Attack’s Kristan Caryl calls Peggy Gou to chat about music, fashion and how she can relate to the final scene in Kill Bill Volume 2.
“People who come to see me are crazy,” says Peggy Gou. “In a good way.”
She’s remembering a recent afterparty in San Diego where after she’d finished playing, people were shouting her name at her. “Another DJ there was like, ‘I’ve never seen anything like this after 10 years of clubbing’. The promoter couldn’t believe it.”
And he’s right: there is a curious cult of celebrity around Peggy Gou that separates her even from her more traditionally famous peers. Few DJs invoke the sort of hysteria that follows Peggy wherever she goes. If fans aren’t chanting her name, they’re gifting her with giraffes—her favourite animal—shaking their shoes at her in what has now become a bizarre tradition, or making giant signs that declare undying love.
Before her parents sent her to London to study aged 14, it’s something Peggy saw growing up in South Korea, where K-pop bands have famously manic fan bases that follow their every move. Sometimes, such idol worship can be a good thing—some fans better themselves in order to get into the same university as their heroes and heroines, learn a language or further their photo editing skills for fan fiction purposes—but there’s also a dark side that gives rise to stalkers, unhealthily obsessive behaviour, and worse.
Though Peggy fell into neither of those camps, she admits she grew up wanting to be a singer and does have a lot of celebrity friends back home. She says they believe some people are born to do this; to be in the spotlight and get attention and be on the stage, and that some people prefer to be in the background. “I believe that,” she says, and given how natural she seems in the role, you’d also have to agree.
My agent told me she thinks I’m an alien. She doesn’t understand how I do it. Even if I have time to relax, my mind is working.
She is, however, mindful of the responsibility that comes with her highly visible profile. From the outside in, her life is as glamorous as they come: she’s always dressed in high-level fashion brands now gifted to her. “I get crazy offers of money but I say no because I don’t want to be all of a sudden wearing something that is not me just because I get paid for it. Maybe people can misjudge me through social media and think I’m a bitch or a snob who is arrogant who doesn’t give a fuck about other people,” she says. “But I kind of enjoy it when people see me in person and don’t see me like that.”
Peggy—who American radio station NPR call ‘the Rihanna of house’—reckons her fans are so mad for her because “it’s the inspiration you give to them. People believe they can also be you. They give me the giraffes to show me they know me. They want to feel connected.” As such she tries to balance the undeniably aspirational aspects of her life with the more real elements. “I don’t feel a responsibility,” she says of the 350, 000 people that follow her across Instagram and Facebook. “But I slowly notice people who follow me are inspired by what I do, and if I say ‘eat more fruit’ it’s just that I want to share I’m a fruit person, but at the same time I want to give the message that you should also eat fruit. I’m also trying to share more normal stuff like my favourite record, places to eat, things in my house.”
When asked if she feels pressure to always post, always look perfect, always be happy, she thinks for a moment. “I still get the same butterflies now as when I first started,” she says, adding that since a “wake up call” in 2016 she never has an off day where she can’t be bothered. It was a Wednesday evening in the UK, only 20 people turned up and she was a little disappointed. She played all the same to a crowd of around 20 people, “and they loved it, they went really wild. I realised then it wasn’t about quantity but quality.”
Of course, even ostensibly perfect lifestyles have their darker sides. When I initially called Peggy, she was stressed and really didn’t want to do the interview. She was having a rare music making session so asked to postpone. After hanging up she immediately called back and was unnecessarily apologetic. “I have no time for anything at the moment,” she says, talking quicker than usual and still flustered. “I’m working on something now and have been since yesterday. I don’t get this moment many times, so when I get inspiration I have to make sounds. My life is crazy but I can’t complain.”
People can misjudge me through social media and think I’m a bitch or a snob who is arrogant who doesn’t give a fuck about other people. But I kind of enjoy it when people see me in person and don’t see me like that.
I ask if it seems real. “You know, I’ve always wanted to say this in an interview.” She goes on to talk about the final scene in Kill Bill Volume 2, after Uma Thurman’s character manages to kill Bill. Her baby’s watching TV on the bed, and she is laying out flat on the bathroom floor, laughing and crying at the same time. It’s a post-adrenaline rush release of exhaustion, happiness, sadness, realisation, and reality. “That’s me every day,” Peggy laughs again.
Beyond two or three gigs each and every weekend, Peggy is also in demand in the fashion world. Initially, she wanted to separate music and fashion in order to be taken seriously, but now she’s established, she’s bringing the two back together, even saying that she gets messages from “underground techno DJs” who complement her for doing so. She also still does all her own—frequent—social media posting, and plenty more interviews than most who have reached her level of success. And of course, she also makes music for labels like Ninja Tune, and never has less than impossibly perfect nails.
“My agent told me she thinks I’m an alien. She doesn’t understand how I do it. Even if I have time to relax, my mind is working,” she says. Even looking at her Instagram is tiring: she’s been backstage at Parklife with friend and much hyped fashion designer Virgil Alboh, hanging with the Brazilian Ronaldo in Ibiza, posing in a magnificent dress at a GQ X Browns fashion event in London, dropping hints about a new project in Milan, DJing at Primavera Sound in Spain and having an off-night dance at Panorama Bar, all in just a couple of weeks. It’s fair to say Peggy is a perfect muse for this visual world in which we live. And you actually get the impression she is as naturally flamboyant as her social media suggests, and that, for her, ‘looking normal’ is the hard part.
Had Peggy returned to Korea after passing her fashion course—rather that switching her focus to music and learning how to produce with Highlife’s Esa–her life might have been very different. Korean traditionalists disapprove of enthusiastic fandoms. In the same way, there is a dim view of tattoos (which means she no longer sees one of her cousins because of how strongly they feel on the matter) and Koreans have firm, traditional views about gender roles. But all three of these dated mindsets are being broken by Peggy, who is inked with doodles down both arms, clearly isn’t a reticent stay-at-home character, and sends crowds of thousands wild night after night.
“There are two people always googling my name,” she laughs. “My agent, and my mum.” In fact, her mum became an internet sensation by appearing totally nonplussed in a Facebook video Peggy made to announce ‘Han Jan’, the B side to her biggest hit to date ‘It Makes You Forget (Itgehane)’. But the truth is, “she watches all my Instagram stories, and calls me up to tell me how many new fans I have. That’s her hobby!”
Despite the tough competition, Peggy Gou’s craziest fan might just be her mum.