She sits legs folded up to her chin, a whimsical grin. I want to refer to her as a musician but instead of assuming, I begin the interview by asking her, “What do we call you?”
She responds, “half-human, half vibes? Haha, that’s so cheesy.”
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It’s an enchantingly clear night in Beijing.
Yuyu Feng, most commonly known by her stage name Fishdoll is a Beijing based beat-maker, singer, songwriter, and producer. Her sound can be described as a mix of electro-soul, jazztronica, RnB, trip-hop, and synthpop.
I chat further with Fishdoll to uncover her story.
How did you get into making music?
As a kid, I was maybe 5 or 6. I felt like my head was always full of too much music. So much that I was always singing out loud or what’s that thing when you sing quietly? Humming? Yeah always humming a tune because I had to.
When I was 15, I knew this guy. He was like a family friend, you know? And he used to make music, well he still does. But back then, he would make music for like little movies or something. I fell in love with the process because I would watch him work on one thing for like two hours just trying to get it to sound right. Like the right key or note or hi-hat. Like 2 hours looking for one sound and then by the end of those two hours, he might have something or the start of something and sometimes I would fall asleep and when I woke up, he would have this whole thing figured out. It’s just beautiful how you can start from something so small and create a whole different world of sound. It’s kinda magical.
When I was in college, A friend installed Cubase into my laptop. At first, it was overwhelming; I didn’t know anything about Music theory, and I didn’t know anything about tools, so I made my first song by hand. It took me about a month. It was probably shitty, but I was so happy that I had made something pure and full of joy that it didn’t even matter.
She laughs as she says this last part, even her laughter sounds melodic.
How did you get into performing live?
I never enjoyed being on stage, never ever. To this day I get nervous and stage fright.
I was always a shy girl. I’m still pretty shy now and it takes a while for me to get to know people. But when I was a kid, my mom thought putting me on stage would help me stop being shy so I did classical violin/ballet and singing.
Then I just started performing naturally eventually. But I still never enjoyed the stage.
How do you prepare for a live show and handle your nerves?
You know, my mom taught me. She said, ‘You Just consider all the audience as eggplant or potatoes! Just imagine you’re in a field or a farm’.
A dreamy look crosses her face and turns to a smirk. Perhaps she’s recounting what it’s like to play a set at 2 am to a field of jamming eggplants and potatoes.
I have to prepare super early. I spend days working on my set trying to imagine how it sounds from the stage. At home and on stage is totally different. So, I have to think about how it will sound with people. And the time, I have to think about how it should sound if I am opening for a band, playing after the main act or even if I am the main band. What should I present, what vibe to go for, will they know the music I play? I think about all of that.
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What’s been your favorite moment on stage so far?
This one time on my last tour, it was the last stop, it was in Xiamen. I was like fuck it; I didn’t even change my clothes. I’m thinking I’m going home tomorrow who cares.
When I got on stage, I realized people come here for a reason. They come for the music. I started playing and it surprised me how much everyone enjoyed it. [Xiamen] it’s such a small city. I’d never heard of the music scene there and they don’t know me, but they got my music. Everyone was kinda holding hands, eyes closed and just swaying to the music like [they] were all in a perfect mind status…how do you say? Trance? It was fantastic. Oh my god. That’s what I want when I play.
Talk to me about the artists’ needs and the audience’s expectations
I didn’t think about it much before [when I played in New York] because New York is New York. Everybody is ready for you, no matter what you do.
Here, it’s different, I have to do so much to get the audience excited and on my side. I started thinking about the relationship between me and the audience. I feel I’m a little ignorant and arrogant in a way. I don’t think…. I don’t care… I shouldn’t care what they think but I should care how they feel about it. That feedback is important.
As artists, we are responsible for making people feel something. That’s our responsibility. There’s sometimes I’d even hope they get angry or boo me like “aaaahh,” get off the stage. But I get a lot of polite clapping at my shows. Like okay, what’s next.
Maybe my music is too experimental, too abstract for the majority of the audience here so they don’t know how to interact with it. But I also feel the average personality of the Chinese person is more reserved, like they don’t want to or don’t know how to express themselves even if they like it. It’s like their body is not connected to the music most of the time.
From the rooftop where we’re seated, you can see a little girl playing with a stick and her dog. It’s almost 9 pm, her grandma is watching reservedly from not far away. The night is quiet enough for Beijing, you can only hear the odd hoot of a car and the dog’s happy yapping in the streets.
You recently released an album, Noonsense. What was the process of making that?
I didn’t plan on putting an album out at all but this one time, I went to my music tutor’s house and he asked me to show him some stuff I was working on. He was like, ‘What are you going to do with this? You have to finish it; you have to put it out and I’m going to help you and release it under my label’.
That was only my second year producing. I was such a beginner. I am still learning. Like really a baby beat-maker. But I worked on the project for a couple of months and sent it to the record label. They took care of everything, marketing, press release, interviews and hooked me up with some magazines and vlogs.
I am so lucky to meet people like that. It allows you to stay in the zone for creating. I really have to thank the friends I have for supporting me and encouraging me.
Anything new you would like people to know about or check out?
Hhmmm, I’m working on my new album. Hopefully, it comes out next year but I’m in a creative block right now and I think everything sounds like shit, so I guess I just have to keep experimenting.
The interview ends. We talk some more; we ride bikes; and we talk some more whilst riding bikes. Through all of this, it is abundantly clear that Fishdoll genuinely cares about how you experience her music. While her approach might be new and bizarre to Beijing, her willingness to experiment, and to dare to share those experiences makes her sound fresh and authentic.
Lebogang Lebese is a part-time sushi enthusiast and a full-time jollof appreciator. He believes in writing honestly and sometimes makes you feel things.
To learn more about Lebo connect with him on social media.
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