It is the Sunday after KUOKO’s performance at the Berlin Pop Kultur Festival. I meet the artist at 1pm in a local Neukölln café. Dressed in a black leather coat, bright orange earrings, and dyed tips, the artist neatly fades into the crowd of edgy Berliners. Speaking to the young musician and producer over a cup of coffee, feels like hanging out with a friend. Regardless of the tiredness the last night in Berlin left, she is up for jokes and answers my questions with sincerity and light-heartedness.
The featured song, Perfect Girl, is lifted off KUOKO‘s forthcoming self-titled debut album. “I’m too busy unlearning the shit that you taught me”, she sings over the pulsating beat. At the festival, the artist with a knack for electronic music production performed part of her set with just a guitar. Playing in a stripped back setting forced her to take the songs back to their emotional root. “It felt more fragile”, KUOKO says the day after. But even in the fragility she allowed on stage, her songs are powerful. Each song on the record has a political message and is feminist at its core.
A Fight for Visibility
Being a female producer, KUOKO gets confronted with a lot of misogyny in the industry and is constantly underestimated. “At first, I used to treat the fact that I produce everything on my own as something given. I did not want that to be in focus. But I noticed that it got doubted time after time, so now I do want to call attention to that. I am a woman in the music industry, and I produce my own work. It’s a fight for visibility. It shouldn’t be a surprise that women produce as well.”
And KUOKO does well calling more attention to that fact. The intricate production style of the songs, between electronic, indie, and pop, shows her talent. As a self-taught artist and musician, she gathered all her skills on online platforms and learning from others. “Producing music is something very solitary”, she laughs. “I don’t really feel like I am part of a certain music scene in Hamburg, but I do know a lot of artists from various disciplines.”
Regardless of the solitary aspect of music production, KUOKO sought out creative collaborations on her forthcoming record. The track Strong Girls Don’t Cry features Berlin-based artist Douniah and she joined the video collective SEOI for the music videos to 2020s Floating and the more recent Perfect Girl and Yellow Fever Gaze. “Yellow Fever Gaze has a very serious message at core. The topic might be depressing but with the in-your-face kind of video, I wanted to highlight the empowering aspect of the track. It’s not just depressing but it is also a battle call that me, and the girls I am performing with, are shouting.”
“I’m not exotic, I am just tired. You got that look on your face. Stay away, stay away, stay away with your yellow fever gaze.”
Shooting the video was an empowering experience, the musician says. “At some point, I got the feeling that if I don’t speak up about these issues, they will never disappear. I feel the need to confront a lot of things now and that is great. It feels really empowering.” Releasing music that deals with topics the artist experiences personally, like the misogyny in the music industry, patriarchal structures, as well as the fetishization of Asian women that she speaks up against on Yellow Fever Gaze, let’s her reclaim stories that have too often been told from white male perspectives.
“I’m not your fierce dragon lady nor your seductive little lotus blossom baby.”
Forming collectives and speaking up about issues that matter, makes KUOKO an artist inspiring beyond her musical output. Yet, it is exactly that in which she condenses her thoughts and emotions. Perfect Girl is an outcry against the norms put onto women by patriarchal society and Cybercreeping sees her exploring the depths of social media with the only outcome being a toxic one.
“Got a pain in my stomach, got a pain in my chest when I think about the dirt you made me ingest”, KUOKO sings on Perfect Girl. The song is about unlearning and freeing oneself from the stereotypes and expectations women face. The single unfolds over a stripped back beat. With a sensibility for subtly driving the track’s melody forward, KUOKO composed a beat the gently pulsates underneath the lyrics carrying them along like a raft on water.
Unlearning and Learning
The video to Perfect Girl was produced and edited by the Film Collective SEOI and follows in the line of collaboration between the musician and the group of visual artists and videographers. It shows a dancer, lit in different colors, dancing against the backdrop of a purely black room. As if dancing in an empty space, a vacuum, the dancer moves and twists, exploring the body’s resonance in a vacant space. It might as well be a metaphor for the unlearning and self-exploration, KUOKO encourages in the song. The emptiness of the video illuminates the craving for an empty space that blacks out all the stereotypes and expectations. “Music videos are like extensions of the songs,” KUOKO says.
“When it comes to music, collaborating still feels new and a little outside of my comfort zone. I learned everything on my own and I learned how to follow my instincts. Now I want to learn how to put that to use in musical collaborations with other artists as well.”
Confrontation and Empowerment
Perfect Girl and Yellow Fever Gaze, like most of KUOKO’s work, are politically charged. The lyrics are feminist at core and fight against patriarchal stereotypes. Speaking up is not always easy, but necessary. “Anyone who speaks up, exposes themselves to attacks”, the artist says. “But you also have to say, what you gotta say”, she says. Sometimes you have to make yourself vulnerable, to turn whatever it is that makes you vulnerable into a strength because if you never speak up, it will never change.
KUOKO is quite the force of nature. Without making a big deal out of it, she produces her music herself, edits her own videos and speaks out against misogyny and stereotypes. Her debut record combines personal narratives with political messages, electronic production with warm vocals, and is an accumulation of what KUOKO stands for.
Join the artist at the release show at Hamburg’s Molotow on the 27th of October.
All photos by Liv Toerkell for NBHAP.
Clothing by AGE.
The self-titled KUOKO debut is out 22nd of October via Kabul Fire Records. The freshly released funky Erobique rework of Perfect Girl is streaming right now on top of our LISTEN AHEAD playlist.
Interested in the best yet still way too unknown music? Awesome! Because every Monday you’re favourite music blog is updating its 50-track-strong Listen AHEAD Playlist on Spotify as we add ten strong songs by fresh artists on top of it. And you are happily invited to follow the playlist over on Spotify and give these new talents a spin. They surely deserve it.
This week’s picks include brand new music from artists like EXES, Dora Jar, LIN, Murdo Mitchell and Clara Pazzini who we also introduced to you in a separate feature story the other week. Come and hit the play button.