I dropped down one of those deep Internet rabbit holes yesterday looking for footage of New York nightclubs in the 1980s. I did this for hours, until my wife finally insisted that I stop and pay attention to her. I found some crazy good stuff, most of which will no doubt make it onto this very blog, but I took a major detour along the way watching vintage live Deee-Lite performances, some where I was in attendance myself.
Although the members came from all over the globe—Super DJ Dmitri hailing from the Ukraine, Towa Tei born in Korea, but raised in Tokyo, and Lady Miss Kier Kirby grew up all over the place, mostly near Pittsburgh—I thought that Deee-Lite were the most “New York” sounding group of their day. The very embodiment of the East Village zeitgeist, Deee-Lite led a multi-racial, pan-sexual party on wheels for a few years before their worldwide breakout hit, 1990’s “Groove Is In The Heart.” I don’t know how many times I saw Deee-Lite play—in the dozens and dozens—but let me tell you, they were a fucking amazing live act and a wicked good time.
“It’s funk, soul, curly, wiggly music.”—Lady Miss Kier
When they started on the scene, Deee-Lite’s futuristic, uniquely funky, jazzy “sampladelic” sound was something that no one had ever really heard before and it was obvious, from early on, seeing them at places like The Pyramid Club (I lived around the corner), Tunnel, and at the yearly Wigstock event, that they were going to be huge. Frankly I thought that they were destined for a more sustained career than they ended up having together. It’s difficult to point to the reason why that didn’t happen, because it wasn’t the music, which continued to be incredibly innovative, their videos were great and Lady Miss Kier—easily one of the top five foxiest girls in NYC of that era—was an instant style icon and a supremely confident frontwoman. She’s what they call a “belter,” like Ethyl Merman. Back then she was a tiny thing, but her voice had the power of seasoned soul diva.
I thought their act was magic, capturing a particular type of distinctly East Village lightning in a bottle. These (mostly) pre-fame videos of Deee-Lite show that magic in action.
Deee-Lite doing “Try Me On, I’m Very You” in 1989, a year before their classic World Clique album was released, at Irving Plaza for the “Viva Carlo Viva Libertad” benefit concert to raise legal-defense funds for art critic Carlo McCormick after he was thrown into a Mexican jail.
Above, Deee-Lite, sans Towa Tei (but with early member, dancer “Booty”) at the Pyramid Club on April Fool’s Day,1988 with the Captain Whizzo light show. Video by Nelson Sullivan.
Deee-Lite at Larry Tee’s Celebrity Club at The Tunnel. Video by Nelson Sullivan.
Kier Kirby and Dmitri Brill interviewed in their ground floor apartment on St. Mark’s Place for Dance International Video Magazine a “magazine” released on VHS by BMG Video in 1990.
Deee-lite (with Bootsy Collins) at the Rock in Rio festival, 1991
Deee-Lite (and Bootsy) in Roskilde, Denmark on the 1991 World Clique tour