DJ Boy George
by Matt Kalkhoff

Capitalizing on his highly successful new career as a headlining DJ at nightclubs around the world, London-Sire unleashed Boy George’s debut American dance compilation CD on February 20th. The latest installment in the highly acclaimed Essential Mix series showcases George’s eclectic taste in dance music while introducing him to a new generation and genre of American fans. An eight-city promotional DJ tour began on Valentine’s Day in Las Vegas, with performances scheduled in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Philadelphia, Washington, DC and Boston before the tour wraps up at Twilo in New York City on February 28th.

Behind the Music

Sensational tabloid rumors and scandalous public spectacles are inherent to a modern celebrity’s existence. But it is the rare celebrity whose life actually rivals that of the media’s controversial coverage. From the pinnacle of the pop music charts to the rock bottom despair of drug addiction, Boy George epitomizes the stereotypical rock musician in so many ways.

Cleverly launching an artistic assault on the general public in the early 1980s, the quintessential drama queen shocked sensibilities with aberrant antics that ingenuously melded with his immense talent to create a larger-than-life persona. This outrageous persona may have helped Culture Club become one of the most successful bands of the decade, but it also eventually consumed George, both publicly and privately. Realizing he must make some important changes in his life, the resilient entertainer found the strength and clarity he needed to turn his life around. He also learned that reinventing himself was the best way to survive in this business.

Karma Chameleon

George’s latest incarnation happened quite by chance, and ironically brings his remarkable musical career full circle. "If DJs can make records, why can’t I DJ?" the Grammy award-winner remembers asking himself back in 1988 as he contemplated his next career move. "I got into it accidentally," he insists. "I didn’t suddenly wake up and say, Well, I’m gonna DJ. I was actually at a big rave called Pascha, and in the back there was a chill-out room where they were playing tapes. I said, Why don’t you get someone to play in this room, get someone to play old pop music or vintage house records, and they said, Why don’t you do it? I said, hmm, okay, how much are you going to pay me? [laughs] I ended up doing it for like £300. It was just a bit of fun. So I did a few of those, and then I started getting asked to do gigs, and I said, Oh no, no, I couldn’t possibly do this seriously."

But he did do it seriously, and throughout the 90s, George worked diligently to turn his life around. Inspired by artists like Timo Maas, George Morell and Cevin Fisher, George polished his turntable skills, paid his dues, and eventually conquered the European club scene. In addition to DJing, George also works behind the scenes writing, producing, remixing and singing. Pseudonyms are nothing new to George O’Dowd (his birth name), and he’s had a lot of fun over the years working on projects under the guise of names like Angela Dust, Jesus Loves You and The Colein. Several of these records have been released on George’s fledgling More Protein record label, now optimistically called GNP (Gross National Product).

For the past three years, the androgynous pop icon has been exercising his wit and creativity while writing a weekly gossip column for the Sunday Express. "This is just on like where I’ve been and who I’ve seen," George explains. "[It can be] political, social, or sometimes just mindless gossip about seeing Madonna in restaurants and things like that. It really depends on what kind of mood I’m in or where I’ve been that week." He also hosts his own weekly radio show called Clubversive which is syndicated regionally throughout the U.K. and Europe, as well as some rather unusual locales like Latvia and Bosnia. "I don’t know why," he says of his popularity in these regions, "but they seem to like it."

Club Culture

George has proudly embraced his success as a DJ in Europe and other parts of the world, but he’s anxious to tackle the burgeoning American market. "One of the exciting things about America at the moment is that they’re not as jaded as the British about dance music," George claims. "America has a more adventurous spirit and open-minded mentality. From the British DJ’s point of view, America is like the new frontier because people aren’t so cynical there."

This was never more apparent to George than while working on the Essential Mix compilation for London-Sire. "When I was asked to do it, I said I would not be told what to put on it," he recalls. "They said, No, you put what you want on it, and there was really no interference whatsoever. That was so refreshing."

The result is a smoothly sequenced mixture of different musical styles that reflects George’s varied taste in dance music. The 17 tracks transcend the spectrum of traditional American dance music offering listeners everything from house to techno, trance to hip-hop, and the latest European sensations, ragga and two-step. "Ragga really is a kind of raggae that’s spoken. It’s kind of a rap, but it’s in a Jamaican style. Two-step is sort of a hybrid of house, R&B and hip-hop," George explains. "I know a lot of American artists are coming to London to get two-step mixes done for this market, but I know a lot of people in America just think, What is this?"

"For me, the whole two-step thing is very sexy," he goes on to say. "When I first heard it a few years ago, I thought, Ooh, this is really odd. When I first watched people getting down to it in a club, it was actually quite an experience because people were literally copulating on the dance floor. It’s very much like the raggae scene which is very sexually charged. In the two-step scene, when a club really goes off, people are literally simulating sex on the dance floor."

It may take American audiences a while to get past the country and western line dancing imagery of this new form of two-step, but George is optimistic that the erotic grooves will eventually catch on in the States. His new CD is destined to help fulfill that prophecy.

Vital Vibes

George’s Essential Mix excursion starts off slowly with the Boogie Macs’ "Girl from Ipanema," but quickly picks up the pace as the ragga and two-step genres are adeptly explored on several funky tunes before the disc reaches its high house crescendo with Shauna Solomon’s "Watcha Gonna Do" and Tutto Matto vs. Different Gear’s "Take My Hand." The dreamy trance vocal "Spreading the Light" by The Colein (on which George sings) and Amanda Ghost’s "Filfthy Mind" equalize the remaining industrial, techno and progressively hard-edged tracks in sublime fashion. The sweeping sonic journey wraps up with the Wavehead’s energetic "Second Coming."

If the Essential Mix CD doesn’t satisfy your Boy George craving, watch out for a new Culture Club release in the near future. "We had an album out in England about a year ago called ‘I Don’t Mind if I Do,’ and we’ve taken about four or five tracks from that and reworked and remixed them for the dance floor," George proudly reports. "We are going to release this sort of EP thing in America which is much more dance oriented than anything we’ve done in a while."

Everyday Is Like Survival

Through the many triumphs and tribulations, George has developed a healthy perspective on both his career and his personal life that has led to pure contentment. "I’ve managed to survive since 1995 without having records out and without having a [singing] career," he says. "If I relied on my [singing] career to be successful, I’d be living in a tin hut right now. That’s the great thing about DJing and all the other work I do – I am able to make a very good living, and I enjoy what I do."

No matter what path Boy George takes next, there is no doubt that he will continue entertaining the world for many years to come. After all, as he wryly points out himself, "It’s quite hard to be out of the limelight when you’re Boy George." And we wouldn’t have it any other way.

Copyright © 2001 / Matt Kalkhoff

This article was featured at in February 2001.