2019.09.25    -    EPISODE #5

Mimi Xu

London | Composer, DJ, sound artist

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Let us introduce you to Mimi Xu, the fifth guest of the digital project #HouseOfMolteni. Watch the full episode to discover her life in London.

2019
25.09

EPISODE #5

Mimi Xu

London | Composer, DJ, sound artist

Let us introduce you to Mimi Xu, the fifth guest of the digital project #HouseOfMolteni. Watch the full episode to discover her life in London.

1 | Tell us a little bit about yourself and your place.

I am a composer, DJ, music director…a sound artist I would say. I have chosen this place, Candy London, as sometimes when you write music you lead a very solitary life and you come to places like this to meet other artists from different disciplines. It’s a very friendly and creative hub, where you can do visual tests, production, etc. Everyone is doing very interesting projects and you feed off each other.

2 | Music is your big passion. You grew up studying and playing piano. What did this early commitment mean to you?

2 | Music is your big passion. You grew up studying and playing piano. What did this early commitment mean to you?

Music actually had a very painful beginning for me, because I was kind of forced into listening to music since a very young age. My father is an acoustic architect, which means that he builds opera houses and carries out very in-depth research on sound. At the time, he was working with an experimental composer, Pierre Boulez, at the Institute for Research and Coordination in Acoustics/Music (IRCAM), which is very unique musical research unit in Paris. They are pioneering concrete music, which is great when you understand it, but when you are 6 years old it can be a little bit complex to listen to experimental music and also classical music twice a week.

So, as a kid, when going to concerts and feeling really bored, in order not to fall asleep, I started to imagine visuals. This is what I learnt from this experience, and that helped me to have this kind of synaesthesia phenomenon, where I now see visuals when I hear music and vice versa. It has become a habit and it’s very useful for me as a musician. I score films and create performances and that really helps me in my work.

3 | Syncing music with fashion shows is no easy task. How do you recognise the right track? How do you choose the style?

3 | Syncing music with fashion shows is no easy task. How do you recognise the right track? How do you choose the style?

For fashion shows there is a specific collaboration with the designer. Two months before the show I meet the designer and talk about the collection’s inspiration and message and I think about which musical direction to follow. When we meet again, we narrow down my proposed ideas, I go back to my studio, mix it all up and present it again. Then, on show day, I just push play! The essence of this type of work is really to underline the message of the designer. It’s not about me; it’s about how the collection can be emphasized in the most spectacular and theatrical way. Music is one of the most important elements for a fashion show.

4 | Your father worked as acoustic architect and his goal was to optimise sound. Do you feel a connection with his work?

I was kind of forced to listen to what he does, but this has influenced me in the knowledge of how sound works. For instance, whether for a DJ set, a live show or a fashion show, I’m extremely technical about where the speakers should be placed, how the sound would resonate around the space. This is actually very underrated in musical venues. Sound is so important; music playing with bad acoustics will have no impact on the audience. So I insist on how the sound should be placed in whatever I do, as I know that it could really affect the final performance.
For example, I always ask if the venue has carpet or concrete, if there is going to be any absorbance as it can influence the final result. Even in our day-to-day life, when in a beautiful restaurant for example, I am shocked when you cannot hear each other talk. You have a headache by the time the starter arrives. This hugely affects your mood.
I am quite a perfectionist in that way. Usually DJ sets are fine because you work with clubs and venues that know about sound, but it’s trickier with fashion shows and live performances.

5 | Being a sound designer also means having a sensitive approach to reality. How do you blend sound with space? How do you find the right balance?

When I do sound design work, it’s usually for films. They are sound effects, like a door slamming for example. I am currently working on a feature with lots of sound effects, working with a sound designer that provides me with sounds that I then add into my composition.
At the moment I’m also working on an interesting sound installation, which is a replica of a project I did 2 years ago - a sound installation for a gallery in Stockholm, that I’m now applying to a luxury retail space in Los Angeles. I have 10 speakers placed in different places of this area, playing different sounds and at different frequencies. Each one is linked to a motion-triggered system that generates a sound when activated by the movement of the audience. I composed 10 different tracks that work together. Basically the visitor is ‘playing’ the space, turning it into an instrument without knowing it. It is called polyphony, which means different layers of sounds that work together. It’s super interesting and I will have to go there soon to fine-tune the “melody” created by each of the speakers and see how they can work together. This is a very interesting way of working with sound and space.

6 | Talking about design and space, what is your idea of design? What is your personal taste and what pieces would you have in your house?

6 | Talking about design and space, what is your idea of design? What is your personal taste and what pieces would you have in your house?

I think that design applies to an object that has ergonomic functions. The aesthetic is one thing, but functionality is also a key aspect. The list is long, but among the objects I would have in my house, I would love some Gustave Gautier and a Marcel Gascoin for sure. I grew up in Copenhagen, so some Arne Jacobsen would also be great. I would say I am very mid-century.

7 | You grew up DJing. How did this clubbing background affect your style and taste?

I actually started playing classical music, and clubbing came much later. Thank God I didn’t start clubbing at 6! [laughs]. Clubbing hasn’t really influenced my musical taste; I would say it is more my musical taste influencing my DJ sets. I have a very eclectic taste in music, so, in my way, I bring that to a club or a party. I don’t like one-dimensional sets; I prefer to bring some unknown track to the audience, as well as something from the past, a sound that they knew. I like to take them on a musical journey, bringing some sort of festiveness. Being in a club is about having a good time, not about listening to really intricate music as you would in your living room. It’s a completely different kind of vibe.

8 | What type of music do you like listening to when at home? What artists are you into?

I listen to different types of music. It could go from Steve Heiss to Madonna, from Chopin to Pavement. At the moment I’m listening to Terry Riley, Alice Coltrane… It really depends on my mood. The list is so long and really diverse, I could go on and on... Prince, Bowie.
I love repetitions and minimalism, so in that vein I go for Terry Riley and Steve Reich.
Also Tony Conrad, an incredible experimental violinist, playing one note for a very long time. That’s what I love to listen to when looking for inspiration. Don’t get me wrong; I love pop music as well. I am listening to a lot of hip-hop at the moment, like Kendrick Lamar and Brockhampton.

9 | Could you recommend a track for waking up and one to relax to in the evening?

To wake up I’d recommend ‘To Earth’ by Ariwo and to go to bed/chill I would choose ‘Baltimore’ by Nina Simone, which I think is one of her best tracks.

10 | You produce your own music. Where do you get inspiration from and what are you working on right now?

It’s going to sound pretty corny, but inspiration comes from everywhere. It could be anything; as mentioned before, music that I listen to can inspire me quite a lot, as well as the things that I see. At the moment I’m working on a feature film, which is really austere and difficult. I also do performance art projects called Awkward Moments. We’re working on a new album at present, Series V.II. The last one we did, Series V, was premiered at a music festival. We will do it again, but with a different album and a different performance. Awkward Moments is an ever-evolving performance project, and every series is different. It could be a collaboration with a choreographer, a filmmaker or with other musicians.

The most memorable one was Awkward Moments- Series IV, a collaboration with Lindsay Kemp, an iconic mime gay-glam choreographer who studied under Marcel Marceau and who trained David Bowie in the 70s. He did the Ziggy Stardust performance for him, and he taught Kate Bush to dance. He had retired from work and lived in Italy for the last 20 years, but I was lucky enough to bring him to London to perform ‘Decay and Death’. He told me that he felt like he was living death everyday and he passed away only a few months ago. That was his last performance, a very emotional and memorable moment. We always do small performances, so not many people were there, but those who came felt something very special.

11 | “Home”: what is the meaning of this word to you?

House means nest. I must confess, I’m not the best housewife, probably the worst; however, I do appreciate the idea of a nest, of a house.

12 | How does a cosmopolitan culture affect the way you conceive music and fashion?

I’m a city-girl and any idea of countryside makes me hyperventilate! The city is really a big inspiration for me. I always travel from one big city to another and I need to feel that I’m in some sort of centre of information. Even if I don’t go to this museum or that gallery, I still need to feel that they are there, and if I want to go I can go. So it’s kind of a compulsive culture order. Does that affect my work? Certainly!
With regards to fashion, I think I see it is differently from most other people. Fashion is not really about wearing things just because they are trendy; it’s a way of expressing your mood and yourself. You have to find your personal style, and that is what I try to do with my music as well.

13 | A significant memory in London that you like to remember?

13 | A significant memory in London that you like to remember?

One of the best times I had in London was at a place called The Double Club, a project by the artist Carsten Höller, co-produced by Kennedy and powered by Fondazione Prada. Carsten Höller’s works are always about duality, and this club was about Congolese culture and Western culture. So one night it was Congolese music and the other it would be Western music, and I was asked to DJ there many times. The club was in Angel, an ephemeral 6-moths club-restaurant and meeting ground for different people. I don’t think London has known a more interesting club/culture scene since.

14 | Do you have any secret passions or hobbies?

My not-so-secret passion is food. I love eating and wherever I travel, the restaurants are really important.

15 | You regularly host DJ sets, having an incredible success. What would you say is their secret?

Not all are a success, but I’m happy to say that, yes, the majority have been successful, mainly because I’m having fun. I manage to transmit the fun to people who are in front of me, probably powered by a lot of tequila shots! I’m there to deliver a vibe, and even if I might feel tired before and very tired after, the 3 hours I’m there is to entertain musically. I enjoy doing that a lot.

16 | How would you describe London in one or more words?

London is challenging, geographically huge and inspiring. I find that London has an incredible energy and eclecticism; you never bump into the same people constantly, like in Paris or New York. I’ve been living here for 7 years now and I’m still meeting people that I’ve never met before. You don’t get that in any other city, in my opinion.

17 | Could you tell us about a few of your favourite spots in the city?

When it comes to food, one of my favourite spots at the moment is Leroy, a restaurant in East London. I also love Brat as well as Kaki, which has very spicy Sichuan food, and Royal China on Baker Street. Oswald’s is another really interesting restaurant; it’s a members club where you can get great wine. Very ‘undemocratic’, but really, really good food. For culture, I love going to the Royal Academy; they have a space for members called Academicians’ Room and it’s such a privilege to hang out in that room and then visit The Royal Academy at your ease. You can go when there is no one there, as they have special visits after opening hours. Music-wise, I think Barbican has a really good programme and I go there whenever there is something interesting going on. The Moth Club is great, and Phonica is a good record store. It may sound old school, but Rough Trade Notting Hill is also always a good place to hang out.

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