Known the world over as Lady Gaga’s DJ, Space Cowboy shares his personal history, explaining how his success — solo, and with Lady Gaga — was light years from instant, and offers sage advice for young DJs, remixers, producers, singers…this is a great personal history, which was told to me in the only quiet room backstage at Irving Plaza, and on a fire escape in NYC. It ends with an onstage view of Space Cowboy’s opening mass sing-along set for the Party Rock Tour’s NYC stop, which was halted abruptly when a rapturous fan turned an overhead pipe into a personal jungle gym, unleashing water, gas leaks and the fire department…
Onstage you hear me moving past stage managers and roadies whom were very nice in trying to help me film as they frantically shuttled artists and gear in a scene that seemed like a 1950’s Alan Freed revue or an Exposé tour in the 80s: lean, on budget, nearly everyone sharing a single dressing room…it’s a seemingly chaotic affair, top-heavy with booked dates and boasting more sell-outs and round-the-block early lines than one might guess at. One of the security staff at Irving overheard me telling Space’s manager that he could maybe have sold an additional show’s worth of tickets, and he concurs, surveying the scene, noting in a wizened, weary tone: “It’s good to se a sold-out show” And, as fate would have it, the visit from the fire department has created a make-good date, to which there will likely be added an additional NYC show.
I don’t know if the Sherlock Holmes movie has any flashback scenes requiring a younger actor to play Holmes but I daresay that such a requirement would get beguilingly filled by Space Cowboy, who looks like Robert Downey and with that chin strap, comes off positively Dickensian or better yet, like the bell-boy from planet GaGa, whose orbit he most definitely helped captain. Space tells a great, humble and funny story of how he and Lady Gaga first teamed up, and instead of hogging well-deserved credit, cites the House of Gaga as a smart juggernaut of general, non-stop creativity and encouragement. He has a classic British grit to him, like one of the cats in Madness.
Hearing Space reminisce – with less than twenty minutes to go before stage time – about DJing at the age of ten, playing “American Hip-Hop all day every day”, then going to raves and loving the sped-up Hip-Hop elements, and of grinding through engineering college, we’re reminded that his hustle extends further back into the cosmic timeline of the star system, through when his remix for House legend Todd Terry got him early fame and he was chuffed as chips just to be getting into clubs in Ibiza for free, and hearing his track played. Signed to Southern Fried, he was encouraged and nurtured by original Housemartin Norman Cook, AKA Fatboy Slim, who took Space under his wing. “He really taught me a lot of stuff — how to handle your business, [your] personal relationships.”
His biggest breakthrough track was “My Egyptian Lover” (Space mentions this song several times but doesn’t often fail to mention his vocalist and collaborator for the track, Nadia Oh, indicating genuine real gratitude on his part to collaborators) which the Loose Cannons on Kiss FM in the UK caned for seven weeks straight leading to Radio 1 caning it, leading to Cherry Tree records “ringing me up like crazy. At first I thought it was a hoax, like, who’s this guy ringing me up during Christmas time talking to me about the record, from Los Angeles!? I thought, this guy’s insane. Soon after that, he told me about this girl in New York that he thought I should meet; he said: ‘She’s a fantastic girl, super-artistic and super creative, you guys should meet, it’d be explosive.’ And I thought, this guy’s crazy! So, he put me on the phone with this girl and we were talking about shared experiences she came from NY, I came from London… and the girl I speak of is Lady Gaga.
“Nobody knew who she was, she was just starting up, and we spoke on the phone, we got on really, really well — it was amazing! We figured out that we shared pretty much the same experiences; we’d been doing similar things on opposite sides of the Atlantic. Then I got invited to the studio to write some songs with Lady Gaga; we did “Starstruck”, we did a song called “Christmas Tree” She’s super-creative, she’s amazing — the best writer I’d ever seen, and best performer.” They toured for a year all over the world and slowly started cultivating number 1s. He also started writing his new tracks on the tour bus and further mapping out his way…
The best of this on-cam is found in Space’s heartening redress of the anxieties and insecurities that individuals battle internally, over the worth of their beats and the unnerving sound of their own voice. Space’s classic story of segueing from anonymous person to DJ to producer to – gasp — singer, is as honest as it is encouraging, and it’s one that we here at URB, as we approach our twentieth anniversary, never tire of hearing.
As for things that are tiring, recent essays by folks whom I heretofore earnestly admired and respected, have got me scratching my head.
It’s true that I’m an Original Hater, as in Huey from The Boondocks noting that hating = quality control, or as Paul Weller put it: “To HATE with a passion called LOVE”. Some of us who came of age during the Reader’s Digest neo-conservative bullshit of Reagan’s 80′s, when it was really hard to be of a subcultural independent-minded bent, find it supremely ironic hear so damn many carbon copies of stuff we were made fun of for listening to; I’m talking about carbon copies made by the often creepily careerist-at-all-costs spawn of the very yuppies who made fun of me back in the day.
Having said that, I still have to say that recent essays from Duran Duran’s John Taylor about how myspace fame and micro-access is too instant (which is rich from someone whose band was catapulted by MTV and heard the same gripes from the generation preceding his) and an essay by the legendary Glenn Branca about the death of music, feel like total, absolutely bullshit-y wastes of space, manifesting completely unoriginal and downright reactionary mindsets, to which a single simple timeless epithet serves as total remedy: Don’t hate, create! The “death of music” and “absence of endurability” these cats falsely bemoan should be remedied by their own deeds, and some sage advice from Space Cowboy: “Write, write, write…don’t be like: I have to keep it to myself…stay on the grind man, keep sending stuff out — you never know what happens…I know that there are loads of cats watching this wondering how to do it – I say send me demos, send anyone demos, anyone you look up to because most cats? They’re listening! Just be patient, and just keep working, keep grinding.”
NOTE: URB’s having a “Dark Void” remix contest, extra-credit given for truly innovative remixes working in Lady Gaga, Space Cowboy, Duran Duran or Glenn Branca, and double-extra-credit for incorporating all four INNOVATIVELY