To anyone who hasn’t heard of Le Fil you have been missing out… until now! This British-Chinese pop artist and singer has been taking the world by a storm, with his bold, entertaining and subversive performance art. I was keen to find out how his love for the arts has evolved – going on to work with brands such as Toyota and Smirnoff. We also discussed his own experience with identity and gender – delving into the tagline of his work ‘creating new ways of thinking’.
Image: Le Fil for 24/7 LIVE show / March 23 2019
On social media you describe yourself as a pop artist and singer who is smashing gender stereotypes by challenging the notion of identity. To anyone who is just meeting you now, how would you describe yourself?
Music has always been my passion and is something I’m constantly working on. It’s important for me to keep music at the forefront, as a lot of people think I do drag, but I don’t really class it as drag because I’m not pretending to be a woman per se. In my work and daily life, I’m more of androgynous boy playing with style. I don’t believe that clothes belong to any particular gender.
It’s very easy for people to group us together because drag is what people are used to seeing right now, but if you were to look at David Bowie when he was Aladdin Sane you wouldn’t have asked him if he was going to take part in a drag race.
I take it you’re a Bowie fan! Has he been a big influence for you?
I love Bowie. I like lot of the musical icons from that era as well as people like Lady Gaga and Madonna. I saw the Queen film recently which was great. The music is timeless, and the way that Freddie Mercury carried his life was almost before his time. He was brave, flamboyant and proud of his sexuality. If he was here now, he would have had a much more longer life – with regards to HIV awareness and the gay culture. It’s sad how early his life ended.
That’s the same thing I want to happen with identity. To not be a dismissing comment, but instead a conversation.
Image: Last.fm – David Bowie, Aladdin sane
What is your view on gender? And what has been your experience of gender stereotypes?
All my life I have always said that I am a boy. But that it’s more important how we reinterpret what it means to be a man and be a boy. I like the idea of being androgynous and being able to play with the boundaries, because at the end of the day I don’t think people should have a label at all. So, in a way, words are a bit redundant. We are all human beings exploring things like gender and what clothes to wear etc. On my Instagram profile I say androgynous to clarify it for people.
Nowadays, I do think lots of people are more aware of what questions to ask and what pronoun they should use. Sometimes when I go out, people say to me ‘You’re in the wrong toilet!’ – when I am actually in the men’s toilets. There is definitely a perception of what it means to be a man and what it means to be a woman. I find in cafes, they (waiters) will say ‘Can I take your order madam?’ – I don’t know if they are mis-gendering me or if they are being really trans-aware, thinking that because I have long hair I am transitioning. There is that grey area of gender and the expectations surrounding trans people that society is still catching up on. It’s the little things that people pick up on. Hair being the main one, but also what you wear, how you sit, how you talk – those sorts of gender codes.
Was there a moment for you in your life when you decided to fully immerse yourself into performance art?
I always remember just enjoying it. When I was three years old, my sister bought me a Kylie Minogue video and bearing in mind, I grew up in Yorkshire to Chinese parents who didn’t speak a word of English, she played it for me, and I learnt every single word. She used to film me in the living room pretending to be Kylie!
My first English words were ‘I should be so lucky’.
I always liked singing but my parents were like, ‘that’s not a job’. So, that’s what I learnt subconsciously and I was really academic. I loved school, but I loved doing art and music the most. After leaving high school I went to go and do musical theatre where I played Aladdin for a couple of months! I loved things like costume changes with singing and dancing but I didn’t like how the stories were already written and that the roles were already set. So, I went back to art school and spent a few years making random things like ceramic performance art – things like where you wrap your body up in cling film and clay and you do all these contortion movements. It was fun, and I did lots of stuff like that in the underground art scene. I then started making music for that and realised that I missed the music.
I respect your authenticity, in saying to the world ‘this is me!’ – how have you found people’s reaction to this? including your family.
My parents are a bit older, so they think as long as I’m alive, looking after myself and doing something then they’re fine with it. One of my sisters would look through newspapers for auditions I could go to when I was at school. She was my biggest encouragement. My older sisters were punks so when it came to me, my parents had been through enough! They now all say to me ‘I can’t believe you go on stage wearing a thong and eye make-up and dad doesn’t say anything!’.
I love negative reactions and having discussions with people who don’t have the same viewpoints, especially those with quite conservative and traditional views. Like Brexit, it forced people to have conversations rather than yes or no answers. That’s the same thing I want to happen with identity. To not be a dismissing comment, but instead a conversation.
Even if the going gets tough, you will still be moving because you are holding onto your lifeline, which is your DNA.
Can you tell us how you landed on your name – Le Fil
I wanted to create an entity. This is whilst I was studying at Camberwell College of Arts, and I knew I wanted to make music, which still felt like a separate thing. I wanted to create it as my own artwork and as my own world to reflect everything I loved from art; music, ideas and stories. The name represents this concept, but it is also an adaptation of Philip (my birth name). It’s also French for ‘the thread’ which represents weaving in all of these disciplines and linking them together. It is also like the masculine version of la fille (girl in French).
Instagram: @iamlefil at Westfield for Toyota’s #GoYourOwnWay campaign
We met through Toyota’s #GoYourOwnWay campaign. How was being part of this global campaign of self- expression and how did it all come about?
Toyota put the feelers out that they were looking for drag queens. I’m not necessarily drag, but I thought I meet them anyway and they gave me the job! In the interview, they asked what we would want our world to be like if we could ‘Go your own way’ and what type of installation we would like to make. So, I went to town and made lots of drawings and created an eight-page mood board of a slick and shiny geometric fantasy where East meets West and where art, music, fashion and tech all collide and I bring it all together as the floating red heart of it.
It was a long process over four months, and when you work with a brand it can be slightly harder. I made sure my music was the focus of it all, so we used lyrics as billboard slogans and I performed songs like ‘Genesis’ throughout the day. We made a super accessible and futuristic Pop Sculpture concert!
It was at Westfield Stratford, so it’s not a crowd I usually meet with my own work. In collaborating with a brand, it meant it could open my work up to lots more people. My whole concept is about new ways of thinking. That became our tagline and is the tagline for all of my work. How one can develop new ways of thinking – you can only do that with fresh people. It was an ideal place to inject some LGBT-ness into a heteronormative shopping mall experience!
In terms of developing new ways of thinking, would you say reaching children at an early age is a way of achieving this?
Yes, I think children are so important and it’s about how we raise children. Children are very impressionable, and they learn from their parents. If that parent has specific views with regards to gender, then that child will grow up thinking the same until they reach maybe fifteen years old when they maybe have to re-learn for themselves. Eventually, I’d love to do something working with children and schools. Also, it’s worth us thinking about how pop culture impacts on what children absorb. I think with internet it’s a lot easier to spread messages as long as the channels are accessible and that kids can see a diverse range of role models.
Thinking about what you dreamt of doing when you were a kid can help you stay focused on your journey.
You’ve also worked with brands such as Smirnoff on their #Weareopen campaign. How was this experience?
I loved working with Smirnoff as the whole team were great and they really do support the LGBTQ and trans community with ongoing campaigns and charity work. Loads of artists don’t like working with brands because they think that they are selling out, but I love working with brands because it’s a way of injecting stuff into different cultures – a creative corporate collaboration!
Smirnoff came about through a friend who mentioned they were casting. There was a skype call with the director in L.A and they asked if I could cycle. I said yes and then they called me later to say I got the job. As soon as I hung up the phone I was like ‘Fuck, I don’t know how to cycle!’ – it was pure comedy. My flatmate had to teach me how to cycle in an hour. It was a nightmare and I fell into a bush!
For Smirnoff, it was to show ‘A Day in The Life of’, where I would cycle to my friends, get ready and then head to a LGBT nightclub. It was such a fun shoot and Smirnoff were great to work with. They even offered post-care after the advert launched, like support and advice on handling trolls and online bullying.
I’ve seen you on billboards and buses advertising this campaign! how was seeing yourself on such a public and huge scale?
It was insane! Basically, like seeing a selfie of yourself on your phone but on a much larger scale. And going back to my parent’s expectations of me, it was the first time my parents saw me on TV – so, they now they get what I do.
How have you gone about building yourself as a brand? Do you have any advice to share with others hoping to do the same?
I have learnt that you need to be really bold in your own creative idea. There is so much going around, you can see it especially when you have Instagram and social media, you absorb so much. I think it’s important to stay true to what you believe in and what you think is right. Thinking about what you dreamt of doing when you were a kid can help you stay focused on your journey. Then all your choices navigate towards it. That would be my tip for building a brand; finding your own creative niche and staying true to your ideas, your passions and urges.
What have been some of the challenges you have faced?
The past couple of years have been tough financially with not always having work. This year has been amazing with so many different opportunities, like Sink the Pink. Previous years have been a bit harder. I feel like if you’re going through a tough patch and you’re not even doing the thing that you love then it’s going to be really shit. But if you’re doing what you love and it is in your language and your code, then even if the going gets tough, you will still be moving because you are holding onto your lifeline, which is your DNA.
Image: Le Fil EP ‘Nightlife’
The title track ‘Nightlife’ from your EP is so raw and relatable. What does this song mean to you? Plus, you found the crew on Grindr?!
Nightlife was the most personal track I had written for the EP. I wrote it when I was in the shower at like 3 o’clock in the morning. It resonated with what I was feeling a lot and the lyrics felt organic. I think in our generation you get so many people who have their own agendas for their relationships, without thinking about how they are connecting with someone.
Most of my shit relationships were from Grindr, so that app became poison to me. So, I thought, how can I use this in a positive way and rebuild from it. I posted the ad for a month and loads of people got in contact. Some were dirty and I was like ‘no this is not what it’s about’! I then filtered it down to a small group to produce it.
The whole pre-production was an art process, from the image I used for the ad, to the conversations we had with men – the video encapsulates it all. That’s what stimulates me when I’m making work: how can I do things in a fresh way.
What can we look forward to from you in 2019?
We just had the Sink The Pink Skate Special at Somerset House on New Year’s Eve and just finished a residency at Selfridges, which was so much fun. Then there’ll be more projects with Sink The Pink next year too!
I will also be writing all new music and then my pop music show 24/7 LIVE will still be touring next year kicking off on March 23rd at Omnibus Theatre in London.
What’s your favourite David Bowie track?
Star Man. I really like the idea of a Star Man living in the stars and amongst us! Also, I recently re-discovered Under Pressure. Bowie has so many reinventions and interpretations of life at the different times that he’s growing, which is what I looove so much.
What is your Chinese symbol?
I like to say the whole farm because they all have different traits. The zodiac is based on a mythological race which sent all the animals into the river. The first animal to reach the other side was the ox, but the rat was super cunning and sat on top of the ox’s head and as it approached the bank, it jumped off. So, the rat became the leader of the zodiac.
If you could live in any city of the world, what would it be?
Hong Kong. It’s so alive and I feel like it needs more of a queer scene! New York would be my second.
Your motto for 2019?
More, more, more!
Where to find Le Fil …
Youtube: Le Fil
Soundcloud: Le Fil