"I couldn't believe the attention I got by putting on a little ten-dollar tank top," marvels Lisa Garcia. "Suddenly I was at the top of the line, the A list in Miami." The teeny top in question may have simply had the Hustler name emblazoned across its front, but that magazine's logo was enough to get Garcia ushered through the Saturday-night crush at Level's velvet rope while her boyfriend stood futilely waving his Winter Music Conference (WMC) badge. The two weren't just there to enjoy the music, however. Taking advantage of the thousands in town for last month's electronic dance-music confab, they were working.
Once inside the club, Garcia pulled out a wad of long, glossy flyers from its strategic hiding spot inside her bra and began moving through the crowd, keeping an eye peeled for any of Level's staff, who would likely eject her for committing such a promoter's faux pas. She didn't have to worry for long, though. The flyers, advertising the following day's Hustler-sponsored poolside shindig at the Albion Hotel -- complete with "Hustler girls" and a "special XXX room" -- went fast.
"Girls were begging me to get on the guest list," Garcia laughs with a shake of her head, "and all the boys wanted to know how to get my T-shirt for their girlfriends."
The reaction had been much the same across the city earlier that day, as a squad of local models in Hustler tees, silver thongs, and high heels passed out flyers to intrigued WMC registrants at North Beach's Radisson Deauville hotel, moving on to Bayfront Park for the Ultra Fest concert. There the fest's organizers ushered them onstage to gyrate before an appreciative audience of more than 20,000.
Of course Garcia's interest in promoting the Hustler party was a bit more long-term than an afternoon's paycheck. Kingsize, the New York City record label run by her boyfriend, Matt Hanrahan, is providing a good chunk of the soundtrack to DJ Groupie, an electronica-theme adult film Hustler shot around South Beach over the course of the WMC. Cutting from crowded Washington Avenue dance floors to scenes of explicit sex taking place everywhere from the roof of Lincoln Road's Sony Building to a room inside the Albion, DJ Groupie serves up a picture of the Beach that may not sit well with local tourism officials.
Yet the warm reception the Albion's Rubell family and Winter Music Conference attendees alike extended to Hustler's crew speaks to the mainstreaming of the ten-billion-dollar porn industry. And it's even more indicative of the mainstreaming of the dance music world. After all, it's hard to imagine the rave milieu of just a few years ago taking such a shine to the sudden appearance of a phalanx of thong-clad Hustler girls. That type of meat-market titillation was considered a noxious part of the established club world, a world the rave scene was fashioned as an explicit protest against.
To put it mildly, times have changed. "The rave scene was nothing in '97," Garcia recalls. "When I used to go out to parties, my friends would say it was all ridiculous. Now those same people are at those parties." Along with those fresh bodies has come a new overall aesthetic, one that has traded in Detroit as its myth-loaded buzzword for Ibiza. It's a telling switch. American promoters might be attempting to connote a dash of exotic sophistication by invoking Ibiza, but that Spanish isle's reality is far from glamorous. Largely a frenzied playground for thousands of vacationing British youth, Ibiza has become a Union Jack take on Daytona Beach's spring break, with beer bongs and Led Zeppelin superseded by glow sticks, Ecstasy, and Sasha and Digweed. While that new model's growing popularity on this side of the Atlantic may be distressing to anyone pining for dance music's postdisco black-and-gay roots, it's a marketer's dream. Selling the faceless, instrumental beats of electronica has presented problems for the music industry. Selling sex is easy.
"If you read the European dance magazines like Musik and Mixmag, it's a lot of tits and ass," explains Kingsize's Matt Hanrahan. Flipping through those mags' pages, the message is clear. "Their vibe is: Go out, get fucked up, dance, get laid."
In that light the interest of Hustler in this budding demographic is a no-brainer. In fact it's not even the first adult-oriented company to try a little electronica rebranding. "Playboy attempted this a few years ago, but they tried to keep it too clean for their own good," Hanrahan notes of a few WMC parties that featured fully clothed Bunnies smiling obligingly, as well as an accompanying house compilation, A Night at the Playboy Mansion. None of this generated much excitement; in today's raunchy cultural clime, Hugh Hefner's cocktail-sipping soft-core approach didn't register as old-school so much as ancient.
"Nowadays girls like to have a few beers and get into it with other girls," Garcia cheerfully suggests.
Jimmy Flynt II hardly looks like a stereotypical porn executive. There are no heavy gold chains draped around his neck, no cigar stub clenched between his teeth, no attendant harem. Instead, in his shorts, sneakers, and crisp yellow Polo shirt, Flynt looks like just another clean-cut 28-year-old with a degree in marketing. And his business sense tells him which way the cultural wind is blowing.
"Rock and roll had its time," he declares with a slight Southern drawl, sitting at a table overlooking the Albion Hotel's pool, sipping on a glass of iced tea. As for electronica: "It's the next rock and roll. Hip-hop was once just like techno music -- not as popular as rock and roll. Now it's the biggest thing."
It's that belief that has brought Flynt to the Albion, a temporary home base for Hustler's foray into the electronic world. "DJ Groupie is a film about the dance community," he continues, choosing his words carefully. "It's a documentary" -- Flynt pauses, perhaps realizing that word isn't one that causes hordes of people to run screaming to their video stores -- "but with sex in it."
Turning thoughtful, he describes the previous evening's filmed orgy in the Albion's Bamboo Room as an example of "where this music's energy can take you. It's visionaries like Larry Flynt and the Rubells who want to push the envelope and allow people to express themselves. If it weren't for the Rubells, it would've been very difficult to pull something like this off in South Beach." An offer to shoot a sex scene amid the famed sculptures and paintings inside the Rubell's warehoused art collection eventually was scrapped as the difficulty of obtaining legal permissions from the actual artists became clear. Still Flynt seems genuinely disappointed at this lost possibility of celebrating the First Amendment.
If it all seems like a speech cribbed from Milos Forman's The People vs. Larry Flynt, a biopic enshrinement of that elder figure as nothing short of porn's answer to Citizen Kane, well, Jimmy Flynt II is that mogul's nephew. And though he only entered the family business a little more than two years ago as Hustler's director of marketing and public relations, it's clearly a role of which he's proud.
"People have no idea how vast Larry Flynt's empire is," he explains, detailing erotic boutiques in West Hollywood and Cincinnati; a New Orleans strip club; a new $35 million casino in Gardena, California; and, of course, an array of video lines and magazine titles from Hustler's Barely Legal to the skateboarding bible Big Brother. And then there are Flynt's political crusades: At the height of the Monica Lewinsky scandal, it was Flynt's own investigative team that uncovered extramarital affairs on the part of Republican Congressmen Bob Barr and Bob Livingston, effectively derailing GOP efforts to oust Bill Clinton.
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As he speaks with Kulchur, it becomes clear that Flynt's responsibilities extend beyond his official title. He's continually interrupted by both his chirping cell phone and other Hustler staffers who approach gingerly, asking him to solve everything from licensing agreements for DJ Groupie's soundtrack (the debut release from Hustler's own record label) to the location fee for the use of the nightclub bathroom in which this afternoon's sex scene is to take place. The club's owner suddenly has doubled his asking price.
"Don't mention any figures until I get there," Flynt says sternly into his phone before hanging up. With a frown he tells Kulchur that "a lot of people think when a Larry Flynt production comes to town, our checkbook is wide open." Adhering to DJ Groupie's $50,000 budget is precisely why Larry Flynt is so rich, he adds. With the company's films averaging videotape and DVD sales of 20,000 copies each -- in addition to even more lucrative sales to satellite and cable TV channels, as well as hotel room pay-per-view -- a total gross of one million dollars is expected.
"This is a business," he stresses. "Most people think Larry Flynt is a crippled old man pumping out porn in the basement of his house. But if you came to our headquarters in Beverly Hills, you would see a skyscraper with his name on it. You would find one of the most amazing antique collections in the world on the executive floor. You would not see any hint of adult content." He reconsiders for a moment. "Well, other than if someone is carrying some naked pictures for Larry to sign off on."
Next week: "Who's got the baby wipes?": On the set of DJ Groupie