Malaysian electro-pop glitter-bomb Ze Rebelle is heading to Perth for two weeks of shows, running around town with TOMAS FORD. They’ll be launching Ford’s new record label Normal Place at Ibis Perth for WAMFest on Friday, November 2, road-trippin’ to Rottnest (November 4) and Geraldton. Ze Rebelle will also be headlining her own show at The Sewing Room on Saturday, November 10. “Most importantly for me, she’s playing a head-to-head live show with me at my birthday party this Saturday, November 3 at The Aardvark,” says Ford. “You’re very invited to all of those. It’s going to be a huge fortnight.” Here in a very special X-Press exclusive, Ford interviews Ze Rebelle because, well, he knows her best.
Ze is a glamorous creature; when our call connects, I find her taking a rare break poolside, sipping fruit juice cocktails in the tropical heat. I, on the other hand, am tapping at my computer in my sweaty Cockburn home office. At the start of our call, I’m jealous of her glamorous aura; but hers is a generous kind of glamour. Five minutes into our chat, I start to feel my inner glittery flashy-boy. Ze tends to bring that out.
You’re touring behind your third album Univerze; I really like this one! It has all the best of the kickass tracks from the last few years but still has its’ own vibe; a bit… I dunno… fluffier… than I Am Glam. Can you tell me a bit about making it and what you were aiming for?
What do you mean by fluffier? I hope that’s a good thing.
Well, yeah. I mean just. I dunno. It’s not as punk as I Am Glam, there’s… it’s… fluffy. Poppy.
I was going through something spiritually, I purposely stopped touring for a while to focus on finishing the tracks with DocOlv, which also somehow gave me the time to explore whatever this thing was going on within me. I wanted the album to reflect the growth for me both as an artist and as a person. I think there’s a kind of calmness, a quiet settling sort of vibe with Univerze – where I can say I’m cool with whoever I am… finally.
Even talking to you now, you’re always out there as a glam icon; what’s it like to do that in a relatively socially conservative country like Malaysia?
Haha! Hmm… I think it makes my job easier. It’s really not that hard to freak the conservatives out, is it? They think I’m purposely trying to create trouble, but to me, I’m just being me. Anyone who has been following my shit all these years would know this and are not surprised. My friends, especially.
We met back at One Movement in 2011. Well, “met” is a strong word; I nervously gave you a CD after your showcase. They ended up canning that event after its’ second year, but it was pretty rad. What was it like for you at the time?
Yeah so sad! I loved the festival, I had fun and met amazing people. I must say, I had the usual impression of Perth before going there. Everyone’s like “it’s boring,” but fortunately I discovered that to not be true at all. I’d been touring with Joachim Garraud at the time and was getting used to supporting him at huge shows of ten thousand people or whatever, so by the time I did One Movement on my own, I was prepared for a bigger venue than I was used to. I made new friends, everyone was so nice and then this mysterious man dressed like a 1950s detective with a hat and all came and passed me a CD. And then disappeared back into the smokey darkness he came from.
That man was Tomás Ford.
Ha! I was awful at networking with people I didn’t know back then. Nowadays I would’ve at least taken you on a tour of the Ugliest Perth Things or to the beach or something. I used to be so paranoid about being such a weirdo. Nowadays, I’m more like “YEAH, I’M WEIRD, HIIII.” I mean, it’s not about to change. You’ve started doing some stuff in Malay over the last couple of years; I love it, the meme-ey stuff is super fun and Bintang is such a lipsynch-into-a-hairbrush jam (see, I told you about my inner glittery flashy-boy). What prompted you to start putting out tracks in Malay?
I’m glad you like Bintang! It’s a special song to me too. I wanted a Malay dance track in the album and I’m glad this song was born. The stupid meme stuff happened by accident, I came up with Kerja, which was the malay cover of Rihanna’s Work and it was fucking stupid really. But I could not get it out of my head, it was haunting me! So I kinda went ahead shot the video for fux, and then suddenly, OMG, one million views. I was like “really, Malaysia? This is what you want?”
Your cover of the cover, was another level. INCEPTION.
Going viral in Malaysia was the most ridiculously fun thing the internet has ever done for me. And that’s even considering that I bought a pair of heelies online a couple of years back…
But the great thing with these silly videos is that, I now discover Malaysia’s not as conservative as we think. While there are those who hate the videos, there are those who love them. There’s no inbetween. So I continue making stuff for those who love my stupid shit, and the rest can stick it.
We’ve been trying to get me to tour Malaysia for about a thousand years now, it’s been so hard to hook up but it’s finally happening in 2019. Do you reckon they’ll get my live show?
Probably not!!! But that’s the beauty of it! I’d pay money just to watch their reaction. On a more serious note, I think you’d be brilliant. Malaysians hate me but love you for some strange reason. I’d say tone it down just enough so you don’t end up in jail.
I remember one night when I stopped through Malaysia, and hung out with you and a couple of other artists, Singapore dancehall artist MA$1A and Malay R&B singer Nadhira at a shochu bar. Awesome night. Are there other artists around that you hang out with or see yourself as in a similar position to?
If you mean in Malaysia, at the moment? Sadly no. I feel so alone! The people I feel connected to artistically are like you, and few others who are a million miles away so we keep in touch online or whenever we get to meet. It’s not easy to find weirdos with whom I feel comfortable enough to create something with, those people are so precious.
I think we’re pretty similar in a lot of ways, like we both make our own music and direct our own videos and make silly memes. Not to mention born just 2 weeks apart. We must have come from the same ma-fuckin’ planet, Tomás. Different spaceships.
I’m a control freak who is still learning to collaborate. You do it all the time and are great at it. Any advice?
You joking? I could say the same. I totally understand the control freak bit, because we have a pretty vivid idea of what we want in our minds. Then we wish we could just do it all ourselves because other people are not gonna get it and then they’ll fuck it up. Which was why I started making my own music videos.
But of course, we can only do so much right? I think for me I needed to learn to be flexible with my ideas. Be open to the possibility of the idea evolving into something better with the input from others. It has definitely helped me make better and better work, because it becomes a learning process.
What’s coming up for you? It seems like there are a few directions you could go in at the moment. Where do you see things heading?
You’re right, and it’s doing my head in. I’ve one more track from Univerze that I’d like to make a video for and then after that, I don’t quite know yet. We’ll see. For now, I’m pretty excited about our tour together! To infinity and beyond!
I am crazy excited, this is going to be the funnest. Speaking of which, I’d better dive back into my emails. These parties aren’t gonna organize themselves.
We hang up and my little sweatbox of a studio looks a bit more inviting. I’m buzzed, we’re going to have a kickass time in Perth. Come to one of these big dumb parties and see the two of us put on our respective weird and glamorous spectaculars.