Singing is about conveying emotions and ideas, but someone has to receive those emotions for an idea to come alive.
Le Fil is an independent British-Chinese androgynous male multimedia provocateur pop artist and singer. Originally from West Yorkshire, Le Fil was born in England but was brought up speaking Cantonese. He moved to London, where he is now based, to study sculpture and ceramics at Camberwell College of Arts. Le Fil describes himself as both sculptor and sculpture; constantly transforming and using his body and art to challenge notions of gender and identity.
As a relatively new artist, it takes time for Le Fil to produce work and get it seen as he has to fund everything himself. As he says, “There’s not much support out there for emerging artists within the music industry. You have to do things your own way and create your own opportunities and exposure. And living in London is tough, I’m constantly hustling.” On the flip side, the financial autonomy allows him to “be in complete control of the artistic direction and vision.”
With a creative background that fuses glossy pop songwriting, ceramic sculpture and fashion styling with underground live art, Le Fil straddles the worlds of music, art and now, theatre, in order to present touching and personal artistic statements. His website is filled with music videos, photo shoots, art and even merchandise––”I make the music, the band, the choreography, the videos, the set design, the promo, the websites, the fashion! It’s my very own pop sculpture.”
Le Fil’s next show is on 6 January 2018 at the Duckie in the Royal Vauxhall Tavern in London.
What was your journey to becoming a performer?
I’ve always been a performer. Even as a little kid I would be dancing around and singing Kylie songs despite not knowing a word of English. Eventually I joined choirs, plays and ended up doing musical theatre. It wasn’t for me though, as it felt really boring being given stereotypical roles, or telling stories that I didn’t believe in. I loved the Spice Girls, I wanted to be a pop star, I had that dream! And as a Chinese gay boy from Yorkshire, it felt like it was never going to happen. I was at the start of trying to figure myself out back then. I was young and vulnerable and I also had people telling me it wouldn’t happen too, and so I caved in, moved to London and went to art school instead.
When I moved down, I partied a lot. Going out really helped me to express myself––meeting new friends, experimenting with fashion, style and creating looks. I had the best time! I went to some epic parties and met so many inspiring people who were so driven, creative, expressive and free-spirited. For a small boy from Huddersfield, it was a world away––proper fantasy. I channelled all that into my art, and slowly began using my own body in my work. It helped me turn something so traditional like ceramics into really exciting performance art, which I started getting known for. My body was the site for work and activity, and once I realised that––I knew I would use it to express myself however I wanted to.
How did Le Fil come into existence?
It was around that time, I started doing really cool arty commissions and fashion jobs but felt something was missing. I was feeling super claustrophobic and stifled and didn’t know why. Eventually I realised that it was all about the music. Music was the dream that had been squashed when I was a child, but it was still bubbling inside of me––and I knew had to pursue it, even if it failed. I started changing my practice bit by bit and writing music again. I’ve never studied music; it’s all something I’ve taught myself, so it felt scary to dive into new waters. I met a friend who agreed to produce with me and then it all kicked off from there.
I decided to host an exhibition that would reflect this new start. I wanted to bring everything together into one unifying path – the art, the music, the ideas. ‘Le Fil’ in French means the thread. I saw this as a thread that connects all the different sections of my life into one identity. The exhibition was called Pop Sculpture: The Filosophy of Making and it explored the power of faith and belief in shaping yourself, while drawing on references from religion, fandom and music. It combined ceramic sculptures, music staging, baptisms, live music performances, pop iconography––It was a proper introduction into my world and my own ‘filosophy’. More importantly, it was supported by Arts Council England, which gave me the much-needed support and credibility I needed to make this transition into Le Fil. Music really underpins my world and allows everything else to exist.
So you’ve designed for Lady Gaga! What was the whole experience like?
Fast paced and epic! When Gaga was being styled by Nicola Formichetti, that entire period was so creative and captivating. The fashion was so clever and I was so thrilled when their team reached out to me. They had seen some of my plastic, futuristic body-sculptures in Dazed magazine and commissioned one for her Judas music video. So I spent 72 hours making something and rushed it into their stylist’s office. There were dresses and outfits covering every inch of their walls, even hanging from the ceiling! It looked like an exhibition. Needless to say, mine probably didn’t stand a chance. In the end, the video changed aesthetic and went from something futuristic to more of an opulent Christian LaCroix style. As much as I loved working on something for such a big international pop star, it’s so much more fun making costumes for myself, as I know I’ll actually use them!
Tell us more about your hair!
When it comes to cultural identity or gender identity, having long hair challenges people’s expectations of what it means to be a man. It unnerves people, especially in the gents toilets when I’m at the urinal––or when they hit on me and then realise I’m not a girl. I love challenging stereotypes and surprising people, but that’s not reason why I grew my hair. I did it for me: because I liked it, and plus, its natural for your hair to grow. I get to do so many things with it––plaits, ponytails, buns––whatever i feel like when I need to express myself.
I’m not precious with it either, it’s just hair at the end of the day, which is why I find it so fascinating how people are judged by their hair. In Hong Kong, people would literally freak out in front of my face. My friend said, “they think you’re a punk or homeless.” Or even in London, the amount of times I’ve come across statements like men must have short hair in order to be man… it’s ridiculous. Hair grows, that’s biology baby! Our western culture determines what we should do with it. It tells men to cut it and women to dye it. Forcing people to have certain styles to fit stereotypical gender roles is prescriptive and oppressive. Let your body be free and enjoy what comes out of it!
How is Le Fil different from your everyday self, on the inside and outside?
I’m not an actor portraying a character. I naturally evolved into becoming Le Fil as a stage within my life, like how adolescence or adulthood is a stage in someone’s life. When performing I’m just a heightened version of my everyday self. It’s like when you decide what to wear for a night out after work; it’s just a different side of you in a different context, but you’re still the same person. I love music, fashion and art so that’s why it exists in my every pore. For better or worse, I’m Le Fil 24/7 – every day, every week, every month. The world is a stage!
The East Asian community has a reputation for being submissive, conservative or pedantic. Does this resonate with the environment you grew up in?
I definitely come from a traditional family, and Chinese people on the whole, especially older ones, are so conservative about their values. My dad always explains that I do art and music as a disclaimer for my appearance when he introduces me to his friends, it’s hilarious. But it’s definitely changing now; younger generations are teaching their elders something new––that’s refreshing. We should always be looking forward and challenging expectations. I look at that a lot in my work––my song 24/7 touches on the idea of objectification where men just see my hair and talk to me like a submissive sex object. They see me as a ‘ladyboy’ and start being gross and I find it so tiresome so I challenge that by answering back in a thick and deep Yorkshire accent.
What does it mean to have someone like Le Fil in the UK?
UK gives me freedom to be me. Hopefully I can inspire people to think new ways when it comes to their identity and personal philosophies. Things are changing now and people are a lot more conscious of being diverse and representing differences within culture and communities. I want my music to bring more people together. A wider dialogue with a bigger audience on a bigger platform. My music and art only exists when an audience experiences it. Singing is about conveying emotions and ideas, but someone has to receive those emotions for an idea to come alive.
That’s what I learnt from this Smirnoff campaign I’m in, called We Are Open, launched in support of LGBT communities and charities. It’s my first major national campaign and celebrates inclusivity by highlighting LGBT nightlife and genderqueer artists and gives them a platform to shine. I never ever thought a long-haired Chinese androgynous thing like me would ever be on billboards or on the telly, it’s fab! The campaign encouraged quite a debate about gender and identity, and I want to be a part of that dialogue and to encourage people to think in new ways. I want to smash stereotypes one song at a time, and take everyone on a celebration while I do it!
What type of audience are you expecting at your show and what can they expect from you?
Duckie audiences are dirty and I love it! The night is renowned for debauchery so I imagine it’s going to be filth. I’ll perform a special excerpt from my new show 24/7 LIVE – which is the full length live music show that I’ll be touring soon. It’s a pop gig with extras, so keep an eye on dates!
See more of Le Fil’s work here: