The Summer Issue of the Subbacultcha quarterly magazine is out now
It’s a cloudy Thursday afternoon as I meet mobilegirl at the Five Elephant café in Berlin’s Kreuzberg. The long-haired artist shows up wearing all black and greets me with a friendly hug. Bao strikes me as a quiet person with integrity and self-contained character. She shares her name with a character from the Facebook stickers collection, which shows her as a playful digital native. The young DJ and producer from Munich has been rising to fame thanks to her eclectic sets, R&B edits and remixes on Montevideo’s Salviatek and Stockholm-based Staycore. The Swedish label has been making waves with a new dynamic clique of talented producers including Toxe, KABLAM and Mechatok. The array of mobilegirl’s inspirations is as hard to predict as the results of a search on Google. Her recent appearances on Boiler Room and at CTM Festival suggest that mobilegirl is bound to blow up very soon with an independent profile of her own. For our interview we take a seat outside despite the chilly temperature and talk shop over coffee, croissants and delicious passionfruit cake.
You play a wide range of genres from around the world including dancehall, reggaeton and even trance. You’ve also made subversive edits of R&B divas like Brandy and J.Lo. What influenced you as a listener?
I grew up mostly with R&B. My cousin was my main source of inspiration. When I went to her place I would always check out her playlists. It was stuff like J.Lo and Ashanti and until this day I’m in love with that music. I guess I’m still stuck in that time – late 1990s, early 2000s. Later in my teens I started listening to a lot of commercial music – well, like a typical teenager [Laughs]. Eventually I got into the more experimental regions. I was super into M.I.A. Do you know her mixtape Vicki Leekx?
M.I.A. is huge. I know Nguzunguzu co-produced Vicki Leekx.
Exactly. So I really loved this mixtape and I saw Nguzunguzu on the artwork and thought, What the hell is this? Then I looked them up and started discovering this whole scene on my own. In my teens I didn’t have anyone to show me things. I also wasn’t really into music early on. I started producing in late 2014.
How did you first come in contact with the Staycore crew?
With Dinamarca and Ghazal who run the label, it was via SoundCloud. I just started making music and came across the first Staycore mix, I really liked it and thought, This is the sort of thing that I really want to be part of. Then we sent each other stuff. They were super friendly and just took me on board. We met in Stockholm in May 2015 at a release party for the SUMMER JAMS 2K15 compilation. I also met Tove [Toxe] through SoundCloud. Timur [Mechatok] is a long-time friend of mine. We both grew up in Munich and we’re super close. I suggested Timur to Staycore but he’s super talented so there was no way they wouldn’t want to work with him.
I’ve noticed that you and the other members of Staycore all wear the same necklace. What’s the story behind this symbol? It makes you look like an underground society.
Ha ha, yeah. I think it’s a tribal sun – it represents our core and symbolises our connection. I found it in my mailbox one day last autumn with a note from Ghazal saying something like, ‘Here is a little something for u. We all have one now.’ I wear it as often as possible but it also has to compete with my J.Lo pendant so… [Laughs].
‘We wanted to break out from an online idea into real nightlife’
You’re also a member of Sister, an online platform and mix series founded by Toxe to promote women in underground music. Recently you also threw your first all-female lineup party in Berlin.
The idea behind Sister is to support female-identified individuals in electronic music. I’m usually not a huge fan of anything that’s non-organically separatist – consciously organised as this group is – but if it creates opportunities and a safer space for someone, I guess it serves a good purpose. I’m saying ‘safer’ and not ‘safe’ because if you huddle together people from a variety of backgrounds, you’ll always have different opinions and will probably feel insulted at some point. I feel like that’s something people tend to forget. As for the Sister party, it was initiated by Linnéa. We put together a lineup of group members we know who live in Berlin. This ended up being Linnéa, Ziúr, Dis Fig and me. We wanted to break out from an online idea into real nightlife. We’d love to repeat this all over the world. I don’t think there’s anything like that happening right now. An international club night that isn’t corporate? There are crews like Janus throwing huge parties in different countries but the key difference with the Sister series is that each time different people would be in charge – giving them a chance to showcase unique local talent. It’s all about representation.
Your comment on insults in the Sister group sounded like a warning. Do you often encounter conflicts even within this ‘safe’ environment? Are female producers more judgmental towards each other than men?
This is by no means a warning. That would imply I am suggesting that you stay away from this kind of environment. I talked about this with a couple of friends recently so it kind of blurted out. What I’m trying to say is: it’s very idealistic to believe that you can create a completely safe space that serves more than one person. I feel like what’s missing a lot is an understanding that people do come from very different backgrounds and sometimes it just requires conversation to sympathise with each other. It’s become too easy to shut out everyone who is not similar enough to you, making your comfort zone much smaller, and thus the frustration much bigger when you encounter a conflict. And yes, I believe women particularly are taught to judge each other more harshly and see each other as competition while men tend to support each other. With them it feels like this ‘passing on your wealth to your first son’ type of mentality; although the problem is more that women are more likely to get judged by both men and women. It takes a lot more work and assertiveness for them to be taken seriously.
What do you get up to when you’re not busy making music?
I think most of the time I write websites.
Do you enjoy it?
Yeah, it’s fun – ‘fun’ as in interesting – and it’s super rewarding. I really like things that you can finish and then feel good about. You have a proper result and it works or not. For me it’s very contrary to the process of making music. Coding is very task-oriented. When I make music, when do I stop? How do I structure the process at all? I don’t have a very clear approach to producing. I mostly start with a melody but from then on it’s really whatever. Of course you can have a structural approach, too, even a pattern. When I write code for a website I don’t sit and spend most of my time thinking about whether I should add a photo of a puffer fish on the left part of the menu bar or not. Regarding usability it’s supposed to be there or, in this case, it most probably isn’t.
What do you have in the works right now?
A couple of tracks. I’m really slow but I want to release an EP on Staycore. They’ve been asking me if I still want to release at all. I kept myself too busy with other things but I definitely want to publish some new stuff. I just needed some time to get to know what I really want to do. The scene gave me attention right from the start so I missed out on the quiet exploration phase to figure out where I want to go soundwise. Spring got me really motivated to work on my productions.
In one of the pictures here you’re playing with a cat. Can you tell us about him?
His name is Mofo, he’s the best cat on this planet, you should follow him on Instagram
Ha-ha, nice. Will do.
mobilegirl headlines at our 10 Years of Losing Our Edge Party // Celebrating Subbacultcha Magazine at Garage Noord, Amsterdam on Friday, 14 September.