By Dana Getz
Audrey Napoleon knows how to make a statement. With heavy black cat eyeliner, pale skin, crimson lips and precision-cut hair the color of a raven, the 26-year-old DJ/producer looks like she belongs deep within the pages of an Edgar Allen Poe novel. Though her story isn’t quite “The Tell-Tale Heart,” the goth glam goddess found refuge in Los Angeles clubland after moving from city to city with her musician father. Her life has since exploded into a chaotic flurry of fashion shows, Heineken campaigns and live performances, including the 18-city Identity Festival in 2012 as well as her first-ever self-headlined tour, which kicks off July 10 at Studio Paris in Chicago.
Napoleon first fell madly in love with the EDM scene while working as a waitress at Hollywood’s Geisha House. A friend invited her to UK-based DJ/producer James Zabiela’s show at Avalon where she “caught the bug of electronic music.” After recruiting a friend to teach her how to DJ, she dubbed herself Audrey Napoleon and began producing music, swiping the stage name from a poem written for her by an ex-boyfriend.
“I feel like growing up I was always stuck in this sort of mold I couldn’t break from, like a girl in a cage trying to fight my way out of it to be free and create the way I wanted to and express myself freely,” Napoleon said. “When he gave me this gift of my name, I guess in some way it freed me, and now I can live outside my creative bubble.”
Armed with such newfound freedom, Napoleon forced her way into the industry, hiring photographers and playing any and every show she could find.
“There wasn’t really a plan, I just threw myself into it,” she said.
She eventually booked her first big gig at Geisha House, but was promptly fired for refusing to play anything except house. Napoleon quickly quit serving as well, opting to focus on her budding career.
“I think that’s the most important thing, to stay true to yourself, to your art. Never stray from it,” Napoleon said. “As long as you’re true to yourself then nobody can ever fuck you off for it, because it’s always been the plan. From the beginning I’ve always wanted to make what I love.”
Her dedication soon paid off when Avalon offered her a residency in 2010, where she played her first show alongside Zabiela. Napoleon has since made her mark on the EDM world with her unique style of “underground pop,” a conglomeration of sounds and influences that appeal to her personal tastes.
“I’m pretty indifferent about genres just because they’re constantly in flux…so I just decided to call it underground pop,” she said. “I just wanted to put my own spin on the music I play. It’s neither here nor there, it’s just music that I really love and love to dance to.”
Since her Hollywood debut Napoleon has produced six singles alongside her EP, Ornamental Egos, as well as several short films inspired by the songs. Her most recent release, Dope a la Mode, is a controversial short featuring Napoleon as a scandalous gothic newly wed ravaging her husband in a topless S&M sex scene, only to later murder him in a ruthless bloodbath.
“Clearly people think that some of the stuff I’m doing is a little off, but that’s just what’s coming out of my head creatively,” Napoleon said of the video. “My parents called me and said ‘this is a beautiful piece of art.’ That’s what it is. It’s art. If that was not something that was really true to myself, there would so much backlash from it. My friends would call me and be like ‘what are you doing?’”
The single also incorporates Napoleon’s own vocals for the first time, something she plans to continue in her upcoming work.
“[Singing] scares the shit out of me, but that’s why I like it,” she said.
Napoleon plans to release two more singles by the end of the summer, though the ideas are “still incubating.” In the meantime, she’s been non-stop listening to P.J. Harvey and Placebo albums for inspiration and brainstorming ideas to keep her fans happy.
“I die for my fans. My fans are the most special thing to me and without them I would be in my room making music alone,” she said. “They’re the reason that I get out of bed. They’re the reason that I’m even singing now, because they push me every single day to be free for them in my art. I started off as making music for me but it’s grown into something so much bigger, and now I have a responsibility to make my music for them.”