Fei Fei: Raw Femme Power and Feral Y2K Rave
Multi-hyphenate creative Fei-Fei recalls her first exposure to electronic music when she heard John Acquaviva and Richie Hawtin’s X-Mix, Volume 3: Enter Digital Reality! at a party in her hometown of Madison, Wisconsin.
“I was obsessed with how the DJ was conducting the energy of the room,” she reflects. The revelation led to her passion for DJing, a career that led her to work with legends like Armin Van Buuren and Tiesto. However, the toll of industry toxicity began to dilute that passion she’d first felt. Leaving a thriving dance music rise on the table, Fei Fei turned her attention to rock project THRILL YOU KILL YOU as an antidote to passive sexism and racism she’d endured during her time in entertainment.
After a period of healing and creating a new artistic narrative, Fei-Fei found herself yearning to return to the dance floors that started it all. “I missed playing sweaty warehouse parties and festivals. Techno, trance—those are my roots.”
A five-hour set at Amazon re:Invent marked the rebirth of the Fei Fei project. “It stirred up the feeling of how I fell in love with the scene.” Her latest single, “MY BODY IS GOD ON ACID,” poured out of her in a single day, fueled by the powerful realizations of her strength as an Asian woman in dance music.
“I feel like my whole career as Fei-Fei is about not fitting into one box. We need more artists with unique perspectives that are out there fucking up the system. That’s the whole point of why I’m back now. I’m not fitting into what I was before, or what the scene wanted. Now, I’m here to do it on my own terms.”
Speaking about your newest single, “MY BODY IS GOD ON ACID,” you mentioned an experience you had DJing at Amazon re:Invent inspired it. In some ways, it sounds like a form of rebellion against the records that men make and dance to at the expense of women. How do you seek to rattle the cages of male-dominated spaces with your new music?
I want to see more women producing their music and singing about their own damn bodies. Fuck the patriarchy. I’m here to share my story and be a role model for the next generation.
I express myself however I want, wear (or don’t wear) whatever I want, and produce the music I want. I hid my femininity for a long time, afraid of not being taken seriously if I was dressed too sexy. I pretended to be a part of the boys club for so long.
Your project THRILL YOU KILL YOU saw you turn over a new leaf in your artistic career, focusing on live instrumentation and singing. What did starting a new project do for you creatively?
I threw myself out of my comfort zone. I let all my guards down—emotionally, professionally, and in my personal life. I stopped pretending to be someone else and started listening to emotions I spent years bottling up.
I started over. I took voice lessons, guitar lessons, and recorded vocals in my bathroom. I relearned Ableton all over again by making completely different kinds of music, with no pressure for it to be anything other than what I wanted it to be. I felt liberated, making music that was one-hundred percent me: raw, imperfect, and emotional. I studied all my favorite pop songs from artists like Katy Perry, Charli XCX, and Garbage and banged my head on the wall until I figured out how to write a catchy bop. I learned how to perform and sing – be a frontwoman, lead my band, and run my own playback sessions.
If I didn’t know how to do something, I’d learn! TYKY was a rebellion against everything.
I realize now that I needed a break to reset and grow. I’m a better artist and producer now and am more confident than ever.
Where were you when you realized you wanted to devote your life to music?
I grew up surrounded by music. My Dad played oboe and clarinet, and my Mom sang in the Chinese opera. I played classical piano for 13 years before I traded it in for my Technics!
I think I always knew [I wanted to be a musician], but never thought I could do it. Once I moved to LA to go to USC’s Film School, my DJ career started to take off. After I got my masters, I decided to pursue music.
With your imprint PUSSY POP, you’re putting femininity front and center in everything you do. Was there an awakening that led you to feel more connected with your feminine self?
TYKY is how I found myself – pushing this vulnerable femininity because there’s strength in that. I wanted to make people uncomfortable, subvert the male gaze, and flip expectations. It’s empowering.
Dance music started in queer Black nightclubs, yet year after year, we see lineups filled with predominantly white, straight men, coupled with exclusionary hiring practices across the music industry. Why do you think misogyny is still so prevalent in dance music, considering its origins and the diverse artists driving innovation today?
I’m not sure why it’s so prevalent in dance music, but it is a larger part of society. Systems of misogyny, racism, sexism are so baked into our lives, you really have to be ANTI to fight it. Maybe it’s the God complex with the rise of the superstar DJ that enforces certain behaviors from men. It’s everywhere in the industry. I guarantee that every woman has had shady experiences. I certainly have, from agents and managers to other DJs. Over time it starts to take a toll.
Is it any better than when you first started in the industry?
That remains to be seen. I’m thrilled to see more women, non-binary, queer, and racially diverse artists, but there’s still so much work the industry needs to do. I’ve gone to a few warehouses and festivals lately, and the majority of the crowd and talent were dudes. So have things changed? I’m not sure. I’ll have to report back.
What do you do to get out of your comfort zone when you’re feeling stuck in a rut?
Start a new project.
I saw a recent reel you posted that spoke about growing up in a Chinese family in Wisconsin. Did you ever feel dissonance in your family or community as you developed a deeper relationship with yourself as an artist? If so, how did you navigate it to where you are now?
I was born in Beijing. My family came to the states when I was eight months old. I grew up feeling like I was the only Chinese girl in Madison, Wisconsin. I wanted to fit in so badly. I even wanted to change my name to an American name when I was young because other kids made fun of me so much. Thankfully my parents wouldn’t let me. Sometimes it’s better not to fit in.
Fortunately, my parents have been supportive of my pursuit of the arts, whether it was filmmaking, DJing, or starting a band, although I think that deep down inside, they’re secretly hoping I become a lawyer or something. However, it was extremely challenging to break into the scene and still is.
Who has given you the most valuable piece of advice in your career?
My Mom told me when I was super young, "You’re a woman, and you’re Asian. You have two strikes against you, so you have to work a thousand times harder than everyone else to be taken seriously." I’ll never forget that.
Techno has a stereotype of snobbery attached to it, but your music has an energy of inclusion and joy. Do you think that dance music fans ever misunderstand techno? How can we dissolve those misconceptions?
Raving should be fun! It’s 2022. Can we all agree to be genre-fluid now? I like the freedom of making whatever I’m inspired by. I’d hate to be bound to one thing forever, or boxed in. Why don’t we get rid of the box? I think techno purists (or any genre purists) can be so serious. I’m happy to spice things up and surprise people.
Where do you go to find new music or sounds to inspire you?
I listen to so much stuff! I have whiplash deciding what project to work on myself! Currently obsessed with “Pink G-String” by Scene Queen, Dylan Fraser, and Alaska Reid’s “Vampire,” and my fav pop bangers—Katy Perry’s “Never Even Really Over'' or Charli XCX’s “Good Ones.” Alice Deejay’s “Better Off Alone” is always a choice too.
I read that you’re a big Garbage fan—me too! Which song is your favorite, and why?
“I’m Only Happy When It Rains” and “Stupid Girl” are my two favorites! Shirley is the GOAT. She’s unapologetically fierce and badass.
When people describe your music, what do you hope they’ll absorb from it?
Raw femme power and feral y2k rave.
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