The strange tale of a Liechtensteinian producer + social-media Zelig and his Cut the Bull Entertainment
After the 2013 Grammy nominations were announced last night, one question began echoing through dance-music circles: "Who the hell is Al Walser?"
Left-field picks don't get much further out than Walser, a Liechtensteinian producer and self-described "entertainment mogul" who received a Best Dance Recording nomination for his song "I Can't Live Without You," landing himself in the elite company of Avicii ("Levels"), Calvin Harris ("Let's Go," featuring Ne-Yo), Skrillex ("Bangarang"), and the Swedish House Mafia ("Don't You Worry Child," featuring John Martin). But where those artists' songs represent some of the year's biggest electronic dance music hits, Walser and his single both appear to be virtual unknowns.
Walser's Facebook page currently boasts only 1,437 "likes," compared to millions apiece for his competitors. As of 6 a.m. this morning, the two official versions of his video on YouTube (uploaded two and four weeks ago, respectively) had fewer than 7,000 views combined. The top comment on the more recent video: "GRAMMY NOMINATED ?! WTF ?!"
"I Can't Live Without You" was released on September 21, 2012. The cutoff date for the 2013 Grammy nominations was September 30.
The song's clunky rock/trance fusion and low-budget video make Rebecca Black's "Friday" sound and look cutting-edge in comparison, and a video of Walser performing looks like something Saturday Night Live might come up with if it revived "Sprockets" for the EDM era. Wearing an astronaut costume, he mashes a keyboard to the sounds of Avicii's "Levels," flails his arms in the air, and at one point acts out a "trapped in a box" mime routine.
Born in Liechtenstein and now based in Hollywood, Walser is a former member of Fun Factory, a Eurodance franchise that had modest chart success in the mid 1990s. Walser was a part of the band's second incarnation, between 1997 and 2003. Their 1999 single, "Party with Fun Factory," featuring rapping and an extended quotation from the J. Geils Band's "Centerfold," is part Snap!, part Stars on 45.
Walser's own website raises more questions than it answers, but the Rebecca Black comparison may be apt. Among his many enterprises, Walser offers "private consultations" to artists seeking to advance their careers, and his Cut the Bull Entertainment and Amiville Global Music Licensing and Publishing companies both tout their success in having placed the singer Joelina's "Trendsetter" in an episode of Beverly Hills 90210 (although the Amiville website spells it "Beverly Hill 90210").
Curiously, the "Consultation" link on Walser's website leads to a page with text only in his native German. Applicants are instructed to prepare a package of their best material (presumably recordings and videos) and email Walser's company, at which point a representative will request the applicant's PayPal or credit-card details. "Once we have received your payment," read the instructions, "contact us by email to schedule the telephone or Skype meeting with Al."
Other artists signed to Cut the Bull include the Glamour Girls, a.k.a. Naughty, Busty, and Spunky, a trio of lingerie-clad performers billed as the "sexiest Dj's allive" (sic). Another Cut the Bull artist, the easy-listening performer A Nice Vibe, is billed as "the No. 1 artist in San Francisco and the No. 13 pop artist worldwide."
Cut the Bull Entertainment's logo, by the way, is a cartoon bull, glimpsed from behind, with an oversized pair of scissors snipping through a neat, froyo-like swirl of feces. The bull looks angry; his anus is dilated.
Walser is also the author of Musicians Make it Big: An Insider Reveals the Secret Path to Break in Today's Music Industry, a book that promises to show "you how to start making money with OTHER PEOPLE'S SONGS."
"Born into the smallest country of Liechtenstein, Al Walser has become an international entertainment expert and mogul who has produced, written, and performed in front of millions around the globe before the age of 30," reads the book's promotional text. "Some of the world's biggest stars became his friends. He is the ideal mentor for anyone tired of outdated, expensive, and ineffective methods in the music industry."
To support his claims as an entertainment-world insider, Walser's websites prominently feature photographs of the musician posing with Katy Perry, Lionel Richie, Snoop Dogg, and a particularly unhealthy-looking Michael Jackson.
Curiously, the Jackson connection appears to go deeper: Walser's own biography claims that "Walser came into the spotlight when pop star Michael Jackson was searching for a family home in Liechtenstein." A Walser single ostensibly featuring Jermaine Jackson, "Living a Dream," is available on Amazon, although it's unclear from the video what Jackson's involvement actually was.
Is Walser some kind of social-media Zelig? Could that explain how the singer, "mogul," and sweet-talker landed himself a Grammy nomination?
Surely, that's the only way to explain how Walser managed to get face time with Barack Obama himself. A video uploaded to Walser's Myspace account in late 2007 documents short conversation with Obama over a luncheon table, possibly at a fundraiser. Given the way the video has been edited, it's impossible to determine much about the context of Obama's comments. "How do I say hello in Liechtenstein?" he asks Walser, laughing at his own fumbled pronunciation as Walser corrects him. Obama goes on to say, "I'm glad to hear that your country is cooperating with financial investigations around terrorist networks," presumably in reference to Liechtenstein's reputation as a haven for tax dodgers and money launderers. Finally, Obama even riffs on Walser's status as a biracial Liechtensteinian, apparently something of a novelty: "You're like the first one, period!"
Walser recapped the encounter in a press release posted to his blog in 2008, with the headline, "Obama's Leicntenstien (sic) Doctrine: FIRST LIECHTENSTEIN BI-RACIAL CITIZEN SENT TO AMERICA TO ASSESS RACIAL CLIMATE IN WAKE OF BARACK OBAMA SUCCESS." But Walser's recollection of the event was far more dramatic than what the video captured:
"With the phenomenal success of presidential hopeful Barack Obama, the tiny alpine country of Liechtenstein has sent their first biracial ambassador of goodwill to America. Al Walser has met with Obama to discuss how the two men's biracial background has been received in several different American states and in other countries. Walser shared his own experiences as a biracial music and dance celebrity, and explained how ignorance can lead to false presumptions. Walser detailed how his own country of Liechtenstein is unfairly seen as a tax haven used for money laundering by Americans who do not want to pay taxes or who obtain money through illegal means. Walser would like the help of a President Obama in reinventing the small country's image as all of America 's good friend. Walser is encouraging Obama if elected to make his first official trip to his country of Liechtenstein."
Now, Walser has another notch in his belt: He's Liechtenstein's first Grammy nominee.