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Q&A: Industrial Strength's Lenny Dee On Distorting Electronic Instruments, Sampling Pantera, And "Draft Ponk"

Born Leonard Didesiderio in 1968, Lenny Dee got his start in the music business as a teenager, working in the studio with Nile Rodgers and Arthur Baker while making his own dance 12-inches, most famously in tandem with Frankie Bones. The two of them were instrumental in bringing British rave to Brooklyn at the end of the '80s. By 1991, Dee was feeling restless, as he pushed his music and DJing into harder, faster, more brutal realms.

That year, Dee began his own label, Industrial Strength Records, with an epochal 12-inch pairing tracks from two of Dutch producer Marc Acardipane's arsenal of pseudonyms: Mescalinum United's "We Have Arrived," backed with the Mover's "Frontal Sickness." Through the rest of the decade, Industrial Strength defined the gabber techno sound in the U.S.: metal for '90s kids into bass bins and glow sticks as well as shredding guitars, blackout nihilism, and splatter-movie humor.

Industrial Strength's '90s catalog is like a roll call of the period's degraded greats, blisteringly hard and frequently goofy. Dee made several of them under pseudonyms: English Muffin's "The Blood of an English Muffin," Fuckin Hostile's "Fuckin Hostile" (both 1993), and DJ Skinhead's "Extreme Terror" (1994), the latter of which longtime Voice readers may recall as the closing track from the paper's 9/11 benefit compilation, Wish You Were Here: Love Songs for New York (2002). Other classics include Dee's Brooklyn confrere Rob Gee, with "Gabber Up Your Ass" (1994), and Australian trio Nasenbluten's 100% No Soul Guaranteed (1995)—followed in 1997, naturally, by Not as Good as 100% No Soul Guaranteed. Not to mention the first release on sub-label IST, featuring a young Frenchman named Thomas Bangalter, and credited to one "Draft Ponk." (More on this below.)

Industrial Strength has continued to operate for 20 years now, with a recent emphasis on sample packs—premade sounds for producers to build their own tracks with. To celebrate its longevity, the label is putting on a 20th-anniversary party, dubbed "Silence Suxx," at Public Assembly on Saturday featuring a wide swathe of acts from throughout the label's history. Dee spoke with SOTC over the phone in mid-September.

Were you planning your 20th anniversary party for a long time?

We weren't, actually. [My partner] Jules was just like, "We've got to do it." I said, "You're right. I don't care if there's five people there or 1,000 people or nobody. Let's just do it." Judging from Facebook, it's looking pretty good. We've got kids flying in from Canada, Chicago, L.A., plus all the New York kids [and people] from adjoining states. I'm really happy. I think it's going to be a bang-ass party.

There's obviously a lot of nostalgia doing on in dance music overall. Was that part of your decision?

No; only that we wanted to make a party to celebrate. It's time to give back and show the kids who are here—they'll never get to see Richie Gee, never get to see Ophidian, never get to see Satronica live, in the environment we're going to give it. There are no parties like this. Even in Europe they're limited—we do our parties, but they're kind of small. But it's all our artists, all the different perspectives of our label.

Tell me a little about your beginnings as a DJ.

I got a job at 17 in the local roller disco in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn, called the Roller Palace. I was doing mobile parties and other things too. I've never had another job since. I just kept going. If you asked me then if I'd be doing this now, my answer would have been, "Nah, forget it." It was all I knew how to do, but I wouldn't have thought that then, you know?

Tommy Musto, who owned Northcott Music, 25 West, all those labels, took me under his wing and got me into this record pool called Shure, in the south Bronx. That was the record pool of Afrika Bambaataa, Rick Rubin, Aldo Marin, all these big guys on the radio. The owner of the club said, "You're the youngest DJ we've ever had in the record pool. You're a working DJ, and at your age you can take it to new heights. Just keep going, man. You're playing pretty damn good for your age."

 

How did you meet Frankie Bones?

It began in 1988. Frankie and I were rival DJs in Brooklyn. His friends hated me and my friends hated him. All the 16, 17-year-old palaver that goes on when you're trying to be a superstar DJ from the hood, you know? But we never met. Frankie and Tommy Musto hooked up—Tommy's label [was] moving to the forefront of that kind of house music at the time.

[Tommy] said, "I want to introduce you to somebody. Lenny, this is Frankie. Frankie, this is Lenny. I've been hearing about this bullshit between the two of you for the last couple weeks. I thought it was good time for the two of you idiots to fucking meet each other. There's no way there's this much bullshit going on with two people who don't even know each other. You've been standing in the same room for ten minutes, laughing and making jokes with each other, and you don't even know who each other are. Squash it, and I think maybe you should do something together." And we did. We hit it off as friends right away. Next thing you know, we started making tracks.

Frankie and I did the [project] Looney Tunes. What we were making was, to us, techno music, but back then it was really house music. Now, if you ask some other people, it's funky breaks. It was a hodgepodge of everything. There was no definition to what we were doing—we were just doing it. It was the beginning of everything for me. That part of my life is cherished. I got to do things that, as a kid from Brooklyn who couldn't even play "Mary Had a Little Lamb," and all of a sudden my first record sold 15,000 copies.

I got my first offer to play in London with Bones, because we had a big hit with Looney Tunes. I walked into Richard Branson's club Heaven, the techno place in the world at that point. It's still there, in London. All of a sudden, I get swamped with every guy I've ever wanted to meet—Seal, Adamski, Dave Angel, all these guys—like, "We have to meet you. Lenny Dee, oh my god." I'm going, "How do you know who I am?" "We've been waiting for your ass to come in here, man." Neil McClellan, who was the engineer for Guru Josh, [and I] became friends—I was sleeping in his living room for months and months.

I left house music: "That shit's just boring disco crap." I was young and had a bit more attitude. I was like, "Techno is what we're doing, and fucking right, it is another level." I just kept going, and the next thing you know I discovered the Netherlands and Belgium and Germany. When I got to these places, I was totally in my element. It was like, "What's next? There's got to be something next." The kids were all jazzed up on E. I was dropping pills like nothing back then, just being the kid that I was, out of the country without my mother and father. It was like having a credit card with no limit on it, you know?

I started making the music I thought people would like, and where I thought it should go. And it progressively got harder. I was playing a sound that nobody was playing. The selection [and] how fast I was playing these tracks compared to the other DJs really made me stand out. I got a phone call just around that time from Renaat [Vandepapeliere], the owner of R&S Records. He goes, "I've got this party in Germany, I think you should play it." I went to this party.

I went to this club called the Sound Factory, a blown out building with a smoke machine with amyl nitrate in it. After that set, I made a lot of friends. And I met the producer Marc Acardipane. I flew back to Germany for a party two weeks later [and] met Marc again. He said, "Can I let you hear some of my music?" I said, "I'm going to start this label—if you have anything, I'd love to release it. I think this is the future sound of music now. It's time to go to the next level." He said, "I think I have what you're after." We sat down, fucked up on pills and everything else, like any other night at that time, and I heard Mescalinum United for the first time.

 

Mescalinum United, "We Have Arrived"

I just sat there and said, "Marc, you did it. This is it. This is the future. This is where it ends and where it begins." Then he let me hear the Mover, "Frontal Sickness."

The Mover, "Frontal Sickness"

I said, "I've got this logo, I've got this label idea, I've got the distribution. I'm not going to release anything until I've got the track. You gave me the track. I'll split everything 50-50. I will make this fucking music work. If I release this, we're going to do it. It's going to change." He said OK.

We took our time. I looked at my old disco records and got the right guy for mastering, for pressing. I had the acetate ready for [the German techno festival] Mayday II. When I dropped that record—I've never seen ten-and-a-half-thousand people in one room raise their hands all at once, ever. Everyone was in awe when that record came out. It changed electronic music forever. That music, especially in that period of time, was the birth of something completely different. You get a guitar and it was totally acceptable to distort it and make rock records. Why wasn't it totally acceptable to distort all the electronic instruments? People had never heard anything like that. It's like a kid hearing rock & roll for the first time, back in the '50s. It took off and I never looked back.

The early techno guys were a different breed of cats. I look at the new techno DJs now like, "Man, you've got to be kidding me. This is what's carrying the torch? Are you fucking nuts? This is the most boring-ass music." Techno music used to be the most exciting, new, upfront, underground, banging music, not clean, poncey, boop-boop-boop-beep-beep-beep-bup, one little thing—that's crap. You listen to my records from the '90s, and you listen to records now, and go, what happened to techno? It sounds like somebody just, I don't know, colored it pink. Seriously.

You recorded as English Muffin, and I'm curious if that was a hat-tip to England.

I think we were calling it English Muffin because for a very short time that's what we called ecstasy: "English muffins." Then, basically, "crumpets" and all the other things that I was getting you know, turned on to. Ninety percent of the names that I have associations with come out of being stuck in a studio for like more than fucking 4 or 5 hours with someone, you start to say all kinds of stupid things, especially me. [laughs]

The record that I really want to know about is "Fuckin Hostile."

I had no idea who Pantera was at all when I made that record. [laughs] My friend Sal basically put that idea to me. He's been my friend since I was fourteen or fifteen. [With] Sal—I won't say his last name or anything—put it this way: if you're on his bad side, he's not the person you'd want to be meeting at all. But he's my boy from growing up in Sheepshead Bay, Coney Island. There was one time when he asked me to do something that I basically now I think back and go, "What a young fucking moron." He had lots of things that he wanted me to hide in my house—my mother's house, basically—it was a troublesome situation.

Everything passed, and I said to him, "Man, you're a real fucking fucked up motherfucker." And he goes, "Yeah, man. I want to make a record with my boy, and I got the perfect sample." [laughs] I go, "OK, all right, you got the perfect sample?" This is a guy that—no offense to him—is not a music guy at all. I'm like, "What sample? Come on—it's gotta be good. I know, you sick fuck, you're sucking fucking tit right now, man, but get your ass over here with this sample and let's make a fucking track. After what I just did for you, you fucking owe me one. This better be a good sample." I was joking around.

About two or three weeks later he comes to my house with this fucking CD. I'm looking at it going, "Hey Sal, this looks pretty fucking extreme, this guy getting punched in the face like that." I heard that sample and looked at him and I was like, "I fucking love you, you fucking maniac." I made the track in, I don't know, about three hours. [laughs] It was no engineering technique other than that sample, overloading my Yamaha mixer and my compressor, and not even one or two keyboards. Basically, my mixer was really small and I had open channels on it, which is usually never the case. It was like, "Wow," you know? We just did this track. When we released it, BOOM! Out-the-box hit.

 

DJ Skinhead, "Extreme Terror"

Then the next level was, after that record was made, I was in Carl Cox's house with his manager Gary Kelly, playing video games. I'm driving Carl crazy because he's one of my oldest friends. I love him to death. Gary is just walking around going "EXTREEEME! EXTREEEME!" and I'm going "TEROORRRR!" We were just terrorizing Carl for the week.

I said, "We're gonna make a statement. We're gonna show these Euros what fucking hardcore is about." The artist [credit for "Extreme Terror"] was DJ Skinhead because I had long hair at the time—fucking rock long hair. We did it as a big middle finger: "You think you're so hot with your racism fuckin' bullshit crap? Well here's a bunch of long-haired fuckers from Brooklyn and we're gonna show you what the fuck's up." One of the guys, Sal—he had a friend [who] brought him a case of beer. They got completely drunk, and that is the vocal.

I'm from Minneapolis. I went to a lot of Drop Bass Network parties, which is how I heard your music, usually being played by Delta 9, who you signed.

I got booked in Chicago, and Dave [Rodgers, a.k.a. Delta 9] picked me up. I already had Industrial Strength for a couple of years at that point. We were talking, and he said, "I make these tracks. I've got this new EP on Drop Bass."

"You're Delta 9? Man, I love those fucking tunes." We started partying together at that party. He was one of the best American producers at the time and probably still is for this kind of music. We did the D-Day party inside a high school in a fucking ghetto of Chicago. The high school rented out the gymnasium. So here's Delta and me totally whacked out of our brains. And we just became close. Dave and I are still talking every week since that day.

I've watched him grow over all this time, making his industrial music; making noise music; making hardcore. Now he's making this industrial dub-type stuff with one of my other artists, Fiend. These guys are really on the cusp of something different.

Is it true that Daft Punk had their first record on Industrial Strength?

It was Manu Le Malin [as] the artist, and it's on IST. Manu blew my head off. He comes from a really hard-assed life. His mother died, all kind of shit. He's been in and out of jail. We met this guy Thomas [Bangalter], it was before Daft Punk—they were just starting it—and Manu made these crazy records with him. If you look on the original 12-inch...

It says "Draft Ponk"!

... because Dave, the guy working for me, fucking misspelled it! Back then, that shit was quite often happened. So nobody thought that [they were] spelling it wrong, and I thought, "Ah, maybe they'll make more music." I apologized profusely for it. And next thing I know I get this record in the mail, which was one of their first things as Daft Punk. They were like, "Maybe you license it for America?" I said, "Ah, it's a bit housey. I think you can get a better deal then here for this stuff."

[I was] in the Rex club in Paris. Somebody introduces me to Thomas. Thomas is sitting with champagne bottles and some chicks. And he looks up goes, "Lenny Dee! We've never met. I want to thank you! It's an honor to have my first record on IST."

"Silence Suxx," with Lenny Dee, Ophidian, Richie Gee, Delta 9, Rob Gee, Satronica, Ralphie Dee, Fiend, Soundboy Pussy, Neverquiet, and GregNarc, takes place Saturday night at Public Assembly. (Each act on the bill will play a 30-minute set; given their punishing nature, that's plenty.)

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