FELIX DA HOUSECAT INTERVIEW (For DJmag)
The feline species sleeps for an average of 16 hours a day but then Felix isn’t your average kind of cat, daddio. As we stumbled around Miami airport as the WMC came to an end we bumped into Da Housecat hiding tired eyes behind his trademark black sunglasses, having come straight from the X-Mix party to the plane. He looked exhausted and when we meet for this interview around a month later he looks even worse. As he snuggles into his jacket in the corner of our taxi, eyelids drooping, he explains that he hasn’t had a good night sleep since we last saw him. Felix has been on a tour of Europe that has meant he’s been away from home for all the time in between, and the schedule hasn’t left much time for dozing. Still, with a new album in the bag there’s plenty to get out of bed for.
‘Devin Dazzle And The Neon Fever’ is a post-electroclash concept album that takes the two halves of Felix’s personality and gives them a platform to say whatever they like. Neon Fever is the man who made ‘Kittenz & Thee Glitz’, a flashy playboy who’s into sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll. On tracks like the first single, the foot-on-the-floor ‘Rocket Ride’ he’ll explore the glamorous side of nightlife.
“After the ‘Kittenz’ LP It all got crazy and that’s when the Devin Dazzle and Neon Fever started kicking in,” he purrs from the edge of slumber. “I was making fun of the glitz but then I started living it. I was Devin Dazzle when I did ‘I Know Electikboy’ – just a normal guy making music – and then here comes the whole Neon Fever syndrome.”
Devin Dazzle is a more spiritual guy, devoted to the things that really matter, the serious stuff like love and music. Tracks like ‘Ready 2 Wear’ featuring Tyrone, who sang on ‘My Life Musik’, are more thoughtful. The songs come from the characters point of view. The whole affair gives a much more balance album that those from many of Felix’s imitators since the last long player, with punk funk rubbing onto synth pop and delicate moving moments pushed against pure stupid joy.
“Neon is funner, but when you leave this earth you can’t take Neon Fever – the fame and all that – with you, but you can always take spiritual stuff, Devon Dazzle. Its like life, people don’t want to know about spirituality, they want to see stuff about sex and vanity and money all that stuff on television.”
As the taxi trundles along the backstreets of London’s Fashionable Shoreditch Felix makes increasingly more transparent excuses to nip back to the hotel but the iron fist of his PR man is keeping him on the straight and narrow. His natural cheeky personality takes a few zees to come out he says, and it looks like the interview could be a tough one for both sides. He tries to barter with the PR about which other interviews could be blown out as we sit and tuck into a pizza, before nipping to the bathroom. What seems like 15 minutes pass and he’s still not back at the table. We’re convinced that he’s done a bunk out the window and has found a pile of cardboard boxes to kip down on, until he settles back down for the rest of his meal and tells us his side of the Miss Kittin story.
A couple of issues ago Miss Kittin told us that she and the other ‘Kittenz’ collaborators hadn’t received a penny from Felix after he ran of with the tapes. She was understandably pretty angry, but Felix claims only recently got any money from City Rockers who hit some serious financial problems when Ministry dropped them like a shitty brick.
“Kittin was quiet and sweet when I met her,” he says. “There wasn’t any bitchiness or attitude, but I think she’s one of those girls who likes to make music but she doesn’t like the business. I think the way the business abused both of us turned her to a bitchy diva, like a beast. That’s what makes her whole aura and persona.”
He says he’s still very fond of her and isn’t blanking her. Wherever the blame it has meant that the new album has got a completely new cast including The DFA’s James Murphy on the angular, raw ‘What She Wants’ and his Vanity 6-aping Glamarama, who are now known as Neon Fever. Also Felix also has no axe to grind with City Rockers, despite being on a new label for the UK, Emperor Norton.
“I think City Rockers did an amazing job with the album,” he says. “As soon as they got involved with Ministry Of Sound, that’s when it all went wrong. Ministry just fucked them over and they fucked me over, and they fucked my friends over. They have a way of jumping on something and trying to exploit it, it’s a shame that the artists have to be the ones to lose. It’s modern day pimping and whoring – they’re treating us like $2 skank hoes.”
It’s a feeling that goes through almost all the dealing within the industry that he’ll tell us about. Some still seem bitter, and rightly if his understanding of the situations are correct, but mostly he brushes them off as part of the game.
“That’s the business, you’ve got your good things and you’ve got your bad things. And that’s just one of the bad things, but I don’t regret it – ‘Kittenz & Thee Glitz’ did a lot for me, Kittin, and everyone. If it wasn’t for City Rockers I wouldn’t have got out of my contract with London, wouldn’t be doing mixes for Madonna, and working with Puffy – because the did bring me back out of the dark.”
If Da Housecat first came to life with the genre defining ‘Kittenz & Thee Glitz’ LP you might be surprised to learn that Felix had already put his stamp on dance music a long time before time before. He’s built up the energy for a game of pool and despite the tiredness affecting his game he still manages to royally kick our arse.
“I used to play pool at Columbia College in Chicago,” he says as the black ball rolls into the pocket. “I used to call it Pool 101 because I never went to class.”
By the time he’d made it to college – at the age of 14 in fact – he’d already had his debut composition, ‘Phantasy Girl’ remade by DJ Pierre. And it was this relationship that would prove to provide the turning point for his life – coming to England.
“Have I got a special connection with England? Oh, man yeah! I always say I was born in Chicago and raised in London,” he grins with pride flopping into a giant beanbag but waking into the tale.
Felix had just flunked out of college and was at a new school, miserable so he called Pierre. The Wildpitch hero got his feline friend back on his feet with the promise of a ticket to come to England with Pierre on a DJ tour.
“I had final exams but he said, It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity,” explains Felix. “When he said that I was like, Let’s go. He took me to get a passport and got me a one-way ticket and told me I needed to get my own way back. So I went into the studio and made five or six tracks, ‘Thee Dawn’, ‘Thee Light’, ‘New World’ – I had a box of DATs with 15 songs.
As soon as he landed he was walking up to the tube train he knew he belonged. Surrounded by all these punk rockers and he said, This is the place I want to be, this is the place where I’ll be accepted. The New York labels that were turning his tracks down saying they were too noisy could go to hell.
When the pair arrived they went to see Pierre’s manager, who at the time was DJmag scribe Phil Cheeseman, and he put Felix up on his couch. Felix instantly got talking to Phil Asher and asked him if he knew any record labels and he said there were some right down the road. So he grabbed his DATs and they went for a walk in the rain. First they went to UC who’s reaction matched the weather, then they went to a couple more who weren’t impressed but the last place Asher took Felix was Guerrilla Records.
“I introduced myself as Felix Da Housecat and they were about to shut the door in my face until I said I’d come over with Pierre,” Felix recalls.
Guerrilla loved ‘Thee Dawn’ and gave Felix £3,000 for it and by the time that he was ready to go back to Chicago he’d made another £6,000 on other tunes, all without contracts. Mr Cheeseman persuaded him to leave some more music. Felix left ‘Thee Light’ which Bush ended up picking up for another grand. Felix got a call from Phil saying that someone called Dave Clarke wanted to do a remix.
“I said, I know that motherfucker, he dissed one of my records in a magazine, I don’t want to work with him, he’s an asshole. Phil begged me to let Dave do the mix, which he called ‘In The Dark We Live’ and I’m so pleased he did.
‘In The Dark We Live’ was a moody piece of clanking epic techno that won over DJs from London to New York, becoming one of the biggest club hits of the year and staking its claim as a genuine classic. It made Felix’s name in the techno world and allowed his Aphrohead alias to flourish.
“America jumped on that record,” Felix says proudly, “but that’s where I learnt about how people could exploit you. It was coming out on compilations and I wasn’t getting paid. I just now starting to make money, and I’m still getting ripped off in some way or other.”
The toughest time for Felix came out of one of the best. After a gig in Belgium that he didn’t want to go to, Felix hooked up with Play It Again Sam to start his own label Radikal Fear. He’d just completed his artist album, ‘By Dawn’s Early Light’, perhaps the first dance longplayer not to be simply a collection of singles. Although it was as dark as the night, the label Deep Distraxion did some brisk business and would want another one before too long. But Felix was on a huge roll, making up to one record a week so he wasn’t too concerned.
“I still had options with Deep Distraxion,” he remembers, “which meant that in ‘95 I had to put out three albums. But at the time I had music coming out of my ears. It’s not like that these days, there’s a lot more business to it, I’m married with a family and that takes a lot of my energy. But back then I didn’t have anything to do but fly around and make records.”
Felix had got together the cream of Chicago and Radikal Fear was a huge success. In fact it was becoming such a triumph that PIAS wanted to take over and pay Felix a cut without him being involved. It came down to a him or me situation, which resulted in Felix leaving for good. Around that time Armando’s album came out.
“Right when he was promoting the album he told me he was sick,” says Felix. “He told me the label had got him working really hard and he was just trying to get well. I didn’t think anything of it but a couple of weeks later I got a call that he was in a coma.”
A week later he came out of the coma and he called Felix to tell him he had leukaemia. Felix was devastated.
“The last thing he told me was that the company – Radikal Fear and the whole industry – was just working him, and he was just trying to get well. A week later he was gone, and that really fucked me up. I’ve dealt with a lot of stuff – I lost my brother when I was seven – but when that happened that was the icing on the cake with Radikal Fear and Play It Again Sam. I was like, Fuck y’all, cos all you care about is…
“I just learned that the industry doesn’t give a fuck about you, they just care about selling the record. When I saw that, and Armando passed, that was it. I said, I’m done with this business.”
Felix stopped making music in ’97. He jumped on a plane and went to Germany and DJed every weekend for nearly two years.
“I just wanted to get away,” he says. “I just wanted out.”
Things didn’t get much better when he returned to the music business. Hooking up with Pete Tong’s London Records he recorded a brilliant album of ‘80s influenced tracks that pre-dated electroclash’s obsession with the era by a good four years. Despite the classic ‘My Life Musik’ – later sampled illegally by, bizarrely, 5ive – the album never saw the day after the merger with Warners. Luckily Phil Howells – then A&R at London – persuaded Pete Tong to let Felix out of his lucrative deal with London for a low key deal for his new City Rockers imprint.
Heading straight for the The Rest Is History section of his career, Felix dived into ‘Silver Screen Shower Scene’, ‘Harlot’, ‘Madame Hollywood’ and a handful of other tracks getting Howells rather excited, especially about the former. Felix thought it was just too slow, and wasn’t especially bothered about putting the tracks out. ‘Silver Screen’ ruled the best clubs in Ibiza not just one year, but two years running and the album crossed over to massive success and eventually his own country caught on.
“The success in America is only because the support in England. Marilyn Manson was the first fan to come out of the woodwork, Madonna made a song called Hollywood. People started biting my style – I don’t mind, I take it as a compliment.”
So, after all the struggles everything must be right in his life now, surely? Well now, the industry is still a struggle.
“Right now I’m going through a lot of changes in my life,” he laments. “Right now my life and my career are not in my control, they’re in other people’s hands and I’m trying to take control back. I’m happy musically, but personally and spiritually I’m all over the place.”
It’s the Devin Dazzle in Felix that keeps him going though all these trying business times so it stands to reason that he’s looking forward to putting the Neon Fever part of his personality to bed. Perhaps he’ll be getting those 16 hours sometime soon.
ALLOY MENTAL: LIVE IN BELFAST (For DJmag)
It’s a journalist’s job to stay calm, watch from the sidelines taking it all in for sensible analysis at a later time. So what is DJmag doing piling past the bouncer for a stage invasion at Alloy Mental’s sold out homecoming gig? It’s not professional, it doesn’t lead to insight or an even handed approach but in our defence we were under the power of a god we have yet to decide is benevolent or malevolent. It’s going to end with us thrown into the heaving crowd but for now we’ve going to join with our insane new brothers, punching the air like our lives depended on it. To paraphrase of David Byrne, how did we get here?
You may not believe us, but it wasn’t the booze, despite the well-known Belfast hospitality from Phil Kieran and his fellow Mental cases Danny and Martin that started with a restrained dinner. Foodie Phil’s recommendations, in a modern Indian restaurant, shows how the place is changing with some new money finally coming into what has been a forgotten capital city (“There’s a hell of a lot more going on now,” Phil says of the transformation). We muse that while New York and London are mixing post punk with electro, DFA style, the Belfast boys are coming at things from a different angle. Alloy Mental are much more aggressive, much rawer, heavier. This is techno meets 70s metal and original punk. It seems much less calculated than putting two things together that were cool in the first place.
“Exactly,” exclaims Phil. “That’s part of our problem. We’re not cool, in a way. We’re not part of the DFA thing – we’re not called Shit Synthesizer or something, we don’t have weird haircuts and it’s not poppy. It’s meant to be a bit disgusting.”
As soon as the first filthy bassline takes hold and the sellout crowd at the Stiff Kitten roars into life, it’s obvious that they’ve achieved that. Martin seems to have become possessed from the feisty but gentle fella we shared a lamb shank with just hours before. He stands stationary, dead centre stage arms aloft making the Alloy Mental A sign with his hands, like he owns the place. And as far as the masses crushed against the barrier are concerned, he probably does. It doesn’t even take the first song to realise that this is stadium rock made dance. Fists pump and lyrics are spat with the verve of Johnny Rotten as Martin – very much the star of this show – stalks the stage like a demon. It’s real fire and brimstone stuff, and for the worshiping home crowd, arms aloft to heaven, you suspect that it’s a near religious experience.
Ah, religion. A very thorny subject in Northern Ireland. One thing we know about Belfast is that the Troubles were buried in a pit of hedonism as acid house took hold and Catholics and Protestants came together to rave. Weren’t they?
“A lot of it’s a load of bollocks,” says Phil as he walks us through a tour of what is becoming a modern city. “I don’t know! The more realistic thing is that a bigot is a bigot, a racist is a racist. If they go out and take an E and feel good they might plaster over the cracks but at the end of the day when they go home and come off their high they’re still gonna be bigot or a racist.”
Back then rave promoters used to say that they were doing more for the peace process than the politicians. Phil recognises that in some ways it was the first time that kids were getting together but takes it with a “barrel full of salt”.
“They’ll go out for the night, shake hands saying I don’t care what religion you are,” says Phil who’s school was next to the courthouse which would see helicopters and gun-carrying soldiers at close range, “but then the next day when get a load of cider in them the hate comes back.”
One thing is for sure though – in those days the passion for dance music was intense. Phil puts it down to strict licensing laws that meant people would need their clubbing experience crammed into three hours.
“People would go in and they’d need a quick, hard fix,” Phil recalls, “whereas you go to bigger cities with longer licensing hours and people seem to get the whole deep thing a bit more. When it started to make a name for itself as a hedonistic town it was quite a techno place. Full on. Rah! Give it to me!”
And that’s what the audience are getting tonight. Martin is shouting that he’s going to “stick it in your fucking neck” as the crowd attempt to steam past the good-natured bouncer at every opportunity. There’s crowd surfing, random chancing of arms and clever-swinery that see one audience member pretend to be a second keyboard player to stay on the stage. With the “Alloy, Alloy/Alloy fuckin’ Mental” chanting and the constant fist pumping, it’s rioting with a smile. And the music matches perfectly. Their theme tune ‘Alloy Mental’ is a singalong oi stomper without the skinheads. “Fire! Fire! Fire!” screams Martin invoking Lucifer. The New Order-ish ‘I Got Love’ shows it’s not all about shouting – although mostly it is – and the crowd don’t just sing too, they act it out like they’re in the band, delighted when the mic is thrust in front of their faces. We’re not sure we’ve seen a reaction like to any act in a club. And that’s when we launch ourselves past the bouncer and onto the stage.
Back on the mainland Alloy Mental can’t always guarantee the same devotion, with Phil and co tramping up and down the British Isles to varying audience sizes. Top 100 poll-placed techno god Kieran has set aside some quite serious DJ wages to play tours for the likes of NME that bring in as little as £50 between the three of them. But he and the others are committed to the band.
“For me it’s exciting when you’re making music from your own experiences and your not being pretentious or trying to follow a fashion,” he says.
And if the reaction from the music press has been anything to go on, they’re certainly not in fashion. Despite reactions like tonight at the Stiff Kitten, the band can’t get arrested on paper. Clearly frustrated by the lack of support that he describes bluntly as “shit”, he tries not to let it bother him.
“I just think, we haven’t got anything missing,” he sighs, “it’s all really there. I just don’t know.”
Bouncing around the stage, sweaty and chanting, we’re inclined to agree. Fuck fashion, let get stuck in. And hope that someone catches you when you stagedive.