Name: Lawrence Thom aka Larry Tee
Occupation: Producer, DJ, fashion designer at TZUJI
Current release: Larry Tee and Radio Slave team up for their new duo The Royal Academy Of Fierce. Their first release "‘Fashion Queen / Black Pussy’s Revenge" is out via Rekids.
Fashion Recommendations: The Balenciaga 'Ukraine' show with high fashion models walking in a snowy wind-tunnel carrying black plastic bags holding all their worldly possessions: that's fashion as I understand it.
WLT, Wild and Lethal Trash's Walter von Beirendonck has long opened the closet door in an outrageous and humorous queer style that challenged people's presumptions.
And of course, TZUJI god* hats.
If you enjoyed this interview with Larry Tee, visit him on Instagram, Facebook, twitter, and Soundcloud.
Fashion and music are often closely related to one's identity. Can you please tell us a bit about your own sense of identity – and how it motivated you to take an artistic path?
Well, I always loved the music groups that gave me 'fashion'. So it's not surprising that I would like dance music that also featured not only fashion but has a connection that is happening with what's happening in the world. It is in every cell of my new project The Royal Academy of Fierce with Radio Slave.
Being a queer man that loves drag and trans culture, I feel it only natural that those subjects were going to reflect in my musical tastes. That's my DNA.
Though having said that, being gay doesn't suggest that all gay DJs are going to write such hilarious, camp material.
In which way do you feel your identity concretely influences your creativity?
I grew up in the gay clubs of Atlanta where I met RuPaul, Lady Bunny and Sex in The City stylist Rebecca Field.
The gay clubs were definitely more outrageous and forward-leaning than the straight clubs at the time. Think Studio 54: Diana Ross lounging in the DJ booth, or Grace Jones on a horse vs Saturday Night Fever: where it was a struggle to even boogie without having to sleep with all the girls in the club to demonstrate his manliness. Eck.
Describe your personal style, please, and how your choice of fashion allows you to express it.
My music style I could only describe as 'bitch tracks', crazy New York Party House bumpers that are inspired by the early 90s hilarious Sound Factory style club dragon slayers usually featuring drag queens or vocals that scandalize.
I mix in with a touch of techno-clash, a dash of Ballroom (I wrote RuPaul's Supermodel (You Better Work)), Electro (I created and actually own the word Electroclash), and a touch of weirdo house.
Which fashion brands or style icons do you personally find inspiring - and why?
I wear couture sportswear from my own company TZUJI and I have dressed MNEK, Missy Elliott, Peaches, Kid Ink, Jimmy Fallon, The B-52s etc. I like comfy clothes that have a little flash so a man of my tender age doesn't get ignored, lolz.
Balenciaga just paid me to be in their holiday campaign last year, so let's say Balenciaga. But the only label I wear is TZUJI.
Style icons include Zendaya, Kurt Cobain, Grace Jones, Lil Peep and Barack Obama.
Fashion can embody ideals that extend far beyond aesthetics, reaching into ecology, politics and social issues. Does this apply to you as well, and if so, in which way?
It does. In my clothing line I tried to be sustainable as much as possible.
I also have a reality TV show concept Fashertainment Inc. It's being shopped now to networks and it features only sustainable designers and designers with a message. Think vegan leather, Queer skatewear, recycled and refashioned clothes, and one of a kind eye burners made sustainably NOT in a sweatshop by children.
The business of fashion is such that if you want to succeed in fashion, you better be on TV. So that's my focus now after being in all the cool shops, and worn by my favorite artists.
TZUJI needs to be reality TV content. I also want to make reality TV content of the DJ culture life as I think people would find that fascinating. TV is the fashion industry really.
What was the relationship between music and fashion for you like personally? When was the first time that you became aware of the connection between fashion and music?
Well, when I started going to clubs as a teenager, I wanted to get laid. If you're looking good, you're feeling cute. That was complicated by the fact that AIDS had just arrived as I came out of the closet and my unbelievably handsome good looks put my life in peril.
When I DJed the new wave club in Atlanta and later the local discos, I became keenly aware that how you dressed influenced the friends you made and the lifestyle you lived. And whether you got laid. There was really no way to separate fashion from music.
What do fashion and design add to your perception of music?
I am good at helping to design graphics. I feel I can kind of see music, what a video could add to the package and how I want to visualize an event at a club or festival.
Fashion can project an image, just like music can. As such, it is part of the storytelling process.
What kinds of stories are being told, would you say?
Now the stories are about people's gender identity, their politics, and whether they can go out on the bleeding edge for a good laugh. I even like stupid festival outfits.
The story they tell me? They are brave and up for it.
What can fashion express what music can not?
How wealthy you are, whether you are a sucker for trend forecasters and the fashion game and how far you're willing to go to make a point.
In the past would've said it expresses ones' sexuality, but that is changing so fast in a culture where being queer-friendly is the highest form of enlightenment. These days you can't tell the gays from the strays much less the girls from the boys or who's trans.
It seems obvious that fashion and music are closely linked, but just how that influence works hasn't always been clear. Would you say that music leads fashion? Is it the other way round? Or are they inseparable in some ways?
They are inseparable. People take fashion cues from the most attractive cool kids at a party, and imitate their style. The best music attracts the best crowds. It's like a circular firing squad.
Fashion and music can be expressions or celebration of identity, but they can also be an effort to establish new ones or break free from them. How would you describe your own approach in this regard?
Don't get me started. I could've made millions more money if I just stayed to just making good beats. But NO! I always have to make a political statement. My writing of Supermodel for RuPaul, helped open the conversation about drag and trans in the US and worldwide to an extent. I became the unofficial spokesperson for Electroclash which launched more female DJs and artists than any other previous electronic music formats.
Electroclash was so political. Peaches showed a new female sexuality and hotness that hadn't been explored before. Chicks on Speed screamed at the politicians and billionaires bankrupting the planet right this minute. DJ Hell and Tiga wouldn't say whether they were gay or straight because it was the first musical genre where it not only didn't matter. It was cool to not define yourself in a binary system. Queer was OK. It was normal.
[Read our DJ Hell interview]
[Read our Tiga interview]
Does what you wear change your personality – and thus the music you create or the way you perform?
Let's face it; Most DJs don't dress up to DJ, really. I'm one of the only ones that actually thinks 'what should I wear tonight? OMG, this will get them'. Lolz. Am I wrong?
Creativity can reach many different corners of our lives. Do you personally feel as though designing a fashion item or even putting together a great outfit for yourself is inherently different from something like composing a piece of music?
I do think like a music designer because I have DJ-ed so many different kind of formats. I love the challenge of playing a techno set, and trying an electro set. Or a trashy bar mitzvah set. I'm working on a new compilation called 'Queer' that features brilliant queer, non-binary, trans and queer-friendly new artists. Like Genderclash.
I often create songs for unmusical characters like Jeffrey Star, Perez Hilton, and Amanda Le Pore because I want to dress them in the correct couture music creation appropriate to help them get the result they are searching for.
OMG, I could easily be cancelled for mentioning some of the people I have worked with.
Fashion extends to the artwork of releases and promotional photography as well. Could you talk about your approach in this regard and what some considerations were for some of your most recent cover designs and images?
Well, Radioslave is weirdly just as talented at making graphics as I am. He designed the insane Beethoven release artwork. Yes, really. I did have some input into the RAOF logo. It will be great when we make an official video for the tunes when they become hits.
I also just finished making a video for one of the artists on my Queer compilation, Morgan Woods, filmed on Rodeo Drive for their song about influencers. I dressed her and made her prance in front of high fashion stores. Gucci, Louis, Fendi, Prada.
There is a fine line between cultural exchange and appropriation. This true both for music and fashion. What are your thoughts on the limits of copying, using cultural signs and symbols and the cultural/social/gender specificity of art?
Well, my new bitch track release, 'Black Pussy's Revenge' for my new group The Royal Academy of Fierce with techno genius Radioslave, walks the fine line of what you can get away with. Because we featured a POC drag queen, the punchline can stand, but without … no way.
Using Broadway star Vivien Bond on the song Fashion Queen is a different experience because of her personal gender expression. I have had to learn to acknowledge people's gender expression appropriately. That hasn't been easy for a boomer like me. I also love ballroom culture and am using a ballroom TV star, The mother of the House of Ebony from the show Legendary as a vocalist.
Cultural appropriation and humor changes quickly these days. When I did the song 'My Pussy' with trans icon Amanda Lepore 15 years ago, it was fun and radical. Now, it would just be plain wrong.