, Billy Idol has always pushed himself to try different things. Idol discusses his musical journey, his desire to constantly move forward, and the strong connection that he shares with Stevens.
Steve has said that you like to mix up a variety of styles, yet everyone assumes you're the "Rebel Yell"/"White Wedding" guy. But if they really listen to your catalog, it's vastly different.
Yeah, that's right. With someone like Steve Stevens, and then back in the day Keith Forsey producing... [Before that] Generation X actually did move around inside punk rock. We didn't stay doing just the Ramones two-minute music. We actually did a seven-minute song. [Laughs]. We did always mix things up.
Then when I got into my solo career, that was the fun of it. With someone like Steve, I knew what he could do. I could see whatever we needed to do, we could nail it. The world was my oyster musically.
"Cage" is a classic-sounding Billy Idol rocker, then "Running From The Ghost" is almost metal, like what the Devil's Playground album was like back in the mid-2000s. "Miss Nobody" comes out of nowhere with this pop/R&B flavor. What inspired that?
We really hadn't done anything like that since something like "Flesh For Fantasy" [which] had a bit of an R&B thing about it. Back in the early days of Billy Idol, "Hot In The City" and "Mony Mony" had girls [singing] on the backgrounds.
We always had a bit of R&B really, so it was actually fun to revisit that. We just hadn't done anything really quite like that for a long time. That was one of the reasons to work with someone like Sam Hollander [for the song "Rita Hayworth"] on The Roadside. We knew we could go [with him] into an R&B world, and he's a great songwriter and producer. That's the fun of music really, trying out these things and seeing if you can make them stick.
I listen to new music by veteran artists and debate that with some people. I'm sure you have those fans that want their nostalgia, and then there are some people who will embrace the newer stuff. Do you find it’s a challenge to reach people with new songs?
Obviously, what we're looking for is, how do we somehow have one foot in the past and one foot into the future? We’ve got the best of all possible worlds because that has been the modus operandi of Billy Idol.
You want to do things that are true to you, and you don't just want to try and do things that you're seeing there in the charts today. I think that we're achieving it with things like "Running From The Ghost" and "Cage" on this new EP. I think we’re managing to do both in a way.
Obviously, "Running From The Ghost" is about addiction, all the stuff that you went through, and in "Cage" you’re talking about freeing yourself from a lot of personal shackles. Was there any one moment in your life that made you really thought I have to not let this weigh me down anymore?
I mean, things like the motorcycle accident I had, that was a bit of a wake up call way back. It was 32 years ago. But there were things like that, years ago, that gradually made me think about what I was doing with my life. I didn't want to ruin it, really. I didn't want to throw it away, and it made [me] be less cavalier.
I had to say to myself, about the drugs and stuff, that I've been there and I've done it. There’s no point in carrying on doing it. You couldn't get any higher. You didn't want to throw your life away casually, and I was close to doing that. It took me a bit of time, but then gradually I was able to get control of myself to a certain extent [with] drugs and everything. And I think Steve's done the same thing. We're on a similar path really, which has been great because we're in the same boat in terms of lyrics and stuff.
So a lot of things like that were wake up calls. Even having grandchildren and just watching my daughter enlarging her family and everything; it just makes you really positive about things and want to show a positive side to how you're feeling, about where you're going. We've lived with the demons so long, we've found a way to live with them. We found a way to be at peace with our demons, in a way. Maybe not completely, but certainly to where we’re enjoying what we do and excited about it.
[When writing] "Running From The Ghost" it was easy to go, what was the ghost for us? At one point, we were very drug addicted in the '80s. And Steve in particular is super sober [now]. I mean, I still vape pot and stuff. I don’t know how he’s doing it, but it’s incredible. All I want to be able to do is have a couple of glasses of wine at a restaurant or something. I can do that now.
I think working with people that are super talented, you just feel confident. That is a big reason why you open up and express yourself more because you feel comfortable with what's around you.
Did you watch Danny Boyle's recent Sex Pistols mini-series?
I did, yes.
You had a couple of cameos; well, an actor who portrayed you did. How did you react to it? How accurate do you think it was in portraying that particular time period?
I love Jonesy’s book, I thought his book was incredible. It's probably one of the best bio books really. It was incredible and so open. I was looking forward to that a lot.
It was as if [the show] kind of stayed with Steve [Jones’ memoir] about halfway through, and then departed from it. [John] Lydon, for instance, was never someone I ever saw acting out; he's more like that today. I never saw him do something like jump up in the room and run around going crazy. The only time I saw him ever do that was when they signed the recording deal with Virgin in front of Buckingham Palace. Whereas Sid Vicious was always acting out; he was always doing something in a horrible way or shouting at someone. I don't remember John being like that. I remember him being much more introverted.
But then I watched interviews with some of the actors about coming to grips with the parts they were playing. And they were saying, we knew punk rock happened but just didn't know any of the details. So I thought well, there you go. If ["Pistol" is] informing a lot of people who wouldn't know anything about punk rock, maybe that's what's good about it.
Maybe down the road John Lydon will get the chance to do John's version of the Pistols story. Maybe someone will go a lot deeper into it and it won't be so surface. But maybe you needed this just to get people back in the flow.
We had punk and metal over here in the States, but it feels like England it was legitimately more dangerous. British society was much more rigid.
It never went [as] mega in America. It went big in England. It exploded when the Pistols did that interview with [TV host Bill] Grundy, that lorry truck driver put his boot through his own TV, and all the national papers had "the filth and the fury" [headlines].
We went from being unknown to being known overnight. We waited a year, Generation X. We even told them [record labels] no for nine months to a year. Every record company wanted their own punk rock group. So it went really mega in England, and it affected the whole country – the style, the fashions, everything. I mean, the Ramones were massive in England. Devo had a No. 1 song [in England] with "Satisfaction" in '77. Actually, Devo was as big as or bigger than the Pistols.
You were ahead of the pop-punk thing that happened in the late '90s, and a lot of it became tongue-in-cheek by then. It didn't have the same sense of rebelliousness as the original movement. It was more pop.
It had become a style. There was a famous book in England called Revolt Into Style — and that's what had happened, a revolt that turned into style which then they were able to duplicate in their own way. Even recently, Billie Joe [Armstrong] did his own version of "Gimme Some Truth," the Lennon song we covered way back in 1977.
When we initially were making [punk] music, it hadn't become accepted yet. It was still dangerous and turned into a style that people were used to. We were still breaking barriers.
You have a band called Generation Sex with Steve Jones and Paul Cook. I assume you all have an easier time playing Pistols and Gen X songs together now and not worrying about getting spit on like back in the '70s?
Yeah, definitely. When I got to America I told the group I was putting it together, "No one spits at the audience."
We had five years of being spat on [in the UK], and it was revolting. And they spat at you if they liked you. If they didn't like it they smashed your gear up. One night, I remember I saw blood on my T-shirt, and I think Joe Strummer got meningitis when spit went in his mouth.
You had to go through a lot to become successful, it wasn't like you just kind of got up there and did a couple of gigs. I don't think some young rock bands really get that today.
With punk going so mega in England, we definitely got a leg up. We still had a lot of work to get where we got to, and rightly so because you find out that you need to do that. A lot of groups in the old days would be together three to five years before they ever made a record, and that time is really important. In a way, what was great about punk rock for me was it was very much a learning period. I really learned a lot [about] recording music and being in a group and even writing songs.
Then when I came to America, it was a flow, really. I also really started to know what I wanted Billy Idol to be. It took me a little bit, but I kind of knew what I wanted Billy Idol to be. And even that took a while to let it marinate.
You and Miley Cyrus have developed a good working relationship in the last several years. How do you think her fans have responded to you, and your fans have responded to her?
I think they're into it. It's more the record company that she had didn't really get "Night Crawling"— it was one of the best songs on Plastic Hearts, and I don't think they understood that. They wanted to go with Dua Lipa, they wanted to go with the modern, young acts, and I don't think they realized that that song was resonating with her fans. Which is a shame really because, with Andrew Watt producing, it's a hit song.
But at the same time, I enjoyed doing it. It came out really good and it's very Billy Idol. In fact, I think it’s more Billy Idol than Miley Cyrus. I think it shows you where Andrew Watt was. He was excited about doing a Billy Idol track. She's fun to work with. She’s a really great person and she works at her singing — I watched her rehearsing for the Super Bowl performance she gave. She rehearsed all Saturday morning, all Saturday afternoon, and Sunday morning and it was that afternoon. I have to admire her fortitude. She really cares.
I remember when you went on "Viva La Bam" back in 2005 and decided to give Bam Margera’s Lamborghini a new sunroof by taking a power saw to it. Did he own that car? Was that a rental?
I think it was his car.
Did he get over it later on?
He loved it. [Laughs] He’s got a wacky sense of humor. He’s fantastic, actually. I’m really sorry to see what he's been going through just lately. He's going through a lot, and I wish him the best. He's a fantastic person, and it's a shame that he's struggling so much with his addictions. I know what it's like. It's not easy.
Musically, what is the synergy like with you guys during the past 10 years, doing Kings and Queens of the Underground and this new stuff? What is your working relationship like now in this more sober, older, mature version of you two as opposed to what it was like back in the '80s?
In lots of ways it’s not so different because we always wrote the songs together, we always talked about what we're going to do together. It was just that we were getting high at the same time.We're just not getting [that way now] but we're doing all the same things.
We're still talking about things, still [planning] things:What are we going to do next? How are we going to find new people to work with? We want to find new producers. Let's be a little bit more timely about putting stuff out.That part of our relationship is the same, you know what I mean? That never got affected. We just happened to be overloading in the '80s.
The relationship’s… matured and it's carrying on being fruitful, and I think that's pretty amazing. Really, most people don't get to this place. Usually, they hate each other by now. [Laughs] We also give each other space. We're not stopping each other doing things outside of what we’re working on together. All of that enables us to carry on working together. I love and admire him. I respect him. He's been fantastic. I mean, just standing there on stage with him is always a treat. And he’s got an immensely great sense of humor. I think that's another reason why we can hang together after all this time because we've got the sense of humor to enable us to go forward.
There's a lot of fan reaction videos online, and I noticed a lot of younger women like "Rebel Yell" because, unlike a lot of other '80s alpha male rock tunes, you're talking about satisfying your lover.
It was about my girlfriend at the time, Perri Lister. It was about how great I thought she was, how much I was in love with her, and how great women are, how powerful they are.
It was a bit of a feminist anthem in a weird way. It was all about how relationships can free you and add a lot to your life. It was a cry of love, nothing to do with the Civil War or anything like that. Perri was a big part of my life, a big part of being Billy Idol. I wanted to write about it. I'm glad that's the effect.
Is there something you hope people get out of the songs you've been doing over the last 10 years? Do you find yourself putting out a message that keeps repeating?
Well, I suppose, if anything, is that you can come to terms with your life, you can keep a hold of it. You can work your dreams into reality in a way and, look, a million years later, still be enjoying it.
The only reason I'm singing about getting out of the cage is because I kicked out of the cage years ago. I joined Generation X when I said to my parents, "I'm leaving university, and I'm joining a punk rock group." And they didn't even know what a punk rock group was. Years ago, I’d write things for myself that put me on this path, so that maybe in 2022 I could sing something like "Cage" and be owning this territory and really having a good time. This is the life I wanted.
The original UK punk movement challenged societal norms. Despite all the craziness going on throughout the world, it seems like a lot of modern rock bands are afraid to do what you guys were doing. Do you think we'll see a shift in that?
Yeah. Art usually reacts to things, so I would think eventually there will be a massive reaction to the pop music that’s taken over — the middle of the road music, and then this kind of right wing politics. There will be a massive reaction if there's not already one. I don’t know where it will come from exactly. You never know who's gonna do [it].
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