As police sirens ring in the distance and a pink sunset spreading its vapors over the Los Angeles skyline, Fei-Fei embodies urban royalty and creativity in her studio loft. “I love underground parties, the vibe is always so on point,” she tells us, having just played a tag team DJ set with BFF and collaborative partner Jessie Andrews at an undisclosed hush-hush location in the dark depths of the LA underground.
“Jessie and I met backstage in the artist area at one of Borgore's shows at Henry Fonda Theatre a few years ago, and we instantly hit it off. We're super good friends, neighbors and rock it in the studio as well.”
Indeed, if you want a starting point for Fei-Fei's booming bassline sound, which often centers on trap but fluidly switches tempo and style, you'd do well to seek out the duo's remix of new school soul musician Blood Orange. They reworked his tune, “You're Not Good Enough” into a bumping deep house gem with spacey synths and processed vocals coming on like a West Coast Disclosure.
“It's super cute, the blogs have dubbed us the dream team,” she goes on. “I'm grateful she's one of my best friends, someone I trust, someone I can truly be myself around and someone who inspires me on the daily. It’s rare to have a friend like that and it's just frosting on top that we work well in the studio. So don't worry, there will be more from us.”
With a mere $40 in hand and a dream to catch, a young Fei-Fei's journey to musical fame started when she immigrated with her family from their native Beijing to the Midwest USA. Adapting to these new surroundings, she became entrenched in a much-loved tradition in her home. “I grew up surrounded by music,” she says. “Dad plays piano, clarinet and oboe, and my mom used to be in the Chinese opera.
I started violin when I was four and I hated it. Four years old playing a huge concert hall freaked me out! Then, when I was six, I started piano and luckily I liked that. I played classical piano for over 13 years before I took up turntables.”
She was bitten by the electronic dance music bug when North American techno pioneers Richie Hawtin and John Acquaviva's classic X-Mix-3 caught her ear, and quickly began to experiment with compiling her own mixtapes. Through trial and error, practice and hard work, Fei-Fei went on to rule the Midwest dance scene, unaware that Los Angeles was to be her true proving ground.
“My first ever gig was probably at friend's house party. I grew up in Madison WI so the Midwest scene was pretty popping. I played at barn parties and other weird underground spots. My first proper club gig was my going away party before I moving to LA. It was at the Majestic. I remember my friends asked me if I was going to keep DJing in LA and at the time I didn't really think I would.
“I started working at Street Sounds record store down on Melrose and basically lived in all the record shops down there and became friends with a ton of other DJs. Club Red gave me my first residency out here and then… I guess I was always the black sheep.”
Taking her creative capabilities to the next level, she enrolled at the University of Southern California for film studies, honing her production techniques and sharpening her technical skills as well.
“I started learning how to produce while I was in school and focused everything on that once I graduated. I had lots of friends teaching me things here and there, and a big shout out to Joey Medina for showing me everything I know today and to all my friends who continue to help me evolve today. I'm grateful to be surrounded by such amazing friends who constantly push me to be my best.”
The techno/trance scene embraced her prowess behind the DAW and soon enough remixes and original works started flowing from her speakers, finding homes on prestigious labels such as Armada Music, Dim Mak and Ultra.
One of her most popular releases on Paul van Dyke's Vandit Records, “Hanger One” backed with “Everglow,” is a testament to the post anthem trance period, with swirling atmospherics and driving percussions; the track scored her a spot on the renowned Beatport Top Ten chart and placed Fei-Fei in a league of her own.
It was lack of creative control that pushed Fei-Fei to create her own imprint, Feided, established in 2010. The decision proved to be the best medium for delivering her music to the masses, or in her words: “Total control and creative freedom.”
Paying respect to these trance roots, Fei-Fei was recently requested to remix Tiësto's classic “Flight 643” for Magik Muzik. Proving her position as trap queen, she breathed new life into the tune, creating an intense drop with mind-warping synth work and bulbous 808 bass.
I LOVE HATERS
Fei-Fei has fearlessly faced any criticism with a humble and positive attitude. While the buzz word “ghostwriters” is on the lips of many EDM critics, she shares her opinion on the topic. “People love to hate, especially if they don't understand something.
It’s so pointless and tiresome. There are so many layers to the music business and varying levels of creative involvement, depending on the level of an artist, and to be honest it doesn't affect anyone except the artist themselves.
If he or she isn't in the studio for whatever reason, that's their own loss. The feeling of expressing yourself through your music is honestly the best feeling in the world. When you're on that level of inspiration, there is nothing in the world that can top that. No one else can give you that feeling.
No one can take that away from you.” Now, unrestricted by catagorization, she’s become influential in the art of hybrid bass styles, paving the way for others wishing to step outside of their respective comfort zones.
Delving into the roots of this, she touts her favorite producers and diverse musical influences, sharing with DJ Mag selections from her personal library, which includes a wide range of artists from '90s alt rock and west coast rap alongside bands such as Purity Ring, Death Grips, I Break Horses, Neon Indian and Crystal Castles. Classical music also crops up in the shape of French composer Claude Debussy.
“I really loved playing 'Children's Corner,'” she reminices.
DREAMS COMING TRUE
Fei-Fei’s latest EP, All Day I Dream, out now on Datsik’s Firepower Records, showcases her passion for fusing multiple sounds and creating moody atmospheres. “All day I dream is my mantra,” she explains on naming the EP's title track, whose meliferous opening drops into pitch bent trap wonkiness.
“I never thought I would be where I am today. It just goes to show that if you believe in yourself, dream big and work insanely hard, anything is possible.
You just have to believe in yourself, or no one else will. This track fuses various influences, both trance and bass.
The working title was 'Trancies in the Trap!'” Fellow producer and DJ, Getter comes aboard for the remix, bringing his signature dubstep wobble to add a further layer of grit.
"Hive Queen" goes even heavier on the epic trance euphoria, rolling snare fills and booming bass adding muscle to the emotion. “It's haunting, but beautiful,” Fei-Fei sums up. “I named it after a character from my favorite book, Enders Game. Incidentally, one of my earlier trance tunes was named “Ender.” I get inspiration everywhere and that book really affected me growing up.”
Switching her production dial to moombahton, “Dab City” has the vibe of Bollywood gone EDM, the heavy, slow groove a hefty juggernaut built from layers of Eastern percussion and vocals, its vibe dance-all-night worthy, while the remix by ETC!ETC! is more stripped back.
And there's yet another revolution of the dial for "Bombita," which falls somewhere between electro and progressive as it marches along to Dutch influenced chords and festival friendly bass.
The link up with international man of filth, Datsik, happened organically for Fei-Fei via her circle of friends. “The LA Scene is a big thriving community and we're all friends,” she says before reeling off a list of allies.
“Troy [Datsik], Jessie, 12th Planet, Kastle, Tokimonsta, Reid Speed, AC Slater, Diplo, Skrillex, Dave Nada, Jen Lasher, Bare Mat Zo and all the rest of my homies. We just all go out to each other’s shows and party, it's so much fun.
Datsik, aka Troy Beetles, is equally excited by this new partnership when we catch up. "Super excited to welcome Fei-Fei to the Firepower family,” he enthuses. “I'm really impressed with her output lately and excited to see how her style progresses from here on in. She's gonna do some major damage in 2014."
“Troy and I played a bunch of shows together in a few different cities. I remember in particular I closed for Troy at the Relentless NASS Festival in the UK. I started sending him all my new tunes and he was always a big supporter. Years later, I'm finally a part of the Firepower family.
Big shout out to Sharra and Saad, also to ETC!ETC! and Getter for the sick remixes. It's unbelievably fun to get to work with such good friends.”
Getting that integral “me time” while living in LA can be hectic for a serious content monster like Fei-Fei, who is always hard at work. “I like to hang out with friends when they can drag me out of studio hermit mode. I love food, cooking, tequila and going to farmers markets. I’m also a workout fiend, so I swim laps and do cross fit. Helps clear my mind and keep me sane, especially on days I just can't write anything. Oh, and also coffee.
I can't live without coffee! Stumptown is my jam.”
She signs off with talk of an impending album. “It's not going to be even close to what people will expect, I love that,” we're teasingly told. More imminent though is a release on Kastle’s Symbols label, a remix for Swedish band I Break Horses and a full DJ schedule, including the Play Me showcase at SXSW in Austin and the WMC SMOG vs Firepower soiree.
We can’t wait to see where Fei-Fei's dream takes her next and don’t believe it for a moment when she claims, “I’m actually a big nerd.”
Fei-Fei talks us through five influential tracks.
“Hawtin, the man who started it all for me.”
“I love Claire. She inspires me so much.”
“I miss when trance was this pure.”
Wu-Tang Clan “C.R.E.A.M”
“Wu for life.”
Garbage “I'm Only Happy When It Rains”
“Shirley, the OG bad girl. Recorded right in my hometown.”
Copyright Thrust Publishing Ltd. Permission to use quotations from this article is granted subject to appropriate credit being given to www.djmag.com as the source.