Following the recent release of his debut EP, Traffic Songs for the Inbetweens, Lie Ning discusses the grounding nature of Berlin and balancing his identity as a German citizen and a queer person of color.
You grew up in Berlin. What do you like about the city and how has it influenced you as an artist?
There is this one anecdote that answers this question perfectly. Years ago, as a teenager, I visited L.A. for the first time. It was a big deal, flying across the pond, spending time in Hollywood, and living in a fantasy for a few weeks. Even though everyone was welcoming and interested in what I was doing, the city felt fake to me. It didn’t feel honest. When I arrived back in Berlin, I caught the train home from the airport and was sitting across from this elderly woman. While I was minding my own business, she looked up at me as if to say, who the fuck do you think you are? You haven’t proven anything to me yet! This little moment—this reality check—is Berlin to me. It’s this quality of the city that influences me as an artist. It is very easy to lose yourself in your own bubble. You can be super successful and there will still be lots of people that do not know who you are. In Berlin, people remind you that you are nothing until you prove them wrong. It’s insanely grounding.
You write your own music. Can you tell me a bit about that process and where you get your inspiration from?
As soon as I realize that there is some information stuck in my head or in my heart, I try to decode it and make it into a song. Sometimes that works, but a lot of the time it becomes very cheesy and I have to let it go. I grew up in Prenzlauerberg, which is a very white Berlin district, so when I write, I always have this in the back of my head. For the longest time, I felt trapped between my identity as a German citizen and my identity as a queer person of color. I’m figuring it out on the way and want to create a supporting soundtrack to this process of discovery through my music.
“In Berlin, people remind you that you are nothing until you prove them wrong. It’s insanely grounding.”
Can you talk me through one of the songs on your debut EP, Traffic Songs for the Inbetweens?
The track Secret Island needed a lot of time to blossom. I had just broken up with my partner because I was overwhelmed by love. I had never felt that strongly for a person. I obviously did not stop loving them after we broke up. After several failed attempts to get back together, I asked myself why I couldn’t be in a relationship with this person who I loved so much. I was devastated and dreamed of a faraway place where we could follow our love for each other away from judgments about our considerable age difference. Shortly after, I went to the Baltic Sea to write with a couple of friends. Jumping into the cold waves of the ocean helped me come up with the idea for the song.
As well as making music, you also dance and model. Can you tell me a bit about the projects you’ve worked on, as well as other artists you’ve collaborated with?
Doing other projects is vital for my artistic work. Lie Ning is not just one person. Even though I physically represent the brand, Lie Ning is the result of collaborative work between so many people. First and foremost my muse, the fashion designer Don Aretino. The first photoshoot I ever did was for Don’s Don’t Drop the Soap collection, for which we worked with the amazing photographer Ryan Tandya. They both showed me how powerful taking socio-political standing within any art can be, and also how you can take a stance while still focusing on aesthetics. Another amazing artist I met recently is Franka Marlene Foth, a Berlin-based dancer and choreographer who is now one of my most important collaborators. We met working on a show for Trauma Bar und Kino, and haven’t stopped collaborating since! Through her, I’ve learned the importance of transcending genres and bringing all kinds of arts together.
How did you select the tracks for this Mixtape?
The mixtape is a personal guide through winter. The tracklist charts the progression from frustration with low energy and bad heaters to accepting the fact that you cannot change the weather. Instead of moaning about the winter, you can just not give a fuck, leave the house in almost nothing, and live like its summer until you get your first flu! This will finally make you calm down until, eventually, you understand that this season is essential for you to collect energy, sleep, reflect on the past months, and hibernate.
Lie Ning is a Berlin-based musician whose debut EP, Traffic Songs for the Inbetweens, was released in October 2019. He has frequently collaborated with fashion designer Don Aretino, who we have also profiled on Friends of Friends. Make sure to check it out, as well as the rest of our Mixtape Section, which includes interviews and playlists curated by international creatives such as Ariel Orah and Marco Weibel.
Text: Emily May
Photography: Ben Wolf, Frangipani Beatt, and Tomás Eyzaguirre