How dolltr!ck’s Claire Marie Lim is Bringing Electronic Music Education to New York’s Asian-American Youth
What’s the end-game for most electronic musicians? For many, it might be playing the big stage at Coachella, or having millions of people follow you on Twitter. After all, that’s the modern benchmark of musical success, right?
However, New York-via-Singapore electronic musician Claire Marie Lim has a different vision for her future. As a full-time music technologist, Lim’s version of “making it” includes empowering young women (especially Asian women) to take the stage for themselves in a proportionally male-dominated industry. As an outspoken advocate for diversity in the electronic music scene, she’s already helped foster the development of a new generation of music lovers by DJing for Grammy-nominated children’s hip-hop group Alphabet Rockers. She has also worked with organizations like Beats By Girlz, SisterSMATR, Girls Rock Campaign, and Women in Music in the hopes of inspiring others to find their own unique voices as musicians.
But all of this seems to be building up for her latest long-term project, “Colors of Us”–a jointly-produced musical showcase between herself and local young talent in Queens. It’s a project that both pushes the limit of Lim’s own production skills as well as her teaching skills. Largely funded by the Queens Council on the Arts, “Colors of Us” is an exceptionally ambitious project considering that she’s culling together so many musical perspectives in order to form a cohesive album. Although the project isn’t set for release until late summer/early fall, it’s one that we’re excited to hear more about as it develops.
However, that’s not to say that Lim doesn’t pursue her own music on top of that. Performing under the alias dolltr!ck (exclamation mark included), Lim also has her own new music lined up for release in the upcoming months. If the work that she’s posted so far is any indication, we’re due for a treat. On 2017’s “Dream Away (ft. Konstellation)”, Lim bombards you with a sugary beat that’s not too far removed from the pink Internet aesthetic of Porter Robinson. Her most recent major release, an official remix of My Brightest Diamond‘s French single “Champagne”, injects fervent energy into the already pulsating electronic track, giving it new life as a spirited club banger. If anything, Lim’s own work proves that the future of electronic music is in good hands.
Ahead of the release of her Innocent Intentions EP that drops in a few months, we took the time to talk to Lim about how she got to where she is today, her musical influences, and her experience as an Asian woman in the electronic music scene.
What inspired you to go into the music industry? Are there any artists you look up to or aspire to be like?
I’ve always had a love for the arts, particularly music and dance. Like lots of “good” Asian kids, I was enrolled in classes for these at a young age, and I made sure to conscientiously study those areas in addition to focusing on academics through junior college. Through much of my childhood and teenage years, I thought I wanted to be a doctor, and in retrospect it was probably because I didn’t know what I wanted to pursue professionally. Being a doctor was an easy answer that would get my relatives to stop probing, especially at Chinese New Year! Eventually, I got real with myself and acknowledged that I wanted nothing more than to do something artistic for my career. A lot of it was driven by the fact that I couldn’t not create on a daily basis – I had to do something musical everyday to keep myself going, whether it was playing a bit of piano or writing a new song idea or doing a (highly amateurish) cover.
There are so many artists I look up to and have been influenced by; a couple off the top of my head are Disclosure, TOKiMONSTA, and Zedd, who all changed my life. Disclosure’s live shows made me get into live electronic performance, which is a huge part of what I do now. TOKiMONSTA’s combination of musicality and sound design gave me a paradigm shift about creativity in music production (plus she’s the first Asian-American female artist to be nominated for a Grammy in the Best Dance/Electronic Album category!). Zedd exemplified how classical and electronic music could meld in a ways that I hadn’t thought were possible – that was really important to me as a classically-trained musician who was initially intimidated by technology.
What are some notable hardships or struggles have you faced? Do you think that your career would be where it is without those struggles?
One of my biggest struggles was convincing my parents to let me do music as a career. Towards the end of secondary school [high school for those of us in the US], there was a period of time when I had difficultly facing them and speaking to them because of their opposition (not something I’m proud of). They were pretty insistent that I wasn’t good enough to pursue music professionally, which I thought was ironic since they supported my musical extra-curricular pursuits. Ultimately, my family came around out of their own love for me, which I am very thankful for – I think having my poster sprawled across the side of my alma mater’s building some years later definitely helped affirm that it was the right choice! Another challenge I’ve faced on the whole has been because of me being a woman in the field–we definitely aren’t as common as our male colleagues, and I’ve come head-to-head with severe instances of mansplaining or prejudice on multiple occasions. In my experience, being an Asian in this part of the world has also affected me, with how people sometimes assume that I can’t speak English, or even make (unfortunately lewd) comments because I’m an Asian female.
I’m so sure my career wouldn’t be anything like it is now if I hadn’t gone through that, along with all the challenges I’ve encountered. While the ride has been full of ups and downs over the years, I wouldn’t change anything that I’ve experienced for the world!
We stumbled upon your old YouTube channel where you covered various KPOP songs. Do you think that making these YouTube videos has shaped how you turned out? What kind of advice would you give the younger you about the music industry?
Haha, I can’t believe you found that! I don’t post videos on that channel anymore, but at the time I’m pretty sure I was the first YouTuber to exclusively do one-person a cappella covers for Korean Pop. Those undoubtedly shaped me and my artistry – I wasn’t necessarily aware of it at the time, but my first YouTube channel was basically my introduction to what it meant to be a producer-artist, and what it meant to engage with a community (In this case, online) using music and videos as mediums.
I’m always of two minds about giving advice since the experiences of individuals can be so unique, but if I could tell my younger self one thing, it would be to not be afraid to hold on to your values! There’s no shame in doing what you believe is right rather than what is merely popular.
How do you think your Asian background affects your career as a musician?
In the music realm, it’s had a variety of both positive and negative effects. Some people still assume that I’m not fluent in English because I’m not originally from the States, and I’ve occasionally had racist remarks directed towards me while at work. It definitely makes being on the job harder in those cases. I’ve also had certain people attempt to give me unsolicited advice about what to do to further my career as someone from my specific demographic. Once at an event, a non-musician told me that I should dress differently as a performer because “everyone loves a sexy Asian DJ” – needless to say, I stayed clear of him for the rest of the night! For the most part though, especially after getting to know me, people have been very welcoming and respectful. When I was in college, it was fairly uncommon to see a female – let alone an Asian one – dive so deep into electronic music, which I basically tumbled headfirst into almost by accident. With that in mind, and with diversity and inclusion becoming increasingly important, my Asian background has led me to opportunities I might not have encountered had I not been in the right place at the right time. While I would ultimately liked to be recognized as a good musician rather than just a good female Asian musician, there’s definitely still a way to go in the music industry with recognizing minority groups, and I’m happy to advocate for women and Asian causes.
On your website, you mention your music “aims to engage emotions and highlight ideas related to the human condition.” Can you expand upon that?
This is somewhat related to my answer to to a previous question, but I aim to create electronic-based music that people can resonate with on a level that is beyond mere partying or festival-going. I have nothing against that way of enjoying music, but for me there’s a lot more to electronic music than that, though it’s usually what people associate me with when I tell them I do electronic music. Additionally, while I’ve met a lot of extremely talented musicians and DJs, some are truly more caught up with the lifestyle associated with being a celebrity rather than the actual music they make. On a personal level, I wouldn’t be able to live with myself if I wasn’t doing something meaningful, and in my case that means being able to make people think and feel because of my art. If I don’t do that for others, I probably wouldn’t consider myself fulfilling my full potential!
Could you tell us a bit about Alphabet Rockers? How did you get involved with them, and what do you hope to teach to youth through music?
Yes, Alphabet Rockers are amazing! They create hip hop mainly directed towards children and use music as a means to inspire young people through activism and social justice. I met Kaitlin and Tommy, the creatives behind Alphabet Rockers, through my college turntablism professor. They were looking for a DJ for some of their Boston shows, and when I found out about their work, I immediately jumped on board. In fact, it was after one of my first Alphabet Rockers shows that I was inspired to take my own music further as a tool for empowering others. Following one performance, there was an opportunity for the kids in attendance to interact with the Rockers, and every single child who approached me to look at my setup and say hello was a little girl. I often think about that moment and wonder what the case would have been if I hadn’t been who I was, and if I hadn’t been proud of sharing myself with others. As such, I hope to teach youth about the importance of recognizing who they are and where they come from, and being unafraid to stand for what they believe in and what they are passionate about.
You’ve mentioned that you’re working in collaboration with local female Asian youth on an upcoming album. Do you have any further details about that project? What is it like teaching the next generation about music?
Yes! The project is called “Colors of Us” and is made possible with generous support from the Queens Council on the Arts. “Colors of Us” has several parts to its execution; it will feature new musical material created in collaboration with female-identifying youths of Asian descent residing or having roots in Queens, and will be premiered as a live performance in August or September 2019. The collection of music will be released as a digital album and will mostly comprise electronic elements, while also integrating other influences and genres that the youth I’m working with are passionate about. So far, it’s been an amazing experience making progress on the project – I have conducted some workshops and talks, and have even had the chance to work individually with some amazing young women. Given the opportunity, I would love to take this project further beyond its initial 2019 scope. In the meantime, people can contact me through my website, www.clairemarielim.com, if they’d like to be involved in or receive updates about “Colors of Us”. I’m also still recruiting young Asian women in middle schools and high schools to participate until around April 2019!
What is your upcoming EP is going to be about? What are its themes?
No one else outside of my creative partners know this yet, but my EP that is set for release in a few months will be titled Innocent Intentions. Without giving too much away, it tells the narrative of a part of my life right when I started making electronic music, which actually coincided with the end of my very first relationship. Though it isn’t necessarily explicit, I think a big theme of the EP is recovery and being brave enough to acknowledge your emotions.
This interview was conducted by Li-Wei Chu and Emily Gu in mid-February 2019, via email.