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Dazed Day Out – felicita
Photography Chester Mckee, Make-up @circusgirl03

Enter the funhouse: clowning around with felicita

We catch up with the PC Music artist ahead of their album Spalarkle to discuss clowns, creating new worlds and making psychedelic pop for a new generation

Every year, clowns from far and wide gather in All Saints Church in east London for the annual Grimaldi memorial service after Joseph Grimaldi, who is widely recognised as the inventor of the modern clown. It’s a rainy afternoon in March when felicita and I arrive at the church to pay our respects. We’re a month late but this doesn’t stop us from getting into full clown gear for the occasion. Red noses in check, we make our way through the gothic gates and into the church, where rows of clown-faced eggs adorn the walls. “I’m not so much interested in clowns as a comedy motif but rather: what is the clown trying to do and how does it get there?” begins felicita. They point to a quote by French master clown Philippe Gaulier, who speaks of beauty as anything caught in the act of freedom or spontaneity. “It’s really appealing to me because it takes the idea of beauty out of anything that is predefined or visual,” he elaborates. “Beauty as a verb as opposed to an adjective or a noun.”

For felicita, clowning is about the unravelling of a fixed identity into something more freeing and spontaneous. An artist who thrives on experimentation, whose music suspends all notion of reality with unconventional production and zany wordplay, her output eschews the boundaries of pop music, propelling listeners into a magical-realist environment where signs and signifiers dissolve into digital disarray. In the music video for “Spalarkle”, the lead single off their upcoming album of the same name, the London artist delves into a woozy otherworld of clowns and merry-go-rounds. Directed by Japanese filmmaker Umi Ishihara, and featuring vocals by frequent collaborator Caroline Polachek, the track fizzles with psychedelic guitar riffs, while the words “Alys! Vanish!” are repeated like automated mantras flashing up on a desktop screen.

“I've always been into wordplay, and neologisms, and creating new words to try and describe feelings. But language is often insufficient, or doesn’t feel quite enough to really express what you might be feeling or what music might be able to express,” he explains. “I was searching for a name for a long time and Spalarkle connects sparkle and it contains a lot of words, but it’s a brand new word. I wanted a word which expressed a feeling of the album, but everything else felt too familiar, any word that already existed felt too familiar, or full of associations that existed from elsewhere. I like the idea of there being a brand new word for a brand new album.”

The London-based artist’s freeform approach extends beyond their radioactive sound and into the everyday. Building on their experience as an intercultural and bilingual artist – they were raised in south London and studied Chinese at SOAS in Beijing, before moving to Shanghai – they take an experimental approach to language.. “Maybe the thing about language is that it will never be enough and so having to go further into language to play with them and do something to it, like making new words,” they explain. This also translates into their gender identity – they go by the pronouns he, she and they, and request that this article uses them interchangeably.

While not hailing from a formal music background, felicita came up as part of the original wave of PC Music alongside the likes of AG Cook, SOPHIE and Hannah Diamond, back when the label was still a group of loosely affiliated young producers and DJs in the same scene, bound by their love of unusual and futuristic pop music. “I’ve zoned in and out of it,” felicita confesses, reflecting on the label’s ten-year legacy. “There have been periods where I’ve been tightly bound to it – for example, I was working with SOPHIE and Alex [Cook] a lot, and I used to share a studio with Danny [L Harle]. There was a particular moment in London where a few people just clicked. It was very naive, it escalated beyond my expectations.”

He attributes a lot of the album’s techiness to those early days of logged-on experimentation, but also their time spent living in Shanghai, where they immersed themselves in the city’s buzzing creative scene. “There was a lot going on in Shanghai at the time, just before the pandemic. There was this really energetic, really ambitious art scene; a collective of DJs, 3D designers, game designers, and experimental artists all working loosely together and putting on parties and nights,” she explains. Having written the first half of the album in Shanghai, it was moving back to London that ignited a deeper appreciation for the whimsy of British songwriting, in particular 60s and 70s psychedelia by the likes of Syd Barrett.

With Spalarkle, felicita wants to reimagine what psychedelia sounds like for a new generation. Moving beyond the tie dye and flower crowns symptomatic of the first wave, she takes the surrealism of psychedelia and combines them with avant-pop tendencies to create a sonic funhouse, where sounds spring and spoing and collapse inwards, and where unexpected juxtapositions are in a constant state of woozy entropy.

For an artist whose 2018 album hej! included a Polish folk poem about cannibal sugar dolls, felicita’s boundaryless output is hardly surprising. Their artistry extends beyond music into performance and improv, with concept-led projects that provoke and challenge any traditional song structures. As we clown about the church, a chaplin comes in and tells us our time is up, and we find ourselves standing on the street corner, our clown gear still intact. The sun’s come out and we take off our noses, returning back to our human skins as we reflect on the crazy trip we just had.

Spalarkle is out May 5