The Next Episode

Burned on the biz and sick of electro-clash, Felix da Housecat returns with his salute to all things melodic and “black electronic” with Virgo Blaktro & the Movie Disco

“Before I made Kittenz and Thee Glitz, I was really hungry,” Felix da Housecat says from his London flat. “Back then, I was just fed up; I was bitter toward the electronic-music industry. I was in straight rebel-underground mode. Then Kittenz became so successful, and I got caught up in the hype. Britney Spears, Puffy, Marilyn Manson — they all wanted my sound. I was living the glitz and partying like crazy. I lost myself in the plot.”

Felix da Housecat (born Felix Stallings) is the quintessential man-boy artist, his mind racing 1,000 miles a minute, his ideas bouncing off the walls like reflections from a disco mirror ball. He's feverishly creative, fast as a whip and as scatterbrained as they come. His breakthrough, Kittenz and Thee Glitz (Emperor Norton, 2001), almost single-handedly heralded electro-clash, a term Felix despised, referring to music that he felt was less than genuine. But soon enough, the glitz got the best of him, and partying became a lifestyle, not a weekend retreat. He followed Kittenz with various projects: working with Sean Combs on an upcoming dance album, releasing the imaginary soundtrack Rocketmann! (Pias America, 2002), recording Devon Dazzle & The Neon Fever (Rykodisc, 2004) and the still unreleased Keyboard 22 and Son of Analog. But it all faded next to his appetite for destruction.

“I was more into being the rock star than the focused artist,” Felix admits. “And I didn't even realize it until Junior Sanchez pointed it out to me. I'd left my management; I was bugging. I was partying all the time. It got out of control. I was even distracted while recording Devon Dazzle. I felt I had to live up to Kittenz and Thee Glitz. I wasn't ready to record; that album was stressful. One day, I just snapped. Two years had gone by and no record made — I knew I had to get back in the studio. Virgo Blaktro is deeper.”

Virgo Blaktro & The Movie Disco (Rude Photo/Nettwerk, 2007) salutes black disco heroes and soul-funk stars, everyone from Prince and Cameo to Parliament, the Thin White Duke and Chic influencing Felix's synth-heavy opus to good times.


“For Virgo Blaktro, I wanted to do a Black electronic take on music,” he explains. “Not saying it is a color; it is deeper than that. When I say ‘black,’ I am speaking of the grooves within the music, the swing and the feel. Kittenz was just straight Euro and very flat when it came to the grooves, but it worked. With Virgo Blaktro, I focused more on the melodies and the grooves.”

Recorded in three different studios with as many producer/engineers, Virgo Blaktro & The Movie Disco charts the perfect evolution of Felix Stallings. The focus is on the streamlined black soul of Prince and Ray Parker Jr., the hard funk of Cameo and the disco grooves of Chic. To that end, Felix spread his net wide, working primarily with Belgian dance producer BC and Atlanta star producer Dallas Austin and his superengineer, Rick Sheppard.

Felix relinquished his famed control — his practice of playing, producing and mixing everything himself — to BC and Sheppard. Original tracks were cut at BC's Diamond City studio in Antwerp, Belgium (“Tweak,” “Future Calls the Dawn,” “Radio”), at Barcelona's Movie Disco studio with producer Mr. Charly “Eyebrows” (“Moviedisco,” “It's Been a Long Time,” “Monkey Cage,” “It's Your Move” and “Like Something 4 Porno!”) with further recording, rerecording and mixdown at Austin's DARP studios in Atlanta.

“I've always mixed and engineered all my albums,” Felix divulges. “I'd share songwriting credits or drum programming, but everything else was all me. For this album, I wanted to bring in some high-end engineers and dope programmers and producers so I could focus on the songwriting. It was taking so much of my energy on top of DJing; I wanted to take a new angle. I wanted an electronic disco-type sound, with live bass, guitar and drums, and added synths.”


Working with BC (aka Alain Croisy) in Antwerp after becoming enamored with his supertrigger finger in Apple Logic, Felix got down to business. Relying on BC to match the old-school keyboard sounds he heard in his head to various virtual synths, Felix found he was free to create. But some practices die hard.

“BC would pull up my favorite synths and drum machines for me to work with,” Felix explains. “Then I'd take a bottle of mescal, drink a couple shots, and start playing and creating. I'd establish the blueprint, and we'd take it from there. So much of the recording process for this album is a blur. BC taught me some things, but he is so fast I just focused on playing the keys; we did the drums together, and he did the bleeps and blunders.”

“It seems like Felix doesn't know what he is doing,” BC says from an Atlanta studio, “but he comes up with these amazing melodies. I always wonder afterward, ‘How did we do that?’ You see him bending over the keyboard coming up with melodies. It seems like he doesn't know anything about music, but he does.”

Eventually, Felix moved to Atlanta's DARP studios where he rerecorded certain tracks. But “Radio” and “Future Calls the Dawn” remained untouched from their Antwerp incarnations. Beyond recording locations, two themes run throughout Virgo Blaktro: down with midrange, up with “The Magic Box.”

“Me and BC always argue about virtual synths,” Felix says with a laugh. “They are already so compressed and EQ'd. But one thing about my sound that I explained to BC is that I don't like a lot of midrange. In all my synths in all my songs, I drop the midrange. With all the EQs across the board, I bring some of the midrange down to give it that warm sound. The only thing that I don't drop in the mids is the vocals. When we are working, I am still getting my sound. We don't add a lot of compression outside of the kicks, and we will only compress the synths if you can't hear them in the mix. So once I got it half the time when I am recording, I am screaming in BC's ear, ‘Drop the mids!’”

Meanwhile, Felix pumps up his vocals with a secret device he calls “the magic box.” Remix was told he wouldn't divulge the actual model and manufacturer of this secret weapon, but Felix was relatively easy to crack.

“A lot of the vocals,” he finally explains, “are me through my magic box. Puffy, Dallas, they all want to know what the magic box is, but I can't tell you! DigiTech made it in the early '90s, but it's not a vocoder; it's called a Vocalist. You can't find that shit no more unless you go on eBay.”

But it was a worthwhile purchase for vocal-challenged Felix. “Those glistening vocals in ‘Radio’ are from the magic box,” BC says. “You can connect the magic box to your keyboard and play the notes that you are singing at the same time; it just layers it like a vocoder-ish effect. It is kind of a hassle to connect it all the time, but it does something special. Felix is not the greatest singer in the world, which is why we used that. I also used Melodyne to tune the vocals. I tune them really hard; then they start to sound like a little robot.”

Although “the magic box” is a savior in the studio, it still needs some coaxing to work to Felix's benefit. “Basically, I made two presets where the DigiTech will capture the voice instead of the keyboard voice,” Felix explains. “You just play the keys and mix your voice with it. But you still have to be able to hold a tune; you can't just plug it up and it will sing for you. The Vocalist is very hard to operate, and it's only MIDI'd for the notes. So when Rick Sheppard is running a session, he is punching me in 'cause I can't sing and play the notes at the same time. I write the melodies, and then I punch in the vocals section by section. It's very hard to sing through, play at the same time and hold the key so it registers through the Vocalist, but it is amazing.”


One of the calmest, most well-informed engineers anywhere, Sheppard brought Virgo Blaktro's sonics to the next level.

“Rick recut and spliced all my vocals, cut out all the noise, cranked them up even louder and spread them across the span,” Felix declares. “He took them to an extreme new level. There is a huge difference sonically between this album and Devon Dazzle. I told Rick I wanted my stuff to sound big like on a hip-hop or R&B album, but I didn't want it over the top. I just wanted it big, like electronic-pop music.”

Sheppard gave Virgo Blaktro maximum impact, while BC enabled Felix to focus more on singing, songwriting and his performance. The two worked as a unit, beginning with BC's tutorials on the intricacies of Apple Logic. Giving Felix a copy of Netopia Timbuktu remote-control software, BC was able to control his computer from Antwerp and educate him in the process. Soon, they were working like old shipmates. The fruit of their relationship is heard in three of the album's best tracks: “Radio,” “Tweak” and “Future Calls the Dawn.” The sounds in “Tweak” are particularly interesting, like robotic cockroaches scurrying down virtual wormholes.

“That's a siren from a Public Enemy record, a sample of a horn or a siren chopped up and reversed,” Felix explains. “I am sure [producer] Hank Shocklee took it from somewhere, too. Then we matched it with a Logic ES1 synth, two sirens going at the same time, so it sounds like it is overlapping. We had to pitch-shift the sample and the synth.”

“That is a lot of Logic BitCrusher,” BC adds. “I crushed the hell out of the lead ES1 sounds, then put a pitch-shifter from Logic after that sound. That way, we moved it up gradually in the middle of the song where the synths dart around. The song is called ‘Tweak'' because we moved everything around and added lots of EQ. That made it move and filter up and down. It almost doesn't matter what the lead sound is 'cause it is so heavily BitCrushed; it gives a nasty distortion sound.”

“Future Calls the Dawn” adheres to Vocoder-heavy, synth-pop style, the song swirling and spiraling as if on some endless loop. It's notable for its parallel stomping bass drum and synth wash. If the sources seem connected, as if the bass drum is triggering the synths, it's because they are.

“BC and I often argue whether the magic box works better than the Vocoder in Logic,” Felix says. “‘The Dawn'' is where he wanted to prove that it sounds just as good. He took my natural singing voice and ran it through Melodyne and stretched the notes a little bit to give it a robotic feel. Then he used an Orange Vocoder. We are constantly working with our vocoder so it doesn't sound like Daft Punk or someone else. We take my natural voice, tune it, stretch it, leave some natural voice, then use the Orange Vocoder and all these crazy effects. But I prefer my magic box 'cause I don't want it to sound like everyone's vocoder.”

But BC has plenty of tricks up his own sleeve to avoid sounding the same as everyone else. “For that track,” he says, “I ran a whole pack of synths through a bus in Logic, put a compressor on the bus and sidechained it with the bass drum, so every time the bass drum kicks, the synths go down in level. That is why you get that pumping feeling there — that triggering of the Logic compressor makes it pump. Everything that goes through that bus goes up and down; every time the kick drum hits, it slams the synths up and down. Benny Benassi put that on the map.”


Felix Stallings loves his aliases, be it Devon Dazzle, Son of Analog or Virgo Blaktro. They make it easy for him to slip in and out of view, whether he is remixing a pop star, working with a hip-hop icon or simply burying himself in a bottle of mescal. Felix da Housecat may be back on the ground, but Virgo Blaktro is a man on a mission.

“A lot of people loved Devon Dazzle, which trips me out,” Felix remarks. “That was a stressful record to make. It wasn't really natural. Everybody on the record wanted the ball. You can't all take the shot! When you listen to Virgo, you feel a warm, good feeling. The melodies are within the synths, the lyrics and the vocals, three different melodies going at the same time on each song. Sonically, Virgo is just more melodic.”

Inside the Movie Disco

Computers, DAW, hardware, software

Apogee X-Symphony card, Rosetta 800 AD/DA converter

Apple Mac Pro Quad Core running Logic Pro 7

MOTU 896HD interface

Netopia Timbuktu remote control software

Synths, soft synths

Alesis Andromeda

Arturia Minimoog V, Moog Modular V soft synths

Korg Legacy Collection soft synths

Logic Pro 7 ES1, ES2 soft synths

Moog Little Phatty, Moog Voyager

Roland Juno-106

Sequential Circuits Prophet 600, Prophet VS

Yamaha CS-80, Motif 6

Mics, mic preamps, EQs, compressors, effects, plug-ins

Apple Logic Pro 7 BitCrusher, EVOC20 Vocoder, Linear Phase EQ, Pitch Correction

Blue Blueberry mic

Camel Audio CamelPhat v3.4 CamelSpace v1.4 Rhythmic multi-effects processors

Celemony Melodyne

DigiTech Vocalist

Prosoniq Orange Vocoder

Sonalksis SV-315 Mk2 compressor

Space Designer convolution reverb

Sampler, turntable, DJ mixer

Apple Logic Pro 7 EXS24 mkII sampler

Pioneer CDJ-1000 CD turntable

Rane Serato Scratch Live DJ software/hardware

Rane TTM 56 Performance Mixer


Genelec 1030As

Technics RP-DH1200 headphones

DARP GEAR (courtesy Rick Sheppard) Computer, DAW, hardware, console

(3) Apogee AD-16X A/D converter, Big Ben Master Digital Clock, Rosetta 200 A/D/A converter

Apple G4 1.25 GHz dual processor running Logic Audio

Lucid AD9624 24-bit stereo 96 kHz A/D converter

Spin Audio Virtual Mixing Console

Tube-Tech SSA 2A Stereo Summing Amplifier

Key Rack 1

E-mu Audity 2000, Morpheus, Proteus 2000, Proteus/1 and Proteus/2

Korg TR-Rack

Roland JV-2080s (2), U-110, XV-5080

Waves L2 Ultramaximizer

Yamaha TX81Z

Key Rack 2

E-mu Planet Earth, Turbo Phatt, XL-1 Turbo

Korg MS2000R

Roland Fantom-XR

Studio Electronics Omega 8, SE-1

Key Rack 3

Alesis QSR

E-mu Mo'Phatt, Virtuoso 2000

Kawai K1r-II

Korg Triton

Kurzweil MicroPiano

Novation Nova

Quasimidi PolyMorph

Roland D-550, V-Synth

Samplers, drum machines/modules

Akai MPC2000

Alesis D4, DM5

Boss DR-770

E-mu Pro/Cussion, (2) SP1200s

Kawai XD-5

Novation DrumStation

Roland CR-68, CompuRhythm, HPD-15 HandSonic, MC-303 GrooveBox, SP-808

Sequential Circuits Studio 440


Access Virus

Clavia Nord Lead

Fatar 88-Key MIDI Controller

Korg Karma, Micro, T3, Trinity Plus, Triton

Moog Source, Moog Voyager

Novation KS4

Oberheim OB-8, OBX-A

Quasimidi Sirius

Roland Juno-106

Sequential Circuits Prophet-5, Prophet-T8

Wurlitzer electronic piano

Yamaha DX7II-FD

Vintage Rack

Akai S1000, S3200, S6000

E-mu Planet Phatt

Ensoniq ASR-10, Mirage

Korg EX-8000, Wavestation A/D

Kurzweil K2000R

Next Vox-II Vocoder

Roland SVC-350 Vocoder

Studio Electronics Midimoog