Four years ago, Canadian four-piece
Azari & III were among the
most in vogue dance acts in the
world. Clubs and livehouses globally
reverberated to their pumped-up
blend of house music, soulful vocals
and a general vibe that conjured up
the feeling of the most hedonistic
Ibiza pool party imaginable.
Their high-octane self-titled debut
album was melting critics after
being picked up by the major record
label Island, and the four members’
futures as party band princes
seemed assured. Then in November
2013, Fritz Helder, one of Azari’s
two singers, read a message online
explaining that the band was kaput.
It was something of a shock to him.
‘Google Alerts told me I wasn’t in
Azari anymore,’ says Helder, talking
on Skype from his base in Berlin.
‘It was from a midnight rant on
Facebook. The blogosphere copied
and pasted it, and that was the end.
It was madness. The shock. It didn’t
Once the shock subsided,
Helder realised that he shouldn’t
have been so surprised. He was
already becoming disillusioned by
working with a major label, and the
band members all had wildly varied
artistic styles. To work through
the breakup he recorded ‘Force of
Nature’: his brilliant solo calling card
song that sounds like TV On The
Radio going clubbing.
Other solo songs and
collaborations – including a track
called ‘Pussy’ that isn’t about cats
– have followed, and now Helder
returns to China with a new backing
band, having performed here during
Azari’s heyday. With the singer
arguably known for his on-stage
flamboyance as much as his beats,
it should be spectacular.
How did you feel after the split?
I didn’t want us to split and I can
speak for Cédric, the other vocalist:
we were blindsided by that decision.
I was livid. Well, actually I couldn’t
even get to livid because it was like
being hit by a bus, when you’re in the
hospital trying to get better before
Why did the band break up?
Classic music industry cliché. We
worked on that album for about
two-and-a-half years without any
real intention of it being a ‘thing’. We
hoped it would go somewhere but
we didn’t expect what happened to
happen, and it all happened really
fast. Not everyone was prepared.
No one was reading the same book
at the same time. We’re different
people artistically and the fact that
we lasted that long was a miracle.
You wrote ‘Force of Nature’ to
get through the split, right?
It was my way of getting through
those years of self-doubt. Who are
you, with all those guys [in the band],
are you good enough [solo], can you
do it, will anyone care? A way for me
to have my own mantra and get out
of my funk. When something like that
happens it’s a big process to put
yourself back together on your own.
You don’t have the safety of other
people, so it came out of necessity.
You’ve said that your solo stuff
harks back to around 2001, when
you first started making music.
Yeah, I was in dance school at that
time, training to be a contemporary
dancer. One of our projects was
choreographing our own piece, so I
made music for it. Fischerspooner
came out around that time, acts like
Le Tigre, it was a really edgy time for
Were you always into dressing
outrageously on stage?
I’ve always been a peacock kind
of person. You look at what’s
happening now even in hip-hop, with
people like Mykki Blanco, that kind of
thing is seen as okay now, post-Lady
Gaga. We were doing this s**t pre-Lady
Gaga, and there was nobody
else doing it on the electronic stage
apart from Fischerspooner. I’m
excited to revisit it.
Speaking of Lady Gaga, didn’t
you open for her once?
My first group, Fritz Helder and The
Phantoms, opened for a Lady Gaga
EP release in New York years ago,
back when she was wearing the
big bow on her head. She wasn’t
that famous, so she was quite
normal and shy and nervous about
getting on stage. She wasn’t that
spectacular a performer. None of us
knew what was going to happen.
You’ve talked about how, as a
black guy making electronic
dance music, you get annoyed
with racial stereotypes. Is that
still an issue?
I’m not upset about it, but it’s
frustrating at times. I grew up in
as far away from hiphop
as possible. I’m
Jamaican and in touch
with my Jamaican
roots, but I don’t
understand why hiphop
is so tied to being
black. When I started,
before there were many openly gay
black artists, you didn’t have much
of an option if you wanted to be
taken seriously. I liked Grace
Jones and Prince, who defied
genres. But you could count
on one hand black artists who
didn’t stick to a box or genre.
Have you noticed
how you have
people like A$AP
Rocky, who is
considered a rap
artist, but who
has rock and folk
there still has
to be some
in it, or you’re
somehow not being
‘black’ enough. That bothers me,
because that’s not what music is.
Are sexuality-based stereotypes
an annoyance for you too?
That’s not the music industry’s
fault, it’s the same thing on Grindr:
you’re either feminine
or masculine – there
are roles you have to
play. On stage people
see me in a wig and
assume, ‘Oh, it’s
project their own ideas.
But we have seen more openly
gay hip-hop artists recently,
such as Frank Ocean and
I wonder what’s going to
happen to the likes of myself
and the Mykki Blancos.
Whether the music industry
will make a space for us, or if
it’s just a fad like electroclash
and it’ll come and go. I
wonder what the
future is for black
gay artists in the
Why are there
you in your
No one was
liking the pictures
of me not in my
underpants, so I thought I’d give
it a shot. And lo and behold, more
people liked those photos. People
have a thing about y-fronts.
Fritz, it is now time for you to
explain the lyrics to ‘Pussy’, your
song with Sinden. Lyrics such as
‘I want to show you what I can do
with my pussy’, ‘Let my pussy do
all the work’ and, ‘I want you to
lay back, relax, while I get nice
Oh, wow. We were talking about the
wigs I wear, stuff like that, and how
funny it would be if you were in a club
and saw a gorgeous girl and eyed
her up from behind, then she turns
around and it’s actually a dude. How
hilarious would that be? It starts with
this feminine voice and gets deeper
and deeper… the whole concept of,
‘Where are your limits?’
If the character is a man, why
are you singing about him having
We just used the word ‘pussy’
because it’s better than ‘asshole’.
It’s more poetic than saying
‘asshole’ a million times, over and
over. A friend of mine told me that
his buddy made him a mixtape, and
he was hooking up with his girlfriend
while playing it, then that song came
on and he realised it was me singing.
He was like, ‘I’ve got to stop'. I'll play 'Pussy' in China.