Q&A: Industrial Strength's Lenny Dee On Distorting Electronic Instruments, Sampling Pantera, And "Draft Ponk"

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via Industrial Strength Records
Born Leonard Didesiderio in 1968, Lenny Dee got his start in the music business as a teenager, working in the studio with Nile Rodgers and Arthur Baker while making his own dance 12-inches, most famously in tandem with Frankie Bones. The two of them were instrumental in bringing British rave to Brooklyn at the end of the '80s. By 1991, Dee was feeling restless, as he pushed his music and DJing into harder, faster, more brutal realms.

That year, Dee began his own label, Industrial Strength Records, with an epochal 12-inch pairing tracks from two of Dutch producer Marc Acardipane's arsenal of pseudonyms: Mescalinum United's "We Have Arrived," backed with the Mover's "Frontal Sickness." Through the rest of the decade, Industrial Strength defined the gabber techno sound in the U.S.: metal for '90s kids into bass bins and glow sticks as well as shredding guitars, blackout nihilism, and splatter-movie humor.

Industrial Strength's '90s catalog is like a roll call of the period's degraded greats, blisteringly hard and frequently goofy. Dee made several of them under pseudonyms: English Muffin's "The Blood of an English Muffin," Fuckin Hostile's "Fuckin Hostile" (both 1993), and DJ Skinhead's "Extreme Terror" (1994), the latter of which longtime Voice readers may recall as the closing track from the paper's 9/11 benefit compilation, Wish You Were Here: Love Songs for New York (2002). Other classics include Dee's Brooklyn confrere Rob Gee, with "Gabber Up Your Ass" (1994), and Australian trio Nasenbluten's 100% No Soul Guaranteed (1995)—followed in 1997, naturally, by Not as Good as 100% No Soul Guaranteed. Not to mention the first release on sub-label IST, featuring a young Frenchman named Thomas Bangalter, and credited to one "Draft Ponk." (More on this below.)

Industrial Strength has continued to operate for 20 years now, with a recent emphasis on sample packs—premade sounds for producers to build their own tracks with. To celebrate its longevity, the label is putting on a 20th-anniversary party, dubbed "Silence Suxx," at Public Assembly on Saturday featuring a wide swathe of acts from throughout the label's history. Dee spoke with SOTC over the phone in mid-September.

Were you planning your 20th anniversary party for a long time?

We weren't, actually. [My partner] Jules was just like, "We've got to do it." I said, "You're right. I don't care if there's five people there or 1,000 people or nobody. Let's just do it." Judging from Facebook, it's looking pretty good. We've got kids flying in from Canada, Chicago, L.A., plus all the New York kids [and people] from adjoining states. I'm really happy. I think it's going to be a bang-ass party.

There's obviously a lot of nostalgia doing on in dance music overall. Was that part of your decision?

No; only that we wanted to make a party to celebrate. It's time to give back and show the kids who are here—they'll never get to see Richie Gee, never get to see Ophidian, never get to see Satronica live, in the environment we're going to give it. There are no parties like this. Even in Europe they're limited—we do our parties, but they're kind of small. But it's all our artists, all the different perspectives of our label.

Tell me a little about your beginnings as a DJ.

I got a job at 17 in the local roller disco in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn, called the Roller Palace. I was doing mobile parties and other things too. I've never had another job since. I just kept going. If you asked me then if I'd be doing this now, my answer would have been, "Nah, forget it." It was all I knew how to do, but I wouldn't have thought that then, you know?

Tommy Musto, who owned Northcott Music, 25 West, all those labels, took me under his wing and got me into this record pool called Shure, in the south Bronx. That was the record pool of Afrika Bambaataa, Rick Rubin, Aldo Marin, all these big guys on the radio. The owner of the club said, "You're the youngest DJ we've ever had in the record pool. You're a working DJ, and at your age you can take it to new heights. Just keep going, man. You're playing pretty damn good for your age."

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