Misty Rabbit greets me cheerily for someone who has been out the night before. “I got into this conversation with Peter Saville about Factory Records. It was so interesting. He has basically revamped Manchester – all he did was set up a music festival and give the city a motto,” she says with a massive smile before settling her tiny frame into an oversized chair in the airy Kilburn flat she shares with her boyfriend when she’s in London.
Residing mostly in Paris, Misty, whose real name is Mimi Xu, is well known on the fashion circuit for her f-row-shaking catwalk soundtracks, as well as working the international club circuit, publishing a music magazine and scoring films. “I still find time to go out and party, though,” she adds, while simultaneously drinking a sparkling water and scanning through several emails that appear with a subdued ding.
Xu and her family followed her father’s career as a sound architect around the world – she was raised mainly in Paris, but there were spells in Shanghai and Copenhagen, before a spell in Australia led her into the word of music.
I feel that everyone’s a DJ these days, but you’re so much more that just a DJ, aren’t you?
“Yes, you’re right. I love DJ-ing. But everyone now, even my grandmother, can DJ. I’m old school, I play vinyl, I play CDs, I beat match. But now I kind of feel embarrassed to say I’m a DJ. I studied classical music, you know, but it has crippled my creativity. I wish I’d learned jazz because it teaches you to think freely – you have to make up your own scales and improvise. With classical music you have to do what the composer wants you to do.”
Why did you never want to be a musician?
“I guess I never wanted to be a musician because there are so many better ones than me out there. I’ve started to score little films, though, because many people don’t have the budget to pay to licence another track, so I’ve been pushed to make my own music, finally. I never wanted to be a DJ, I fell into it by accident. I was living in Australia and my – now ex – boyfriend ran the label Modular, so he had a great record collection and decks at home. So I’d muck around on them, play my favourite records to my friends, and then, when I moved back to Paris, I’d play a few nights at a few clubs and people would ask me to DJ at their parties and then eventually it just became what I did.”
Do you find it harder being a woman? I know it’s definitely one area where there’s still very much a glass ceiling.
“Yes, it’s so much harder. You have to be better than the boys. I play a lot of techno and mini festivals, and you just have to be better than them. You have to be. I also publish a nerdy music magazine called Trax [in France]. There are no other women on the team and I find it hard sometimes to be taken seriously. And I’m the publisher! But as a woman, yes, you are forced to be good. Some producers can’t DJ, but they get gigs anyway – that’s how they make money.”
I guess you have to just put yourself out there, don’t you?
“I had this conversation with Nile Rodgers once. I asked him how he knew a song was finished. And he said, ‘You can work on something forever, dribble on and on with it. You have to say, “You know what, this is finished” and put it out there. If it’s shit, just do another one.’ If you don’t try, you’ll never know. So yeah, you just have to go for it.”
I know you still DJ from vinyl, but how do you work that when you’ve had a few drinks behind the decks?
“Oh my God, I always get so drunk when I DJ. All my records are classified by bpm [beats per minute] with big coloured dots. It’s a lot of preparation before, but when I’m really drunk I know that I can put that coloured dot on after that dot and then the music won’t go from 135bpm to 100bpm… The worst I’ve ever done was reach over the decks to get a bottle off someone and pressed the pause button with the edge of my shirt. I was like, ‘Why is there no music?’ and, of course, I was oblivious to the fact that I’d switched it off myself. Making those silly mistakes is much more fun than watching someone DJ off a computer or an iPod. DJ-ing live, you can be so much more spontaneous and responsive to the crowd, rather than just having an entire set prepared on a computer programme. I don’t really go out if I don’t like the DJ – if I go to a fashion party and I see an It girl DJ-ing off an iPod, I cringe.
”What’s your creative method when working on catwalk soundtracks? I know that designer briefs can be, um, interesting…
“Yeah, it can be a pain in the arse. You have to understand the needs of the designer. It’s their vision of ‘their person’, so you can’t always use the tracks that you’d want to, but that’s the way. I find that, often, designers don’t know how to describe music, so I’ll get sent a disco track for reference, but they don’t want to use disco on the show music, they want something atmospheric and electronic. But as a music person you have all these references in your head – if someone said 1990s Jil Sander, I’d think DJ Hell, because he did her show music in the 1990s, but that doesn’t always fit with the brief, so you have to really read into it, really read between the lines. Usually I am always proud of my soundtrack but sometimes you have to detach yourself. The easiest is working with people you know well. Topshop was really easy, because I got on with the team so well and so quickly. Richard Nicoll, as well, was great to collaborate with, and Mary Katrantzou loves music so she always has a great idea of what she wants.
Do you like the pressure of cueing the girls at the show?
“Yeah, it’s part of it. I always make sure I’m the one that’s calling the show. I got someone else to do it once and it was a disaster. I feel like I have to control everything, otherwise it will go to the shit. They might fade out at the wrong time, when the song is still interesting, or bring the finale in at the wrong time, and for me it’s all in those little details. A good soundtrack can make a boring show interesting and a shit soundtrack can make a good show naff; it’s really important. I studied fashion journalism, and when I went to shows the music was always the most exciting part. Sadly now, it’s dominated by the same two guys, but I do think that there needs to be someone fresh coming through. I did seven shows last season, which was great. But I was really exhausted.”
Aside from music, how else do you spend your time?
“Food. Me and my boyfriend love food. We spend days talking about food, thinking about restaurants and cooking at home. We love it. We have friends who work in music, too, but we only ever talk to them about food. I love it. When I travel I always make sure I ask what the food’s like – I wouldn’t want to go anywhere that didn’t serve good food.”
Where do you see yourself in the future?
“I don’t know, maybe I’ll open a restaurant! I think I am going to be more and more into scoring films. I’ve done a few films with SHOWstudio and I really, really enjoyed it. I’d love to do more abstract films and indie films. I don’t think I want to get into advertising – it’s a hard place to be in. I don’t have a vision of exactly what I want to do, but I know it’s always going to be in music. It could be with my magazine or with making my own music, and probably still DJ-ing a little bit, maybe set up my own studio. I don’t think music has to be one thing – it can be so many things that all feed each other. It’s constantly shifting. I try to have the discipline to listen to new music, all different genres. You can start a day listen to German new wave and wind up listening to African dance. There’s a whole world out there.”
Text Hanna Hanra