Originally hailing from China, twenty-one-year-old DJ Cyberdoll #17 is a relatively new face to London’s club scene who strives to challenge both your expectations and experience of clubbing. Controversially banning drugs, alcohol and mobile phones at most of her shows, Cyberdoll demands her listeners to focus on her music and art at all times, encouraging them to embrace the moment and be consciously present in the experience. Similarly, each of her shows is unique from the last, and she often aligns her shows with the Chinese lunar new year calendar. Her performances promote childlike positivity and encourage soul searching, all through the medium of complex club music. We spoke with Cyberdoll to find out more about her unique approach to DJing, Chinese culture and her upcoming EP.
Firstly, could you tell us a bit about yourself, where are you from, how old are you and how would you describe what you do?
I’m a twenty-one-year-old DJ originally from China. The way I describe the feeling that DJing gives to me is that it’s like my own version of attending a therapy session.
How did you first discover your love of DJing, and what inspired you to start?
When I was in school, eight other girls and I lived in a dorm together. There was no freedom there, and it was very strict. We were all trying to find a way to do our own thing and find some independence, I guess. I came across a DJ controller online and was intrigued, so I ended up getting one. I would play music really loudly in our dorm, so much so that the teacher would come bitching to us. We responded by turning it up even louder until she left. After that, I realised I want to do this all the time. I love it.
For most artists, originality is first preceded by a phase of learning and, often, emulating others. What was this like for you? How would you describe your development as an artist and the transition towards your own voice? What is the relationship between copying, learning and your own creativity?
In China and the UK alike, there’s a lot of discussion about artists copying each other. I’m not interested or trying to be influenced by anyone in particular. Looking at the work of others is beneficial because emulating someone is one of the quickest ways to understand how they do something, but I see myself as a processor. I get this information that goes into me, and I process the things I like and leave out the things I dislike. That way, when it’s time for my creative output, it ensures it will still come out as something original.
Do you have any desire to release your own music as a solo artist one day or do you prefer the aspect of remixing pre-existing material?
Well, I’m going to be a solo artist this summer, but I need to stop being a lazy artist first, haha!
What is the culture in China like when it comes to its view on DJing? Is this something from which you’ve felt any prejudice?
I think people would be surprised to find out that there’s a good DJ culture in China, with some incredible artists. Unfortunately, what I have experienced is a lot of the horrible ones. Especially ones where there’s a DJ on the booth and the rest of the people are sitting down and drinking alcohol, not paying much attention at all. I think a lot of people in China have a negative view of female DJ’s. They say that we don’t make an effort with how we dress or present ourselves, the skills we have learned aren’t essential or valid, and we have a non-traditional, bad taste in music.They want you to look good on stage and be predictable, like being a plant for others to watch. I’ve had people in China call me a “nightclub queen”, which suggests that I’ll steal other people’s boyfriends and be a threat to other girls. I’m just there to play good music.
Here at ASBO, we are obsessed with youth culture. How would you say the youth culture in China differs from the UK? What have been the benefits you have felt moving here, and what are the things you miss most?
I don’t feel like I got to experience much of the youth culture in China because I moved to the UK when I was pretty young. I always hung out with people much older than me, around thirty, so I just missed out on the whole thing. In my head, I think China has an excellent youth culture, lots of people skating, loving techno and dressing up. I guess I missed out on a lot of that though.
So I know you have a strict rule about no drugs or phones being used or brought into where you are performing. You proudly disregard the more traditional and sometimes dangerous culture surrounding DJing and Clubbing. Can you tell us why it’s important to you to set these boundaries?
Yeah, it’s a big thing for me. I genuinely think that people need to believe in and embrace their sober selves a bit more. I understand that some people feel more creatively free when smoking or drunk, but it doesn’t excuse it. When you were a child, you didn’t do that. You can be weird, creative, whatever you want. I think it’s more about how the culture of drinking, drugs and partying has been culturally ingrained. The two don’t have to go together!
Some of your sets aim to help listeners find strength and childlike positivity. How do you go about finding these things yourself in your daily routine?
Haha, I have an imaginary friend (she will get angry now), but yeah, I talk to her, and she talks to me. I carry on with the stuff I did as a kid with her. I will go out late at night to the playground, in the park or something like that. I hang out with many older people, so I always feel like the kid of the group and have held on to my inner child intentionally.
So I know you perform your sets in correlation with astrological movements (e.g.) full moon in Scorpio. Is this something you believe in or inspires you?
The traditional Chinese calendar is lunar, so it’s really magical. You set your intention moon, then get the results on a full moon. It’s just natural, like reminding people we are in sync with nature.
What was your first set-up as a DJ? What are currently some of the most critical pieces of gear for you?
The first piece of gear I ever got was a Tractor S8 when I was around sixteen or seventeen. I think that’s the best DJ controller. It looks a bit strange because it doesn’t have a jog wheel. I had to battle with my parents before they finally agreed to support me in making music, which was nice. I think the most crucial piece of gear for me as a DJ is something called the OP-1. It’s a mini portable synthesiser. You can load music onto it and bring it with you anywhere.
Let’s say you have a gig coming up tonight. What does your approach look like – from selecting the material and preparing for, opening and then building a set?
I start by picking up the energy and creating a story in my head from there with the music. I prepare three tracks, the opening track, the turning point and the final track. The first track is always some melodic output, and I usually write a poem or random messages before or while playing it. The turning point is like the climax in the story. The final track is what I refer to as the bomb. I pick something totally different from the set, something popular now or just something to really eliminate the energy.
Can you describe your state of mind during a DJ set?
I would describe the state of mind as being similar to being in a boxing ring. When I’m in the zone, I don’t usually get distracted. In the beginning, I usually feel nervous, so I do some self talk to calm myself. I tell myself that I can do this, press the button, smile at people and go for it. In terms of performance, self-talk is the most valuable psychological technique to me. If you believe that what you are doing is good, so do the audience usually. I compare the two as I’ve been boxing for four years now, and it’s helped me calm down. It’s also a sport where respect is key.
Do you think you have changed much since moving to the UK?
I’ve definitely changed a lot since moving to the UK. I feel a lot more confident in being myself and not what my culture wants me to be. I’ve learned a lot from Western Culture, especially the concept of self-love. In Chinese culture, you’re always taught to put your family first. It made the concept of self-love feel selfish at first, but I’ve adjusted. I used to have to sacrifice my personality to make sure everyone was happy, which I never recommend.
Finally, what artistic endeavours do you have planned now that the lockdown is over?
One goal is to get a hundred people to get a ticket to my next event, and another thing is to finish and release my EP. I’ve been a bit lazy and stopped producing music as much lately, so I need to get on it!
Words: Connor Aiden Fogerty
Images: Max Auberon