Interview | Lulu Galore's Taste of Old Shanghai

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Monday, July 04, 2016 

under Culture by Alex Panayotopoulos


If you haven’t been following the Beijing performance circuit much, you might not have heard of Lulu Galore before this year. This Shanghainese-born performer has been in Beijing for 10 years and a keystone of the Northern Capital’s cabaret and burlesque scene for six. Eight months ago, she finally moved back to Asia’s Cradle of Jazz, the Swing Capital of China, the Paris of the East.

 

(We’re talking about Shanghai.)

 


 

She hit the ground running (dancing?) at her debut show back in December, with a few more shows since then. More recently, you may have spotted her performing the Charleston at JZ Club’s final night.

 

This Friday, the Pearl will see the debut performance of her very own, brand new troupe “Luluz Folliez.” EnjoyShanghai sat down with her, one class act to another, to talk Shanghai cabaret, lecherous chefs, music videos and her frankly overwhelming deluge of collaborations.

 

EnjoyShanghai: How does it feel to be back in Shanghai?

 

Lulu Galore: I’m loving it. Shanghai has changed so much over the past 10 years. My memories before I came to Shanghai were childhood memories, I didn’t get a chance to see the city really develop. I knew it was changing but didn’t know it was so much, it’s like a different country to me now, to be honest. It’s so international, there are so many Europeans compared to Beijing. A lot of French people, of course. In Beijing my circle was very international, but mainly I hung out with Canadians, Australians, North Americans, basically. So when I came here, I got a little bit of culture shock, it’s quite European here, but I really enjoy it.

 


 

 

ES: When you were younger where did you grow up?

 

Lulu: I grew up in Xiaonanmen, a very Shanghainese neighborhood. When I was in high school, I moved to Pudong and I took the bus every day from Pudong to Puxi, which was horrible, there were always a lot of people on the bus. After I graduated from college, I went to Beijing.

 

ES: Shanghai’s cabaret scene is a bit bigger than Beijing’s, but it’s still fairly small, do you feel like you’re fitting in?

 

Lulu: I like it because I have the opportunity to show Shanghai what I have. In Beijing, my old partner and I started the whole cabaret/burlesque scene in China. Shanghai had Chinatown [now The Pearl] but we didn’t really know each other, and I know Chinatown was all foreigner-operated shows. When I moved here, I found a couple of cabaret burlesque troupes, but they’re also mainly foreign-organized, and the style is quite different. My background is vernacular jazz, 20s’ Charleston, 30s-40s’ swing dancing, partner dancing, and so I’m very much influenced by the culture and fashion of the 1920s to 1950s. Shanghai’s a very international, cosmopolitan city, so the troupes here are more what I would call “Las Vegas Showgirl” style, or UK theatrical cabaret style. There’s a cabaret scene here and people understand what type of culture it is, but still it’s quite different.

 

ES: You’ve been to the Pearl already before, right? How do you like it?

 

Lulu: In the last 2 years, I’ve had two shows where I brought my girls from Beijing to the Pearl, and I had my debut show here on December 28th.

 

I love the Pearl because it’s a very authentic, theatrical cabaret venue. It's perfect what I want to do. In Beijing, we tried so many venues, and came up with nothing! We were always squeezed into small clubs, which is nice, but our backstage was a kitchen, with all the glasses and the spices, and the chef would open the door when we were half-naked, changing stockings and stuff. It was a very “interesting” experience. We had some growing pains, but here I feel like, yeah, everything is on a very professional level. The people know more about the culture, and the backstage area is way nicer. So yeah, I’m very blessed to have this opportunity to work with the Pearl.

 

ES: You’re launching your own cabaret show called “Luluz Folliez,” where did the inspiration from that come from?

 

Lulu: I remember I was talking with B.O. Brian (Editor's Note: aka Shanghai's #2 DJ, watch him interview Scratchy Sounds), and he actually gave me the name. He’s like “why don’t you have a Luluz Folliez show?” I thought, yeah that’s actually a perfect name for my show. Folies Bergère is an iconic cabaret venue in Paris, dating back to the 19thcentury, it’s kind of like The Pearl. This guy named Florenz Ziegfeld Jr. came to Folies Bergère back then, loved it, brought it to New York and it became what we now call Broadway. His girls were called the “Ziegfield Follies” so everything just kind of clicked; we put the words together that became Luluz Folliez.

 


 

ES: Your first show here was quite different, though, what was your thinking behind that?

 

Lulu: In my first show, I wanted to do a showcase at the Pearl, so I called it 21st Century Vaudeville. My idea was to showcase all my abilities, from 20’s Charleston to 30s, 40s swing, 50s rock-a-billy and rock &roll, 60s go-go dancing, 70s, 80s disco and 90s stuff like Amy Winehouse, y’know, 21st Century stuff.

 

ES: That sounds a lot like your final show in Beijing, a much broader style of show. Do you feel it wasn’t true to what you love?

 

Lulu: In Beijing, I could do it because people knew my abilities and my specialties, so they wanted to see something new. But I found in Shanghai it’s not really what I want to be focusing on, because my specialty is vernacular jazz. I think that’s what Shanghai wants to see, what I’m really good at.

 


 

Here, I want the Shanghainese audience to see what I’m really good at first, and then maybe I can have an opportunity to showcase what I have been learning. I’ve been learning tap dancing, I want to do more contemporary songs, I was thinking about learning drums as well, that all takes time, so I’d like to do what I’m good at first, and then gradually showcase what else I can do.

For now, though, I’ve decided to do a full-on vintage cabaret show. So the name “Luluz Folliez” fits to a T!

 

ES: You’ve got people like Marilyn Larsson working with you for Luluz Folliez, how did you gather your troupe?

 

Lulu: It’s all driven by opportunity and the chemistry I have with the people I’ve met with here. When I just decided to come to Shanghai, I talked to the Pear and they were nice enough to help me host an audition at the venue. Because of this audition, I met several talents here, so we kept in touch. I’m on very good terms with Miss Joy Natividad, she’s a German-Filippino artist here and her specialty is more hip-hop, funk-jazz dancing and she’s a great choreographer. She actually had a group of talents working with her, so I approached her and asked her to find me all sorts of performers. That’s why I was able to host my first show at the Pearl.

 


 

After that I felt like I would like to change it a little bit. Shanghai is a very international city, unlike Beijing. In Beijing, I constantly ran into a slightly racist situation, where they wanted blonde, white artists. I kind of understand, but if you keep meeting this situation all the time, it’s very frustrating. Here, people don’t really care that much, we always work with local artists and international artists. So I had this thought maybe I should hire more Asian artists, for a change, so this time my show is mainly Chinese talents. I want to see people’s reaction.

 

I think art can be specific, but not too much. If a client knows what he or she wants that’s okay, but sometimes you meet some agents or clients who don’t have any idea what they want, they just demand specific looks, that’s frustrating.

 

ES: You’ve collaborated with a lot of different kinds of artists in the past, are you planning to continue that here?

 

Lulu: Yes, I would like to work with different local or international artists, not just musicians and dancers. In Beijing I worked with a lot of different photographers, like Chris McMillon from Stealinglight Production. I’d make postcards to sell after my show which was pretty nice. B.O. has also introduced me to the life-drawing community to be a session model. It’s just for the experience, I did it before in Beijing, but I wasn’t interested in posing for so long.

 

I didn’t really know a lot of artists here, so I went a couple of times, and met some local painters. In my mind, I always loved those vintage posters from the 20s, 30s, 40s, like Art Nouveau, Art Deco, but in Beijing for my photography, I was always a pin-up model. So I want to do something new. I was talking to this local painter Alex Carrol. I told him I wanted to do fine art prints, but more like Art Nouveau from old times. So we met a couple of times, I modelled for him, gave him what I liked, and he created this awesome artwork for me.

 


 

ES: How do you feel your collaborations fits in with your vernacular jazz roots?

 

Lulu: I’m just stuck in those eras. I just can’t jump past the 1950s, which I’m trying to, but it takes a while, so I guess I need to experience more things until I’m satisfied, then I can say, “yeah, okay, now I can move on to the 70s.” This poster is just a part of that time, more like a poster for a movie theatre from you know like Gone with the Wind, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, these classic movies. That’s how it fits.

 

ES: Any other collaborations that you’re quite proud of?

 

Lulu: I’m very proud that I finally have a theme song, “Luluz Folliez,” and a music video. Chris, who I mentioned before, is a great photographer and videographer, came to Shanghai for some business and he basically called me one day before and said “you wanna hang out and do a music video?” I didn’t even think, I said “Sure!”

 


 

I decided a cover song would be boring, so I thought let’s call in a band, just to compose a song. One of my friends, Mark Wengelewski, is a great singer who also plays guitar, and he had already started to write the song. So I was like, “Mark, we have to make this song happen in like one or two days, lyrics, the recording, everything, what shall we do?!” Everything just lined up, he was able to compose the song and we met up the next day, finishing the lyrics together.

 

Then he found a mutual friend Paul Meredith, who actually set up a small studio to record for another artist, so I had an opportunity to squeeze into his schedule. We went to his place along with bassist Michael Hiller who played u-bass, recorded the song, and two days later, we shot the video at Shanghai Slim’s and The Pearl. So all-together, 4 days’ production including creating a song. Really nice and intense, and now I’m hooked on making music videos. I need to find some sponsors, get some budget to make more!

 

I found out people in Shanghai are very professional, they try to get shit done, I really like that, boom boom boom. Otherwise you’re in trouble, and it’s not just you’re in trouble, everyone’s in trouble, so the team works hard, too.

 


 

ES: Who’s your current band?

 

Lulu: I wish I could hire musicians for my shows, but this time I’m just going to do it with tracks. I’ve worked with the JZ musicians, and I’ve worked with some singer-songwriters, so I’m still trying to find out the best musicians to work with together. It’s not just about music, it’s also about how different personalities fit each other. This takes time.

 

ES: You have a cabaret troupe set up, you have a music video done, you’re doing posters and painting, you’ve got collaborations lined up, do you have time to do anything else?

 

Lulu: My next goal is actually to build a Blues dance scene in Shanghai. I’ve got a dance partner here, he’s originally from Baltimore, and he’s been here for 2 years. We’re all very close friends in the swing dance community. Swing dance is more like Jitterbug, Lindy Hop, and West Coast Swing, Blues is kind of like a subgenre of swing dancing. Mainly I’m not going to do contemporary Blues, it’s more like old style blues, Chicago blues, delta blues, basically it’s two-step slow drag. It’s all vintage stuff.

 

I did a couple of open classes, I’ve got some people who want to learn, I’m just looking for the venue right now, thinking about maybe Barcode, starting after my Folliez’ show, maybe every Thursday.

 

Now it’s the final frame for my show, because I have a 13 person cast in my troupe and everyone has busy schedules, so we try to squeeze in any moment to get together and rehearse. Pressure is on but there is no going back, we’re keepin' it together! I hope my audience will be "putting on the Ritz" and enjoy my production to the fullest so that we have the motivation to present more awesome shows in the future.

 

If you have any questions or booking requirement, you can email me misslulugalore@gmail.com.

See you on show day!

 

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“Luluz Folliez” will be at the Pearl this Friday, July 8. Show starts at 9 PM sharp. Tickets are 180 RMB presale/220 RMB on the door.

 

Oh, and the show isn’t suitable for under-18s. Oo la la, Lulu!


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