Get To Know Louise Chen
Who is Louise Chen?
A friendly and approachable character; an attitude she exudes through her approach to music and promoting. Louise is a party starter with deep musical roots ranging classic & modern house, disco, soul, hip pop, & more. Her knack for fostering that special energy on a dancefloor extends to her love for hosting nights, having made a name for herself in the Parisian scene where she founded collective and night Girls, Girls, Girls, creating a safe space for women to express themselves behind the decks and on the dancefloor.
She has since made a reputation for herself worldwide with strong links to New York and now London, where she resides as a resident for Small Talk.
We had a chat about her passions and hobbies, DJ culture in Paris and London & its intersection with the world of fashion and of course, her time with us at Small Talk & Corsica Studios.
Do you have other passions or hobbies outside DJing?
I write on the side, I’ve always written. When DJing is taking a backseat, that's what I naturally lean to. If I were to imagine myself doing any other job, it would be writing, telling stories, everything through the lens of music. That's just how I see the world. I’m also taking guitar lessons right now and learning Luxembourgish, that’s where I was born and raised and I used to speak the language as a kid but never learnt how to read or write, so I’m correcting that now. I’m really loving being in this position of being a student again. I think other than writing the other thing I lean on most is food. I love cooking. I mean, I love eating, but I love cooking as well. My best friend, Julien Pham, is in the food industry. He's a consultant, I guess it's kind of an equivalent to a promoter, but for dinners and restaurants. He’ll do residencies at certain restaurants, taking over the branding and will host different chefs in residence from his own global network. He’s always been a big inspiration. His little sister, Celine Pham, is a chef. She and I met when we both worked in music 15 years ago. So there's this weird kind of parallel where I went further deep into the music and she went further deep into the food. But somehow we always find ways to reconnect? Even though we chose different paths, we both ended up being in hospitality.That’s how I see it.
Yeah, I guess It is kind of a similar world in a sense.
Well, it’s kind of reductive, but I think you have DJs that consider themselves more music industry, these tend to be producers, who are more interested in getting their music out there. They have more of an incentive to put their energy into getting themselves and their music out there. Living the world more like a musician, going on tour, making music, running a label etc… And then you have those that I think consider themselves more of being part of the hospitality industry. These tend to be the local promoters, who put more energy into promoting other artists, hosting them. I guess, I’ve always seen myself as more of a hospitality type DJ.
Would you say promoting was your path into this industry, running your collective Girls, Girls Girls in Paris?
I always worked in music, interning at labels, distribution, marketing, magazines. Basically every little job that’s in the music industry, I’ve had a go at. I was always trying to figure out which job would put me in the best position to help music in a way? I thought my contribution would come from a backstage kind of job. DJing was kind of like this hobby, it was a side hustle. It was really just a way to go out and not spend money. At the time I was an intern for an Independent promo agency that used to rep a bunch of independent labels that were all tied to DJing or DJ culture. One of my friends at the office had a residency at a bar in Paris called Café Chérie. It's still around. We used to go and just support him just to hang out and drink beers or whatever. It was on one of those nights that he was like “oh, let me just show you how to fade in, fade out records, this way maybe you can come play with me”. That's how I got the bug. The following week, instead of using the money I had for my lunches at uni, I would just go to Virgin Megastore and buy whatever twelve inch single that I wish I could have played ! And that's how I started collecting records in 2006, mostly to DJ.
What does the underground DJ culture look like in Paris, compared to the UK for example?
First of all, in my opinion, France doesn’t really have a DJ culture. There isn’t a radio DJ culture like we have in the UK. In France, no one really listens to the radio. Rinse France is probably the best way to get an idea of who the movers and shakers are in Paris right now, but then the underground scene kind of doesn’t really exist anymore.There’s a real lack of venues, no new places are opening so the clubs that still exist are probably as old as me, if not older. We are still feeling the closure of Concrete, it has left behind a real power vacuum and it’s not just a power vacuum, it also left a hole for younger kids. I don’t think cool kids in Paris give a shit about clubbing anymore. I think because the fashion industry is so big in Paris, it dominates the city to such a point that why would you bother spending 20 quid on going to a club? You can just wait a week and you’ll have a fashion event thrown on a Thursday with an open bar you can go to. Fashion has essentially killed whatever was left of a vibrant underground scene and has turned it into a commodified aesthetic that people can just apply like a filter to anything. So online it'll look like it's underground, but once you go, you're like, there's nothing underground about this. This is just clapped. It's just a bunch of kids who are trying to recreate a really bad Balenciaga campaign with horrible gabber edits of TLC. Good for them but there’s no range, no one is a warm up DJ anymore, everyone is entitled to playing hard and fast because that’s what looks good on socials, you know?
You used to play these fashion events as well, are the scenes very linked in Paris? Is it common for DJs to play fashion events there?
You kind of don’t have a choice, out of sheer survival. If you want to make a living out of DJing in Paris you have to do these jobs. It’s really funny, a lot of men about 5 years ago, when these shows were dominated by women and gay men, would have a problem with you playing these shows, saying you're not a serious DJ or whatever. And then Virgil Abloh and Benji B came about and then suddenly these shows became desirable to straight men! Even pre-pandemic, I got so much shade for years and years people saying I wasn’t a legit DJ because I played these gigs. This is what I mean when I say there’s no DJ culture. There’s a producer culture which means the DJs that play together are the same dudes who make music together and then book each other, release each other’s music. None of them try to bring in other new DJs, it’s all very myopian. Everybody stays in their lane and they're very resistant to new people coming in because they see it as competition rather than an opportunity for collaboration. This is one of the reasons I moved to London. Every time I would come here, whether it was to do an NTS show or play with Moxie or any of my other friends, it felt like more was more. People at NTS would be happy for me to go and do a Balamii mix or Foundation FM mix as well. No one’s giving you stink eye because you dare and go hang out with this other DJ that is not an NTS DJ? But that’s the sort of silly clique-y attitude Paris generates.
How are you feeling about the residency here at Corsica with Small Talk?
Well, first of all, I just love the night and the club, so I'm always just happy to be there every time, I still get a little bit like really? Me? I'm a resident at Corsica Studios? I can't believe it. I go to Corsica Studios with the utmost humility every time. I’m mostly there in admiration of whoever has been invited to play, it doesn’t really feel like it’s about me. I’m always more excited to see the other artists play and I get to be a fan before an artist, if that makes sense? I also love playing them, the fact that I get to make use of my range to play with different DJs and their different audiences as well. Having moved to London quite recently, it’s been the best way to get a read on the crowds here. I think that's what I’ve really loved about it. I never know what I’m going to end up playing. It could be anything from House, Techno to Disco, Breaks or some weird jazz stuff at the end of a night in Room Two. I have total freedom, that’s really priceless!
What have been some of your most memorable experiences with Small Talk so far?
Honestly, the last one with Sally C and Roi Perez was so much fun. The music was outstanding the whole night and then Harri Pepper in the other room. I also have to say the one in November with Shy One was great too. We had been trying to get her down to play Small Talk for months and months. And then she finally came to play, after that she was like, okay, when are we doing another one? Hooked!
What are you looking forward to about your upcoming Small Talks?
At the end of May, I’ll play with AceMoma. I’m such a fan of their music, their energy and output. They just keep on pushing the envelope. And when it comes to just the sound and the music, you can tell that they have fun making it. Nowadays you can make dance music sound almost like pop music, super polished, compressed and big. It’s nice to see them take it two steps back and make music that sounds more raw and distorted and human. I’ve been dying to get them down at Corsica so that should be a special one as a Gala Festival aftershow party.
Room 1 or Room 2 ?
I'm actually a Room One kind of gal, and it's not because of the size or whatever. It's because I love the proximity to the crowd. It really feeds me when I can see them and I can feel them. And it's even better if they don't have a digital camera and shades on hah! But I love room Two for different reasons. I think Room Two is typically the kind of place where I would love to play deeper and make myself invisible, if that makes sense. I love Room Two because the DJ can dissolve and disappear and whatever the vibe you create in there is its own beast. But what I love about Room One is that it's a real conversation with the crowd.
What are your 3 tracks for the Corsica Playlist?
Kerri Chandler - You’re In My System (Atmospheric Dub)
So the first one is a shout out to Alice (Moxie) and her hen do, Kerri Chandler - You’re In My System (Atmospheric Dub) . It was Saoirse’s excellent shout, she put it on at the right time and it became the sound of the Hen do. I’m not going to lie, it’s the sound of the summer.
Armand van Helden - Work Me! (Gadamit)
For the second one, I’m going to give you an Armand Van Helden one because I DJ’d the 20th of Ed Banger with him recently and he’s so nice and generous with his stories. I had a fangirl moment and had to tell him that I always play Work Me (Goddamnit!), to the point where it's kind of become my tune. I was like, I'm so sorry, this is so embarrassing. I have appropriated one of your tracks. He played it for me that night and gave me all the intel on how he made it! The secret ingredients!
CeCe Peniston - Searchin (Silk In The House Mix)
The last one is one that had slipped off my radar until recently a good friend of mine, New York based DJ Mo Yasin played it. He was on before me at Public Records, my other residency party, and when he dropped this record I lost my shit! It was CeCe Peniston - Searchin (Silk In The House Mix). I hadn't heard it in like a million years. I had it on my stick, but I never played it out.
He made me reconsider that track entirely. I think I'd completely neglected it and set it aside and forgot about it. That was one of those “why am I not playing this out?” eureka moment and now it's definitely in the track rotation.
Who’s your dream b2b at Corsica?
I'd love to play Back to Back with Bradley Zero. Id’ also love to play with Shy One, we've been talking about it for so long now that I know it's going to happen eventually so I’m going for Bradley as my number one.
Catch Louise playing at the Small Talk x GALA after party on Friday 27 May. Tickets on sale here