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Dis Fig aka Felicia Chen

Dis Fig with a microhpone and buckethat
Daria Miasoedova

New Jersey native Dis Fig aka Felicia Chen, explores cinematic sonic expressions across her artistic practices. As a DJ, she is notorious for her curiosity and restless energy, but as a live performer, she edges away from the club completely, using her acrobatic voice and entire body to transmit emotional complexity that's deeper than language. Since releasing her debut album Purge five years ago, she has predominantly been working on collaborative music projects. 

From February 2024, she will be taking part in a three-month-long residency programme set up between the Goethe-Institut and Somerset House Studios (SHS). Before returning to Berlin, she intends to delve into the world of improvisation in hope of developing new processes within her production and performance. At the end of the residency, she will start working on a new solo project, which will be performed at CTM Festival Berlin in 2025. 

We caught up with Dis Fig to find out more about the vision for her new solo work, upcoming live performances and other creative projects she is involved with. 

By Lucy Rowan

How did growing up in New Jersey in the 90s shape your soundscape and taste? 

I've always been obsessed with music. A lot of my childhood was following in the footsteps of my sister, who is eight years older than me - she was listening to music avidly. I remember watching MTV when I was four years old and stealing her tapes or CDs. The typical life of a nineties kid making mixtapes for yourself and friends. Since we are so close to New York, I was listening to a lot of what those stations were playing - New York and East Coast Hip-Hop. At school, I was also a huge choir nerd *she laughs*.

I didn't think music would be something I would pursue until a bit later in life. When I was a teenager, I wanted to do vocal stuff, then I got into the club scene and electronic world. One day, I realised: “Wait. I can make this stuff myself!” So music has always been present in my life, probably the first thing I was ever obsessed with. 

When I moved to New York in 2010, it was a very big moment for bass music and dubstep, which looked a lot towards the UK. Sometimes I'd be out three to four times a week because there was just a plethora of live music and warehouse parties happening at the time. That’s how I discovered artists like Digital Mystikz because a lot of UK artists were getting booked. There was this strange obsession with UK music in New York at that time and I was all for it! 

Your vocal work has a lot of emotional depth and vulnerability that is juxtaposed with this punky energy. Why is it important for you to bring that synergy to your live performances? 

I feel like punk music is really emotional. Both things seem very intrinsically part of me so it's not even a conscious thing, it just happens naturally. It's the direction my body and feelings lean towards when creating or performing. Being honest is a core part of who I am in all aspects of my life. I am and have always been incredibly bad at lying *she laughs*. I don't like having a veil in front of me or having to play different roles. Being raw is what gets me off. 

I definitely have a rebellious nature and this rabid monkey side that wants to run around and shout. Then there is this vulnerable and sad side, which I find really beautiful. I like to express all the volatile things happening inside of me through my music. So I think it’s about getting all of those different parts of me out there.

Felicia Chen in black and white singing into microphone A.F.Cortes
Three weeks ago, you released an album with the metal-leaning, American duo The Body called Orchids of a Futile Heaven. How was this project different from other collaborations you have done before? 

That was super fun but also a challenge because although they do electronics, they mainly play a proper drum kit and drop-tune guitar. One of them screams as well. It was cool to work with actual instrument stems and find a balance between my singing/screaming and another person's.

We're going to tour the album for the rest of the year in the US and Europe, and I'm hoping to bring it to Asia as well. I've been brainstorming ideas around that so let's see what happens. Looking at these prospective dates in the US alone, it's like: "Wow, that's a lot of driving from the East to West Coast, and then back again in a small sprinter van!” I've never done a road trip like that before so I am really excited for this opportunity.

Thinking about your experience as a female-identifying artist within the music industry and club scene, are there any changes you would like to see? 

This is kind of a hard one for me to answer I think because I've been very blessed with my time in the music world. I never really had this feeling like it's a boys club or something, which I think has to do with the nurturing environment and community that I've been lucky to be a part of in Berlin and New York. But there's absolutely work that needs to be done outside of my bubble and it's not the same for everyone, especially when there are still places where it's forbidden to be a female-identifying artist. I think that it's amazing that folks are putting intention and care into giving female-identifying artists a platform, and creating space for learning and exchange to foster more interest and encouragement. This is making moves not just for today but for tomorrow’s generation. 

I also think that sometimes this segregation at some point holds us back though. I've been feeling this a bit recently, delving into the metal world, which is much more male-dominated than what I’m used to. When journalists have been reviewing the album that came out a couple weeks ago that I collaborated on, I felt like I was written about in a different tone. It didn't need to constantly be mentioned that I am a woman, I am just an artist. It feels unnecessary. Hopefully, we'll see a day when it’s not needed to separate someone’s artistry and work simply because they are a woman.

You are involved with a couple of creative projects/collectives that extend beyond just collaborating musically with other artists. Could you tell us more about them? 

It’s funny how you don’t realise all the things you’re involved with until you get asked about them, but yes, I guess I like to wear lots of hats *she laughs*. There is a performance I do with an artist called Tianzhuo Chen. He puts on this performance trance with like 13 performers, half of us are musicians and the other half are body performers/dancers. It's a 12-hour-long performance that we do for three days in a row. It’s a cathartic ritual ceremony that follows a six-chapter structure and it's loosely based on Tibetan Buddhist rituals with some notes of Balinese rituals. It's like our take on it. It kind of goes a little crazy and there’s a lot of improvisation within it. A lot of people spend the full 12 hours with us for all three days. So it becomes a really special, emotional experience where we're all holding each other, if not physically then spiritually. It’s a really beautiful shared experience. It’s incredible and everybody should check it out! 

Then there is Purple Tape Pedigree (PTP), which is a collective I am part of based in New York. I think of it as my crew family. They have a record label that released my first album, Purge and I will be releasing my next album with them when that comes out. They are an amazing group of people that I connect with on a level where I know we all have the same intentions. It's not just that we like each other's music or it's beneficial to be on the label, we all walk with the same intention and make sure that intention is living within our music. That intention is about taking care of our community and each other, fighting against the evils in the world - resisting and standing up for those in need. 
Portrait of Felicia Chen sitting on a chair wearing a cartoon t-shirt Sina Lesnik
On the 23rd of March, you will be performing live at Somerset House Studios' Assembly as part of this residency. What can we expect? 

Right now, I'm trying to develop new processes of producing and making music by picking up new instruments and machines. I'm also focusing a bit more on improvisation. I've sampled before for example, but now, I'm trying new ways of doing it. For this performance specifically, I'm going to be working with a good friend of mine who is an amazing drummer. We will do some improvisation together, and attempt to blend both worlds. So it's still a bit of a mystery what will happen but I think it's gonna be something really special. 

How are you hoping London will shape your creative practice in ways that Berlin might not be able to? 

I've lived in Berlin for 10 years and even though it's changed a lot within that time; especially within the past few years, I feel like I know my way around the city. I have my community there, which is always growing and changing. I'm always meeting new people, but at the same time, I'm excited to be here. The main reason is because London's a really big city, which I miss about New York. I love the fast pace of a big city and the diversity, which is not as present in Berlin. 

London is a rich city culturally, from food to music to social subcultures, everything you want is available to you. There is so much history too within those subcultures. I'm just excited to dip my feet in all of them because I have a lot of different interests. Just thinking about the shows I'm going to next week alone, there are so many and all within different pockets. I can't wait to soak all of that up. 

In 2025, you will perform at Berlin’s CTM festival as part of this residency. Although it's still early days, have you got any ideas about what you want to curate? 

My intention for this residency is to work on new solo work, which I haven't done in a very long time. The 15th of March marks the fifth anniversary of my debut album Purge so to celebrate, we're going to re-release the record on vinyl. It's been amazing to tour this album for so long, but I think it's also time for me to write new music. I'm ready now. I also have new things I want to say. I have lived through a lot in those years. So it will definitely encompass those experiences and messages. 

After this residency, I will hopefully have a new record out or I'll be much closer to finishing one. So I suspect that's what I'm going to present at CTM. I don't know how exactly my performance will look like yet, but it's going to be dope. We are going to make it a sick show for sure!