“I Always Want to Be Able to Be a Voice in Any Way Possible and It Doesn’t Matter Which Country I’m in. A Country Does Not Define Me, My Opinion, My Voice or My Identity.” – In Conversation with Ana Kim, a DJ and Model
Social media can be a wonderful thing when one wishes to communicate with like-minded people. The first time I came across Ana Kim, a model and a DJ, was on Instagram. Her positive attitudes, intelligence and beauty struck me straight away. It took me a while to approach Ana with my personal opinion about the world and matters that affect many of us, nevertheless, when I did, I was greeted with warmth and kindness. Our conversations about important topics such as LGBTQ rights, the fight against racism and inequality made me realise how bright, articulate and open-minded Ana is.
Gucci Exclusive Editorial with W Magazine Korea © Gucci
Born and raised in Germany to Korean parents, Ana showed her musical talents since she was a young girl. She attended the Rheinische Musikschule, where she practiced piano for almost a decade. Outside of playing the instrument, Ana dreamed of becoming a menswear designer. As a result, at the age of 16, she went on to study in Paris. She later did an internship in Seoul when she was scouted by ESteem, a well-known modelling agency that represents the biggest models in South Korea. Ana modelled for the biggest brands such as Gucci, Burberry, Nike, Michael Kors as well as Fendi. One lost count of how many shows and campaigns she did during her 10-year modelling career, however, one thing is certain, she is still in demand.
Ana is also a DJ, who loves to combine new sounds with music she knows from her teenage years in Cologne. She performed and played at many venues around South Korea as well as outside of the country. In addition, she was invited to play at Dior’s showcase and the Chanel x Pharrell Williams Collaboration Launch last year. As Covid-19 has affected the globe, many events have been cancelled or not organized at all, nevertheless, Ana found a way to entertain people; she simply organized DJ sets in her home and rocked people’s sock off via Instagram Live. She is also a passionate LGBTQ advocate as well as a supporter of those who face inequality. I recently had a chat with Ana, during which, she shared her thoughts on life and modelling, as well as her passion for DJing.
Film still from screentest with Adam Villasenor © Courtesy of Ana Kim
You’ve modelled for some of the biggest brands, including Gucci, Burberry, Michael Kors and Fendi, and you have also been a DJ for a few years now. Have you always been interested in fashion and dreamed of modelling? How did you discover your love for DJing?
First off, thank you for having me Maggie!
I guess you could say that a calling comes organically even when you don’t seek it. That’s at least how I feel about music and DJing. I was born and raised in Cologne, and there, I was attending the Rheinische Musikschule. It could be considered somewhat of a conservatory in Cologne. I was trained there every week for almost 10 years straight for classical piano. Through my mother’s love for music, I remember being exposed to all kinds of things in this department since I was a young child. Be it classical vinyls she had that I used to listen to while doing my homework or seeing operas at the Köln Oper (the opera of Cologne) where family friends would perform or just in general, all these activities in this field that my mother would support and foster in me, such as ballet lessons when I was 7 years old or jazz dance lessons, etc. — Not to get off-topic, but what I am trying to explain is that I was blessed to be surrounded by artistic things in my life, it was normal for me somehow. Ironically, I know that my mother plays drums, saxophone, guitar and piano. Unfortunately, I have only witnessed the guitar and some piano.
Ana Kim © Jeremy Goldberg & Ana Kim
As a teenager in Cologne, you have so much going on, so many fun events and parties, music bands, artistic and alternative events. Cologne is great in that way, I would describe it as a very open-minded, creative city where visionary people can thrive and explore. I sought out those events and those people, and I have pride and a deep love for that scene. I just love my hometown for that; Cologne is beautiful in that sense. So, with that childhood, I deeply connected to artists, music and musicians. I always had a lot of friends in these fields. Lots of creatives; I always felt more connected, more drawn to them. And my childhood, that’s how I explain it to myself, I can’t think of another reason. I co-founded a band in LA in 2012 where I was a vocalist and started songwriting. I never sought to make a band or ever imagined I would, but I connected to the other members musically and on a personal level so much at the time that it just happened very organically.
Long story short, that’s how the DJing thing started as well. To be frank, I was asked multiple times from many different angles in Seoul and in LA if I want to DJ. I declined it for two full years, if I remember correctly, before I gave it a try… I have to laugh thinking about it. Because now, my whole identity is all about how to improve as a DJ, a producer and a performer. My brain almost thinks about nothing else. This is my identity: an artist, musician, DJ and performer.
Once I learned how to use the gear for DJing, I feel like it was a straight graph upwards. I combine new music with music I know from my teenage years in Cologne and I guess the sound I have is appreciated. So much so that I got invited to play for many prestigious brands, important underground clubs in the scene, openings, and events of all kinds. And then, even my international career started to blossom; before Covid, of course. Now, with the virus going on, I use the time to start producing and hone my skills in it and find my sound. It’s a challenge, but it’s precious time for me to develop further.
Ana Kim at Petit Palace in Paris © Bryan Dala & Ana Kim
Have I always dreamed of modelling? I think every young girl dreams of being admired and loved for being beautiful at some point in her life, no? Being a short Asian girl in a pretty white dominant Germany, I was more realistic. For me, I honestly had the dream of being a menswear designer and prepared for it since I was young. I knew somehow that speaking French would help me in that field. And since in German high schools you could go abroad to a country of your choice in grade 10 (it’s when you’re around 16 years old), I chose France. Then, after graduating high school back in Germany, I interned with fashion stylists in Seoul and thought I would prepare a portfolio soon after to apply for fashion design. Instead, I got signed to the most prestigious modelling agency in South Korea during my internship, called ESteem, in 2009. By the way, today, I still work with the same agency, ESteem. However, I always had something going on the side or something else I was more interested in and pursuing outside of modelling. Being a model is nice and all, certainly also somewhat of a privilege, which I am grateful for, but definitely not my primary identity.
You lived in LA, Paris, Germany (where you were born) and now Korea. Looking at your life, to what extent do you think your surroundings shaped you, creatively speaking, and in what way?
All of it shaped me. But also, I’ve shaped my life consciously. For instance, I knew that I would end up in the creative field somehow when I was 13, 14 years old already. So, when I had the chance to go abroad at the age of 16, I chose France because I loved how art and culture was appreciated and supported there. I went to Lycée (high school) there and learned French. That year in France shaped me a lot and being able to still speak French also helps me to this day.
In LA, well, I always say, that’s when I found myself. It may sound cheesy, but that’s really how I feel. I have been in LA for 6 years and that 6 years alone in a new country gave me a lot of time to explore myself without any ties to family or old friends.
And Germany, well, I am German, born and raised, through and through. I always joke with people and say, I look Asian on the outside, but on the inside, I am a blonde blue-eyed German girl. That’s how I feel. But more than German, lately, I feel European somehow.
Ana Kim © Calvin Klein
As many of us know, modelling is a very harsh environment, for women in particular. What were some challenges that you have had to face as a female model and how did you overcome them? In general, how do you handle the pressure of the fashion industry?
At the moment, I don’t feel that I face challenges in the fashion industry at all. It might be because I am signed to a powerful agency where I feel like I have a lot of privileges. In general, though, I don’t think I give off the vibe that you can mess with me when you meet me in person. So, even with people in this industry, I don’t have any issues. I always instantly feel some sort of respect from people.
But 10 years ago, I actually modelled in Seoul for 1 short year before embarking on an 8 year journey from Australia to Italy and then to LA. So, back then in Seoul, I think I pressured myself a lot, but I was also younger and compared myself to other people.
Now, I don’t really think about things that way anymore. I focus on my music, and my passion seems to influence and motivate others, which I absolutely love. Last year and this year, I am actively getting booked for things or I happen to be the face for something, but I don’t chase it. I feel more that it comes to me.
Recently, you have been more active as a DJ rather than as a model, do you find being behind the DJ’s deck more enjoyable than modelling?
I identify as a musician, a DJ and a lover of all arts.
Looking at the fashion world and models, it seems that today, models are given more of a voice – especially through social media – rather than just being the image of a brand. Would you agree with that?
I believe that the option for having a voice has always existed. Now, it just seems more easily approachable because of social media. For me, I always said what I thought with or without social media.
Burberry Summer Monogram Content © Giuk Lee for Burberry
For most artists, originality is first preceded by a phase of learning and, often, emulating others. What was this like for you? How would you describe your own development as an artist?
I am not sure if I can answer this. I still feel like I am developing and in my early stages. And I just started producing this year – a few months ago, in fact. And I went back to my classical roots and started producing classical pieces. Techno will come later. Now is an exercise for me in order to get acquainted with the production program Ableton. So, I cannot say much here. I am still discovering my world and my language as a musician and producer.
What were some of the main challenges and goals when starting as a DJ and how have they changed over time?
My biggest challenge was by far the fact how others would perceive me. I had a huge complex. I was going back and forth from LA to Seoul and started DJing at the end of 2017. Then, back in Seoul, because I was known to model in the fashion industry, I had a complex that people in the underground scene would think I didn’t know any music at all. It went away completely last year, but it took me 2 years. The turning point was when I did a small European tour. It’s my home, but I left 10 years ago, so people in Europe, except my friends and acquaintances, don’t know which industry I worked in before. I am not a model to them, to them I am a DJ standing in front of them playing my music. And they rocked it. It was amazing. I will never forget that little tour last year. I stopped doubting myself from that point on.
Can you describe your state of mind during a DJ set? What supports an ideal state of mind and what are the distractions?
I am always nervous before a set. It’s insane, I have very big stage fright which is why I never became a concert pianist at the end; I just couldn’t do it. With DJing, it was very similar in the beginning; it was bad to be honest. I would be so nervous and tense up so much from my neck, shoulders, down to my hands that I would have cramps in my fingers. I wouldn’t be able to touch the mixer for minutes. I faced it, though, and tried to expose myself to as many clubs as possible, playing every week, every weekend, sometimes Thursday, Friday, to Saturday and multiple gigs at different clubs the same night. It helped. Preparation is key, of course. But then, I would always ask for a sound check to get used to the new DJ booth at every club, observing where the speakers are located, analysing the space, testing how the club’s dancefloor speakers sound with my tunes, etc. That’s a big part of the preparation for me. Then, when I get really into the flow, wow, it’s so much fun. I feel like I become one with my music and the people who are dancing to it with me.
What are some of the considerations that go into deciding which track to play next? What makes two tracks a good fit? How far do you tend to plan ahead during a set?
This is tough to answer because every night and mood and audience is so different. In general, I’d say I have a rough setlist already with, let’s say, 30 songs, but depending on how long my set is, I might only play 10 or 15. I usually always try to create a crescendo during my set, but this also depends on what time slot I have; who plays before and who plays after me.
Ana Kim © Daniel DG Kim
Do you feel that the crowds are actually able to appreciate the hard work that is DJing, even if they don’t actually understand what is happening behind the decks?
I definitely feel like the audience understands and appreciates a DJ’s work. They wouldn’t come to see you play otherwise.
What do you normally do when you have some time off?
I always try to get some good sleep. Usually, after DJing, you come home late or there are times when you stay up all night until sunrise socialising or meeting new people. I put a lot of importance into a good sleep. Also, I think a well-balanced diet is important. Lately, I do yoga at home, usually after breakfast. It helps me focus better and I noticed that I handle stressful situations better.
As a DJ, when I play, I meet lots of people, old and new, so when I have time off, I try to refuel my energy by being alone a lot. There is a great need for me to hibernate in order to recharge. I watch movies, read things, reorganize, or redecorate my home. Anything, really, at home. I am good at finding interesting things to do for myself. I do keep in touch with my friends through messaging or phone calls, but only after I feel like I am recharged, I physically meet my friends to catch up or to hang out while having food outside.
You are a great supporter of the LGBTQ+ community and you also speak out against inequality and racism. Korea is still a conservative country, are you not worried that being outspoken might take your modelling and DJ career away?
I realise more and more that my outspokenness defines me and that I get acknowledged for it on a professional and on a personal level. Professionally, I know because I get booked for it.
People tell me that they saw this campaign or that social media post and they tell me how they were inspired. Personally, in a way, it is really touching because I am my true self, I am not shy to say what I think; I feel so encouraged to know that I can touch people or even be a voice for others. I don’t like the idea of hiding behind a perfectly fake facade. Life is beautiful, yes (and I am a great optimist), but life is also rough and ugly to some [people]. I always want to be able to be a voice in any way possible and it doesn’t matter which country I am in. A country does not define me, my opinion, my voice, or my identity.
What’s next for you? Do you have any plans for the future, perhaps a new project in the pipeline?
Currently, I am collaborating with an art collective in Thailand called One25 Stories. It first started with them approaching me for a mix inspired by a photographic series. Upon seeing the photos, I realised that the photos couldn’t be expressed through a simple techno mix, so I started composing something classical. It is also my first ever go as a producer since I started learning Ableton. There are four parts because there are four photos they sent, and the first part, The Mountain, is already finished and out. They gave me artistic freedom when it comes to producing music. And now, I am working on the second installation; it will be called The Children.
Other than that, I was supposed to go to Europe for a bit this year. Because of Covid-19, it got postponed till next year. And in the long term, I would love to make music for a movie at some point in my life.
Photo © Dazed Korea
Written and interviewed by Maggie Gogler
Featured photo © Courtesy of Ana Kim (In Paris after attending Channel Show last Autumn)