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"Trying to communicate": Dis Fig is baring her soul through music

Dis Fig shares an introspective mix ahead of her debut album

  • Words: Jasmine Kent-Smith | Photos: Vlatka Feugo, Alice Z Jones, Richard Ross
  • 27 February 2019

Dis Fig, aka Felicia Chen, is the electronic music pathfinder sending dancefloors into a frenzy in Berlin and beyond as she merges anything from noise to techno, grime to hardcore through r‘n’b and choir-like ambience into a melting pot of emotional material that thrives both in and out of the dance.

Based in the German capital, the New Jersey-born DJ, producer and Call Dibs co-founder began DJing after a period of dance music discovery in New York, and in the years since she has garnered a well-earned reputation for her relentless, ambitiously abrasive sets at clubs and festivals such as Berghain’s leftfield floor Saüle, CTM Festival, Unsound and Nyege Nyege. Until recently she also held down a monthly slot on the now-defunct Berlin Community Radio.

With projects on labels such as New York’s experimental incubator PTP plus an endless stream of mixes and brilliant bootlegs to boot, Dis Fig is looking inwards this year as she offers up a debut album fueled by a vulnerability not often explored in her devastating dancefloor appearances. Titled ‘PURGE’, the album explores the beauty in both light and dark, loud and eerily quiet, with Chen’s voice a prominent feature throughout the full-length.

Ahead of its release, she’s turning in an introspective Impact mix designed to complement the album. Veering from Bristol’s Boofy to Pinch & Shackleton via Portishead, she’s turning up the heat and the feels throughout her hour-long outing, tapping tracks from the likes of 9T Antipope and King Midas Sound.

Listen to the mix and read a Q+A with Dis Fig below.

Can we go back and talk about your earliest musical experiences?

I mean the early days were a bit embarrassing, but let’s start when I moved to New York. I would say the coming of age years for me in electronic music was around 2010 at all the – I guess we called it bass – parties in New York. Everyone was playing dubstep, UK funky, garage, bassline, grime, kinda celebrating sounds from the UK, but putting our own twist on it. It was kind of an amazing time in New York. Solid line-ups at least three times a week. There was a ton of it around and I was kind of raised by that, as a bass zombie in front of the right sub stacks, just stomping it out.

You moved from New York to Berlin a while back, has being in the city influenced your sound or approach to production at all?

To be honest, it can be quite confusing for me in Berlin. It’s definitely been a city that's fully nurtured me, but at the same time, because it's so club-focused and because I spent the last three to four years actively DJing here, it was hard for me to really hone in on the music I wanted to make. Even though it's definitely influenced by years spent in the club both as a fan and as a DJ, it's not club music, so it took a bit of trying to navigate that. What did really help me focus and give me courage was being supported by Geng and everyone on PTP. Ultimately though, New York and Berlin are both constantly on my mind, so there’s definitely blood from both cities in my sound.

How would you describe your music to people who haven’t heard anything you've produced before?

Such a hard question that I’ve been struggling to answer. It's so hard to describe in my opinion, especially because I don't feel like it fits into any specific genre at all. If you listen to every track on the album, each one of them is completely different – different beat structure, instrumentation, vibe, vocal expression… Usually I say it’s really emotional, that some bits are pretty noisy but then some bits are...

Very quiet

Yeah, quiet and beautiful.

How important is being vulnerable when it comes to your music and what you want to share with people?

So important. I feel like it’s really easy to lose connection between the person behind the music and the listener. I always wanted people to be able to connect on a human to human level, through empathy or some kind of understanding of what I’m going through in hopes that it will trigger something within themselves, and that they can feel those therapeutic properties as well.

Your sets are known for being very noisy and very loud, while your album is beautiful but like you said, it's not necessarily made for the club. Was that something you set out to achieve or did it just kind of go that way?

I never wanted to make club music. I relate the album and the music I make more to my mixes. I feel like they aren't really similar to what I play in the club. In the club, it's really intense and sweaty and violent and turbulent. But with my mixes, I’m writing a story, embarking on a long, complicated journey with a whole array of emotions making an appearance. And that's what I wanted to do with the album. It didn’t start with a solid concept or anything. I just wrote based on what I felt, which was a lot at the time, so the album’s story ended up being the journey I went through making it.

As an artist what do you think about the term ‘experimental producer’?

Experimental is a difficult word. When I think of myself as an experimental producer or artist or whatever, on one hand I think that adjective is totally wrong. I guess experimental producers are supposed to make music that’s really out of the box or ground-breaking. I feel like I'm not doing that, and I'm also not trying to do anything super inventive with my music. I’m just trying to communicate. But at the same time, maybe being experimental is not conforming to any of these genres that we have laid out in front of us. I guess experimentation is just taking something and fucking about with it, right? And I guess my writing process is totally like – I’m just pressing record and trying shit out.

The album has a lot of orchestral references and vocals and stuff like that, was that something you were keen to explore more?

Vocals were always a main part of the whole goal. I wanted to get back into vocals and explore how I could and would use my voice. I'm not well versed in classical music or anything, but it really does inspire me. Just the drama and the emotion behind it. And low-key, I’ve always dreamed of composing for a full orchestra and choir. Maybe not in a traditional manner but in my own way. So maybe that was me trying to test those waters.

I also wanted some organic-ness in the album. So the flute, trumpet, and trombone in it were all recorded versus synthesised. The album is definitely a conscious step away from the club. Injecting orchestral instruments into it, particularly real instruments, was part of that. Also, it just makes shit way more dramatic.

That's my whole vibe. I don't really matter what genre is, I just love drama

Same same same. No drama in life but drama in music? Yes, give it to me.

Do you find you learnt anything about yourself either personally or as a producer over the two-year period you were putting the album together?

It’s been a crazy rollercoaster. I didn't really know what to expect. When I started it, I took some time off away from Berlin and stayed in a different country where I didn't know anyone or the language, and I gave myself two months to start and finish it. I realized very quickly that that was not going to work. Those months in isolation were really difficult and also essential. As well as the whole process getting the album to completion. It allowed me to tackle a lot of important things that I had pushed aside. ‘PURGE’ is about emotional purge, which I did during this time. And being able to get all these hard emotions out allowed me to start dealing in the right ways. Or at least get closer to it.

Can you talk us through your Impact mix?

I wanted to make something that would be more of an introspective listen at home, maybe on headphones, just like the album. I wanted to recreate the headspace I was in when I was writing ‘PURGE’. I was listening to a lot of music that was droney and heavy and I was getting back into dubstep. Also Portishead – Portishead is always in rotation. I just wanted to put together a nice complement to the album and give a glimpse of those feelings.

Dis Fig’s debut album ‘PURGE’ lands March 15 on PTP. Pre-order here.

Jasmine Kent-Smith is Mixmag's Staff Writer. Follow her on Twitter

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Tracklist:

Anne Lockwood - Blue Ledge: The Gorge [Lovely Music]
Grey Wulf - yggdrasil [Unreleased]
Mohammad - Lapli Tero [PAN]
9T Antiope - I. Proem [Self-Released]
AZJ - Stonehouse, Underwood feat. Andre Harris [Unreleased]
Shapednoise - Dream within a Dream [Type]
9T Antiope - Nocebo [PTP]
King Vision Ultra - Excerpt from Lobby Loiterer III [Unreleased]
SHXCXCHCXSH - SsSsSsSsSsSsSsSsSsSsSsSsSs [Avian]
ANFS - Mass#4 [Modal Analysis]
Prison Religion - ANSSS1 [Halcyon Veil]
Emptyset - Order [Raster-Noton]
Thegn - I Heard Your Voice feat. Dis Fig [Unreleased]
Boofy - Perfunktion [Tectonic]
Sectra - In a Bad Place [Unreleased]
Portishead - Mourning Air [Go! Beat]
Pinch & Shackleton - Torn and Submerged [Honest Jon’s Records]
Trisicloplox - Mind Flay [Unreleased]
Godflesh - Gift from Heaven [Earache]
Forests - Scanning Dirge [Idol Collapse]
Dis Fig - Unleash [PTP]
bod [包家巷] - Excerpt from Limpid Fear [清澈恐惧] [Knives]
King Midas Sound - Bluebird [Cosmic Rhythmatic]
Ancestral Voices - Glasir [The Fifth Kingdom]
Dis Fig - WHY [PTP]
Crosby, Stills & Nash - Helplessly Hoping [Atlantic]

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