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The Day the Drums Fell Silent: R.I.P. Superstar DJ Peter Rauhofer, 48

by Steve Weinstein
Contributor
Tuesday May 7, 2013
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The world of dance music has lost one of its leading lights and most-reknowned innovators. Peter Rauhofer’s manager, Angelo Russo, announced on May 7, 2013, that the superstar DJ died in a New York City of complications from a brain tumor. He was 48.

In a career that belies his 48 years, Rauhofer became known far outside the gay club scene for his club gigs and especially his producing and remixing skills. He worked with several of the best-known names in the music industry. In his all-too short career, Rauhofer produced or remixed dozens of hit songs that all shared the unmistakable Rauhofer touch.

Peter Rauhofer was born and spent his formative years in Vienna, a city with music built into its civic DNA. The capital of Austria has long been associated with some of the world’s greatest composer who called it home at one time or another. So perhaps it’s impossible for Rauhofer not to have soaked up the musical ethos of the city of Mozart, Beethoven, Mahler and Strauss.

"I used to listen to records on radio Luxembourg, record the music onto cassettes and drive my friends crazy with them" Rauhofer told an interviewer. "I became a kind of informant for friends and record shops who wanted to know more about the 70’s pop, rock and disco music that I was listening to. At the time it was very hard to get access to any alternative music so I had to be really enthusiastic to keep it going."


It was natural for Rauhofer to be drawn to America, the center of the music industry. In 1995, he moved to New York, where the city’s promoters quickly recognized his skills at the turntable and his gift for finding the songs that would keep crowds on the dance floor.

His career really took off in the beginning of this century with an extended residency at the Roxy. Every Saturday night, the now-shuttered skating-rink-turned-mega-club in Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood played host to thousands of gay men, who danced into the next morning.

It was while at Roxy that Rauhofer began honing what became his signature style. Percussion-driven back beats played against a heavy bass line, with vocals becoming another instrument that weaned crowds away from the diva anthems and emo orchestrations that had long dominated the gay scene.

Along with Victor Calderone, Rauhofer perfected the sound which became known variously as drum-and-bass or tribal. It initiated a sea change in the gay club experience. Rauhofer wanted his music played loud, often so loud that clubgoers could feel the music as much as hear it.

His fame quickly spread far beyond the Hudson and East rivers. Club promoters and party producers vied for his services. He became a fixture at gay nights in big-room clubs around the country and abroad. He also played at nearly every well-known major Circuit party at one time or another.

Rauhofer quickly became dissatisfied with merely playing other people’s music and picked up the skills to move into the production studio, where he helped change the sound of dance music far beyond the precincts of gay clubs. In 1999, he collaborated with Calderone on "Do It Properly," featuring Deborah Cooper on vocals. "Do It Properly" helped move House music toward higher BPMs, all forms of percussion (including a cowbell) and a trancey vibe that became the foundation for what would become Deep House.

His collaboration with the Pet Shop Boys on "Break 4 Love" marked another way Rauhofer brought innovation to dance music. The Pet Shop Boys had long been known for bringing a sardonic wit to romantic yearning, but in an upbeat, poppy style. Rauhofer deepened their music and gave more of underground vibe.

Wishing for total creative freedom in the studio, Rauhofer founded his own label, Star69, which quickly established itself as a major in the dance music. Rauhofer’s list of artists with whom he collaborated reads like a capsule history of dance music in the 21st century.

Among his roster is such world-class artists as Madonna (who ranked Rauhofer among her major remixers); Christina Aguilera; Whitney Houston; Adele; and Bronsky Beat; Britney Spears; Depeche Mode; Mariah Carey; Janet Jackson; and Ultra Natè.


Rauhofer didn’t limit himself to dance music artists, however. He worked with R&B artists like Funky Green Dogs; Rihanna; Seal, Tori Amos; and Toni Braxton. His repertoire extended to neo-disco groups (e.g., Scissor Sisters); neo-soul (Adele); and punk (Gossip). He even collaborated with the grande dame of music herself, Yoko Ono.

It was his work on Cher’s "Believe" that finally broke him through to the American public at large. "Believe" which became the biggest hit in both of their careers. Released in 1998, "Believe" ranks as one of the best-selling records of all time, ranked by the BBC as the eighth-favorite song in the world.

Always known as a perfectionist, in the studio and DJ booth, Rauhofer came in for his share of controversy. His fabled blow-up inside the DJ booth at the Roxy was only one of a string of public battles.

He was criticized for producing competing events during the White Party and Winter Party in Miami, both of them fund-raisers for gay-rights and AIDS-related organizations. Rauhofer’s events quickly drew the crowds away from the "official" parties. A group of protesters stood outside one of his Miami parties in 2010; and 25 Miami community leaders signed an open letter asking him not to produce such competing events.

In recent years, Rauhofer continued to travel around the world where played major parties and big rooms. In New York, he hosted a party called "Work" at a Octagon. When that club came under the wrecking ball as part of the massive urban renewal project known as the Hudson Yards, Work became a roving party.

Wherever it was held, attendees could be guaranteed of finding a dance floor packed with the hottest men. He also began producing parties on the Saturday night before New York’s massive Gay Pride March in late June. Held at Roseland Ballroom, the club with city’s largest dance floor, the parties attracted thousands of men who danced well past dawn.

In March 2013, Rauhofer had cancelled an event citing only ill health, but rumors began to circulate about the DJ’s health. Shortly after that, he cancelled playing the huge White Party in Palm Springs.

Finally, on April 17, 2013, Angelo Russo, his manager, confirmed via Facebook that Rauhofer had been rushed to a hospital emergency room weeks after suffering a seizure. "Further testing revealed a brain tumor, something that has gone undiagnosed for quite some time," Russo wrote.

When announcing his death, Russo wrote, "Today the music industry has lost one of its true heroes. With a heavy heart I must now report that Peter Rauhofer has lost his battle with brain cancer." Rauhofer is survived by his mother Helga, who still lives in Austria.

"He is gone too soon but we will always have the vast body of music that Peter left for us," Russo wrote on Facebook. "Through his music, Peter will live forever. The brightest stars always burn out too soon."

Immediately after the posting, Rauhofer’s Facebook page quickly filled up with appreciations from fellow DJs, musicians and fans.

"Your music will always be here with us," wrote fellow DJ Carl Cox.

"Although the work he did will live on forever, it doesn’t change that a legend has been lost," wrote another DJ, Joe Gauthreaux.

John Blair, who promoted Roxy Saturdays and worked closely with Rauhofer for several years, wrote, "The gay nightlife community mourns today. I cannot tell you the sadness and loss in my heart. Rest in Peace, Peter. Thank you for years of magic and music."


Steve Weinstein has been a regular correspondent for the International Herald Tribune, the Advocate, the Village Voice and Out. He has been covering the AIDS crisis since the early ’80s, when he began his career. He is the author of "The Q Guide to Fire Island" (Alyson, 2007).

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