By John C. Tripp
A DJ doesn’t have nearly the setup of a full live band, but there are certain technical requirements that are of utmost import, one being the mixing board. DJs live and breath by their mixers. Things get a wee tense when it’s learned that the contract-specified mixer never showed. No mixer, no music, so a last minute shuffle ensues to get the board, which is somewhere midtown. It’s the sort of thing that gives a DJ nightmares but cool prevails and with a board in place some 30 minutes later Nicola Conte opens the night with a seductive bossa nova-esque groove. Ursula 1000 settles down in the sleazily bedecked backroom, joined by his wife and a case of Rolling Rock. Not exactly Hotel Costes but, hey, this is the real world.
Ursula 1000 (AKA Alex Gimeno) displays a genuinely affable personality: mild mannered, eager to discuss, devoid of attitude, and loaded to the hilt with musical references. In a music scene that’s smothered by attitude Ursula 1000 is definitely in it for the right reasons, namely a love for music and underground pop culture. With three records behind him for Thievery Corporation’s ESL label—The Now Sound, All Systems Are Go Go and the latest Kinda’ Kinky—he has a firm standing in the international club-pop/loungecore scene. His sampledelic pastiche of cha-cha-cha, mambo, ’60s go-go and modern beat programming has been embraced by underground hipsters, ultrapop aficionados and fashionistas alike.
Though ESL music is recognized for its ultra-suave downtempo vibe, Ursula 1000 feels right at home with the label. “I think I initially fit in in a more of a stylistic and design sense even though my music was a lot more hyperactive than anything on the label,” he explains. “But I think the label was looking for something like that cause they don’t just want to be a downtempo label. And when they heard my stuff they thought ‘this could expand our roster and give it a different sound.’ It’s funny, I think people dig it. You know, when you want to chill out you put on your Thievery Corporation but if you want to pick it up a notch then you listen to Ursula 1000. I think they realize it’s good for the label to have me,” he says.
Ursula 1000’s populuxe musical tates may be partially attributable to his Miami upbringing. After all, a world of pastels, palm trees, guayaberas, and ’60s vernacular architecture is bound to seep into anyone’s psyche. For Ursula 1000 that influence came in a roundabout way. “The only thing that may have contributed is probably the really awesome thrift shopping. It was great stuff. How could you not buy a Martin Denny record for a quarter with this amazing cover? I could just stick it on my wall cause it’s so cool looking, you know? Even if the record sucks. But then you start listening to it and at first it’s like, whoaa check out this cheesy thing but the more you play it you’re like ‘wow, I really like this.’ And that’s what was happening,” he says. “I was also into some jazz and some soundtrack stuff but not in an ironic sense. I think the more loungey stuff like the Martin Denny and the Esquivel was kind of comic at first; I grew in appreciation for it and I think that mixed with the flipside of the thing—drum’n’bass, house, breakbeat, techno. Those things eventually fused.”
Today’s thrift shopper might not revel in the supreme coolness of old Martin Denny records, since they’ve all been picked over. But, with the recycling of all things retro, it’s natural that artists like Ursula 1000 would become popular reworking those fabulous sounds. But while others have dabbled in its built-in irony and moved on, Ursula 1000 has stuck to his kitschy-guns. “When my first record came out, there were a lot of people like D’Mitri from Paris, Fantastic Plastic Machine and the Bungalow label from Germany. A lot of people were doing similar kind of stuff, where we were dabbling in late ’60s—kind of campy but with groovey elements. But then it seemed like everybody shifted gears immediately and I just thought when I started working on the second album that there were areas of ‘loungecore’ that still needed to be explored.”
On ‘Kinda Kinky’ Ursula 1000 has been able to stretch out, without betraying his loungecore roots. With its Shag illustrated cover and collaborations with Saturday Night Live band guitarist Dr. Luke and Brother Cleve of Combustible Edison, Kinda Kinky is a step up in quality and variety. “There’s definitely a twist on this record,” says Ursula 1000. There’s more electro elements, there’s a samba kind of house element that I’ve never explored.”
Still, for its all of its new explorations, Ursula 1000 won’t be pulling a Madonna on us anytime soon. “I felt like it more like sticking to my guns. Some people reinvent themselves and sometimes it works for some people like Blur for instance. But some bands, when they do it, it’s just a little too much like ‘who are you now?’. Or it sounds exactly like the first record and that could just be a bore too. I was kind of prepared for that with this record. I knew there might be some people that might think ‘oh, god this guy’s still stuck in the ’60s, but I love that period.”
In both his DJ sets and his produced music, the idea is to get down to a fun(ky) beat. “I still get such a kick when I hear a cha cha mambo rhumba kind of beat mixed with a hip hop, modern kind of break. It just sounds so cool and I still like it. And it’s fun: it goes straight to the hips,” he says.
Ursula 1000 also enjoys mixing today’s sleazy electro-disco, ala DJ Hell’s International Gigolo label with the real old-school deal. “It’s fun to spin that kind of stuff and back it with a Divine or a Bobby Orlando track. So you’re like, ‘this is where it came from but here it is again.’ It’s fun to do that.”
“I DJ for a fun groovy vibe but it gives people a good laugh too. I might be playing something that’s got a funky house groove but there might be some kind of quirky little sound in it. But then I might back it up with a Prince song or something. It’s fun when you can throw in classics: out of context you throw them in and people are like ‘wow, that is a great song.’ For instance, if you playing Human League back to back with Soft Cell and Culture Club you’re like ‘OK, this guy’s on some kind of ’80s twist’. But if you’re playing something else and you throw that in there and suddenly it mixes in you’re like ‘Wow, here’s a Human League song. We didn’t expect that.’ That’s what I like to do,” he says.
Ursula 1000 cut his teeth spinning in Miami and South Beach’s Lincoln Road with its ultrafab Morris Lapidus designs. For several years you could find him spinning his hyper-pop at the now defunct 821. For Ursula 1000 there’s not much left to miss about Miami. “I mean I hate to slag it. It’s what it is, you know. To me it’s a vacation town and it’s great for that. And I’ve done it from like ’91, from the early stages of techno, before drum’n’bass. I would just listen to what was happening in England or whatever and try to bring it here. I’d play it Miami and there’d be like four people who’d like it. They just don’t get it. It’s a weird thing and I don’t know what that is. Maybe it’s the weather. Maybe it’s just too hot to think.”
Since landing back in New York City Ursula 1000 has wasted no time landing prime DJing gigs at some of the city’s hippest joints like Apt and Soho Grand, where he spins weekly. He’s also a regular on the fashion show circuit. And what does Ursula 1000 think of this often attitude-dominated scene? “I’ve never done any gig where I’ve come home afterwards like ‘Oh my God, what did I just DJ?’. It’s always kind of fun. This is funny; things like fashion shows and hotel lobby gigs and things like that can be really super pretentious, you know? And it’s good to give it a little something different.” And that’s said with a big cheekey wink.
Ursula 1000’s latest release, “Undressed” is a seductively cheeky remix album collecting exclusive reinterpretations of tracks from Ursula 1000 last studio album “Here Comes Tomorrow” and recent 12″ vinyl singles. Included are both the DJ Deekline and JStar remixes of underground dancehall fire-starter “Step Back” (championed by DJ Tayo), a funked up version of “Electrik Boogie” by Fort Knox Five, a percussive jazz redo of “Boop” by Skeewiff, and a pounding semi-industrial rework of “Urgent/Anxious” by the critically celebrated robo-rockers Ladytron. All tracks previously available on vinyl only! A seductively cheeky remix album collecting exclusive reinterpretations of tracks from Ursula 1000 last studio album “Here Comes Tomorrow” and recent 12″ vinyl singles. Included here are both the DJ Deekline and JStar remixes of underground dancehall fire-starter “Step Back” (championed by DJ Tayo), a funked up version of “Electrik Boogie” by Fort Knox Five, a percussive jazz redo of “Boop” by Skeewiff, and a pounding semi-industrial rework of “Urgent/Anxious” by the critically celebrated robo-rockers Ladytron.