The Return of the Space-Age Bachelor
The evening Alex Gimeno attempted to nuzzle Chubby, his girlfriend Marissa's dozing long-coat Chihuahua, and the usually amiable pooch savagely chomped the tip of his nose, a trip to the hospital and several stitches should have been in order. Gimeno, however, with the wonder of Neosporin ointment and a couple of bandages, patched up his shredded schnozz. "I looked like Jack Nicholson in Chinatown for a good two weeks," Gimeno recalls, laughing. "Someone joked around and asked if I got a nose job. I was so mortified. How vain of me!" Luckily the humble Gimeno's handiwork resulted in scarcely a scar. The dog-inflicted wound became just another lesson about putting things together from fragments, an art Gimeno, a.k.a. DJ Ursula 1000, has mastered well.
Less gruesome and more melodious examples of Gimeno's accomplishments can be heard on The Now Sound of Ursula 1000, his debut release on the Washington, D.C.-based Eighteenth Street Lounge Music label owned by Rob Garza and Eric Hilton, the principals in the electronica easy-listening duo Thievery Corporation. In contrast to its title, Now Sound contains few "now" sounds, but a good bit of "then" is in the mix. Created without typical instruments and outside of the traditional recording studio, the collection of tunes is fashioned entirely from samples (tidbits of songs, movie scores, film dialogue). A sort of cross between Dimitri from Paris and early Towa Tei, Gimeno has smoothly stitched together a sonic crazy quilt from fragments he says are "under the radar." Whether it's a drum beat from British Eighties band Bow Wow Wow, a guitar line from a charmingly twisted Italian soundtrack, a percussion break from Earth, Wind and Fire, or a segment from the soundtrack to the Sixties comedy Bedazzled, Gimeno says he taps "such obscure sources that you would never think that these people would be on the same record. But here they are, all on the same track." The result is a collage of sounds that is kitschy, bouncy, and sometimes ominous, evoking dapper worldly spies, exotic go-go dancers, and mysterious foreign places.
Although Gimeno's songs have a transcontinental flavor and boast titles such as "Savoir Faire," "Mambo 1000," and "Le Fini," the only corner of Europe he has explored is Spain, where his parents came from. He currently calls New York City home, though he spent most of his 32 years in Miami, a place he says he never got used to. The long Floridian road to solo DJ-dom included multiple careers as owner of a comic-book store, drummer in a pop band, a brief stint with the acid-jazz combo Satellite Lounge, and countless radio gigs and one-nighters spinning records at clubs all over Miami.
After graduating from Miami-Dade Community College with an associate's degree in commercial art in the late Eighties, Gimeno was all set to attend offbeat Antioch College in Ohio. A fan of illustrator Edward Gorey, he was determined to develop a style all his own and possibly pursue book, album cover, or theater set design. Like many a young man, a couple of things got in his way: comic books and music. During that time he bought Bam! Comics and Graphic Novels, in North Miami. "I always thought of comics as a pop art form," he offers. "A lot of people think of it as a kiddie thing. I tried to make it a little more highbrow. I carried European imports and tried to get a literate crowd to support that kind of stuff. It was a venture to expose Miami to French and Italian comic-book artists and writers. Living here you have to do serious investigating work when you want to find out about stuff."
The shop survived for seven years but not enough curious Miamians found their way there. Frustrated by the lack of local interest in comics, Gimeno channeled his Anglophile musical leanings into becoming a drummer for the pop quartet 23, eventually deciding to pursue music full-time. "I was a frustrated artist, but the music thing was a deeper love," he explains. "The whole retail business aspect I didn't like that much, and it was hard to educate a town like Miami." Influenced by Brit-poppers Blur, the Kinks, the Beatles, the Who, and My Bloody Valentine, Gimeno's own group played its original tunes at clubs such as Fort Lauderdale's Edge and Kendall's Mars Bar. The band members prided themselves on their professionalism. ("We didn't want to look like a local amateur band," Gimeno says.) Yet they never released any records, and after three years together they dissolved over artistic differences.
As a child Gimeno was exposed to music by his father, who listened to big band and classical; his sister, who favored disco, funk, and soul; and his mother, who liked show tunes. Meanwhile Gimeno, a fan of rock and pop, was the owner of an ever-growing record collection. While a member of 23, he acquired a mixer and a couple of turntables and began practicing. "The whole idea of wanting to become a DJ and possibly playing in clubs occurred to me," Gimeno recalls, "so I realized that I was going to have to learn how to actually do that. My record buying became a little more intense." At one point he was spending $100 per week on albums. His habit has since been cut to about half that amount, but in New York, as in Miami, his extensive vinyl collection, encompassing music of every genre, still takes up a room of its own.
When quizzed as to why he became a DJ, a perplexed Gimeno concedes, "I have no idea! I have to admit I was always the kind of guy who would go to a friend's party and take over the sound system. I would get hypnotized by the sounds, and doing it on a bigger scale on a huge system was very appealing. And having someone pay me to do it was the craziest part. To this day it's still a weird thing for somebody to pay somebody to play records."
And play records he did -- all over town. Beginning as a host for college radio station WVUM-FM's (90.5) The Underground, he moved on to spin at clubs such as KGB, Groove Jet, and Liquid. He also cofounded and participated in theme nights like Interstella at Lincoln Road's Third Rail (where Score now sits), and Top Secret Lounge and Jet Set at the former 821 with DJ Shannon. When the WOMB was still a pirate station broadcasting illegally, he hit the airwaves with the Ursula 1000 Show.
With a name like Ursula 1000, Gimeno had many fooled. People expected to see a female DJ in the booth, but soon much of Miami found out what Austin Powers mistakenly claimed about his boss Basil Exposition's mother in Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery: "She's a man, man!" A fan of the actress Ursula Andress, Gimeno adopted part of her name, thinking it very futuristic sounding. ("There's something about the r's and the s's; it just rolls of the tongue nicely," he says.) Then he began pondering products that had numbers in their name, like Botany 500 clothing for men and Alberto VO5 hair products. "I originally thought of Ursula 500, but it sounded too much like an auto race," he says dryly. "Then I thought Ursula 1000 had a neat product kind of ring. A lot of people have asked me if I'm going to change it at the end of the year, but I never even considered it. I think the 2000 would date me in a weird sort of way."
Futuristic moniker aside, Gimeno and machines are not always the coziest of pairs. He admits to feeling some trepidation when he first experimented with the sampler. "I had a little techno fear," he says. "I've never been very good at manuals, so getting into the whole sampler thing, that whole aspect of making music with machines, was intimidating. But once I got the whole hang of it I couldn't stop!" The cutting and pasting of one song escalated and soon Gimeno had a finished demo on his hands, but nowhere to grow musically in Miami. He began to feel stagnant and believed a move to New York or San Francisco was the solution. He chose New York. "Had I stayed here any longer, I wouldn't have finished this record," he says. "It was time to make that move. I would have regretted it if I wouldn't have done it. I figured if nothing happened I could always go back to Miami. Coming here that first week, though, was crazy; the amount of people I met was incredible. All these people that I had dreamed about meeting. There was no need to send all these crazy packages to labels and then never get any contact. Here I met the actual label owners or artists."
Ironically the record company that signed Ursula 1000 was one of those to whom Gimeno sent a package while he was still living in Miami. Eighteenth Street Lounge co-owner Rob Garza recalls receiving a CD-ROM in the mail from Gimeno. "We really liked it, so we called him right away and asked if he was working on anything else," Garza remembers. "In the next day or so we called him again and told him we'd like to sign him to our label. The whole thing took place in about a week, which was very quick."
Locked in ultimately unsuccessful negotiations with Palm Pictures, Eighteenth Street Lounge Music delayed signing Ursula 1000 and getting a record out for nearly a year. In the interim Gimeno pressed 50 copies of his album and took them to Other Music, one of New York City's central stops for record-hungry hipsters. They sold out in a weekend's time. As Gimeno wondered if he should establish his own label, the supremely confident Eighteenth Street duo came calling again and a deal was sealed. "We always had a good relationship with Alex. I don't think that [losing him] was something we were scared about," Garza says. "He's someone that we really wanted to work with, and we thought that he'd really have a place here at the label. His music represents what the label is all about."
What Ursula 1000's music is all about, despite its smorgasbord of sounds is, unwittingly on Gimeno's part, a Latin beat. "People have said that you can tell I'm from Miami because you can hear the whole Latin influence, and I say 'Really? Okay. I guess it's there.' I honestly didn't consciously do that," he explains. "It's funny because my parents are Latin but they're from Spain, so I never had a kind of mambo or salsa background, but somehow that Latin percussion vibe came across on the record on a lot of tracks. It definitely comes from being a drummer, from liking rhythm and drums."
And being able to get people moving with his music is essential for Gimeno. This past year in New York he worked at musical instrument retail store Sam Ash during the day and spun at downtown restaurant Clementine at night for close to six months. "It got boring really fast. There's no dance floor because of the whole Giuliani restaurant/cabaret license law," he says about the mayor's edict requiring any operation where people might be inclined to dance to have a cabaret license. "It's a very Footloose kind of thing," he jokes. "There's places that have these signs, little plaques, that say 'No dancing in accordance with ordinance blah, blah, blah.'"
A few months ago Gimeno dropped both the retail and restaurant gigs and is now attempting to make a living full-time from his music. "Recently I was invited to DJ in Berlin with the duo Le Hammond Inferno and a DJ named Stereo DeLuxe," Gimeno says. "It was great, and when I came back, I decided that even if I have to bite the bullet financially, I want to do music and DJing and that's it. I don't want to spend 45 hours of my life working in a store that I don't really care about." A few weeks ago he DJed in San Francisco and Philadelphia and every once in a while he spins at the New York City club Life, but nothing stable has presented itself yet.
All that free time means reading, watching James Bond and Peter Sellers movies, working on his Website, ursula1000.com, spending a lot of quality time with the dog (yes, the ferocious creature is still around), and getting a lot of work done. Gimeno is readying a single to be released on the Bungalow label and has almost an entire album's worth of tracks prepared for the next Ursula 1000 record. The challenge now is to not repeat himself, stay human-sounding, and fresh. "That will definitely be a venture," he allows. "I'm always still buying new records. I'm up on the whole scene of where electronica and dance music is going so I'm not stuck in any kind of genre. I'm still dabbling in retro sounds. What matters is what's over it to give it a modern flavor."
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