Frankie Wilde grew up rough in Brixton, London, doing whatever he could to survive. From slaving in a chip shop to taking gigs spinning at the grimmest of London bars, Frankie paid his dues and honed his talent the hard way. “I remember seeing Frankie selling weed on Camden High Street,” remembers fellow DJ Angus Walker. “He was always hustling money so he could buy some tunes. There were even rumors that he was wanking off pensioners for some extra dosh to hit the record shops with”.
When the rave scene exploded, Frankie was ready. He was a master at crafting acid house and hard techno sets that drove crowds insane, and such a consummate showman that once you saw and heard Frankie, you needed more. Famed Tokyo club owner Takahiro Sugimoto recalls, “Frankie Wilde came to my club in 2000. I have never seen Japanese people dance like that in my entire life. And he was like a possessed man afterwards, guzzling champagne by the bottle. It was a wonderful. One of the cocktail girls here claimed that Frankie gave her the clap. I fired her.” Frankie traveled all over the world leveling nightclubs, but found his spiritual and musical home in Ibiza, Spain.
Frankie became to DJ club partying what Michael Jordan once was to basketball: overpaid and endorsed beyond all reason. There were Frankie slipmats, record crates, headphones — there was even a strain of ecstasy doing the rounds in Ibiza for a while called “Frankies” (they had the image of a little guy on them that could arguable be said to resemble him).
Frankie lived and spent accordingly to his newfound level of fame. He purchased a villa outside of the city center that would have made Caligula proud. He married a vacant supermodel to go with the house and the drugs. In the midst of the most decadent lifestyle possible, Frankie made the seminal club track “Otay.” This squelched-out acid instrumental was a bonafide international hit, even getting onto the straight charts for two months. You’ve probably danced to it a million times and wondered what it was, and you have for sure seen last year’s Volkswagen commercial that featured “Otay” as the soundtrack to a mini-night of clean debauchery.
Right about there is where it all went south for Frankie Wilde. “He was a monster with the coke,” recalls one-time girlfriend Michelle Nelfi. “I’d be ready to go to bed at 5 am, which is bad enough in the first place, but Frankie — he’d still be up the next day at 6 pm when I woke. I remember one time he decided to try and give himself a coke enema because snorting and freebasing wouldn’t get him high anymore. It was one of the single most repulsive things I’ve ever seen. Could not get the mess out of my bathroom tiles.”
Mountains of cocaine and scotch by the gallon started to take their inevitable toll, as did the pounding sound systems that Frankie stood virtually inside of every time he DJ’d. With little warning, Frankie Wilde went utterly and completely deaf. Unable to hear anything but a maddening ringing, Frankie became unbearable — some say he went mad. Inevitably, his wife, stepson, manager, fans and record deal disappeared.
He sunk into a self-imposed exile, holing up in his bedroom, working his way through enough coke to power a small city, and banging on his shattered ears in hopes of knocking them back to life. Techno music journalist Tino Baldwin recalls, “The rumors about what Frankie was up to in that room were just insane. Some club groupies claimed that he was trying to carve two new ears on the top of his head — just sick, impossible things like that.”
After scraping the bottom of his psyche (rumors of a very real suicide attempt abound), Frankie dug himself out of the depths. He ended up at a clinic for the deaf on the coast of Spain, where he learned sign language. “Me and some mates ran into him on the beach a few months after he came out of his house, and he was just a changed man,” says Ibiza party promoter Gemma Englund. “He could read lips perfectly and he was all smiles. He seemed quite drunk, I’ll admit. But I didn’t spot his previously ever-present circle of coke around the nostrils.”
Frankie’s manager Max Haggar, always one to see an angle, began building Frankie up as the world’s only deaf DJ. And it was true — Frankie found a method to make music despite his lack of functioning ears. “He was always obsessed with flip-flops,” says friend Devin Creighton. “Anyone who went by his house saw his closet full of the bleedin’ things. So what he did was glue these flip-flop tops onto a couple of massive speakers and slide his feet in there. He felt the beat through his entire body.”
The press started to come around and the crowds were ready to pull for The Deaf DJ. Buzz was building, the scene was ready for a new champion, and Max prepped Frankie for his return. Haggar engineered a stellar comeback gig for Frankie at Ibiza superclub Pacha (a resurrection the likes of which hasn’t been seen since the first Easter).
Immediately after the set at Pacha, Frankie disappeared.
Haggar and Frankie’s label people at Motor City had no idea where he’d gone. The press exploded, prayer vigils were held at the clubs, Frankie’s ex returned from Asia to search for him. And then, eventually, the buzz died down and Frankie was just…gone.
As always, the rumors fly rampant. “I’ve heard he lives in a Sherpa camp at the base of Mt. Everest,” says Beats Per Minute magazine editor Steve Gillim. Frankie’s ex-drug dealer Sharks Gibbs says, “I know exactly where that motherfucker is. At the bottom of the sea. He came out to the docks after that night at Pacha and took a header right off the edge — sank like a stone.” Ibiza tourism board spokeswoman Isa Salvi has another take: “From what we’ve been told, Frankie Wilde decided that the best thing for Ibiza was to make an example of his devotion to a healthier life by leaving the decadence here behind