Dis Fig overcame shattered dreams of jazz stardom to become a Berlin club hero
FACT Rated is our series digging into the sounds and stories of the most vital breaking artists around right now. This week, John Twells talks to Felicia Chen, aka Dis Fig, the Berlin-based club DJ and producer whose innovative blends combine “weird club music” with anything that piques her interest.
NAME: DIS FIG
FROM: NEW JERSEY, USA
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Felicia Chen, aka Dis Fig, never intended to be a club producer, let alone a DJ. “When I was in grade school I became obsessed with singing,” she says excitedly. “I was the biggest choir nerd in the school and was involved with all different choirs – my dream was to become a jazz singer in New York.” It’s not the origin story you’d expect from one of Berlin’s hottest rising DJs, but Chen is proud of her differences. In the last few years, she’s built up a solid reputation with a series of explorative mixes and a slew of boundary-pushing bootlegs, many of which will be familiar to keen club afficionados. Her take on Danny Brown’s ‘Income Tax Swag’ twinned the rapper’s rubbery vocals with Emptyset’s industrial percussion and found Chen navigating a world where rap and searing electronics are simply different parts of the same harmony.
But Chen’s musical career was almost over before it had started after her jazz dreams were dashed early on. “I was about to go to the university of Miami for vocal jazz but in the end it was too expensive,” she laments. “I stopped all music for six years. It was really sad, I went to school for business marketing.” During those lost years, Chen spent her quiet moments digging through tracks, making mixtapes for friends and slowly developing a passion for New York’s club scene, but it wasn’t enough. “I was heartbroken I had no other music in my life and really wanted to create or do something but I was nervous because I hadn’t done anything for six years,” she explains. “I really wanted to make music, but I thought maybe I’d start by DJing.” When a friend lent her a “shitty” DJ controller, Chen finally took the plunge and taught herself to DJ, blending “weirder club music” with anything else that piqued her interest.
Armed with a burning passion for odder strains of electronic music and a growing dissatisfaction with New York (“I had three jobs and was working seven days a week”), Felicia eventually headed to Berlin to pursue music. She didn’t go alone – Lele Herrera, aka Hunni’d Jaws, emigrated at the same time and the pair were able to feel out the city together. “You look out when you’re at the club and it’s basically DJs and producers,” she laughs. “So it was easy to get to know people and start playing shows there and once Lele and I started Call Dibs on Berlin Community Radio, that started things moving.”
Once she was established as a DJ, Chen could at long last focus on producing music. She admits her early unreleased experiments with vocals and beats had been less than ideal, but with time to concentrate on her method in Berlin, the sounds in her head began to fall into place. Six months ago she contrbuted the woozy ‘Rebirth’ to Support.FM’s SHXME compilation and in October, she collaborated with Chinese contemporary artist Tianzhuo Chen on the soundtrack to dark pop opera An Atypical Brain Damage. Now she’s working on her debut album, and according to Chen it will toy with the same level of melody and emotion that lies at the core of her sets.
“I want to incorporate vocals but I’m really bad at lyrics,” she admits, laughing. “The vocals won’t be lyrical – more tonal: singing, screaming, growling. I’m excited. When I was doing jazz, I would have a lot of solos but improvisational solos, because I was really bad at memorizing lyrics. Improvising is just playing your voice like it’s a saxophone, so I’ll be experimenting with that idea and not really focusing on words.”
John Twells is FACT’s Managing Editor. Find him on Twitter.