“Time goes quickly. Enjoy every minute.” Even though I’m hugely dedicated to my work, I still will make sure I leave some time for other things. I think an important thing is to always check in with yourself and ask “am I happy?” or “does something need to shift so that I can become happy?” Because at the end of the day, no matter what you’ve achieved, you won’t have any regrets if you’ve enjoyed every minute along the way.
As a part of our series about pop culture’s rising stars, I had the pleasure of interviewing Le Fil. Le Fil is a British-Chinese pop singer based in London. Originally from Yorkshire, he is a self-described ‘pop sculptor’ working across pop music, sculpture and performance. As a key artist on London’s LGBTQ scene, Le Fil has fronted major campaigns for Toyota and Smirnoff. He is also a performer for the queer UK collective ‘Sink The Pink’ and has toured with Spice Girl Melanie C as part of their global Pride tour last year and appeared in music videos by P!nk. Le Fil recently released his single ‘Undercover Lover’, a piece of thunderous, thrilling pop written about secret crushes and hidden desires.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?
Iwas born in Yorkshire to two wonderful Chinese parents and three sisters. I’m the youngest of the family, and perhaps my sisters’ penchant for style and music inspired me from an early age. They certainly enabled my passion for pop music. They bought me Kylie Minogue and Spice Girls videos and CDs and I listened and sang to them all the time. As a little toddler, I was obsessed. I only spoke Cantonese too, so listening to Kylie was my way of learning English.
Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?
I actually moved to London to study at Camberwell College of Arts to make sculpture and performance art. I was inspired by people like Matthew Barney and Tracey Emin, and loved doing it, but I always felt something was missing. It was as if pop music was just a guilty pleasure — something that was just a soundtrack to my life and not the driving force. I carried on making more Autechre-inspired music for my performance art shows anyhow and then realized that sound and music were the actual backbones of my visual world. So I began to combine them together and made an active choice to start working in the pop music genre. My first major exhibition was supported by Arts Council England and became a crossover show fusing together ceramic sculptures, performance art and pop music. ‘Le Fil’ was born out of this show through an elaborate pop-meets-Butoh baptism. The show was called ‘Pop Sculpture: The Filosophy of Making’ and explored fandom, religion and the shared iconography with popular culture.
Can you tell us the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
That’s a tough one. There have been many interesting moments, but perhaps some of the most memorable, are the eclectic partnerships I end up on. Doing corporate events as an artist is always a huge learning experience. It’s like if you normally work in an office 9–5 pm, and are thrown into a studio for a couple of months, it’s always going to quite memorable. One time, I did an artist residency with Unilever for about half a year at their creative think tank offices in London. It gave me the time and resources to record my EP ‘Nightlife’, but it was such a fascinating research time. While I was there, I participated in all their workshops, gave talks on why there shouldn’t be gendered razors, and was surrounded by thinkers, practitioners, doctors who all worked in transhumanism, genetics, climate change and anything you could possibly think about for the future. It was such an interesting residency and actually inspired my song ‘Genesis’.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
Oh my goodness, I was super young and fresh and was in my final year at Camberwell. This very outspoken artist and activist called Mark McGowan was filming and interviewing me about my work and asked if it was political. The word ‘politics’ freaked me out, and I just thought of Tony Blair and embarrassingly screamed ‘No!’ shying away from it. At that time, I was already making work about my identity but had never thought it could be political. Now obviously, I’ve come to realize all my work is political in some sort of way, gender politics, racial politics, LGBTQ+ rights — our voices and bodies are constantly politicized and I’ve learned its nothing to be scared of. Politics is the story of our lives.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
I’m working on my next single, which is called ‘Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is’ and I’m currently finishing the music video for it. I filmed all of it from my kitchen during the lockdown. It was the one thing that kept me sane, even whilst playing multiple characters! It’s going to be a surreal, Pierres et Gilles inspired, colorful and fabulous pop video. A bit like the aesthetic I have in my work with Sink The Pink.
We are very interested in diversity in the entertainment industry. Can you share three reasons with our readers about why you think it’s important to have diversity represented in film and television? How can that potentially affect our culture?
- First of all, as a child, I only ever saw the chef Ken Hom or actor Bruce Lee on TV. So already, that experience tells us that Chinese people are just good for cooking or karate because that’s all they’re seen doing. However, if we see more Chinese people in various roles, then we would internalize that and subconsciously think that actually, Chinese people can be anything too. Especially when it comes to romantic leads. Until last year, I’ve never seen Chinese romantic leads in Western movies, or in music or sports. That ultimately informs how the average person dates and what their tastes are. Our desires and crushes on people in real daily life are linked to the ones we see around us in the media. Chinese men in particular, aren’t seen as desirable in the media, and this trickles into everyday culture. Likewise, Chinese women are seen as submissive sex objects, and this also impacts everyday relationships.
- Secondly, with regards to the representation of the LGBTQ+ community, we need much more diversity across all areas and in the way our stories are told. Traditionally, gay stories have always ended in heartbreak or been seen as seedy. Likewise, trans stories are always about sex work, death or being the clown to laugh at. Once again, these stories impact the general understanding of our community. We need new stories that show the trans community in a positive light, to broaden the type of exposure in the media — so that our existence is equally as valid as everyone else’s. The new Netflix ‘Disclosure’ documentary is great at discussing this. Everyone should watch it, not just people already interested in trans issues — but everyone, as it impacts all our understanding of the world.
- Finally, having more diversity means giving more jobs to a diverse group. So many of our stories are written and created by cis-gendered, straight, white people. Of course, they can do a good job of it, but perhaps open the floor so that black writers can have a chance to tell their story. Or let trans actors get a job and a foot in the door, by playing the trans characters we see in movies. With the recent news about Halle Berry giving up her role where she was to play a trans character — thank you for giving up your seat to someone who may need that job more.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
- “When you’re figuring out what you want to do, trust your gut” I was always told to follow my grades, or follow what I was good at doing — which is perfectly fine advice. But that’s what led me to a more traditional fine art route when my actual passion was pop music all along. I might not have been as good at singing as I was at drawing at the time, but I wish someone had told me “if you want to do it, start working on it now and hone your skills”. I wish someone had said “it takes 10,000 hours to develop a craft, so If you want to do it, start putting the time in now” instead of, “I think you should do something else”. Always encourage and guide someone’s dreams, rather than put a dampener on things, because we’ll always return to them at some point, whether its now or years down the line.
- “How little time goes into doing the thing you love” Now I probably spend about 85% of my time doing the admin in order to do the 15% thing that I love — performing on stage. As a kid, you’d think the arts is just a fun job that you get to do all the time, like a full-time hobby. But actually, following a dream is tough so you have to make sure you’re in it fully with passion. Keeping the momentum is hard work, especially as an independent artist. I’m very thankful, that I actually enjoy the whole process. I see every element as shaping a pop sculpture — from the emails to the photoshoots, to the graphic design — everything is a detail in my overall vision and world.
- “Don’t stress out too much about creating opportunities, some just fall on your lap” I used to get really concerned about getting jobs and that can get so draining. But some of the biggest jobs I’ve had actually came through chance. For example, I did a campaign for Smirnoff that championed LGBTQ+ nightlife — and how I got the job, as I overheard a conversation on a train between some people sat behind me. They were talking about sending casting photos to a producer and I basically jotted down the email address they were talking about and sent them an email while I was on the train. A week later, I was on the job and landed a hero role. Send enough thoughts to the universe, and perhaps some luck might come your way. Or perhaps ‘being cheeky and keeping your headphones off’ is the message from this!
- ‘Don’t compare yourself to anyone else’s timeline’. This would have saved me so much stress. We inherently see successful artists and go “why don’t I have that?” — but we have to remember, they’re the sum of different experiences, privilege and luck. I used to see young global singers like Gaga or Christina Aguilera and feel really envious that they had achieved so much so young. Then I remember, I’m a queer Chinese kid from Yorkshire, without the boobs, blonde hair and caucasian — so already I’m going to have a different start to a career. Our career is the sum of who we are plus what we put together ourselves. So keep doing you the best you can, that’s all you can do!
- “Time goes quickly. Enjoy every minute.” Even though I’m hugely dedicated to my work, I still will make sure I leave some time for other things. I think an important thing is to always check in with yourself and ask “am I happy?” or “does something need to shift so that I can become happy?” Because at the end of the day, no matter what you’ve achieved, you won’t have any regrets if you’ve enjoyed every minute along the way.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
Working in nightlife and touring means you’re constantly surrounded by temptations that can wreak havoc with your body and mind. It’s tempting to indulge when everything is within your grasp, but I’ve learned to say no. It’s like, if you’re feeling full, you don’t have to eat everything on your plate. Anything excessive can rock the balance of your wellbeing and emotions, and as an artist, your emotional power is your currency. Our bodies are our tools and canvas, so I’d say look after it as much as you can. I have as much fun as everyone else, as it’s all in your frame of mind — but I also get to remain fresh and fully reset for the next day.
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
The only thing I’m conscious about is having a free agenda when it comes to gender. My song ‘Boyo’ is about how to re-examine what it means ‘to be a man’ in today’s world. Things like not dressing up little baby boys in blue clothing etc. Society should make gender neutrality a thing from an early age. Because as soon as you start placing expectations on a child, you automatically shape their understanding of the world. Like if boys must wear blue, then they must also have short hair, be straight, marry women etc — and then naturally, you’ve just perpetuated the western heteronormativity as the ruling system within their brain. By offering more options, you’re opening their mind to equality, whilst also managing their expectations of who they should be. That way, men, women and everyone in between won’t have to think they must behave in a certain way, dress a certain way, or date in a certain way. Free our expectations. That’s the only way we can have true equality for women and LGBTQ+ communities. Letting kids learn about more aspects of life will only help them in the long run, not hinder them.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
Glyn Fussell, the founder of Sink The Pink has been my fairy godfather. How I came to join Sink The Pink was actually through a friend called Joseph Wilson who films my music videos (like ‘24/7’ filmed in London’s Soho and Chinatown). He mentioned that loads of regular performers were away at a festival so Sink The Pink needed some new go-go dancers for one evening. Surprisingly, I also had a night off so I said yes. While I was there, I had so much fun dancing on stage. Glyn grabbed me and said “You’re totally fab and you need to come to join us permanently” — and since then I’ve been a part of their world for the last three years. We’ve done some amazing projects and it’s allowed me to continue making my own music. Last year, we worked with singer P!nk to make an alternate music video for her. We also performed across the world at Sao Paulo Pride and in New York’s Time Square with Spice Girl Melanie C, which was literally a childhood dream come true — and for a little gay Chinese boy from a small Yorkshire town — it meant everything.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
I don’t really have one, but my life philosophy, or ‘Filosophy’, is to treat your life like a sculpture, a work of art. Every action and every gesture is a choice, a creative choice — so it’s up to you to put those choices together in the best way to represent you. When you come across those choices, perhaps you may want to consider new ways of thinking about them and try to see them from different angles. Be inspired. Absorb from others. All this will help transform your sculpture into something new and even more beautiful!
Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
Well, since I’m always on the hustle and thinking of the next project — how about breakfast with some new collaborators and investors — Jeff Bezos? Mark Zuckerberg? How about a croissant and juice?
How can our readers follow you online?
You can find more of my work on www.lefil.co.uk and follow me on all my socials @iamlefil
This was very meaningful, thank you so much! We wish you continued success!