“You know what, I'm just going to be Coucou Chloe. I have no choice,” Erika Jane tells me, recounting her nom de plume origin story. The name comes from a song her younger brother Leo (whose name is tattooed twice on her fingers) recorded in a card for her birthday. She’d go on to play the song at parties, and the name found a permanent home in her friends’ heads.
For the past few years, Erika Jane and Coucou Chloe have been one and the same — less a persona, more a taunting label for the otherworldly sounds she’s presented over the past few years. “You don't see me in my bed with a coffee, but I’m still the same person on the screen,” she explains, while sitting in bed with a cup of coffee, strands of thin chain necklaces peeking out over an I HEART BARCELONA T-shirt. “That's why sometimes people are like, ‘You're so nice when I have you on the phone, but really you're scary in your video...’ I'm like, ‘I just don't have much expression.’”
Sporting creepy contact lenses and a vacant countenance in her music videos, Chloe gives off intimidating, slightly spooky airs that match her songs. In the video for her single “NOBODY” from earlier this year, she goes all in on a poker game, accompanied by a snowman friend who joins her for a midnight cruise around London. The bass throbs, her voice warbles in and out, the occasional record scratch pierces through. It’s all quite sinister and impenetrable, but as soon as you’re convinced Coucou Chloe is some sort of underworld poker champion, she’ll crack a cheeky smile that cuts right through the fourth wall, acknowledging the absurdity of it all.
Chloe’s dark joie de vivre always keeps one guessing. Although she’s regularly categorized under the banner of deconstructed club music, her biggest inspirations hang on a flagpole that’s entirely her own. Before dropping out of Villa Arson, an art school in her hometown of Nice, she discovered the music of Austro-Hungarian classical musician György Ligeti. His cacophonous piano compositions have a strange beauty to them; although you’re not sure where they’re going, they are always moving with an undeniable momentum. Despite being born 73 years apart, Ligeti and Coucou Chloe share an ability to live 10 years in the future with their music.
“I was just so fascinated by some of the stuff he was doing,” she says of Ligeti. “As I was not able to make music, I was focusing on the concept rather than the song itself. This type of mental procedure was great... To not care about the technique, but just care about the concept. I could still express myself or try to make music even if I don't know how to make it. I could still try to make some sounds that are going to speak for me."
With a keyboard, determination, and little else, Coucou Chloe was born. Soon after leaving art school, she relocated to London a mere two months after visiting for the first time, instantly feeling at home. She and musician Sega Bodega had connected online before the move, and quickly became IRL friends once she arrived. The duo, along with Shygirl, started to collaborate, eventually birthing their collective NUXXE (pronounced “newksie”) as a straightforward way to get booked to play shows together. Over the past three years, it has evolved into a platform to release music on their own terms.
Chloe’s creative process is carefree and unfussy. Her production setup is uncomplicated — she uses Logic on her laptop, an external keyboard, and a microphone; she only recently upgraded to studio monitors. “I really believe that you don't need things to make music. You don't need anything,” she states, reassuringly. “You just need yourself and a tool to edit your sounds. From there, you can do stuff with your iPhone, with whatever you want, really.”
A key element to the Coucou Chloe sound is the sampling of animal noises, mostly lifted from YouTube. Those familiar with her music might recall barking dogs accompanying the taunting, deadpan “nananana” refrains on “GECKO,” or the goat sounds on “Stamina.” But there are many more creatures to come: “On my next song, I sing with a dog. I sampled a dog, and we sing the same melody. There is also a peacock,” she explains, transitioning to an animal anecdote. “One time, my flatmate came into my room while I was really blasting a compilation of roosters really loudly. I was like, ‘Yeah, what do you want?’ It must have been special to enter a room with the super loud sound of a rooster.”
The beauty of Chloe is her embrace and embodiment of all parts of life with a sense of carefree humor — from farm animals who live in the dirt to high fashion. Rihanna’s Fenty has used her tracks for runway shows, and she’s DJ’d for the likes of Prada and Gucci without taking herself too seriously. She has aspirations to soundtrack fashion shows and films, all the while building on her already impressive visual world, a face of her process she’s always been directly involved in. And she plans on buying herself a camera to implicate herself even more in crafting her music videos.
Even more than merely relating to the feelings of her music, Coucou Chloe wants to encourage others that they can do whatever they want — no matter how weird it may seem to them. "Oh, you want to do music?” she asks rhetorically. “Fuck. Just do it then, don't ask yourself questions. You already have it in your head. You can do whatever.”
Although she’ll share ideas and collaborate with her NUXXE cohorts, spending time alone has been crucial for her. “I believe it's for the best to get to be inside the head and see what's up, so afterward, you go back to real life with a better understanding of yourself,” she says. The period leading up to her 2019 release Naughty Dog was one marked by isolation, eschewing clubs and parties for introspection and honing her craft. Ironically, Chloe was just starting to go out again and feel more energized by social interactions when Covid-lockdown began.
Her day-to-day life of traveling and performing may have been put on pause, but her music-making has accelerated. She’s working on her debut album and coming up with numerous drafts for songs in the process, as opposed to finishing and releasing everything (more or less) free rein, as she’s done in the past. And, most importantly, she’s actually enjoying the process.
“I know that sounds weird, but when I made Naughty Dog, I was in a place in my life where I couldn't really make music. I didn't feel great, but I still wanted to talk about those feelings. I want to create from what I’m experiencing in a given moment,” she says about the zero-fucks approach she’s developed toward producing. “The fact that I've been isolated, not partying, just makes me want to... it doesn't make me want to party, really, but I want to make party music. I want to be able to play those kinds of tracks once I'm able to play shows again, just share that with people, and be like, ‘Yo, we're back.’ You know? ‘Look at that. We're here.’ I'm really excited about that.”
As she rhapsodizes about her next visit to the club, a beam of something that looks like excitement cracks through Chloe’s signature deadpan face, and reaches all the way across to the other side of our Zoom.