MIMI XU

NATALIA BONIFACCI MEETS MIMI XU, THE LONDON BASED MUSICAL MULTITASKER. WHEN TALKING ABOUT MIMI'S CAREER IT WOULD BE QUICKER TO POINT OUT WHAT SHE DOESN’T DO.
A DJ (AKA MISTY RABBIT), A FASHION MUSIC DIRECTOR, A COMPOSER AND THE BEATING HEART BEHIND MIMI XU STUDIO, WHICH OFFERS MUSIC DIRECTION, COMPOSITION AND SOUND DESIGN, SPECIALIZING IN FASHION SHOWS, FILMS AND CULTURAL COLLABORATIONS. NEEDLESS TO SAY, THE LIST OF HER PARTNERSHIPS TO DATE, IS ENDLESS.
THEY MEET IN PARIS, IN THE 3RD ARRONDISSEMENT, AT LE PARISIEN. SHE'S CHATTY AND UPBEAT. SHE SHOWS UP LISTENING TO MUSIC ON HER LARGE HEADPHONES, ADMITTING THAT IT’S SOMETHING SHE DOES ALL DAY LONG. OVER A LARGE CUP OF COFFEE MIMI OPENS UP ABOUT HER STORY AND SHARES, FOR REDMILK, A SPECIAL PLAYLIST: 10 SONGS FOR AN AUTOMN APERO TIME!

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You’ve just got into town. What’s happening?

I’ll be DJing for Elsa Schiapparelli, for the launch of their prêt-à-porter collection tomorrow, so I’m here for just two nights.

 

It’s a DJ gig! You don’t DJ that often anymore…

True. I make my own music. I have a band. I compose a lot of soundtracks for films, so I need to be in my studio and I can’t travel so much anymore. I’ve become much more selective with gigs; I try not to do more than two DJ gigs per month. This month has been really busy though, and it’s not finished yet, but it’s all good things. I’ll be back for FIAC next week. Gagosian is having an opening with some amazing artists; they’re part of the young generation of contemporary artists: Duane Hanson, Olivier Mosset and Josephine Meckseper. I’m going to the opening. I really like what they do, so I want to meet them, and I was asked to play music at the party, so I’ll be playing music with some friends.

 

Tell me more about your musical story…

I always played music as a kid. I was classically trained as a pianist, growing up. When I started DJing I realized I wanted to make my own music, because I knew I could.

 

You studied journalism and law.

Yeah, I was studying journalism. I worked as a fashion editor for a magazine in Australia. I just thought I was really bored talking about clothes, while my big passion has always been music. So I started working for a music label – my ex boyfriend’s label. It’s a really cool one. They had all these great bands such as the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, The Avalanches… so it was a really fun time to work in the music industry. I started to learn how to DJ vinyls, because I had a huge collection of vinyls, so I just kinda started to DJ. I started DJing a lot, somehow forgetting that life is not just a party (she laughs). Eventually I got tired of that. I wanted to make my own music. You know, you go to the club, you go to the Festival, you’re up till 5 am. It was me and mostly the guys. Around that time I quit drinking. I think that was one of the main reason that made me pursue doing my own music. That was five years ago!

 

How come?

I was just partying all the time. I would DJ three to four times a week, plus the fashion shows, and you get into that rhythm of partying. You lose focus on what you want to do exactly, and what I really wanted to do was to make music.

Stopping drinking gave me the discipline to say no to DJ gigs. I focused. I had to go to my studio to compose music.

 

The moment you stop drinking, you get so much more time on your hands: no hangover!

Exactly! So much more time! And discipline too. You need to go into the studio; no one is gonna ask you to. You have to decide for yourself. Basically I am in music and I do a lot of things within it: I write music, I play, I produce, I DJ… so I’m never bored.

 

Do you have a favourite outlet?

I think I love running music for film. I am actually working on a feature film that is gonna be shot next year. I am already talking with the director about sound references.

 

I read an interview about a year ago where you were asked about your goals for the next year and you answered that you wanted to do the score of a film, which you are doing now. Congrats! The other one was that you wanted to learn how to cook…

Yeah, I’m working on cooking, but my boyfriend is such a great cook that he puts me to shame. When he’s not around I love cooking for my friends. I love food. I love pasta, I love both Italian and Asian food. I try not to eat meat for environmental reasons. But for someone who loves food, sometimes it’s very hard.

 

What’s your best quality?

I think I am very open minded and curious. And ambitious in my work.

 

You’ve worn so many hats musically – and you’re constantly adding more to your repertoire. What’s your next step?

I think that would be going forward with my music.

 

In what sense?

I don’t see my career as wanting to be a superstar. I want it to last for a very long time. My next project, after the feature film, is to write for dance. I want to collaborate with a choreographer to create a complete osmosis between music and sound, because I feel this collaboration brings out the best of both worlds. A lot of great choreographers base their whole choreography on music that already exists. I think that the collaboration between composer and choreographer brings a deeper emotion. You know, how John Cage and Merce Cunnigham did. Well, they were a couple as well, but artistically, John Cage could only compose certain things because of Merce, and Merce could only design certain choreographies and movements because of John. That relationship is something that really interested me when I first found out about it, and I would love to do that with a choreographer. I already have a few choreographers I’ve been talking to. I wouldn’t exclude a male choreographer, but I’d be interested in a female choreographer to see how women work together. I’m interested in exploring a woman’s sensitivity in sound and movement.

 

You were raised in Paris, Shanghai and Copenhagen. You lived in Sidney. You returned to Europe and now you live in London. Where is home? Do you have a home feeling or are you a child of the world?

Home is my computer, my keyboard, my suitcase (she laughs). I do consider London my home now, because I have my studio there; all my instruments are there. I try to go to the studio every day when I am in London, but this month I only went one day. It’s terrible; it’s because I’ve been travelling. I need to spend more time there. When you go into the studio you don’t just start writing right away, it’s not magical. You need to sit around. You know, you think about things, you listen to things. Once you’ve been there for three hours, after you’ve eaten all the nuts, after you’ve drunk all the coffee, that is when you start getting inspirational. You are not a machine. You have to spend a lot of time there. Just when you start getting into it, your boyfriend calls asking, “What are we doing for dinner?” It’s quite annoying! (She laughs). Sometimes, I wish I could isolate myself a little bit more.

 

Who are you listening to right now?

I listen to a lot of strange music, because strange music gives me ideas.

 

What do you mean by strange music?

Not pop music at all, a lot of film scores. Sometimes it’s very experimental techno, or acid. That’s the music that gives me sound ideas, The other music is boring. When I DJ, at times it’s ok, but in terms of inspiration, the stranger the better!

 

What’s been the most stirring encounter of your career, if there have been any?

There’ve been many, but my father is the one who introduced me to music. He still is a big inspiration for me. He’s an acoustic architect. So, as a kid I was forced to go to opera houses. At the time he was doing a lot of research with Pierre Boulez, a pioneer in concrete music, a very experimental and extreme side of contemporary music, so I had to go to those concerts all the time. When you’re eight years old you don’t understand, but all of that, today, comes back to me as a composer.

 

Sometimes I feel that when you choose an alternative path, a more artistic or unconventional career, there can be a lack of support at home, or even socially. What I mean is, that if you want to be a lawyer or an architect or a waiter, parents or people will tell you, “Go for it!”- but it’s not the same if you say you want to be a painter or an actor, or whatever. What is your take on that? Was it difficult for you to pursue an artistic career?

It was very difficult. My parents already didn’t like the fact that I got into journalism (she rolls her eyes self-mockingly), they wanted me to be an architect. They embraced it when I was playing piano as a kid, but me getting into music as a job, well that’s something they didn’t understand. “How will you make a living out of music? You’re joking!” I resent them a little bit for that. If they had given me their support, I would had gone much sooner after music. But they were like, “You gotta finish your law degree, your journalism!” Aaaawww! (she laughs) So they kind of delayed the process. I think that maturity is important in becoming an artist. When you come back to it the way I did, you go back to it 150%, you know? You don’t waste time.

 

Do your parents get it now?

I think now that they see me in magazines and they check my bank account, they think, “Ok she’s not broke, fine!” (she laughs). They finally understand what I do, but before then there was loads of miscommunication.

 

What current project are you excited about?

I’m participating in an exhibition at CFHILL in Stockholm in November: I’m doing a sound installation within an installation for the first time in my life. It’s curated by Naomi Itke. The Swedish artist and illustrator, Liselotte Watkins, who lives in Rome, painted a number of pots made by local women artisans. So there will be Liselotte’s installation and the pots will be sound activated by movement. My sound installation drew inspiration from the Roman School in music history. During the period of the 16th and 17th centuries, many composers from Rome developed a sophisticated form of polyphony. The idea is to simultaneously combine a number of parts, each forming an individual melody and harmonizing with each other. The installation recreates a different experience of polyphony combining analogue and electronic sounds. The visitor would participate in the activation of harmonies by triggering, without intent, various melodies or sounds from each side of the room as he walks along. Depending on his decision to stay in one place or to go around, he will participate in creating his own sonic experience. And now, I just have to compose the music! (she laughs)

 

What scares you?

My own insecurity. I doubt myself constantly “This is not good enough! That is not good enough!” But it’s good, too, because then I work harder.

 

What’s you biggest flaw?

As my boyfriend says, I’m a bit selfish, because I am so absorbed with my work. I am the worst housewife. The worst! We’ve been together seven years, and the conflicts on my lack of interest in being a housewife have been going on for that long (she laughs). Listen, I am no Martha Stewart, but still I could do better! This is terrible.

 

If you could give a piece of advice to your 15 year-old self, with all the experience you have now, what would you tell yourself?

Don’t be lazy. And don’t be scared of failure because the real failure is when you don’t even try. I really wish I had been less scared of failure growing up. If you are a perfectionist you’re never doing anything because you get paralyzed by self-doubt and that is the real failure. I’d tell myself “You can fail, it’s ok, the important thing is going for it!”.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

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