Up Next with Flora Yin Wong

The London-based artist unpacks the first two releases of her new experimental label and publishing house, Doyenne, for Re-Edition’s music column

Photography by Ciaran Hoogendoorn

Looking for the soundtrack for your next adventure? Be wary of the algorithm and let yourself be guided by the entrancing vibrations of Up Next – Re-Edition’s long-awaited music column – where arts and culture writer Gilda Bruno sits down with some of the most inspiring names on the up-and-coming and established music scene to delve into the inspirations, sounds and dreams of a new avant-garde of musical talents.

Today Bruno speaks with multidisciplinary London artist Flora Yin Wong to get to the bottom of her creative process and gain insights into the vision behind Doyenne: her newly launched experimental music label and printed matter publishing house.

A writer, sound designer, musician, DJ and producer, Flora Yin Wong can do it all.

After bewitching the music community with City God (Purple Tape Pedigree, 2016) – her debut mixtape and club culture-revisited exploration of urban Chinese folk religion – the London-based, Chinese-Malaysian mercurial talent honed her ability to immerse listeners in the most diverging atmospheres with Holy Palm (Modern Love, 2020) and The Sacrifice (First Light Records, 2021): two projects emblematic of Wong’s “porousness” to her surroundings, which she absorbs, dissects and translates into sounds balancing the mystic essence of early instruments, including singing bowls, yangqin and kemence, with the contemporaneity of electronic music.

If Holy Palm transported the public to a universe weaving together the sensory experience of destinations as diverse as Tokyo, Crete and Paris, in the midst of the lockdown, Wong turned to the wilderness of North Wales, exploring its rawness and unveiling its innermost, pulsating energy through her recent EP The Sacrifice. A printed matter enthusiast, in July 2021 the multidisciplinary artist released Liturgy, her debut publication, which is “a journey into the uncanny realm of the senses that dives into histories of perception and intuition”.

With the launch of Doyenne, Wong’s brand-new experimental music label and publishing house, the creative appears to be heralding the start of a new exciting artistic chapter. We talk to her about her multidisciplinary approach to the music world, how “newness” inspires her experimentation, and the manifold inspirations behind 001 and 002, Doyenne’s first two drops.

Re-Edition Magazine: Drawing inspiration from your Chinese-Malaysian background, folklore and mysticism as well as from your detail-oriented observation of the world around you, your work lies at the intersection of electronic music, writing and anthropology. When exactly, and how, did music come into the frame for you, and what led you to it? How did music allow you to tap into other aspects of life that are relevant to you, including the connection between sound, space, memory and heritage?

Flora Yin Wong: As quite a “non-verbal” person, for me, music has always been a means of connecting to my surroundings. Perhaps it’s cliché, but the way I was moved by sound was more immediate and powerful than anything else. The nostalgia [I felt] for each person, which is something at the heart of my early records, played a crucial role in my understanding of themes such as diaspora, heritage and identity.

RE: Think of the way your music has evolved since you first started playing around with it and producing your early mixtapes. What drives your musical experimentation today and what is the vision behind it?

FYW: Most frequently experimenting with new methodologies or instruments, or on a more collective level, going to live shows – especially ones that I might not normally go to – is what I find most inspiring. Frustratingly, if I were to pick a common denominator of what motivates me on a daily basis, that would probably be “newness”: new experiences and places, nature and visual art are what keeps me going both in life and work. I think it’s quite hard to separate music from, say, art or film. Naturally, they intertwine and it’s exciting to be able to play with different formats as a learning experience too.

RE: How does your latest mixed tape, 001, which you developed in collaboration with French-Egyptian artist Susu Laroche as part of your new project, Doyenne, feed into the overarching narrative of your work?

FYW: Doyenne’s first release was a really fulfilling experience. Like with DJing, I’m able to put together work from artists that I really love which I would never be able to make myself. Susu’s music really resonated with me and the artwork from Min Sungsig for the tape was really spot on. The project feeds into a deeper connection to the wider realm of the present, something I have never felt more attached to before. I like the idea of people approaching 001 from a “sense”-focused perspective as I want listeners to really experience it in their own way. I don’t like to describe or define its aesthetic too literally, but I hope the project’s identity comes through when one plays it.

RE: Doyenne is your independent, experimental book publisher and label focusing on new forms, ephemera and the divine feminine. What can you tell us about the journey that brought you to its conceptualisation? What does this platform represent for you and the development of your practice?

FYW: I have always made little zines as a teenager, I was a digital editor at Dazed Magazine for four years and also worked in A&R, so it has been a long-time thought of mine to start something myself. I am hoping for the project to be very communal and open-minded so that each of the artists feels like they can experiment and fully express themselves where they might not have been able to.

Image courtesy of the artist
Photography by CiaranHoogendoorn. Image courtesy of the artist

RE: Titled 002 and set to release later this month, the second Doyenne drop will gather illustrations and poems from you and Susu Laroche alongside contributions from international creatives including Sarah Shin, YL Hooi, Lucinda Chua, Cucina Povera, and more. Comprising original writing and artworks, the book centres around the tradition of “Singing to Spirits”. What is the idea behind this project? Can you give us any anticipations?

FYW: I wanted to attach a curatorial arch to the publications that would have some continuity through each upcoming edition. I found a research paper online about Vietnamese mediumship which fascinated me. This was about reaching spirits in a more literal sense, as well as the “ghosts of things”, like memory or the past, for instance. It made me think about my mother, who is a Cantonese opera singer, and how I always found it funny that in traditional performances during the Hungry Ghost festival in Hong Kong, performers would leave the first row of seats empty for spirits to enjoy the show. Apparently, they’re attracted to the sound, lights and colours.

RE: In recent years, more and more music artists have lent their talent to other creative realms. Whether music, fashion, cinema or art-related, what would be your dream collaboration?

FYW: I would love to collaborate with a patisserie! Something like Yip Studio, Nudake in Seoul, or Dominique Ansel – I’m big into desserts. My friend Marija Bozinovska Jones, one of the contributors of 002, has been making stunning chocolate edibles for her recent work at the Whitechapel Gallery, which we might use for an event this year.

RE: What are your New Year’s resolutions for 2023? What can we expect from you in the future?

FYW: The last 6 months have been really unpredictable – from trying to launch the label from a tropical island, to a last-minute artist residency in an unassuming neighbourhood in Kyoto, a beach festival in Bali and then back to “real life” in London. I am not sure which way I want to go from here, for now, I am just living day by day.

Image courtesy of the artist
Image courtesy of the artist
Image courtesy of the artist
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