Peggy Gou discusses online criticism and her resolutions for 2020

The South Korean DJ and "Starry Night" producer opens up.

by Benoit Loiseau
08 January 2020, 12:54pm

Peggy Gou had a busy 2019. On top of playing close to a hundred gigs the world over, the South Korean DJ, producer and now fashion designer -- known as much for her popular Instagram account as the sophisticated deep-house sets she never fails to deliver -- recently launched her own record label and streetwear line. “I enjoy it so much that I forget I’m tired,” she says, laughing, as we chat over a New Year’s Day iced coffee in Desa Potato Head, Bali’s new OMA-designed hotel and cultural venue. Dressed in a silky short-sleeve shirt and sporty Mugler shorts, the DJ-turned-designer looks suspiciously fresh for someone who was up until the wee hours playing to a rowdy crowd of 3000. The beach-front gig -- whose promotional posters plastered across the island read ‘Gou Year’s Eve’ -- coincided with the drop of a new capsule collection, made in collaboration with the Indonesian hospitality group.

But 2020 is going to be more low-key for the overachieving music sensation, who plans to cut down on live shows to focus on her first album. “Creative people need to do nothing to be creative,” says Peggy, before telling me about the new home studio she’s having built in her adopted city of Berlin. The LP follows an eclectic score of dance music EPs (she sometimes refers to her music as ‘K-House’) released since 2016, as well as a recent DJ-Kicks mix. The album, however, will be released by XL Recordings, Peggy’s dream label, who she remembers emailing obsessively back in Korea to ask about internship opportunities. “I never once got a reply!” she laughs.

Alongside this, the 29-year-old DJ will continue to grow her own record label, Gudu. So far, the project has acted as a platform to support the work of cult-yet-overlooked electronic producers, from Rephlex Records’ DMX Krew to American remix maverick Maurice Fulton. “Some of my legends,” Peggy says, “who I think deserve more spotlight”. But ultimately, the powerhouse hopes to sign emerging talents, particularly female and Asian musicians. “I went through a lot after I signed my first music,” she says, remembering the lack of support she received from her first label. This early experience encouraged her to change the game: “I want to give artists what they want,” she says.

While Peggy is best known for her music career, now gathering crowds in the thousands at international clubs and festivals alike, her first love was fashion. After spending her teenage years in London -- her parents sent her to learn English because “they thought I had no future in South Korea,” -- she applied to London College of Fashion and started a course in styling. “I realised I wasn’t good at it,” says Peggy, who briefly worked as a correspondent for Harper’s Bazaar Korea. “I only enjoy styling myself,” she laughs.

But this stint in fashion wasn’t all in vain. Last year, following a series of timely encounters with Louis Vuitton’s artistic director Virgil Abloh, Peggy launched her women’s streetwear label Kirin (‘giraffe’ in Korean; her favourite animal) backed by Off-White’s parent organisation, the Italian luxury company New Guards Group which was recently acquired by Farfetch. The brand has since released an eclectic and colourful slew of logo-print shirts, robes and jumpsuits -- all infused with Korean mythological iconography.

These references appear as much in her design aesthetics as in the visual identity of her musical universe. Whether it be the recurring motif of the xiezhi (a mythical lion-shaped creature) across her designs, or the traditional mask interpreted by illustrator Jee-ook Choi for Gudu’s logo, Korean culture remains a strong source of inspiration for Peggy. “I always try not to lose the link between Korea and I,” she says, recounting how she cried during her last gig in Seoul after the audience started to sing along to her Korean-language track “Starry Nights". “Oh my god, I’m getting goosebumps,” she says getting excited, “which apparently, in Bali, is a good sign!”

The song’s coinciding music video was directed by Peggy’s boyfriend: the German-born photographer and filmmaker Jonas Lindstroemn, (also responsible for co-directing Kendrick Lamar’s "ELEMENT"). It’s an eerie tableau of contrasting South Korean landscapes; from city backstreets to interminable mountain lakes, featuring school girls, traditional Ganggangsullae dancers and a middle-aged woman dancing alone in an upper-class villa reminiscent of that from everyone’s favourite Palme d’Or-winning Korean film, Parasite. “That’s giving me goosebumps again!” she blurts out.

When I ask about her recent gig at Saudi Arabia’s controversial MDL Beast festival, Peggy looks hesitant. Since drawing to a close a few weeks back, the inaugural edition of the three-day music event (reportedly organised by Saudi’s entertainment authority) has been under fire. Washington Post opinion writer Karen Attiah, model Teddy Quinlivan and Instagram account Diet Prada are among those accusing high-profile attendees -- visibly-paid to post flattering content about their experience in Riyadh -- of partaking in a PR campaign to rehabilitate the kingdom’s image in light of recent human rights abuses, including the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

“You know what?” Peggy says eventually, “I’m going to talk about it.” Having shared a lineup with the likes of David Guetta and Steve Aoki, she deplores the storm of online criticism she’s received in which people called her a ‘sell-out’, since posting a video from the festival to her 1.3m followers. “Influencers are a different story,” she protests, highlighting the fact that she was the only female headliner at a festival which she believes can help transform the local music scene. “I went there to play music for fans,” she clarifies. This may seem a reasonable position, but it isn’t one shared by everybody. Just last summer, Nicki Minaj pulled out of a gig at Saudi’s Jeddah World Fest over concerns about women’s rights, lgbt+ rights and freedom of expression, a move endorsed by the New York-based Human Rights Foundation.

But since previously facing backlash for cancelling a set at DGTL Tel Aviv in 2018 (she later apologised for the announcement she posted online), self-described “naturally selective” Peggy explains that she has learned her lesson, now preferring to stay out of politics. “It doesn’t matter if it’s Israel or North Korea,” she concludes, after admitting that her Saudi stint involved a substantial paycheck. “If there’s people who want to hear my music, I will go. I don’t give a fuck.”

We hear you Peggy. Fans First. And political consciousness aside, any New Year’s resolutions? “I have to work on myself,” she says with a smile, listing meditation and positive thinking as top priorities. “I’m such a control freak.” She tells me that her mentor, French DJ Laurent Garnier, has encouraged her to fully disconnect when taking time off: “People won’t forget you,” he wisely advised. And he’s not wrong. There’s nothing forgettable about Peggy Gou.

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