From Boiler Room to Berghain, singular South Korean artist and DJ sensation, Peggy Gou, is enchanting dance-floors across the globe.
There’s a landslide between Peggy Gou and tonight’s crowd awaiting her at Printworks, but that isn’t going to stop one of the world’s most in demand DJs. In the last few hours, she’s powered through delays, cancellations caused by rocks falling on train tracks and a cross-country car ride to even get close to the south east London venue; a gruelling journey documented with frustration on her Instagram: skull emojis, expletives, vocal apologies.
The 5,000-strong legion of ravers, assembled at the former printing works to celebrate the Smirnoff Equalising Music project, stretches back through the cavernous main room. In the industrial press hall, dancers move as one rowdy organism, tentacles wrapping around the factory spires to the beats of Honey Dijon, Black Madonna and Artwork. The Black Madonna charges on across Peggy’s slot and her own with a pummelling set.
Just as the night meets its ravey impetus, Peggy darts onstage to familiar football style chants of: ‘Peggy, Peggy, Peggy fucking Gou!’ Over the crowd’s roars, Peggy dynamos between spacey techno and blistering acid, strung out disco and her percolating productions. The fat bassline creeps in for her remix of Shakedown’s “At Night”, distorting the party track teasingly—while sneakers are hoisted above heads in a personal fan salute (Peggy Gou = Peggy Shoe). Peggy moves lithely, beaming at those gathered onstage and the wild response in front of the decks that looks like it goes miles back.
“A damn landslide,” she says exasperatedly when we meet a week later in the Berlin branch of Soho House. Since her set at Printworks the South Korean DJ has played LA and Milan before returning to her transplanted city. I get a damp, genuine hug, the rain beating brutally outside on grey Berlin. “And you brought the weather with you!”
Peggy quickly orchestrates a scene for our interview at the back of the cafe, a hangout she can be found inhabiting regularly with pal and fellow DJ, Honey Dijon. Staff and patrons greet her warmly as she glides through, ordering herbal tea and avocado on toast, shedding her long camel coat as she walks to reveal a black Supreme boiler suit and the new UNDERCOVER x Nike React trainers. Settling into a sofa, she picks up my dictaphone like a mic, her nails done in turquoise, gold and ruby red wallpaper patterns: “I’m ready!” she grins.
Missing a gig or having plans go awry just doesn’t fit with Peggy’s juggernaut journey. In the last year, she’s toured relentlessly from Ibiza to Iceland, collabed with Louis Vuitton and Off-White, pushed her production skills and released the enchanting Once; an EP that elasticates house music to make galactic, textured soundscapes, marking a major career step and critic-assured moment. “It Makes You Forget (Itgehene)” is a pure ode to the good night out and Peggy’s first foray into singing, her vocals a deftly used instrumental layer among shimmering synths and Dee-Lite-like grooves. “Han Jan” recalls the funk of Matronix and deep beats of Kerri Chandler, while forward-facing and playful.
Despite the acclaim, Peggy is keen to push herself to be more pioneering. “I may have found a signature sound, something that everyone so far has liked, but I want to be as eclectic as possible,” she affirms. “Same thing with my DJing, with how I dress up, dance, do my thing. Sticking to one thing for me is boring. But if I’m putting my name on something you’re guaranteed to get my best. I’m good at realising if I’m shit, I quit,” she says, slicing the air with her hands.
Far from shit, and mini environmental disasters aside, 2018 has truly been the year of the Gou, just a few years on from first exiting her fashion course at the London College of Fashion to get laser-focused on music. Her first introduction to electronic music was in “posh central London clubs” as a fresher—“short dresses, fake Louis Vuitton, EDM music,” she laughs. “I was going to be with friends and see boys, but I began hearing deep house for the first time. Your body moves automatically, entranced. I had this energy that was fizzing in me since I first got my ID and began clubbing. I really knew I was born to do this.”
That electrifying drive is reflected in person—Peggy is compelling and quick, speaking with her whole body. It’s an energy that helped her move to Berlin to work in a record shop, digging through vinyl to further her knowledge, continually asking her colleagues questions about the craft. Back then she would send her tracks to analogue aficionados Juju & Jordash, French producer DJ Gregory, and Gerd Janson, with the goal of getting on Janson’s Running Back label. Wetransfers would expire, emails go unanswered, and rejections rolled in. “They would say ‘I’m impressed, but we don’t know what to do with it’, or ‘it’s not quite there’,” she puts both elbows on her knees and leans forward, “I was just sad and a bit scared about where I was going, but more than anything the ‘no’s pull a trigger inside me.”
Breaks did come and the dam broke, with releases on dance music forefront labels like Rekids, Phonica White, and Technicolour. “Like me! Like you! Like all of us!” she spoke with spirit on 2016’s “Rose”, a blossoming self proclamation of charisma and sensuality. Her flamboyant “Gou Talk”, with its slinky bassline, was spun by selectors from Moxie to B Traits.
“Berlin has been a game-changer for me,” she says with conviction. “I truly began to understand techno here.” Not that you’ll catch her in the archetypal minimal-Berlin-DJ garb. Her sense of fashion makes her an Instagram must-follow, mixing Louis Vuitton and Calvin Klein with Supreme and Nike, silky floral shirts and rapid-drop sneakers. One shot where she wears a full LV look inspired a viral meme—about international student’s commitment to style no matter what time class is at—that she finds hilarious. She wasn’t always so sure of committing to that self expression, having gone through a phase of attempting to dress more simply to blend in with “serious” DJs—ultimately though: “fashion is a part of me and always will be”.
Peggy lives just around the corner from Berghain, and although she’s clubbing less now, she would find herself in the same spot—“Peggy’s zone”—on the infamous dancefloor every Sunday, even changing a flight once to stay for disco hero DJ Harvey. Remembering her first Berghain experience, she first thought it wasn’t for her. “I have low blood pressure, and I fainted on the bar! My brother would say, ‘you’re very good at making other people’s blood pressure high, but yours…’” she laughs. Getting over that Berghain blip, she asserted that she’d be the first Korean woman to play the legendary club, and within the year she did.
"It Makes You Forget (Itgehane)" by Peggy Gou
Her family, who live in Incheon, near Seoul, were initially dismayed by her move from fashion—already a leftfield choice—to music, from Korea to London, back to Korea and to Berlin. “They were worried,” she says. “They would ask ‘why do you have to go out at 2:00 AM and come back at 6:00 AM? It’s smokey, the air is not good!’ But they never stopped me, they couldn’t.”
Glance at Peggy’s Instagram and you’ll see her mother in her studio, or nodding her head to her daughter’s bangers in a car. At Lost Village festival Peggy met London producer Four Tet’s mother backstage, and eating her homemade cookies made it her mission to bring her own parents to shows. “My vibe is different when things with my parents are good,” she says warmly. “It’s helped with the pressure. My parent’s hobby is Googling my name!”
She’s proud of her heritage, and it pulsates through her music. She’s currently learning the gayageum, a traditional Korean instrument, to incorporate into new songs and her future live show. “I’ve always loved it, I used to sample the gayageum from old YouTube rips. My teacher says I’m super quick, and it’s something I’m really passionate about keeping up.”
“I’m sampling less because I’m more confident in my sound. Singing in Korean has become my favourite thing. I love that someone from London, or Berlin, or Belfast [gesturing to me, an Irish journalist, with a big smile] can enjoy Korean sounds.”
Repping her heritage draws an inevitable Asian fandom wherever she goes. “It makes me smile seeing Asian people dancing at the front, I love having that connection”. Peggy hopes to collaborate with other Asian artists she respects to show how they take up space, like Seoul-born, New-York based musician Yaeji. In Korea, more conservative values around gender, sex and job security prevail, and Peggy has seen friends forced into unsatisfying lifestyles as a result. “I want to show people, Asian people, you can do you! You don’t have to live a reality your parents or anyone else wants you to live, you can make your own.”
Peggy’s loyal fanbase have also been getting more creative, developing ever inventive ways to show their appreciation. “I could never ignore the shoe thing! I could sleep for two hours and that’s what charges my battery.” She appreciates all the giraffe-themed gifts—her favourite animal—and the name puns: ‘Wake me up before you Gou Gou’, ‘We believe in Gou’. “It’s Gou vibes only from my fans!” her bright laughter explodes through the cafe, ringing louder when we talk about the boys drinking out of their trainers at her Dekmantel Boiler Room—“maybe too Gou vibes there,” Peggy laughs.
As with any public figure, Peggy has been on the receiving end of vitriol. “I check the comments,“ she confesses, swiping the air like a bad timeline. “I get a lot of shit, I used to focus on it. I would play directly to the person who wasn’t dancing. But you know what? If I ever have to change, it will be for myself and no one else. My dad says not everyone can like you or be interested in you. I have a thick skin now, you have to to be a DJ.”
Earlier this year, Peggy’s boyfriend, Scottish DJ Jackmaster, admitted to “lewd” behaviour and harassment towards staff members at Bristol’s Love Saves the Day festival, apologising for “abusive” and “inappropriate” conduct, where he attempted to kiss and grab people working onsite. His statement alluded to struggles with “substance abuse”, particularly the party drug GHB. “Although I don’t recognise the person recounted to me, I alone take full responsibility for my actions and the effect on those involved,” he said at the time.
Months on, Peggy feels ready to speak candidly about a time when she felt hurt, angry, and unsure of who to look to for support. “As his partner, I feel bad about what happened—he did a terrible thing, he let people down. I want people to know he’s very sorry. I’m his partner and I stand by him. He learned a big lesson. All I can say is he wants to make everything right. He’s not drinking, he’s making an effort to change.”
Peggy explains that while many of their friends have been present as they work through things, others she feels have shut them out. “When you care about someone you should reach out and ask what happened, you don’t use someone’s failure to make yourself feel better. People shouldn’t turn their backs.”
While standing by Jack, she believes the onus is not on her to answer for his issues or actions. His behaviour and the subsequent fallout encroaches on her career (and even this very interview). “And why am I being made to answer for it?” she asks. Peggy agrees though that as an industry figure, as a human being that stands for what’s right, and as a woman, people look to her. “I don’t want to sound defensive, or take away from anything. But my statement is very clear, I didn’t do this.”
On her own path, 2019 is about focusing on her debut full-length release, kickstarting her label Gudu, and Kirin, a women’s streetwear line that will branch into unisex clothing. It’s also about listening to her body, gymming, getting her bad back sorted and curating vitamins for everyone around her—I get a recommendation, and a Berlin pharmacy to hit up. There’ll probably be more tattoos too, the most recent of her 40-plus collection being a man playing pool, one pot in sight.
Peggy too has her eye on the ultimate artistic dream—creative autonomy: “I want to be my own boss no matter what I’m doing”, whether producing, signing artists she respects, or having people wear her clothes. She seeks out inspiration everywhere, grabbing an issue of women’s mag Riposte, leafing through a Ren Hang photo-book and browsing the pamphlets in the Soho bookshop before we part.
Passing on her creative curiosity and pure self-assuredness is vital. As part of the Smirnoff Equalising Music project, Peggy mentors two women—Alexis and Faye—and advised them to simply question everything, have only one tequila before playing, and listen to your own tastes and personal path, rather than the haters or hangers-on.
“I’m very ambitious—I have so many post-its on my wall, not even half my list is done,” she says, speaking in a lower, serious tone. “I’m grateful for all I’ve got to do—some I believe are a gift from my parents, the God I believe in, and my own ambition.” Whatever those post-its say, whatever Gou puns glitter in the crowd or how her bouncy vocals jangle dance-floors, Peggy has a galaxy-dominating plan.