Paris is a city with a secretly exciting music scene – and one of the most interesting DJs fuelling that flame in the past few years is Louise Chen. Born and raised in Luxembourg, coming from Taiwanese French heritage, she moved to Paris in 2004, lived in London from 2008-2010 and New York for large doses between 2008-2012. Now she exists somewhere in between Paris and the world. Her now closed nights Girls Girls Girls and Chentertainment hosted Kelela’s first show in Paris, sets by Mykki Blanco, Kingdomm and Method Man and Redman. Alongside a thriving international tour schedule, she has a monthly show on Rinse France playing house, techno and electronic music.
Chen also hosts a show every other month on Le Mellotron focusing on jazz, soul, R&B, hip-hop classics, disco, house and gospel! “With this show I like to think I can just play songs. Love songs, sad songs, spiritual songs… it’s my sentimental outlet!” She has just released her first track on Moxie’s compilation On Loop Vol.4 and is working on an EP. Here she shares her love of Marvin Gaye and the joy of playing the Eiffel Tower.
How did you start playing music?
I started as a hobby playing vinyl in bars around Paris in 2006. I used to be an intern at an independent music promotion agency in Paris that represented labels like Ninja Tune, Big Dada, BBE, Nublu, etc. One of our colleagues, Diego, had a residency at a bar called Cafe Cherie in Belleville and the whole office would go hang out with him to show support. He’s the one that offered to show us how to play, simply teach us how to fade in and out with the mixer and cue records. Quickly I got a taste for it and started playing with two girlfriends under the name Les Frangipanes - back then we’d play indie rock, new wave at Cafe Cherie, Le Truskel, La Mecanique Ondulatoire and other bars around town. Eventually when I got a job as a booking agent, in 2010, I met professional DJs, fell in love with one and he encouraged me to play and made me think of pursuing this as a career. The seed was planted and I came up with the idea of doing a night with women DJing that became the Girls Girls Girls night that I would organise at Social Club in 2012. The night then morphed into an all-girl collective and a DJ crew with Betty and Piu Piu. The parties were a great incubator for all our ideas and was the start of my career as a club DJ.
What do you like about radio?
There’s so much I love about radio! First off, I’m pretty chatty so I love talking about music, playing tunes and nerding out out loud. I love internet radio even more than FM radio because I love the idea that you can listen back to shows and you’re not schedule dependent. The thing I love the most about radios is the community building aspect. I feel like only radios have the power to federate a “scene” and have both a global impact online but also a local impact. Where the radio station is located and if it’s a place you want to hang out at, want to spend time, I feel that these things reverberate onto the shows, the people that come in to host shows and also the listeners wherever they are. NTS is a prime example of a great online radio that has managed to feed it’s local community.
What was the idea behind Girls Girls Girls?
Girls Girls Girls was born from frustration. I was in a relationship with a professional DJ and would go to his parties but he’d always ask me “You never seem to have fun when you come see me DJ, what’s up with that?” I told him, “Well the parties where you play at tend to be mainly men djs playing for a crowd of men in the mosh pit... I don’t feel engaged because nothing caters to me and what I look for when I go out partying. When I go out I want to feel sexy, I want R&B, hip-hop and anything that will allow me to express myself on the dancefloor but there’s no room for that in a mosh pit.” I had similar conversations with other girls that felt the same way so it was decided I’d try and organise a party with girls in mind. I offered them to turn the night into a collective and so we did more nights in Paris, Berlin, London, made a T-shirt collab, started getting booked as a DJ crew and voilà! Over time, we all went our separate ways to build our solo identities but it was a fun time.
You do another night now Chentertainment?
The night is on hold but yes. I launched my Chentertainment nights in 2015. The idea was that I wanted to organise a small intimate dance night for music nerds. Basically, I started my club dj career playing hip-hop and from there started digging the original tunes that were sampled in hip-hop which opened up my repertoire to soul, jazz, disco and house and even techno… I feel like that’s the route so many djs take! But at this point in Paris it was hard for me to find parties that showcased all this and travel through genres of music. Chentertainment is my modest attempt at doing a night where music genres are an afterthought and love of all music presides. I went about booking talents like Mafalda, Sadar Bahar, Hunee, Jon Rust, Geo-Logy, Moxie, Aleqs Notal, Sampha, Dego, the Lot Radio peeps, Brodinski, Methodman and Redman… It was fun but I struggled to do it all on my own and I wasn’t very happy with the venue, all traditional obstacles promoters encounter! But since then, more local crews of promoters have been way better at organising nights in a similar vein all over Paris and inviting great talents so it didn’t feel as necessary for me to keep going with it. I like to think maybe I can revive the party for one offs and secret line ups in the future.
Where else do you like to go out in Paris?
I love to play at Concrete in Paris! I love the team there, they are very hospitable, fun and genuinely passionate about music and club culture. Rex Club is also a club that’s so fun to play at because the sound system and hospitality are so good. There are a few places I love to go with friends. One of them is a newly opened cocktail and food bar called Frequence (20, rue Keller). Three friends have partnered to open their dream spot. They’ve soundproofed the place and put in a rotary mixer and a great sound system, they have a wonderful vinyl collection with disco, boogie, gospel and reggae, delicious food and cocktails and they are super sweet guys! They’ve invited me to play a few records a couple of times and the vibes are great. Lastly, I still end up at L’Entree des Artistes a LOT! It’s a restaurant that has a licence to party over Fridays and Saturdays so it’s a great place if you want to hear disco and drink organic wines all night. The guys running the place are massive music lovers so they invite great DJs to come play from time to time.
How would you describe the music you play?
I love all music that stems from Jazz, the way I hear it, that’s what I play. But for a more detailed description, I’d say it’s house music in the broad sense of the word or maybe the New York sense of the word: soul, jazz, gospel, hip-hop, R&B, disco, house, techno...
What records are doing it for you specifically at this moment?
I’m constantly buying records on Discogs, it’s an addiction! Right now I’m obsessed with Janett Silvera “When I need You” - it’s a rare lover’s rock record that I just got last week, with an amazing Bob Marley cover of “Waiting In Vain” but to me the fire track is “Oh If I should Lose You”
Where is the best place you have played?
The top of the Eiffel tower!!! Last year in October, to celebrate the Eiffel Tower’s 300th million visitor they threw a big party and I got to DJ on the first floor of the Eiffel Tower. I’ve DJed in crazy luxurious places and sweaty underground clubs but this one is top of the list for sure.
What are your current influences and inspirations?
I’ve fallen into a Marvin Gaye rabbit hole. Listening to everything I can put my hands on, reading “Divided Soul: The Life Of Marvin Gaye” by David Ritz and watching all the documentaries available on YouTube. I go through obsessive phases like this where I can’t stop researching specific persons or genres of music for months. Right now I’m deep into Gospel and Marvin Gaye… who knows what’s going to come after this!
What do you do to unwind?
Honestly, I have two opposing energies I have to tap into to unwind. Sometimes I need isolation and then I binge watch movies and TV series in bed. I take days off just to Netflix and Deliveroo and to catch up on sleep! Otherwise, I love hanging out with friends, cook big dinners at my house or go out testing Paris restaurants and seeing art exhibitions. Aside from that, I exercise 3-4 times a week yoga and pilates, drink loads of water and stay sober most of the time (although I have phases where I turn into a party demon). That’s the only way I can keep going really. For inspiration, my mind really works best when it’s bouncing off with other people so through travelling, meeting new people, conversations, listening to TSF Jazz podcasts, reading biographies, going record shopping, watching RBMA conferences and taking the time to have nerdy in-depth chats with people, record collectors and/or musicians about music and life.
Chen is playing in Moscow December 3 for the 20th anniversary of Vogue Russia, and in London for Kamaal Williams’ Black Focus Records pop up at Bleep! in London December 7, 8 and 9.
courtesy LOUISE CHEN
interview FRANCESCA GAVIN
More to read