Parties

Diamond in Velvet: Interview with Ultra Nate

by Mickey Weems
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Sunday Jul 27, 2008

I first met Ultra Nat? at the 2008 Winter Music Conference. She was spinning a set at the exclusive Tommy Boy industry party at the beautiful Hotel Victor in South Beach, sharing the DJ booth with world-famous Bob Sinclar, Danny Tenaglia, and Louie Vega. Now, that's keeping good company!

Before this day, I'd only heard Ultra the Diva. I would soon learn there is so much more.


Ultra-DJ

I was blown away by Ultra’s set that night. The music was just what I like: lots of minor keys, unfiltered human voices, subtle melodies, all within a percussive background that made conversations brighter and inspired more than a few of us to dance when we were inevitably seduced by the beat. As she got into her set, people made their way to the dance floor in front of her to see who the hell was bringing it with a bullet to Tommy Boy.

The set ended all too soon. I spoke briefly with Ultra and her DJ partner in crime, Lisa Moody. We exchanged cards with Lisa’s clear message to Gay men who love Ultra: "Ms. Nat? will never forget her Gay fans."


Ultra-Sound

The feeling is mutual. DJ Abel’s recent Alegria Universo double CD opens up Disc Two with a short intro and then hits the listener with "Give It All You Got," a dynamic anthem by Ultra Nat?. When first I heard it, I wasn’t sure what to think. Was it rock? Tribal? High-energy dance? Electro? Actually, it is all 4, a paradoxical combination of melancholy and percussion-driven exuberance that is the trademark of Ultra’s music. My love for the song quickly grew to adoration.

In her recent remake of the Pointer Sisters’ classic, "Automatic," Ultra is almost clinical in her vocal precision, lending the song an element of vibrant tension that comes through loud and hot on the dance floor. The disco house sound of "Automatic" is explored further in Ultra’s "Love Is the Only Drug," a transgressive masterpiece reminiscent of Grace Jones and Annie Lennox with a dash of Roxy Music, and lyrics that suggest the forbidden, then morph into the salvific power of love. If songs are jewels, Ultra’s gems are multi-faceted.


The harder I fight, the better it feels

My favorite Ultra song is her latest release, ’Twisted," that was done with Little Louie Vega. Delicate, bittersweet dark chocolate is this Vega/Nat? rendition, with lyrics reflecting the powerful contradictions of desire, and a beat that lifts me out of emotional despair into a new kind of light. It’s a song that simultaneously makes my heart ache from longing and my feet dance for joy. De profundis.

Here’s what Vega says about how he and Ultra created this deep house classic: "Last June, Ultra Nat? performed for my birthday party at Roots (My party and residency at Cielo). I asked if she would perform "Twisted," a song she wrote and recorded about 7 years back. It was already a classic for many of us DJs in NY. When she sang the song, the club went into a trance. That’s where I heard we could re-record the song from scratch with a more up-tempo rendition. I immediately heard the bass line and chord progression.

"The bass line was performed by none other than Gene Perez (from Elements Of Life & Nuyorican Soul) and keyboards by Junito Davila (one of my new collaborators). I had a great experience recording the song, as soon as the track came together, I called Ultra Nat? and we coordinated a studio session. She sang the song with much ease, did all backgrounds as well, and recorded a few ad-lib tracks. She hit all the right spots on the track, taking you higher and higher.

"The new track was an instant classic. My first testing ground was at Roots, which loved the song very much...so did the rest of the world. To this day, it’s one of my favorite new productions." (all versions are available under Vega Records on Tracksource and Beatport, out www.vegarecords.net. It is also on Cielo’s new double CD, Cinco)


Pandora’s music box

Ultra Nat?’s music is interesting, a refreshing change from the dreadful bobble-headed bubble-rap so many female six-minute-superstars are dumping onto the airwaves.

Go to her MySpace page (www.myspace.com/ultranatemusic) and listen to her latest songs. Ultra’s sound is a Pandora’s music box that brings forth shadow as well as sunshine. "Pandora," by the way, means "All-Gifted" and "All-Giving," an apt description of Ultra Nat?-the-songstress.

Keep in mind this is an artist who named her recent album Grime, Silk, and Thunder. It is the complexity, the emotional depth Ultra Nat? brings to her songs that attracts me to her. I don’t mind a little blue in my bounce.

But there is definitely a contrast between Ultra-Diva and Ultra-DJ. The diva has a strong shot of melancholy in her upbeat sound, while the DJ is good deep house shout-it-out fun. Ultra is a rare diamond nestled in velvet, a treasure that sparkles with the play of deep dark and unbridled shimmer.


The Interview

Background

EDGE: Could you give us some background concerning your upbringing and musical training?

ULTRA: I grew up in Baltimore City mostly. I lived in Boston for a few years in my early childhood but mostly Baltimore. My only musical training was my mother’s vinyl, the radio and church. We didn’t travel a lot. I was your basic inner city kid, kickin’ it and
having fun.

EDGE: Who would you consider to be the biggest influences on your music?

ULTRA: Chaka Khan, Marvin Gaye, Teddy Pendergrass, Phyllis Hyman, they all taught me soul and emotion in music. Prince, Madonna, Culture Club, the Police taught me about fun, edge and individuality in music.

EDGE: How important is church to you?

ULTRA: It’s part of who I am. I don’t go to church now as much as I did growing up, but it still shapes your values.


Her Beloved Gays

EDGE: Describe your relationship with the Gay community.

ULTRA: The Gay community has been a part of my career since it began. I really have no specific description. It’s just the way it is.

EDGE: A term came up during the interview that seemed to have specific definition. Could you define "doll"?

ULTRA: A doll is a girl or a Gay guy that’s fabulous.

EDGE: We talked a bit about the differences between Straight dance music/DJ-ing and what we find in the Gay scene. Could you talk about this?

ULTRA: Well, everybody is influenced by radio airplay these days, unfortunately. But the Gay audience is a bit less inhibited about dancing for the sake of dancing.

EDGE: You mentioned how much you love Pride celebrations. As a Straight woman, why is Pride important to you?

ULTRA: ’Cause it’s one big world party!


Ultra-Deep

EDGE: There is of course a third music/DJ scene that really falls under neither Straight nor Gay categories: deep house. Tell us your involvement and your take on that scene.

ULTRA: That’s my roots and I’m actively involved in that scene. My Deep Sugar party is specifically deep house and I go out to those parties to dance and let my hair down as often as I can.

EDGE: Tell us about being an "undercover rock artist" and some more about how you have "always been a clubhead." While we’re at it, let’s throw in the Ballroom scene!

ULTRA: I like rock music and I think my singing and writing styles sometimes lend themselves more to that genre. There are a lot of songs I’ve written that haven’t come out cause they’re too left of center for the dance genre. "Clubhead" is the same as a club kid or house head. It’s someone who’s into the deep house scene.

I’ve gone to Balls many times in the past. I love it! It’s fun, dramatic and competitive. I’m an honorary [member of the House of] Revlon, actually. Baltimore branch, of course! It’s like a fun sorority. Everybody likes to be a part of something.


Ultra reviews Ultra

EDGE: This article will go over the following songs to give the children a taste of your studio work: "Love Is the Only Drug," "Automatic," "Twisted," and "Give It All You Got." If you like, talk about each.

ULTRA: "Love Is the Only Drug" is a sexy, sublime electro disco pop ride. It’s pure fantasy, all about attitude. "Automatic" is feverish and aggressive, very in your face. "Give It" is the empowering "We Are the Champions" vibe that picks you up and makes you keep pushing forward.


Multi-facets

EDGE: We also discussed the paradox of your studio work (its melancholy edge) and your DJ-ing (really soulful house that struck me as anything but melancholy). Let’s bring the discussion to the article.

ULTRA: My writing can definitely get melancholy. You have to listen to my whole body of works (the full albums, not just the singles) to understand. Most often it’s the upbeat floor stompers chosen as singles, but that’s not the full perspective. When I DJ, I have moody vibes laced in the set. But I’m definitely 4 to the floor when it’s time to boogie.


EDGE: Tell us about your musical family.

ULTRA: My musical crew at home is DJ Lisa Moody who is my right hand with Deep Sugar, road manager when I travel and DJ partner. DJ Jerome Hicks is like a big brother and mentor. I grew up listening to him play and he’s been instrumental in accelerating my DJ skills. There’s a laundry list of others, but I’ll be here all day!


Shining from the depths of Heaven

EDGE: Is what you do spiritual?

ULTRA: I hope so or I’m wasting my time.

EDGE: On Grime, Silk, and Thunder, your song "Feel Love" has the phrase, "Everyone of us can reach Nirvana." What a powerful statement of universal love. Can you say a bit more about it?

ULTRA: The "Feel Love" phrase simply means we can all reach perfection, beauty, heaven.

EDGE: Do you have any favorite charities that you support?

ULTRA: I’ve done Lifebeat events periodically (www.lifebeat.org).


Projects

EDGE: Tell us about your monthly event, your record label, and any future projects.

ULTRA: Deep Sugar is every 2nd Saturday starting in June 14 at The Paradox (www.thedox.com) the party features myself, Lisa Moody, Jerome Hicks and guests on the turntables and it’s all deep soulful underground house (www.sugarparty.org). My Blufire label in partnership with Tommy Boy records will be releasing a double CD album this summer by myself called "Alchemy." It will feature one CD as a DJ mix compilation of the house remixes off the "Grime, Silk and Thunder" album spun by myself, and the second disc will be an unmixed compilation of the commercial remixes that haven’t been released. My second label, Deep Sugar Music, will be putting out tracks from my signed artists. Its first release is at the end of June and it’ll be a track called "Shining Star" by Sybil (yes, the Sybil from back-in-the-day Sybil). In September there will be a track from Jada called "Beautiful" and a track by DJ Jerome Hicks called "Shake."

For more on Ultra Nat?, visit www.penetrationinc.com and www.ultranate.com


Dr. Mickey Weems is a folklorist, anthropologist and scholar of religion/sexuality studies. He has just published The Fierce Tribe, a book combining intellectual insight about Circuit parties with pictures of Circuit hotties. Mickey and his husband Kevin Mason are coordinators for Qualia, a not-for-profit conference and festival dedicated to Gay folklife. Dr. Weems may be reached at mickeyweems@yahoo.com


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