To say Peggy Gou had a meteoric rise last year would be something of an understatement.
Following on from a grand total of four gigs in 2015, that number skyrocketed to almost 50 in 2016. She’s kind of a big deal.
Currently based in Berlin, with teenage years spent in London, and a childhood in Seoul, South Korea, Gou was first introduced to underground dance music via the work of Roman Flügel. What followed was four years of grinding out her craft, along with some early Ableton tutelage from Highlife’s Esa, all while finishing fashion school.
Her first record, The Art of War EP, was released in January 2016 on REKIDS. That was shortly followed by Day Without Yesterday / Six O Six on Phonica White, and The Art of War (Part II), before we were treated to impressive three-track EP, Seek For Maktoop, on Ninja Tune imprint Technicolour. Her infectious tracks are already drawing heavy playtime from influential selectors like Jackmaster and The Black Madonna.
At the end of a life-changing year, I caught up with Peggy to find out where she’s headed next.
Your most recent EP, Seek for Maktoop, has been out a little while now, did people respond the way you hoped?
I’m so happy with it. The Technicolour guys were thanking me, saying it’s the pinnacle EP for them. And The Black Madonna mentioned my track ‘Gou Talk’ in her Mixmag cover story. I’ve got a lot of great feedback, especially about ‘Gou Talk’, which is my favourite.
Maktoop means destiny, right?
Yeah, but the original spelling is “Maktoob”. I did it as a dedication to my friend who I grew up with in London, the “P” is the first letter of his name. Plus, I like the word, because it also means “written”, so it’s kind of, “everything happens for a reason”.
So do you think music was your destiny?
Of course. When I decided I wanted to do music, I was going to fashion school, but I didn’t want to. I was going to the studio all the time, and going to lessons, making music at home. Even though I had no time, I would still be going to studios saying, “hey, I how do I make these sounds?” So at some point I realised this is what I really want to do.
You’ve spent a lot of time in London, did any of the UK club genres influence you? Garage? Dubstep? Grime?
No, I don’t think so. Most of my influence was from Detroit.
Speaking of Detroit, you’ve mentioned before you’re a big fan of J Dilla. And you’ve been working on some downtempo music recently. Did you listen to a lot of hip-hop growing up in Seoul?
Not in Seoul, when I used to live in London. I grew up in Croydon, so I thought I was “hood”. [Laughs] That was around 2004, when it was still the good hip-hop. I don’t like hip-hop now, except for Kendrick Lamar. When I was growing up it was more Busta Rhymes, Nelly, 50 Cent, Eminem. I remember there was a new Notorious B.I.G. track, after he died, called ‘Nasty Girl’, and that was big in my school. So I’ve always been listening to hip-hop.
Yesterday I was lucky, one of my friends from Switzerland sent me all the J Dilla stuff, because he knows I love him, and J Dilla is… he’s just the man. I don’t even know if there’s any word grand enough for this guy because he’s such a big influence on me.
Dilla is a massive inspiration for a lot of musicians, isn’t he? He was just an artist through and through.
Yeah, for sure. I was doing this thing for Korean TV, introducing music that people from Korea should know but they don’t – because they still go crazy for Steve Aoki and David Guetta. And for one episode, I was introducing J Dilla. After that, I saw a lot of young people in Korea posting about J Dilla saying, “oh, I found this on Peggy’s recommendation”.
You’re making the most of your platform!
I mean, come on, they need to know J Dilla. I see hope in Korea, I think their musical horizons are growing, they’re getting better and better.
The press release for Seek For Maktoop mentions you created it with your MPC3000, and obviously that’s a classic hip-hop machine.
I got it because of Dilla! I was very lucky because it’s a very old machine, on eBay they’re over 3000 euros. But I asked a friend in Korea – because I thought maybe in Korea it would be a little bit cheaper – and he had one. I bought it from him for about half the normal price.
I’m still figuring it out, because there’s a lot of things you can do with this MPC, I’m not a master yet, I’m no Mr. G. When I saw him playing in Glasgow with an MPC3000 and one mixer, I was like, “wow, that’s how you use an MPC.”
There’s quite a close knit community of artists around you in Berlin, I know Daniel Wang lives downstairs. Do you find this impacts your work? Is having a support system with a lot of creative types in the city useful for you?
I think Berlin is a great city for an artist, and it’s very important to have a muse and a mentor. But in the end, it’s all about you. You can ask for help. When I finished my demo, I sent it to so many producer and DJ friends to ask their feedback – but in the end, no matter if someone says “no” or “yeah, I like it”, if you’re satisfied with what you do, that’s what matters.
I mean, I’m lucky I have Daniel downstairs. I remember the very first time I met him, I asked him to teach me engineering, and other things I didn’t know, and he gave me all sorts of tips. But since then, I haven’t seen him for almost 8 months. He’s a very useful neighbour, but those are the only tips he gave me. Since then he’s been helping me build shelves and put up frames!
In Berlin I have a lot of artist friends. Not just musicians, but photographers, artists, painters. And there’s a lot of competition, but it’s chilled – it’s very different to London.
You’re talking about how it has to be about yourself, and what you believe to be good, but are there any producers that you’d like to collaborate with?
I’m up for collaboration in the future, for sure. But I have very, very strong opinions and personality. I don’t want to sound arrogant, but it would be tricky. For example, if I like a sound, and the other guy says, “nah, I don’t like the sound”, then there’d be an argument. I know collaboration is something where you need to let the other artist do their thing too, but I’ve never directly worked with another artist before.
That seems very reasonable, you don’t want to give up your artistic integrity for someone else.
Exactly! And I’m not going to say any names, but there were a lot of artists saying, “let’s do studio time together!” and I didn’t say no, but I didn’t say yes. Maybe one day. I’m trying to make all kinds of music at the moment, and trying to find my own sound, I think I’m getting closer, but I’m still not there yet. I’m not happy with it. Once I know I’m there, I can be a little more open to it.
You get asked a lot about where your music sits on the spectrum of house and techno. Do you think there’s a little too much emphasis placed on categorisation? Should people just take it for what it is?
Yeah, because I don’t even know what my genre is! I get influenced by different things. When I started DJing professionally, I said, “I’m gonna play house, I’m gonna be a house DJ!” but most of the DJs that I look up to, they don’t care about genre, they can play whatever the fuck they want and it fits perfectly. It’s not about genre, it’s about how you play, what you play, and at what time – to take people on a journey. Sometimes DJs will drop hip-hop in the middle of a techno set, and it’s still fucking good. That’s why I like people like Jackmaster and Ben UFO – all the DJs who can play whatever they want.
I heard a mix from Ben UFO and he played a dancehall tune in the middle of a techno set.
He plays everything. I remember my friend saw him and was telling me, “oh, he played a lot of amazing soul, funk, jazz, disco tracks”. It’s the same for my music, I don’t think about genre, until people ask, “what is this?”.
I’ve been trying to practice my set to be able to mix 90bpm to 130bpm all of a sudden – I don’t want to be too safe. I don’t want to be playing 120bpm, and then think “ok, next one is 122”.
I love that stuff, there needs to be more of it!
But at the same time, you can’t just play jazz and then suddenly techno. It needs to be done well, and I think one person who can do that really well is Theo Parrish. He can play soul and then techno, and it’s all good. I think he’s the only person who can really do that, he was incredible when I saw him at Plastic People before it closed. Wow, what he was doing in the booth, I remember thinking, “that’s a DJ right there.”
Seek For Maktoop is out now on Technicolour Records. Order it here.
Images: Inti Ssareaamri
Words: Olly Howard