Angelo Russo knew something was wrong in March when several days went by without hearing back from his friend and client, legendary producer/DJ/remixer Peter Rauhofer.
“We sometimes talked five or six times a day so when I didn’t hear back from him, yeah, it sent up the red flags,” Russo says. “The only time I didn’t hear from him was if we were fighting and of course we fought. The closer you are, the more you fight with someone. But yeah, back in March, we were fine. I was speaking to him one day, then a couple days went by and eventually we had 911 break into his apartment.”
Russo says Rauhofer, whom he’d met at a music conference in 2000 and had managed since 2006, was “barely conscious” having suffered a seizure. Hospitalized at St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital Center in New York, the prognosis was grim. Rauhofer, who was gay, had a malignant brain tumor that had gone undiagnosed long enough to have grown significantly. Russo (also gay) says doctors said its position on the brain made it inoperable. They tried a round of chemotherapy that was unsuccessful. On April 29, Rauhofer turned 48 in the hospital. He died May 7.
Russo says it may have been a bit of a blessing in disguise. Had the Grammy-winning music legend, who remixed hits for Cher (“Believe”), Madonna (“Nothing Fails,” “4 Minutes” et. al.), Janet Jackson (“Throb”), Britney Spears (“Toxic”) and scores of other artists, responded well to chemo, it may have left him with diminished mental faculties.
“There was a possibility at one point that if it had worked, he may only have had the mental capacity of a 5 year old,” Russo says. “He would have been so unhappy but how can you tell his mom not to try. So they tried but it didn’t work. … When they came back and said there was nothing more they could do, I was hoping he wouldn’t have to lay there and suffer too long. He was not about suffering. He was about being able to be happy and bring joy to people. That’s what his career was all about — parties and music. If he wasn’t able to do that, then I’m happy it didn’t go another route.”
Rauhofer’s mother Helga, who visited from their native Austria for her son’s final days, is executrix of his estate. He will be interred in Austria. A candlelight vigil was held last weekend in Miami. A public memorial is planned for New York Pride next month. Friends in New York are also planning a private memorial service there, where he’d lived since about 1996. Check Rauhofer’s Facebook page for details on public events.
The gay club/music world responded with shock and sadness at Rauhofer’s untimely death.
“I don’t use this term loosely, but he was a musical genius,” says gay DJ/remixer Joe Gauthreaux. “He never got stuck in one sound and stayed there, that’s why his mixes always resonated. He was always doing something different and trying to grow. He never did the same remix twice. He was always trying different sounds. There really was nobody like him.”
Gauthreax also says he “was a huge Peter fan, huge.”
“He was one of the remixers that, from a DJ standpoint, I would always be so excited about. It was usually his mix that was quote-unquote the one. So from that standpoint, this is very hard to take just knowing that there’s not going to ever be another Peter Rauhofer mix to come in and save the day.”
Tori Amos, who had a No. 1 Billboard dance hit in February with Rauhofer’s remix of her song “Flavor,” said in a statement that “he truly captured the spirit of the song” and that she’ll “always hold a very special place in my heart for Peter.”
Local gay nightclub impresario Ed Bailey, who hosted Rauhofer twice at Velvet Nation in the early ‘00s, says Rauhofer’s work epitomized the era.
“His music, his production and his remixes, were kind of not exclusively but almost like the overwhelming soundtrack of the big clubs and circuit parties for the whole decade from about 2000 to 2010,” Bailey says. “He’s widely revered as that amazing one of all the amazing people who helped shape an entire kind of era in club land that for most people, they feel it was one of the best eras ever. We were very proud to be able to have him at Nation and I remember just being mesmerized by his set.”
Gay DJ Hector Fonseca met Rauhofer in 1998, joined Star 69 in 2001 and worked with Rauhofer for eight years releasing about 20 remixes and three albums. Fonseca, traveling this week in Europe, says by e-mail he and Rauhofer developed a strong working relationship and friendship.
“Besides his strong work ethic and extreme attention to detail, what made him stand out was that he was always pushing the sound in the gay scene with elements from the European trance and electro scene,” Fonseca says. “Very few, if any, were doing that and still to this day, it’s quite unique.”
Fonseca says Rauhofer will be “remembered as a visionary from a great era in New York City.”
“We were really the epicenter of house,” he says. “Now most cutting edge stuff is coming from Amsterdam, but if you take a closer look into that music, you can hear the influence from DJs of that time here in New York and Peter was a big part of that. The Twilo and Roxy days when you really had to push the sound to stand out. He will be missed by many but remembered through his music.”
During a lengthy phone interview this week, Russo, who started as an intern at Rauhofer’s Star 69 label in 2001, shares several memories of their years working together.
Russo says Rauhofer:
- had been in apparently good health prior to the March seizure. He says he doesn’t know of Rauhofer ignoring any warning signs earlier though he admits Rauhofer was usually “not one to go to the doctor.” “He hadn’t complained of headaches or anything,” Russo says. “This kind of blindsided me.”
- was in and out of consciousness in his final days. He was able to squeeze hands of those by his bedside at times. “We don’t know how much he heard, but we gave him an earful.” And although sad, Russo says it was a joy to share with Rauhofer’s mother details of his life in New York, of which she’d previously known little.
- was a workaholic who “would obsess over his mixes” and would often stay up working all night to finish them.
- loved to collect toy metal robots and Gucci jewelry.
- kept his Grammy for Cher’s “Believe” in his Star 69 office until it closed in the summer of 2010 after which he kept it on a shelf in the living room of his 42nd Street apartment in Manhattan.
- dated at various times and had some semi-long term boyfriends, but made it clear work came first for him. “A lot of people just don’t have the patience for that,” Russo says. Rauhofer had not been dating in recent months, Russo says.
- Had met many of the artists whose hits he remixed. Although most of the remixing work was done without the artist, Russo remembers Rauhofer meeting Madonna, for instance, on multiple occasions. He says Rauhofer wasn’t especially star struck in general though he had an obsession with Grace Jones and “always wanted to work with her but never got the chance.” “If she had walked in the room, he might have gasped,” Russo says.
Rumors that Rauhofer could be tough — Bailey says, “I don’t think it’s a secret in the industry that he had a reputation for being difficult to work with” — were mostly a matter of Rauhofer’s being, “never a diva, but a perfectionist,” as Russo puts it.
“There were tiny spats about things,” Russo says. “He hated it when some A&R (artist and repertoire) person would be bugging for a mix, say they just wanted to sample it to see where he was going with it, then they’d start promoting his unfinished mixes, he hated that. But most of the time, believe it or not, he was pretty easygoing. When you pushed him, yeah, he would let you have it. … He would scream when he felt like he’d been wronged, but he’d worked really hard for what he achieved and he expected to be respected for that.”
Bailey says although Rauhofer excelled at mixing, spinning and producing, it’s his DJ sets for which he’ll most be remembered among the general public.
“It’s inevitable that the mixes will sound dated over time but the memories people experienced of him spinning live will live on,” Bailey says. “They’ll never be tarnished because they’re not something you can listen to over and over.”
Russo says Rauhofer’s ability to transcend genres is an important part of understanding his legacy.
“His whole idea about music, whether it was one remix or a whole DJ set, was that it should be a journey,” he says. “Toward the end of the ‘90s, I think it started to be very segregated in a way. You had this mix for the straight crowd, and this mix for the circuit crowd but there was no style he couldn’t do. He could remix for any audience. I like to reference this latest thing he just did for Tori. There were three different mixes and another that wasn’t released and you could really listen to them all back to back because they were so different. He was able to do it all.”