Two ultimate highlights of this year’s Donaufestival were The Bug & Dis Fig and the solo performance of Dis Fig. We met Felicia Chen for an interview.
In her performance with The Bug at Donaufestival 2022 Dis Fig aka Felicia Chen fronted sensual trip hop and ambient isolation; in her solo performance, the day after, she got rid of her demons when she swept up the debris with an intransigent force. skug met Felicia Chen for an interview after her solo show.
skug: Your full-length solo debut album »Purge« came out in 2019. What was the idea behind it?
For a long time, I had struggled with making music, with the discipline of it. And living in New York, and the hecticness, and working a lot. So, I chose to take two months off. I kind of isolated myself on an island in Greece. And, you know, the album came from a lot of penned up emotions and a lot of basically not conquering what’s inside me. So, I needed to isolate myself to really face everything that was inside me. And what happened was kind of… a purge of emotions and a lot of things I had run away from, I’d been escaping from, when I was leaving The States. I was not able to really face them when I was there.
What music did you make before the album?
I grew up singing a lot of choral stuff. Then I quit that for about ten years. So, the reason why the album is so vocal-heavy and very experimental in the way that I use my voice is because it’s me relearning or reintroducing myself to my voice and rediscovering my voice in a non-academic, non-choral way. That’s why I use a lot of voice in different soundscaping, more like an instrument than in a song lyrics verse-chorus type of way. And afterwards, when I moved to New York, I was DJing a lot and was part of the b-scene there. Then I moved to Berlin. In New York I was just starting out, but in Berlin its blossomed because I had time to dedicate my time to that. But the aim was always to create my own music and get back into singing. So that happened when I went to Greece.
And who were your early favorites?
I mean, the thing is my musical interests are so far reaching, I have so many different influences, I listened to choral music, I listened to rap music, to R’n’B, I listened to some drone stuff, I listened to dubstep… The early days of dubstep were very influential to my sound. And also trip hop for sure. Also, when I was a kid, I listened to really bad pop-punk music, but I don’t want to list the names.
No, you don’t have to, we can guess who they are anyway… 🙂 But that raw energy with which you floored us in your concert a few minutes ago, it was astonishing. Were did you get that from… Patti Smith? Or PJ Harvey?
I did not grow up listening to Patti Smith, I grew up more in a generation listening to Karen O. PJ Harvey I kind of got into a little bit later and rediscovered her after the fad, more recently. For me, the attitude and emotion that come from my life performance are like… I really like to have zero veil between myself as a performer and the audience. Zero veil, like no curtain.
And you love to get in contact with the audience.
Yeah, no boundaries between me and the audience. That’s why I make a lot of eye contact and why I like to go into the crowd and, you know, physically move side to side and bump into people and stuff and really involve them, so that they can really feel how I’m feeling inside. The album is called »Purge« and the performance is a purge. I do get really emotional when I perform.
And how do the lyrics come about?
Interestingly enough, I’m really bad at lyrics. I’m really bad in even remembering my favorite songs lyrics. I can’t even remember, it’s something with my brain. When I listen to music, the words go in one ear and out the other and I’m just paying attention to the sonics of it. I don’t know the way my brain comprehends things. So, for »Purge«, usually what I would do is write some of the backing track and press record and just improvise. And like all of it coming out was a stream of consciousness.
That’s why I mentioned Patti Smith.
I like Cocteau Twins too, and I didn’t realize until a long time later, when I was talking to a friend, you know, it’s so weird, like I’m not really saying much, but it’s like the energy and the stream of consciousness that I’m putting out and… like Cocteau Twins. I didn’t even realize that she wasn’t saying anything. For the album, mostly it was a stream of consciousness except for maybe one track where I felt like I needed lyrics, so I wrote lyrics. And that’s why, you know, fast forward, a year or so, I’m working with The Bug on our album.
How did you get in contact with The Bug?
It’s funny, I think maybe somehow we became Facebook friends, we hadn’t met or anything, and he was in Berlin, he’s in Brussels now, but at that time he was in Berlin, and I think I was putting out my album and I was making a mix for »Mixmag« and I wanted to include one of his King Midas tracks and I thought, fuck, I’m going to write him, and would you mind sending me the preview of your album, I would love to include it in my mix. And I’d send him my album and stuff. After listening to it we started talking and he really loved it. Just from that, organically we decided to work on some tunes. And then it turned into an album. That one, we decided it was more a bit like songs and choruses and verses and stuff and, yeah, I jumped up to try and write lyrics and then I did.
In Berlin, how did you make contact with all these scenes?
Really from going out. You know, when I moved to Berlin seven years ago, I didn’t know many people. I think I didn’t know anyone who lived there, but I had a lot of friends of friends. And already being in New York I was going to three shows a week, like, I was addicted, you know. I went to Berlin, and I did the same. And it was really organically just from making friends and it wasn’t ever anything like pushing my music. It was more like being around people and being in the community and stuff. Which I think Berlin is really good for. At least it was at that point. I mean now it’s like so many people are moving there, but I think it’s very easy there to kind of step in and make your own gowns and figure out where you want to lie and make a lot connections pretty organically.
What are your plans for the future, what will you do next?
I’ve been doing smaller projects here and there, working also on performances and stuff. I’m planning on a second solo album.
Do you already have a concept, or an idea?
A bit. Still trying to figure it out. Although in the past couple of years with lockdowns and everything it’s interesting how my music inclinations changed. Before, I was listening to a lot of harsh, noisy music, a lot of experimental leading stuff, and now I find myself listening to albums like »Rinse & Repeat«, albums that are very listenable, and also, working with The Bug, creating our album has inspired me to work on a track, a song, a kind of format. I feel like »Purge« was the individual tracks, but it’s a full story in the end and they all kind of blend in together. And you can listen to it from front to back and over again and it’s like a whole world. And you’re sucked in and it’s this clouded environment. And I want to keep that for my next album. But I think I will go into more of… I don’t want to say traditional songwriting because it’s definitely somewhat weird with verses and choruses and with »Purge« it’s something, when you listen to it once, you have this experience and you might not need it for a while. But I think I would like to create something that you can come back to more often. This is going to be a bit more consumable. But I’m still inclined to… it’s going to be weird and I’m still not going to make traditional shit.
We’re looking forward to your second album. Thanks for the interview!