Peggy Gou Interview: 'I don't have to prove anything'

John Thorp caught up with Peggy Gou to discuss the difficulty with techno, her relationship with fashion and Berlin.

Becca Frankland

Last updated: 1st Aug 2018.
Originally published: 18th Oct 2016

Image credit: Timothy Suen

Peggy Gou has undoubtedly been one of the most talked about newcomers in house and techno over the past twelve months. Initially sustaining a rare, credible balance between the worlds of fashion (Gou, originally from Korea, was a celebrated London stylist), she has spent the past few years predominantly focused on electronic music.

As her DJ sets continue to grow further versatile, her production work has continually impressed alongside her sheer ambition, clocking up a series of releases with go-to techno powerhouse Rekids, as well as the boutique Phonica White series, a result of her patronage to the Soho based store throughout her former tenure in the UK.

Catching up with John Thorp while preparing for a performance at the recently established Seoul Fashion Week, the usually Berlin based pair go deep on expectations of both gender and genre, learning lessons the hard way and the soothing qualities of a giraffe (or fifty…)

You’ve been asked a lot about your relationship with fashion, and you’ve previously remarked that you decided to focus on music more so to be “taken seriously”. This suggests that you think there’s a kind of prejudice in electronic music towards fashion?

The only reason I said that is, I’m a girl, first of all. And I was always obsessed with what I wear. When I was living in London, I would be going to bed thinking, “What am I going to wear tomorrow?” And when I see fashion people who want to DJ, they don’t look serious to my eyes.

This was something in my head for a long time, “Nobody’s going to take me seriously, nobody’s going to know that I’m working on music like this, nobody’s going to know how serious I am in this music thing.” This was always in my head. So, to get over that, I thought maybe I won’t do fashion, that I won’t care about what I’m wearing and things like that.

When I moved to Berlin, and I spoke to some producers and DJs, they said, “Why not both if you can do both?” And of course I’m doing less fashion stuff than before, but I’m doing both when it matters to me and doesn’t take too much time. In Korea, people are still really obsessed with EDM and Trap, and this music that I’m not really a big fan of.

But in Korea, if you want to teach Korean people about house and other music, you need to be a little bit commercial. That doesn’t mean you have to play commercial, but you have to be known. So fashion’s like a little strategy. In Europe, I don’t care what I’m wearing. Whereas in Korea, what I wear and what I buy is different as there are more eyes.

In Berlin, where there’s still a sometimes faceless techno aesthetic, surely it’s to your benefit that you have more colourful style?

Yeah, I’m telling you, in the beginning it was always on my mind to be taken seriously. But then I realised, when people hear me, they will realise anyway. So I don’t have to prove anything, that's what I discovered after living in Berlin. This is what I’m doing now, and this is what I’m going to continue doing.

You’ve lived in Berlin for two years. How did you find moving to the city? I think people can underestimate how difficult it can be.

The first year in Berlin was very difficult for me. I moved there in November. It was dark, it was cold, there was nobody outside. All my friends were out of town, so all I did was ignore the time and make music. I made the Art of War EP through this. When I’m in Berlin, that’s my base, and while it does feel like a home, I’m also travelling a lot so I know I’m leaving soon. So for me, Berlin is where I make music and where I rest. It’s really chilled out though, there’s no competition - well, I don’t mean music wise - but I feel super relaxed there. 

Moving from Korea, which has less of a dance music heritage, to London and then Berlin is quite an unusual path to pursue for a DJ and producer. Do you think having that alternative perspective has helped your music?

Definitely. Each different city inspires me in a different way. London taught me each different genre of music, but Berlin upgraded it. In London, I began to collect records, to play, to learn how to make music. London was a good base for me to start.

Techno was very difficult for me in the beginning, but then, when I moved to Berlin, I was always upstairs at Berghain, in Panorama Bar. But then, with time, I felt my taste was changing and then guess what? I play techno now! Although not always.

You’ve had releases this year on Rekids, Technicolour most recently, but also Phonica’s White series, where I know you used to go record shopping. 'Six O Six', taken from that EP has been a prevalent record in clubs this year, especially.

Yes, and I think it’s my favourite too. The other side, ‘Day Without Yesterday’, was rejected by Rekids because they knew it was sampled too much. And it is really obvious if you know the original D-Train track, that I just added some bassline and chords. I didn’t do much for that track, to be honest. So I decided to work on something much better for Phonica, and that was 'Six O Six'. 

The flavours of the records have been quite different in a short span of time. There are hints of acid, dub techno and house in just three releases. As your production career progresses, are you hoping to keep things eclectic in that sense, or to find a more specific Peggy Gou sound?

I think some people already recognise my sound, usually producers. When I’d finished my new EP, Seek for Maktoop, I let my neighbour Daniel Wang hear it. And as soon as he heard it, he was like, “There’s your sound.” He could hear the percussion, even if I was meant to hide it.

But for me, I don’t think I’ve found my signature sound yet. I want to find it, but I think some of the best advice that I’ve heard was when I went to a talk with Theo Parrish, he said not to stick with one genre. If you can’t finish something, just move on. So I try not to do one thing, you know? That was a big mistake when I learned production. I was trying to make music with the Korean sound for one year. I always wanted to do something different, to create something crazy. But it was a mistake for me, but also a good lesson.

I think that can happen in Berlin too, where people can truly become devoted to techno in particular. 

I’ve said this once before, but I do think techno is difficult. Do you agree?

I generally agree. I’ve come to understand techno in a different way than when I moved here, but I’m still more of that Panorama Bar person. I saw you cite Roman Flugel as an influence in an earlier interview, and he’s also a favourite DJ of mine, as he’s so versatile after so long in the game.

Yes, I especially love his work as Roman V1, every track he did under that project is incredible. I want to make the music in between. With my production, I’m trying to create techno/house. Not tech-house, but house with techno influence.

I suppose you’re also far too fresh of an artist to get stuck associated with any one particular genre or sound this early in your career.

I’ve already got plans for an album, and I’ve planned all different genres that I’m going to do. Which BPM, which synth, which drum machine. To do hip hop, chill out, techno, house. I’ve been working on some down-tempo 95bpm stuff.

Talking of eclectic tastes, Jackmaster is somebody who has been a big supporter of you recently, and I know he’s asked you to play his Mastermix and Numbers parties. He's cited your ability to simply just play really great records after he randomly saw you doing so in a pub in Bristol. In terms of digging for said records, is there anywhere new or on tour you’ve come across recently that you can recommend?

Jack has been very supportive of me since we met in Bristol. I remember when the promoter came and told me, "Jack is here!" I was very nervous, like, "Don't fucking tell me that!" But he's since invited me alongside some great artists for Mastermix, including himself, and I really appreciate him as a DJ and a person.

Every time I'm in a new city is ask the promoter to recommend record shops. Is there anywhere to find second hand stuff, or a warehouse in which I can go. I find cool music through a lot of people’s mixes, and when I lived in Berlin for the first time, I was almost living in Berghain. There was almost a Peggy zone besides the DJ booth in Panorama Bar.

Finally, throughout your social media, there seems to be a lot of appearances from Giraffes. Can I ask what you find so appealing about giraffes and giraffe paraphernalia?

Oh my God, thanks for asking me a question about giraffes!

Yeah, I figured you probably spend a lot of time talking about your Korean heritage or being a woman in dance music, but maybe not enough about giraffes…

Yeah, I get asked who I get influenced by, or what I do in productions, but I want to people to ask me something a little bit more personal.

The giraffe is, in a good way, surely one of the weirdest animals on earth. What is it in particular you identify with?

Well, there are a few things. First of all, I am quite hyper. Not always, but I need to calm down sometimes as I panic very easily. And the giraffe is a very slow, peaceful animal. It doesn’t eat a living thing, it doesn’t step on a living thing. They make me calm down.

I collect different giraffes from different cities. I always think, “Where can I find a giraffe in this city?” Because every giraffe looks different! I have almost fifty at my house now. All different sizes, all different materials. I only collect three things; Records, shoes and giraffes. There’s a giraffe hotel in Kenya, which was created by a couple who want to save the giraffe. I respect that. When you go there, you can have breakfast with a giraffe. When I saw that, I thought, “That’s my place.”

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