In 1977, French chanteuse Amanda Lear charmed nightlife crowds with “The Alphabet,” a manifesto that broke the values of her generation down to ABCs. Lear’s “d” was for “dirty old man,” “n” for “never again,” “z” for the “zero you will get if you don’t learn my alphabet.” She pronounced them with certainty, as a club diva who had learned the secret passions of her peers through dance floor osmosis.
Lear was mysterious; she was never quite clear with anyone on what country her parents came from. Rumors flew that she was trans and that her good friend Salvador Dalí had paid for her gender reassignment surgery. Personally, Lear was happy to play with the obsession over her background, famously commenting, “There is nothing the pop world loves more than a way-out freak.”
Decades later, another singer was compelled to update Lear’s alphabet. “It was as if she was subconsciously inviting me to freshen it up,” says Venezuelan-born vocalist and producer Aérea Negrot, who released her own version of “The Alphabet” with techno producer duo Skinnerbox. Their 2013 redux includes less nods to French double standards and more of the catastrophic notes that we’ve come to expect of life in 21st century. “Anarchy,” “breaking news,” and “catastrophe” open the list. In the song’s video, Aérea Negrot poses luxuriously, her headdress blowing in the wind of a building storm.
Aérea Negrot (aka Danielle Gallegos) grew up in Caracas, where she was born into a family of professional dancers. Her father, mother, and grandmother spent their lives in the world of ballet and provided their child with a privileged opportunity to focus on being creative. “If I tell you that my father did backup dancing for Latoya Jackson during her visit to Venezuela, then you know we’re talking about high-level dancing,” Gallegos says in a interview. “Performing was for me always an extension of that passion and ambition I got from my family. And was pretty good at it, even before I could walk.”
A knee surgery halted her ballet career, but it did not keep her off the stage. “At some point I realized that even though my passion for dancing was big, I had other plans,” she says. By the time she was a precocious 16, Gallegos was performing in nightclubs, lip synching to her longtime inspiration Erykah Badu. In 2002, she formed electropop group La Familia Felíz with friends Fata Kiefer (who she continues to work with today) and Milton Fermat, netting international attention with their song “La Disco.”
“Music is a perfect ground for misery and confusion.”
“We were making just club tracks to perform during my shows,” she remembers. “Then I started singing to other DJs’ tracks and that’s when I got the real intention of starting to produce. I like the material from the early days, it’s mostly theater-oriented rather than just club music. It was very non-academic, non-structured, simply fun. We created beats that still make me laugh today.”
Aérea Negrot was born out of heartache. Gallegos says her first performance as her alter ego took place in Amsterdam’s Central Station when she was 17, after a flight attendant lover kicked her out of their house. “Aérea” was a nod to flying, to a young performer’s love of constant motion. “It was maybe an overexposed, more outspoken version of myself,” she recalls of the project’s early days. “Only later, in my early twenties, did I realize that there was more of me behind this character than I thought.”
“Suddenly, it became a performance, not just music to dance to,” she remembers. “I loved that kind of intermission in the middle of a party. It’s still upbeat, still with sweeps and whips, but with storylines. It was what I later called ‘varietécno.’ Now, I call it ‘electrópica.’”
She attended the London Centre of Contemporary Music and in 2008, Gallegos joined Andy Butler’s Hercules and Love Affair house collective, cutting a compelling vocal path through the group’s beloved club anthems of that era. Her lower register courted comparisons to the gender-confounding, otherworldly vocal forces that had come before: Diamanda Galás, Grace Jones, and the like.
Gallegos has since gone solo, crafting complex, futuristic odes to self-discovery and the occasional camp lament of lovers who cum too quick. Since 2004, her center of operations has been Berlin. There could be no better setting for this house diva. “It was so special to suddenly live this utopic music dream day by day,” she says. “Clubbing, Alka Seltzer. Party, Alka Seltzer. Depressed? Music…Alka Seltzer. By now, I have lived in Berlin half of my life and when people ask me why, I have to say, over and over – Berlin is like your family. You don’t like most of it, but in the end it is your family. Your aunt gets drunk and you say to yourself…it’s my family. That’s Berlin…and Alka Seltzer.”
Nightlife has made her the artist that she is today, a self-assured natural who makes her way through life in a progression of bodysuits and attention-grabbing headwear, as in the clip for last year’s “I Know That I’m Hot.” Her extravagant style has made her a muse. For the cover of 2011’s Arabxilla album, Rafael Scovino and Jose Luna created a collage headdress-necklace for Gallegos made of the accessories she’d accumulated over the better part of a decade. The resulting aesthetic was a mesmerizing plastic club deity, essential Aérea Negrot. “Even with shows during the day, the night adds that special velvet on the skin. I’m a person of the night.” Or a way-out freak, perhaps.
But Gallegos represents an important evolution from the days of Lear. Unlike her predecessor, she is perfectly happy to talk about her gender identity. Though she now identifies as trans, her definitions have shifted throughout her musical career. “I started transitioning years ago and then de-transitioned and transitioned again,” she says. Gallegos is more than comfortable with this process. “I guess life remains a constant transition,” she says. “I never felt I had to edit out any part of my persona to fit any standards, musically speaking. Music is a perfect ground for misery and confusion.”
“The night adds that special velvet on the skin. I’m a person of the night.”
She’s got multiple album projects in the works, but is also set to start 2017 with a fifth season of Gritty Glamour, a queer Berlin theater production that “tells the story of performers backstage, the complexity of the artist persona when the curtain falls,” Gallegos says. She’ll also be recording a neo baroque opera EP with Hamburg-based art collective Kommando Himmelsfahrt, and performed and scored a cyberpunk porn called Fluidø which will debut next year.
Though she’s set to expand her influence beyond the club kid universe, it’s undeniable that nightlife has supported Áerea Negrot throughout her career, given its history as a sanctuary for the LGBT community. “The most surprising thing is that no matter which city I have played in, the clothes I have worn or the voice pitch I have used, I have mostly sensed understanding from the public,” she says. “When the emotions are real, people always identify.”