To the surprise of many Americans, Boy George has established a reputation as one of the world's more renowned DJs following the 1986 breakup of Culture Club, the band with whom he became one of the world's more flamboyantly familiar figures during the 1980s.
"I was at a dinner party last night," he said, laughing, "and a woman asked me what I do now. I told her I sit around and look at old videos of myself and do some occasional carpentry.
"But really," he continued, "it's nice to not have that sort of popularity anymore. I make a much better living DJing than I ever made with Culture Club, and now I don't have to worry about the tabloids. It used to be that I would be on the front page whenever I fell or farted in public. Now they only put me in when something really terrible happens like when that mirrorball fell on my head."
Although Boy George may not be looking for Culture Club-era notoriety in the States for his DJ career, he wouldn't mind a little more recognition for it. His solo albums released here have enjoyed only marginal success. And of those, only 1991's Martyr Mantras displayed his electronic-music proficiency clearly.
With the 1999 release of Galaxy Mix on Ministry of Sound's label, however, it became clear that Boy George wasn't merely "dabbling" in DJing. The double-disc collection focused on the mainstream side to George's dancefloor taste, featuring cuts from Armand Van Helden, Fatboy Slim and Underworld alongside edgier artists such as Soulsearcher and Paul Johnson as well as Boy George compatriots Amanda Ghost and Kinky Roland. Although released in the UK, Galaxy Mix also clued in many Americans that Boy George wasn't a nostalgia act quite yet.
"When I come to America, the general public is usually like, 'I love "Karma Chameleon,"'" he said. "It's really too difficult to explain what I've been doing for the past 15 years. But the people who are into the music know what I've been doing, and that's what's really important."
With the release of George's first u.s. mix-CD, an entry in the Essential Mix series, the reputation he's garnered in England via his radio show, club dates and compilations may finally reach this side of the Atlantic. Where Galaxy Mix focused on more mainstream tracks, Essential Mix is an aptly titled distillation of what Boy George as a DJ is all about.
"Compilations have become so common in the U.K. now that there's an insider-trading feel to it all," said George of Galaxy Mix's flavor. "If you want to license one track from a major, they force you to take two or three more you don't want.
Essential Mix is more representative of what George does in a club than on his radio show. And while artists such as Kinky Roland or Cultural Diversion (essentially Culture Club on a techno tip) are associated with his More Protein label, the single-disc collection, part of DJ Pete Tong's "Essential" series, focuses on the underground.
"It's hard for underground talent to get the attention it deserves," George said. "DJing is liberating in that you can play pretty much whatever you want to. You're not bound by charts or radio. You play what works and sounds good."
From the bassbin-busting twin assault of "Future Sound of Retro" and "Some Say She's Retro" (by Lee Combs and Dark Globe, respectively) and the hard-hitting "Second Coming" by Wave to the frothy funk of Boogie Macs' version of "Girl From Ipanema" and the ragga breakstep of "Here Come the Lick Again" by Suburban Lick, Essential Mix shows off George's versatility and sense of humor. It also demonstrates his knack for mixing up records for the club environment.
"The mix was definitely done live. But," he laughed, "I'm a very anal person perhaps too anal. So a lot of tweaking went on afterward. Tightening up bits, taking out boring parts, making things hit a little harder. After all, if you ask someone to spend 15 dollars or whatever on a CD, you should make it as good as you can. "