Alex Gimeno has always been the kind of artist that people could never quite peg. Sure his early Ursula 1000 offerings served up plenty of retro beats right out of the Bossa Nova and 60’s scenes. But it was during his recent DJ set at The Roxy, where he teamed with fellow beatmasters Fort Knox 5 and Kraak & Smaak, to show Los Angeles just how diverse his sounds truly are.
“That seems to be always the thing with me. I can’t remember when I’ve ever just gone out and spun a single genre,” Alex laughed. “Even when I was really into the drum and bass side of things, right in the middle of that I would throw random, ridiculous, French, 60’s kinds of tracks in there to throw people off and they always dug it. When I’m at home, I’m always listening to a gazillion different kind of tracks and I think that sort of seeps into your brain.”
That was quite alright for the rest of us, as the sounds of Ursula 1000 kept the grooves tight before Fort Knox and Kraak & Smaak took the stage. Having long been familiar with the Ursula 1000 sound, courtesy of Thievery Corporation’s ESL Records (home to Ocote Soul Sounds and Federico Aubele), I wasn’t quite sure what to expect for his DJ style, but had been promised by Fort Knox 5’s Jon Horvath that I had no idea what I was in store for.
Jon was right, as Alex’s set contained plenty of high-octane funk, breaks and even a few cheeky samples as a nod to his early works sprinkled throughout.
“It was pretty much like that from the beginning, when I was first DJing after having that (his ace debut, The Now Sounds of Ursula 1000) out, the sets were always super hyper-active,” Alex said. “The first record came out in 1999, so it was the big-beat era, the DJ sets were always pretty heavy. In the very beginning, there was some people expecting 60’s stuff, so even within the set I would throw some of that kind of stuff in there but then slowly but surely it started becoming more and more, clubby, always super eclectic though, from breaks to house and back again.”
But I wondered what it was about those early sounds and vibes that has played such a heavy part in the Ursula 1000 evolution.
“Not sure what it is from that era…specifically the mid to late 60’s, that’s so enticing,“ Alex pondered. “Maybe the innocent and optimistic look to the future of technology; the political uprising and voices of protest; the psychedelic era…..so much was happening. A lot of what I grabbed initially was that innocent, cheeky, party vibe aspect. The campy spy flicks. The funky Hammond organ grooviness and the boogaloo Latin vibe. All of that mixed with what was currently going on at the time…house, breaks, techno…making collages of those different sounds and eras, sounded like a fun thing to do. Kind of a mad scientist experimentation.”
But like most music lovers, Alex certainly opens his ears to plenty of other sounds as well and doesn’t plan on pigeonholing himself anytime soon.
“Other things make me tick too…I’m not just stuck in the 60’s,” he said. “So my love of early 70’s glam rock, harder psychedelia, R&B, hip-hop, electro and post-punk started to come through in my last albums. But I always gravitate back to the 60’s for inspiration again even with my latest obsession, which is trashy fuzzy garage rock. But as always, rocking it with a modern twist!”
There was plenty of twists on this night, the night before Halloween, as myself and fellow fans all dressed up for the party. Alex even got into the act with an all-black outfit which included a vintage prog-rock Spaceman 3 t-shirt and a handlebar mustache that made my make-shift Sheriff’s ’stache look pretty pathetic by comparison. The biggest difference being that my mustache was part of a costume but Alex’s was born out of pure love.
“It’s kind of a Jack the Ripper meets Alice Cooper kind of thing,” he told me about his new look. “This mustache was inspired by watching the Pink Floyd Live in Pompeii DVD. I always wanted to grow a mustache and just every time I was almost there, I was like, ‘Nah, I can’t take it anymore,’ but finally I got inspired by that early 70’s, Prog-Rock style that I like, plus my wife really likes it.”
Perhaps Alex is just trying to channel all of the new sounds he’s been dabbling in. After the release of his most recent album, the magnificent, Mystics, which showcased this ‘harder’ style of the Ursula 1000 sound, he’s already trying on plenty of new hats.
I’ve recently been listening to a lot of really trashy, garage rock, like heavy, heavy fuzz, which is kind of inspiring this new EP I’m working on.
He then added, “It’s very fuzz-guitar orientated,” Alex told us, exclusively. Coming out soon on ESL, “It’s four songs and it’s almost done, I’m just thinking about a couple of vocalists for them.”
Among those vocalists might be legendary B-52’s frontman, Fred Schneider, a kindred spirit whom Alex recently met and hit it off with.
“I have this one track that I think it would be kind of cool to have him on,” Alex said. “We were on a plane together, I walked by and was like, ‘Oh my God, there’s Fred Schneider!’ So after thinking for a second, I had to go up to him and it turned out that he had a lot of my records and then we kind of just kept in touch. He has this side project and I did a remix for it, which is a very cheeky, kind of 50’s Hawaiian kind of thing. I did a complete rework. We really revisited some of that earlier, punk-y, B-52’s kind of vibe.”
As if that wasn’t enough on his plate, he’s also been trying his hand at outside production, as he’s been making music for fellow label-mate, Natalia Clavier, who also happens to be Federico Aubele’s wife.
“That’s the other thing I just finished. We’re mixing vocals in about two weeks and then it’s done. This is my first producing job, which is for her second album. It will be done and mastered in about three weeks.”
He then shared a bit with me about what to expect on the songstress’ second effort.
“This one is kind of like electro-cabaret,” Alex shared. “There’s some tracks in English and some in Spanish and she’s definitely bringing some of her Argentinean roots to it, but there’s also a lot of dubstep influence on it and of course my weird touch and those really pretty vocals she does so well.”
Alex has enjoyed his time in LA, spending the day before his show in Santa Monica and hitting up his favorite thing to do in the city.
“I always have to hit up Amoeba,” Alex told me excitedly. “I picked up this great Acid House compilation, The Hacienda Acid House Classics, so it was great to drive around and listen to that.” He then added another favorite that’s near and dear to our hearts as well. “KCRW is the best radio station. Jason Bentley, Liza Richardson and Nic Harcourt have been troopers from the get-go with ESL as they’re always playing our stuff.”
As for where that crazy Ursula 1000 name came from?
“I was living in Miami Beach at the time and started delving into 60’s culture…music, film, design, etc.,” Alex explained. “My interest in records from that time — mid to late 60’s also started and me and a couple of friends did a few kitschy lounge/Bossa Nova/groovy go-go boot kind of parties. This is when that whole lounge revival thing was happening with people like Combustible Edison and sampledelic artists like Japan’s Pizzicato 5. I was thinking about the actress Ursula Andress (blonde bombshell from James Bond flicks like Dr. No, 10th Victim, Casino Royale) and what a cool name it was. Also, I was thinking of atomic age products that had endings like the XL model or the 500 Series with these weird suffixes that somehow gave this futuristic touch. I mashed the two and voila.
In retrospect, Ursula 1000 gives a future/retro feel, which is what the music is all about!
He’s right about that and to further illustrate this, Alex has lovingly put together an exclusive installment in our beloved Sinning In LA mix series. You can hear for yourself and experience just how much his music and sound has evolved over the years.
As for what you can expect on it? Well, let’s leave it up to the man himself to handle that one.
“There’s always an element of nostalgia, but it’s not pastiche,” Alex told us. “I’m not completely reproducing something that sounds like some lost 60’s or Bossa Nova record, there’s always a break or some kind of electro or new modern aspect to it. You know it’s like time-travel in a way because it takes you to a different era – very future retro.”
Sounds good to us and no matter how many new sounds Ursula dabbles in, we’ll be there rocking along with him…mustache included!