"Frankie was definitely one of the best. He had his very own style, his very own momentum with the crowd. I don't think that anyone else did it his way." -- DJ Paul Van Dyk
Orgasmic, climactic, and maddeningly frantic, Frankie Wilde's megahouse and two-step booty-trance might be some of the most recognizable music to emerge from the Ibiza club scene. If you haven't heard his ecstatic anthem "Plug It In (And Turn It On) (Solid Gold Coke Spoon Remix)," chances are you've never spent 24 hours dancing in a sarong on a Mediterranean beach. Though Wilde's music is ubiquitous, the infamous British DJ's personal history has remained a mystery -- the avalanche of drugs; weeklong, full-moon parties; unnaturally flexible groupies, and sudden deafness were only the stuff of legend.
In the spirit of Sid and Nancy, The Doors, and This Is Spinal Tap, British filmmaker Michael Dowse has brought Wilde's fantastic life story to light. It's All Gone Pete Tong combines Dowse's meticulous research and Paul Kaye's engrossing portrayal of Wilde, the superstar DJ who had it all and lost everything, including his hearing, and then got it all back again, except for his hearing. The film opens Friday, May 13, at Muvico Paradise, Muvico Pompano, and Gateway 4 in Broward County and Muvico Parisian 20 CityPlace in West Palm Beach.
"It shocks you every which way as an audience, and it plays with you," Kaye said in a recent phone interview from a Los Angeles hotel. "You're laughing one minute and crying the next, never sure how firmly the tongue is planted in the cheek."
While suicidal depression, drug addiction, and deafness don't usually make fodder for comedy, Dowse imbues It's All Gone Pete Tong (which derives its title from inexplicable cockney rhyming slang for "it's gone all wrong") with humor and heart. As the glorious/repulsive Wilde, Kaye never lets the character drift too far into mockery. He and Dowse draw the viewer into Wilde's world -- first dominated by music, sex, and drugs, then by silence -- through spot-on performance, testimonials from the DJs who knew him, and several innovative cinematic devices. Examples: Animated sound waves ripple across the screen, visually representing the music; two turntables and a crossfader occupy a split screen, revealing the technique behind beat matching; a giant, voracious Coke Badger harasses Wilde every time he hesitates over the mirror.
"The Coke Badger is sort of my drug nemesis," Kaye said. "He's the personification of my addiction, this seven-foot badger, which we got off eBay. He just fuckin' kicks the shit out of me every time I think of not having a line. It's a battle to the death between me and my Badger."
Of course, the most visceral effect comes when Wilde completely loses his hearing. "Years and years of noise was the basis of his problem," opines one journalist in a candid interview. The theater goes quiet in the midst of a thunderous rave, and we understand the horror Wilde's feeling.
"I don't think it's ever been done, not this well anyway," Kaye said of his on-screen deafness. "It's wonderful for an audience because it's another way to enjoy a film, using a totally different medium to portray information. You can sympathize with Frankie's deafness because your perspective is exactly the same as his, so you're watching it through his eyes and not being able to hear."
The people once closest to Wilde -- his art-rocking Austrian sidekicks, his vapid supermodel wife, his opportunistic manager -- vanish as quickly as his hearing. Tragically, he can't even hear himself when he hits rock bottom. But in true rock 'n' roll tradition, music is the source of and solution to all of Wilde's problems. "When Frankie teaches himself how to DJ as a deaf man, he actually finds salvation through his disability," Kaye explained. A self-professed "Imelda Marcos of flip-flops," Wilde affixes a pair of thongs to the top of a massive speaker stack to pick up the beat through his feet. "He uses vibration and audio waves to get the timing right, and he's a better DJ as a deaf man than he was when he could hear. It's kind of Farrellyesque in that sense."
With a triumphant return to the top of the Ibiza underground and a relapse into sobriety, Wilde was poised to become the number-one deaf DJ in the world. Apparently, that was not a crown he wanted on his shaggy head. Wilde, his beautiful lip-reading coach, and his newfound redemption leave Ibiza and its relentless hedonism for good.
"He's a bit of a Kaiser Souze figure," Kaye explained of Wilde's disappearance into musical mythology. "Everyone on the island has got a story [about him]; every drug-addled adventure is attributed to him. But you really don't know. You can't sift through fact or fiction."
Which is precisely the point of a mockumentary in the first place -- suspending skepticism just long enough to leave us believing the unbelievable, guessing at just how real our presumed reality actually is.
One fact that's certainly real is the heroic tenacity of dogged show promoter Judy Blem. After Beatcomber's column about her Original Music Thursdays hit the stands April 28, the owners of Lighthouse Point pub John L. Sullivan's pulled the plug on her weekly series. According to Blem, Sullivan's owners were on the fence about hosting her bands, and Beatcomber's less-than-gushing story helped convince them that there's no room for original music at their neighborhood bar.
"We didn't see it coming together, as much as we tried," says owner Jimmy Nash, who was one of Blem's biggest supporters. "We weren't getting the right reviews or the right people coming in. We'll put a stop to it for two or three months and see what we can do then."
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In the meantime, Sullivan's will continue to feature cover bands on Friday and Saturday nights. But there will be no more wild and crazy singer-songwriters or freaky-deaky alt-rockers, thank you very much.
Ever the professional, Blem immediately went in search of a new venue for her stable of original acts. Turns out the long-standing local music supporters at Cheers (941 Cypress Creek Rd.) in Fort Lauderdale were thrilled to get her on board. "I'm excited about the move over here, with Judy," owner Paul Lorenzo says. "I think it's gonna work a lot better here, with the stage and the lights. I've been doing rock 'n' roll for 35 years in Fort Lauderdale, 18 here at Cheers."
Seems Lorenzo's dedication matches Blem's. With an advertising budget, a room tailored for live music, and patrons who expect good tunes along with their good booze, Cheers is a much more conducive atmosphere for Blem's bands. Starting June 2, she'll bring her Original Music Thursdays to the place once a month under a new, as-yet-undetermined moniker.
Less frequent shows typically mean more promotion and higher quality. Nothing Pete Tong about that.