Tall Poppy Interview: Mimi, Zoi Zoi DJ
For those interested in ‘it’-specific events, this Tall Poppy is for you. The Boat, the venerable ‘It’ club in Kensington Market, is the site of an increasingly popular monthly dance party called Zoi Zoi, the venerable ‘It’ DJ night in Toronto. If that wasn’t enough ‘It’s, resident DJ Mimi plays what has become the ‘It’ music of the day – French language pop. We’re using the ‘It’ phrase so much because we’ve never actually been able to get in to the packed Zoi Zoi nights, and thus knew sh-‘It’ about them. Luckily the redoubtable DJ Mimi was nice enough to help us with the translation.
What does Zoi Zoi mean?
Zoi Zoi doesn’t mean anything! It’s the name of a song by a French singer called France Gall…the lyrics of the song (in French) actually go “Zoi Zoi, it doesn’t mean anything, but saying it fills my heart with joy.” We basically didn’t want to call our night anything that was too cliche, like “Ooh la la.” Or too complicated, so we decided to go with that. And really, Zoi Zoi DOES fill your heart with joy!
How did you get the idea to do an all-French night?
I was a DJ in Montreal for about 10 years, both on the air as a radio host in campus/community stations and in clubs, specialising mostly in 60s garage, French pop and everything related to that. I’m a francophone and a record geek, so French music and culture is something that I’m completely familiar with. I felt it was the natural thing for me to do, and I thought it could be somewhat original. I met Soju (Christopher Graper) of Club Par Avion at a Georges Leningrad/Stereo Total show in October 2004. He recognised me from Montreal, where he used to live, and he mentionned he was also thinking about doing a French pop night and asked if I was interested. I had just moved here so I felt I wasn’t ready to embark on such a big project at the time. We didn’t really keep in touch but I saw him again a few months later at his Par Avion night at The Boat and I completely fell in love with the the whole Par Avion concept. Soju played a variety of International pop in different languages from the 60s to today and that’s the kind of dance floor crazy stuff I had been longing to hear in Toronto. That’s when we both realised we were on the same wavelength and we immediately got to work on Zoi Zoi.
When we threw the first Zoi Zoi party at the Boat in October 2005, we had no idea it would gather so much interest, we were thrilled. We just wanted to throw a French pop dance party, but we didn’t really know how well people would welcome a night like this. Needless to say we are flattered and so happy, we have so much fun doing it!
Besides French lyrics, what is the criteria for songs you play at Zoi Zoi? For instance, is it all 60’s pop? Only songs from France? No Feist allowed?
I mainly specialise in 60s French pop because for me personally, that’s my favorite decade for French music (or for any music). I think as far as 60s music is concerned, France had a completely different cultural angle, even though they were obviously influenced by the British Invasion and by American singers like Dylan, Donovan, etc. Their production, arrangements and lyrics are quite unique, it’s mostly all very humourous, no one ever ventured into deeper subjects other than “I’ll sing about funny stuff and turn everything into a big joke”, except for this guy called Antoine, who sang about the Vietnam war and who was made fun of ad nauseam for it. It all has a serious navel-gazing aspect to it that I love, they were self obsessed about their own culture and were somewhat threatened by any artists who took themselves too seriously.. I think that “fun” aspect comes through rather nicely at Zoi Zoi, which is probably why this type of music works so well as a dance party theme. I’m a passionate fan of music and pop culture in general, so sounds at Zoi Zoi will vary from the 60s to the 80s, up to a few select cuts from the 90s and some modern bands. Soju plays more modern stuff than I do, so we balance that pretty well. We play music from France but obviously a lot of stuff from Quebec too, where 60s bands were more influenced by their American neighbours, bands from Belgium, etc. Soju plays songs in Japanese sometimes and I’ve played a few songs in English or Italian.
We won’t hold ourselves back from playing a song we like just because it’s not in French, even though we keep the “French theme” going when we play them. For example, it could be a French singer singing a song in Italian, or a Japanese band doing a cover of a French song, etc. There isn’t a specific criteria for what we play: if you hear it, it’s because we love it. I won’t play a song I don’t like just to please people, that would take the fun out of it for me.
Do you speak French?
Haha! Of course. I’m a francophone from Montreal.
What is your favourite French song?
That is impossible to answer, I have too many favorites! My French favorites are Michel Polnareff, Gainsbourg and Jacques Dutronc.
What is your favourite French Canadian song?
That’s also difficult to answer! I’m a big fan of Michel Pagliaro, I can’t even choose one of his songs as a favorite!
Would you ever consider playing MC Solaar at Zoi Zoi?
I would and I have! You can hear MC Solaar at pratically every Zoi Zoi!
Fill in these blanks: As an actress, Brigitte Bardot was very good in “La Verite”, and an underrated actress in general. As a pop singer, she was about as hot as a spicy red hot pepper. Now, I find she’s become a little too right wing for my taste in her old age.
I LOVE Bardot’s voice! She didn’t really sing, she basically just sang the same way she spoke, I love that. I’m a big fan of her movies.
Why is there suddenly an appetite for French music? (ie, the popularity of your night, Texas-born Canadian citizen musicians singing in French, a forthcoming Serge Gainsbourg cover record…)
I think there are many reasons for it. One thing is that in the last decade or so the Internet really changed the way we listen to music. Everything is available and information about any band or any artist from any country is out there. There have always been French music enthusiasts or record collectors of any type of music who would release bootleg compilations of obscure stuff from the 60s, etc. In the early 90s I discovered a lot of the more obscure French artists. The Internet, CD reissues, compilations, etc. have made everything more accessible and so by default I think it’s quite natural that more people today know who Serge Gainsbourg, Francoise Hardy or Jacques Dutronc are. This might sound like a big stretch, but I also think Japanese bands like Pizzicatto Five, Fantastic Plastic Machine or all those bands who used samples of French 60s songs have had a lot to do – indirectly maybe – with the interest in French music.
There are always line-ups to get in to the Boat on the nights you’re spinning. We also heard there were TV cameras at the last Zoi Zoi. Do you think it’ll ever grow too big for that venue?
Line-ups at The Boat aren’t specific to Zoi Zoi…there are line ups at The Boat for a lot of their events, which is mostly due to their limited capacity of 150, unfortunately. As for the recent media coverage we’ve been getting, it’s mostly been from the Francophone media (Radio-Canada and TFO), who are for the most part intrigued by the fact that not only is there a French pop DJ night in Toronto, but that it’s somewhat popular. I understand how this could be a fascinating thing for them. Right now we have no plans on stirring away from The Boat.
Any plans on branching Zoi Zoi out to include live music or anything of that nature?
Not for now, no. The main idea behind Zoi Zoi is that it’s a dance party, so having a band play might not be a good idea, since it could potentially “kill the mood”.
Zoi Zoi is held on the last Saturday of every month (Mar. 25) at the Boat (158 Augusta). Get there early!