Audrey Napoleon is a lot to look at: all ink black precision-cut hair, pale skin, black cat eyeliner, four inch gold heels and perfectly applied red lipstick. Sitting in front of a wall of windows a dozen floors above Hollywood on an overcast Friday morning, she's a perfectly assembled goth dream girl in black leather; Morticia Addams glam with a splash of ravens tattooed across her right collarbone. She did not, presumably, wake up looking this way. (Except for the ravens.)
“It's an armor, a defense mechanism,” the 25-year-old DJ and producer says of her appearance. “Writing music is very vulnerable for me, so to go onstage and be Audrey Napoleon, I have to wear these ornamental egos.”
Thus, the title of her debut EP out July 24, Ornamental Egos. The six tracks are an amalgamation of elastic electro house and female vocal-infused dance music that Napoleon calls “underground pop.” Taking inspiration from “travelling, music, the patterns of the way people speak, the sounds of pots and pans in the kitchen,” Napoleon spent six months recording the EP, routinely holing up in the studio for 12-16 hours a night, making everything perfect. (The exactness of that eyeliner is no accident.)
After moving around during her teens (Houston, New York, London, Rome, Milan, her family's native Sicily), and moving to Playa del Rey with her musician father, Napoleon got a job waitressing at Hollywood's Geisha House. A longtime fan of seminal goth pop outfits like The Cure and Depeche Mode, Napoleon's musical world exploded when a fellow server brought her to Avalon to see UK-based DJ, producer and renowned turntablist James Zabiela. It was here that Napoleon heard the electronic siren call of L.A. clubland.
She set about learning the craft on turntables, beginning with vinyl before opting for Serato and then MIDI because records were “too fucking heavy.” She played her first gig at Geisha House a short time later and was promptly fired for refusing to play anything but house. (“They wanted top 40.”) With two gigs lined up, she quit serving to focus on DJing.
Napoleon took her stage name from a song by an ex-boyfriend, and won't reveal her real one. She began hustling, playing for “no money $25 shitty bars and house parties, whatever I could do to get my name out there.” Avalon offered her residency in 2010, and she played her first show alongside Zabiela. “I tried to act cool, but eventually I asked him to sign my computer.”
Onstage, Napoleon is a dervish of flailing arms and whipping hair. She says that when she performs, some other force takes over her innately shy personality. She plays, she says, like she has sex. “I start out slow and build and have the orgasm and relax for a second. I like to get people to feel things. Sex is a universal language, so why not?”
Currently, Napoleon is sharing the bill with Eric Prydz, Madeon, Datsik, Gaslamp Killer and the rest of the beat droppers on the traveling 15 city EDM festival IDentity. “It's my first time on a tour bus, and I'm one of the only women. I don't want to be the girl with all of the fucking suitcases, but I'll probably need an entire bag for my shoes alone.”
Still, the clothes, shoes and myriad accoutrements serve a purpose beyond simple aesthetics. “I have a lot of people in my head, a lot of things going on. My appearance is just another way for me to express all of that,” she says. “Most artists have a dark side; I just happen to wear mine on my body.”