What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. Such is the case of Felicia Chen, who had a singular dream of jazz in New York, only to unknowingly discover one within the club sphere in “self-induced isolation” upon moving to Berlin. Last week, Dis Fig released her first album, following “a long time of emotional withdrawal” spent dwelling on issues such as the political climate back in the United States. In the creation of PURGE, the producer and vocalist broke down her own internal walls: “emotions rushing all out at once” to cleanse her mind, body and soul like spring cleaning. Glamcult caught up with Dis Fig—whose DJ gigs have already taken her to the world’s best clubs—to discuss her relentless debut.
Your album is described as an “exploration of vulnerability”. Can you tell us about the process behind the record? Was it painful to make?
The album came after a long time of emotional withdrawal. Having moved to Berlin some years ago, circumstances made it really easy for me to push some heavy issues from back home aside and dwell in this sort of Berlin bubble. Issues from personal stuff to the political climate in America have only gotten worse, and as much as I wanted to deal with it, it was really hard for me to. Even if I tried to, my body wouldn’t let me dwell on it for very long. It’s the defence mechanism you teach your mind, and then it’s armed so strong that even you can’t bring it down. In the process of writing this album, I spent some time in a new place with no friends in some self-induced isolation. I really didn’t know what was coming, but I was finally able to listen to myself and break that wall down. The emotions rushing all out at once, the purge, it was fully painful. But it wasn’t ever not beautiful or necessary.
Why did you choose the title, PURGE? And what made you feel ready to release it this spring?
It really was/is a cleansing. It’s like every time you choose to ignore or avoid some kind of pain, stress, emotion, it makes these globs of thick blood that stay in your blood stream and end up blocking your arteries. I don’t know how this analogy works medically but you need to clear it all out somehow—purge it—in order to operate safely and properly again. To be honest, it’s coming out this spring because that’s as soon as it could all be ready, but we can totally relate it to spring cleaning. 🙂
Reading comments on social media or Soundcloud, what struck me is that a lot of people experience your music as being quite heavy or even harsh. How do you experience this yourself? And what would you say to them?
I’d agree. What I tend to sonically present is definitely not light. Even when it’s beat-less and bass-less, there’s always an undeniable weight to it. I’d say it has to do with the feeling behind it. I’ve always found it difficult to make music that isn’t heavy-hearted. Doesn’t come out the same. But still with this kind of soundscape, my aim isn’t to induce extreme anxiety or something. There might be moments of tension I’m trying to build but it’s all supposed to end up being releasing and comforting.
How do your career as a DJ and as a producer relate to and/or influence each other? Do you consider them two different worlds or are they very much intertwined?
At times they can feel so far separated. It’s such a different feeling making a mix or rocking a DJ set versus writing a track or performing live. While DJing, the energy comes from mainly the external, and it’s something you feed off of, and transfer back and forth. Playing other people’s tracks, getting off the vibe of the room. When I’m making music, it’s all internal. I’m searching within and really get into the right headspace to be able to let the right things out. I think the fact that I don’t make club music also makes this separation even more distinct in my mind. So what I’m playing is never what I’m making. At the same time, I think you can definitely hear the influence of the club in my music, and I wouldn’t be making what I make had I not spent years being a bass zombie next to the stack of sub woofers, ha-ha.
PURGE was released on cassette! Why this medium?
A lot of people are asking why not vinyl. Vinyl is made out of PVC (the most toxic plastic). And from production to disposal, it causes bad pollution and does real harm to those as close as the workers that handle it, to those drinking water polluted by it, and as far as the actual ozone layer. But we still wanted something physical. Geng (PTP head) mentioned that most pressing plants produce the LP jackets at absurd minimums if there is any printing done on them, so even if you only press up 100-300 LPs, you have to pay for 500 jackets to be cut and printed. Again, seems pretty wasteful. He made the move away from vinyl to fully cassette last year. Taken from him: while vinyl is pretty, it’s not his interest to fuel the audiophile collector culture nor is it worth the overblown costs on both the pocket and planet. Also, cassettes are just more accessible on all levels. They’re less of a footprint, can be reused and recycled as re-recordable media, they’re smaller, lighter, cheaper to make (and purchase as a listener), and yeah, there’s just this beauty in the format. They can be thrown around and “lived” unlike vinyl and CDs, they fit nicely in hand, and you can read the spine like the binding of a book.
What does I Am The Tree refer to? Is there a story behind the track?
“I Am The Tree” is everything you learned from purging. It’s the state it leaves your mind and body in. You look at what’s left and it’s your pure self with no hard cover shell. That honesty brings strength and courage because you just went to hell and back. Your body might still be limp, but your mind is rooted through the ground and to the sky.
From Säule (Berghain) to OHM and from The Yard to H0L0, you’ve played an amazing list of—underground—venues as a DJ. What do you consider key ingredients for a stimulating clubbing/music environment?
Eagerness and thirst! Big clubs with sick sound systems are wonderful but the best places I’ve played are spaces that were filled with people, fully engaged and excited, willing to let everything go and move their bodies whichever way they go and dive in with no hesitation.
We love the quote “it’s burning and it’s stunning” in your press release. Is your music an act of (mental or physical) self-care?
Completely. All of it is in effort of self-care. Purging is an act of self-care. Not gonna pull the whole—I make music because I need to to survive—thing, but the experience of doing so is definitely important to my well-being. It’s still something that brings me on a rollercoaster ride of stress, doubt, and elation, which I’m continually trying to understand and handle better. But the release that comes with spiritually pouring your soul out into some wild food for ear, and then physically doing so with vocals… that has helped me through some things, and I hope it does for others as well.
What’s the last thing you (consciously or subconsciously) nurtured? And what should you nurture more?
I just did some morning YouTube yoga, so I guess the correct answer would be mind, body, and spirit. But yeah, this handful of things is very important. Not sure if it’s getting easier or harder to take care of them as I grow older. Only time will tell!