Photo: Drew Ressler
To look at them, world-renowned rocker/drummer/producer Tommy Lee and his Electro Mayhem touring partner, relative newcomer DJ Aero (Chester Deitz), are a somewhat mismatched pair. Descending upon the deserted House of Blues' Foundation Room in Vegas for a soundcheck, the pair demonstrates its unique performance relationship over a few electro-house tracks they just purchased on Beatport.com. Aero chooses and serves up the raw track, and Lee manipulates it, adding racy, edgy, dirty effects. “He's the nuts and bolts,” says wiry Lee of the stockier Aero, “I'm like the whipped cream on top.” Dissimilar as they look, their rhythmic bouncing becomes one fluid movement under the influence of music.
“Aahh! Too much reverb on the vocal,” Lee recoils as Aero pushes a disappointing remix of Beastie Boys' “Fight for Your Right” through the sound system of the Palms' Crib suite. “That's fucking terrible. That's the worst ever.”
“Tommy's not a fan of reverb, I'll tell you that,” says Aero with a laugh, moving on to a Mark Mendez track. “Hmm, pretty boring,” he declares. “It definitely wasn't thick enough, that's for sure. Sorry, dude. Next!”
Music shopping with this entertaining twosome — even digitally — is part adolescent window-shopping escapade, part serious critic's corner; just when you think you're addressing the peanut gallery, they deliver industry insight and wisdom so sage as to make even the most confident label exec adjust his tie and scoot forward in his seat.
It's easy to see the youthful energy beneath Lee's ink, piercings, shaggy hair and dental bling, the childlike innocence tempered by a wise man's experience that allows him to take on project after project, gunning at life full speed ahead. “I had left Mötley Cruë to go do a hybrid solo project called Methods of Mayhem, and I was like, ‘You know what? I've been doing that for so long…the only thing I want to do right now is anything that I haven't done yet.”'' Colleagues urged Lee to explore new ways of looking at beats. On tour with the rap-rock-metal group, DJ Z-Trip, Mixmaster Mike, Shortcut, Q-Bert and others, Lee discovered his niche, manipulating recordings with a Pioneer EFX-500 or 1000 and matching video on his Pioneer DVJ.
“I'm a drummer, so I've always been completely attracted to the beats and curious as to how all that went down.” At this he drums on the suite's pool-table lights, cracking one in the process. Breaking things in a hotel suite — how very rock.
“And I think that's a big misconception of what people think that we do together,” Aero continues the tale. “They think that we're both behind two 1200s or whatever. A lot of people ask Tommy, ‘So how was it, touching the turntables or scratching or whatever?'' And he's like, ‘Well, I don't really do that.'' That's why I'm here.”
Every Electro Mayhem performance is a unique, live remix event complete with cameras capturing live feed. “I want people to see what we're doing back there,” Lee says. “We're not sitting back there going ‘Fuck yeah! This is rad!'' while the disc is playing. The last thing I want anyone to fucking think is that we're just up there pressing play.” Aero nods in grave agreement: “I think there's a lot of that going on nowadays — pressing play.”
Atop their grueling schedule of live shows, Lee and Aero have occasionally taken their act off the road, laying down tracks for a studio album, a collaboration with DJ/producer Deadmau5 and Steve Duda. The album, WTF?, launched right before the 2008 Winter Music Conference in Miami and, as Lee says, it still captures the energy and madness of a live set. Their personal Jägermeister machine even makes a cameo as a sound effect in the track “You Can't Afford This.”
AZZIDO DE BASS
“Doom's Night (Switch remix)” (Kontor)
Aero: It's almost as though the track starts with the climax. This is one of the old, classic, dirty/filthy tracks that Paul Oakenfold used to play a lot. Oakenfold made this track famous, word! It's got a heavily syncopated breakbeat.
Lee: It reminds me of the old-school Gap Band dance beats mixed in with Evil Nine or Adam Freeland breaks.
CUTBACK FEAT. FEDERAL
“Rock to the Rhythm (Vibes remix)” (Used and Abused)
Aero: It sounds like a dirty warehouse party where everybody's rockin'. It's got a dubby, kinda aggressive reggae thing going on with the hyper-percussive vocal repeating, “rock to the rhythm/rock to the rhythm/rock to the rhythm” in rapid succession. The drum roll sounds like machine-gun fire when you affect it with Traktor Scratch. It's got reggae flavor up in the hood…and it feels good!
DJ TIMELINE FEAT. PEARL MILLER
“I Just Want to (Lars Schneemann remix)” (Decks Tracks)
Lee: It's got an amazing vocal breakdown. If you listen, you can hear that, as the vocals go down, you hear a tiny keyboard part that breaks. The second I heard that, I was like, “What a great intro to use as a segue!” It's very rare that a breakdown makes me feel like that! It's really great.
HATIRAS AND JELO
“Donkey Punch” (Hatrax)
Aero: The dirty, buzzing, beelike bass line on the intro…it's like a shriek! That song just really makes you wanna dance! To me, that's exactly the sound we wanna play when we're DJing. The bass is so distorted and deep.
Lee: Another thing that Aero and I are both fans of are vocals. Plain dance music, after an hour, can be so repetitious. I want something you can latch onto — a nice melody. It's one of those tracks where if you showed up to a club on crutches, you'd chuck 'em and be like, “Wooo!” You'd be dancing! It sounds like a centipede. Oh, and by the way, there's nothing wrong with handclaps because it's a party. God bless the handclaps and their little cotton socks.
Aero: This one's going in, just because of the old-school factor…the people who've really been into dance music will know that track, and for the new-school people just finding dance music, they will find that track. This track reminds me of the [early '90s] in L.A. The cowbells and horns are sick! You can feel someone pounding that beat, literally.
Lee: It's weird, you don't hear a lot of cowbells in dance music, so when it's crashing on the quarter note, it's relentless…and we love it!
MIMO AND MARCUS SCHMAHL
Aero: I like just how thick it sounds over the P.A. Every track that usually appeals to Tommy and I has some unique sound, and it sounds bigger than it really is.
Lee: Aero and I have this conversation all the time. Whenever you take a track and grab the bass, a snare or a main part of the track and make it play in reverse…anything that sucks you in, it really affects you and pulls you into the track.
“Get Ready” (Atsuo)
Aero: I like that big analog sound. This track, once it comes in, just starts galloping! With all of the buzzy, analog synths, it sounds like it's literally galloping. It's already building up.
Lee: There's nothing worse than when you're like, “Oh, God! Here it comes! Here it comes! Here it comes!” And they fucking let you down. Like, come on, dude! Who was standing next to you saying, “That's a wrap”?
Aero: They should be fired.