Itís only recently that Andy Bell, famous as being the vocal half of the seminal gay pop duo Erasure, has added the title of DJ to his many talents.
His legions of fans around the world know him for his instantly recognizable voice and flamboyant stage presence, with a long history of dancefloor hits and best-selling albums.
These days Bell is a star of the circuit, recently spinning a surprise set at the Palm Springs White Party and headlining Gay Day Great America this Friday in Santa Clara.
Bell comes from humble beginnings in Britain, where he found his way to London as a young man and then found himself when he came out of the closet shortly after. He remembers his first experience at a gay club like it was yesterday, particularly the thrill of hearing ďI Feel LoveĒ by Donna Summer for the first time.
His mod/new romantic style eventually gave way to electronica, when he auditioned for a job as a singer in a band and the band just happened to be Yaz, featuring his heroes Alison Moyet and (Depeche Mode songwriters) Vince Clarke. Landing that gig sealed his belief in kismet, and his luck continued for years, with more than 15 million albums sold worldwide.
His history always precedes him, and a newly released collection of Erasureís first 40 hits, ďTotal Pop!Ē confirms his place in the pop music pantheon. Bell says spinning DJ sets is a way to get to know himself outside of Erasure, a journey that began in 2005 with a solo album called ďElectric Blue,Ē and his second solo album is currently in the works.
Bell says he actually gets more nervous playing records than he does standing on stage singing and dancing, but his fans welcome and adore him no matter whether heís playing diva or just dancing to the beat of his own mix.
Given your success as a singer, how and why did you find your way to DJing?
Iím not a very technical person, and whenever Iím in the studio, I always have to have an engineer. Like with Erasure, for example, Vince (Clarke, the other half of Erasure) is always taking care of the music programming. But after a while working with Vince, I realized that electronic music was really in my blood.
Especially when youíre performing live, some of the low notes, you can feel them buzzing in your body, and Iíve always loved that. Itís like a holistic massage with laser beams of sound.
Right now Iíve got maybe 7,000 songs on iTunes. Iíve gotten really into compiling them, and putting them onto CDs. It made me realize that I would love to go out and play this music for people. My desire to be a DJ came from that, as well as from my love of remixes, and doing remixes for Erasure as well as for other people.
How is Andy Bell the singer different from Andy Bell the DJ?
Ideally Iíd like to mix the two, and do remixes of my own music. Iím a big fan of Miss Kittin, for example. Sheíll DJ and play all of her favorite music, then stick her own in music in there, and sing along. I would quite fancy that!
I really consider myself just a music fan. I canít really imagine doing anything else besides making music. Iíve often thought of other things I might like to do, like buy a farm or play golf, but really my heart wouldnít be in it.
With Erasure, we have remixed some of our own music, and thereís an ego thing involved. Vince is in control, and Iíve always begged him to let me twiddle his knobs. Part of doing remixes is my way of showing him, look how I can manipulate sounds! Let me have a go! Maybe heíll let me some dayÖ
Whatís your signature sound?
Iíve never really been more touched by a song than with ďI Feel LoveĒ by Donna Summer. Itís got all these syncopated rhythms going on all at once, and you get kind of lost. Itís really futuristic, like space music, because you feel like youíre floating out in space. Thatís my kind of sound.
Is being a DJ an intentional departure from Erasure, or is it an evolution?
Itís definitely an evolution, and itís like a huge elliptic. Itís taken me 21 years to go around once, because I really only now feel free for the first time.
Youíre so iconic among the gay community, is that something you embrace?
I really do love it. We all like to be appreciated, for our sex appeal and for our humanity. These days, though, sexuality has blurred beyond oblivion. Even the straight people are gay now. I canít keep up!
I used to be much more brazen about my sexuality. I would go out to court attention. As you grow older, you mellow out a bit, and you begin to think part of your lesson is humility. As you get to know yourself, and as your ego becomes tamed, your spirit becomes really lovely, and people respond to that.
How is the fan response youíre getting for your DJ work different from the way fans respond to your vocal work?
Iíve gotten some great response in New York City in particular. I have loads of fans there, and Iím really happy they are there, although sometimes it does feel like all they want to hear from me is Erasure and all I want to do is play something different.
Sometimes it makes me feel like I might be stuck in the 80s. And certainly, when I see someone like Lady Gaga performing at the same party Iím at, I feel like my boots are pretty muddy. But sheís really amazing, and sheís such a gracious person. Just when I think Iím getting cynical, and like Iíve heard it all before, someone like her is seeing everything like itís new and loving it.
Whatís your affinity for angel wings about?
A long time ago, I wished and wished and wished I could see a fairy. I was quite interested in the occult, and in Tarot. I take that word as gospel, which might mean Iíve very naÔve or gullible, but I believe if you feel something in your gut or heart, itís real.
In that respect, Iím a bit like Icarus, flying up to the sun. The wings melt and I fall back down to earth, crying out and yearning because of pretending to be something Iím not.
Who are some of the DJs you follow?
I honestly donít follow DJs that much, because I think itís very confusing. With all these DJ websites, I never know which category to go into, whether itís Handbag House or whatever, so I never know where to look. I donít know how to describe the sound Iím looking for, and itís such a huge maze.
What are some events youíd like to spin at?
I quite like being spread out and spontaneous, which allows me to project onto things. Like, if I hope itís going to be a great day, it usually it works out that way. If it was to become repetitive, I might lose the spark, so I feel very lucky to be able to just fly off and do whatever comes next.
Iím really looking forward to coming over for Gay Day, for example, but please donít