By Jacob Katel
By Laurie Charles
By Nate "Igor" Smith
By Abel Folgar
By Kat Bein
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After enjoying a smidgen of success in New York over a couple years, the last thing DJ Ursula 1000 (a.k.a. Alex Gimeno) anticipated during a 2000 homecoming gig in Miami was a debacle. But the place where he grew up and honed his musical chops wasn't quite so welcoming. He was booked on a stormy Sunday at the original Liquid, just when the mobster past of playboy owner Chris Paciello was seeding clouds of controversy over the South Beach nightspot. Armed only with his arsenal of peppy vinyl, Gimeno was powerless to avert the inevitable fiasco.
"The club was a ghost town," he recalls, still in disbelief. "Nobody showed because they thought [the ad for the show] was some kind of misprint or something. It was a total, complete disaster! What a horrible way to come back home after having such a good time in Florida and playing such fun parties." On that same tour the booking agent scheduled a show in Indianapolis -- on a Monday! Two years later, that agent is gone. Ursula 1000, however, seems to be everywhere.
Turn on the television and his campy potpourri of samples from Sixties movies woven together with snippets of spy, exotica, mambo, samba, and cha-cha-cha tunes all set to a contemporary beat pulses through commercials for Adidas, Kellogg's Corn Pops, and HBO's Sex and the City, to name just a few. Tracks from his 1999 disc The Now Sound of Ursula 1000 (released on Eighteenth Street Lounge Music, owned by the easy-listening DJ duo Thievery Corporation) provide backgrounds and themes for everything from public television shows to skateboard legend Tony Hawk's Gigantic Skatepark Tour. Among his myriad remixes of songs: themes from Sesame Street and The Powerpuff Girls, plus works by Felix da Housecat. A growing list of the places where he's performed now includes Russia, Austria, Germany, England, Sweden, Norway, Chile, Canada, and Iceland. "I look at my passport and it's just insane," he notes in awe.
Not bad for a kid from Miami, whose aspirations to pursue graphic or theater-set design were diverted by comic books and music. While he was peddling comics and graphic novels at his store Bam! (which he eventually sold), Gimeno was playing in pop and rock bands. Performing actively as DJ Ursula 1000 came next. His reputation for swanky spinning was cemented during nights like Top Secret Lounge (with DJ Shannon), pirate radio shows, and his brief stint as the record-driven rhythm section in acid jazz combo Satellite Lounge. Like so many local musicians have learned, moving forward careerwise eventually means moving northward. And in 1998 Gimeno, along with then-girlfriend/now-wife Marissa and their long-coat Chihuahua Chubby, took their huge collection of records, Pez dispensers, metal lunchboxes, books, toys, and whatever else they couldn't live without to the grayer pastures of New York City.
Unlike many other bright-lights seekers, who return here humbled by their unpleasant urban experience, Gimeno found relocating changed his life for the better. Networking was a cinch when the people with pull were only minutes away. His record deal with ESL, tenuous for a brief moment, gelled, and has so far yielded three releases including a live mix set, All Systems Are Go Go, and his latest loungecore extravaganza Kinda Kinky, which came out earlier this spring. "Before I was just DJing because I was a DJ," Gimeno relates. "But being a recording artist is completely different. Obviously now suddenly your music is worldwide and you're getting requests from people all around the world, as opposed to the club down the street asking for you."
In what other ways have things changed for Gimeno? A few years ago he labored alone to create music in his home laboratory. Now he collaborates with the likes of Brother Cleve, keyboardist for famed lounge lizards Combustible Edison; and record producer, DJ, and Saturday Night Live guitarist Lukasz "Dr. Luke" Gottwald. In the past, he designed (and very well, we might add) the cover for his first album. Now for his third disc, he commissioned hotshot lowbrow artist Shag to not only draw his caricature but also provide a colorful cover painting. Once he spun for chatty, rude (and often drunk) crowds in dark, smoky joints. Now he boasts two residencies in New York City (at APT and the SoHo Grand Hotel), and a few months ago was invited to play upstairs at the grand opening of the hallowed Rem Koolhaas-designed Prada store in SoHo while one of his music idols, Pulp leader Jarvis Cocker, spun records downstairs.
The unmistakable upbeat mélange Gimeno creates is as infectious live as it is in his studio projects. During a show at New York's Knitting Factory this past April with Italian DJ/producer Nicola Conte (whose own sultry "Bossa Per Due" graced an Acura commercial earlier this year), his supercharged set wittily blended disparate elements such as The Price is Right theme, Prince's "Kiss," and Eighties group ABC's "How to Be a Millionaire" with a techno-ish beat. "I've definitely learned the gear a lot more," he admits.
That greater proficiency is evident in his latest record, Kinda Kinky, which, as loungey as the first, nevertheless reveals a marked evolution. The Latin-tinged almost-martial beat of "Mambo 1000" has given way to the sinewy sound of "Samba 1000." The swirling psychedelic sitar-inflected "Mr. Hrundi's Holiday," which owes more to Hrundi V. Bakshi, Peter Sellers's bumbling character in the zany 1968 comedy The Party, than to Ravi Shankar, has progressed into the Bollywood-influenced "That Hindu That You Do." The sly secret to avoiding a repetitive nightmare that might otherwise drive listeners to blow their brains out is all in the songcraft, says Gimeno: "I write in a very pop mode, not in a DJ mode, where it's some kind of seven-minute percussive workout thing. I like to keep the songs at a certain time length, and I like the whole pop formula of verses, choruses, and bridges."
While Kinky has nearly sold out its first print run, Gimeno has interests aside from being the American king of kitschy club pop. "People expect to come to my house and I'm going to be here with a martini glass listening to Henry Mancini," he laughs. "I'm sure there are days that does happen, but that's not my life! I listen to so many different things." His latest mini obsession: obscure post-punk and new wave from 1979-82, some of which he just might spin during his next Miami gig this weekend. Bound to be more triumphant than his last visit, the show is scheduled during long-running party Poplife, an event that made its mark initially catering to fans of Brit-pop, also a favorite of Gimeno's for the past several years. He loved the stuff (and played it publicly) long before he left the Magic City. Just goes to show that sometimes you can go home again.