Cleo P on Her Three Passions: DJing, Go Grrrls & Thai Hop
Our interview with Plern Soraya, a.k.a. DJ Cleo P, on DJing, organizing queer parties, and managing a hip-hop agency.
“I love parties. But often when I go out, I’m just not feeling the music. [Laughing]”
That’s the answer Plern Soraya Alam, a.k.a. DJ Cleo P, gave us when we asked her how she became a professional DJ.
This queen has been bringing exciting entertainment to events and festivals in Thailand and abroad. For decades, she’s been spinning hip-hop and ‘Girl Power’. The latter, as she describes it, is lighthearted, energetic beats that are easy to enjoy.
Let’s just say if you love hanging out with friends at nightclubs, you’ve probably danced to DJ Cleo P’s set at some point.
“I was a wild child back then, straddling the line between a typical girl and a fabulous kathoey. I love girly songs, but like, 99.99% of my friends are boys. When they take the stage, they’ll pick ‘manly’ tracks for fear of not being seen as cool. [Laughing]
So I started DJing myself. To play the kind of music that I like, if nothing else. I think that’s how it began, and then it became what it is today.”
So what does DJ Cleo P do ‘today’ exactly?
Though you might know her best as a DJ, Plern is also a choreographer and a rapper who has released tracks with Thaitanium Ent. Eventually, though, she takes on the stage name DJ Cleo P and works with Bangkok Invaders.
Not long after that, Plern began organizing Go Grrrls – a series of LGBTQ+ parties. At present, she devotes most of her time working as the founder & CEO of Thai Hop, an artist management and booking agency for young hip-hop acts. These last two pursuits have seen much success and continue to this day.
These are some of the pursuits that Plern has worked and is still working on, all deeply involved in the music and nightlife scene. That’s why Siam2nite just had to find the chance to sit down and get to know Plern and all her passion.
It’s plenty clear that you love music, but are there any artists who influence your sound as DJ Cleo P?
“I have a bunch of personal faves. For hip-hop, I’ve loved TLC, Lauryn Hill, and Rihanna since I was young. I also dig Megan Three Stallion, if we’re talking about newer acts.
My taste is diverse, but mostly it’s music by fierce, headstrong women. Ones with that ‘IDGAF’ boss bitch attitude, you know. Other than hip-hop, I also enjoy pop and indie. I think I’m open-minded, listening to almost any genre.”
What makes you decide to branch out and start organizing parties with Go Grrrls?
“First, here’s what it’s like in the Thai DJ scene. If you want to spin at the top clubs and be fully booked every weekend, you’d have to play whatever’s on the trend.
The problem is that’s not always what I like. And I’ve never done a DJ residency because I personally find it stagnating. Some people can manage that, but not this Cleo P.
I know what kind of music I like to hear and to play, but I can’t find a place to do that. So I decided to host the party myself, and I invited my friends and their friends who like the same things to the event.
Go Grrrls features mainly three DJs. I mostly play hip-hop, pop, remixes, bass house, and house. Keep things fun and lively. My friend Dookie plays electro-pop, indie rock, disco, and ‘80s, like those you’d expect from Dudesweet. Then there’s Mae Happyair, who’s all about house & techno sets. Our group is very diverse.
And I wouldn’t say we’re ‘underground’ at all. Most of what we play is mainstream stuff you’d listen to at home. It’s just that not many bars and clubs put them on. Young clubbers are everywhere nowadays. If I wanted to listen to Destiny’s Child, I’m not sure a lot of them would know who that is. [Laughing.]
Let’s put it like this; if you play what I play, most clubs wouldn’t hire you. So I strike out on my own”
How would you explain ‘Go Grrrls’ to someone who hasn’t heard of it? How is it different from other parties?
“We call ours a queer party. It’s not hard to find exclusively gay parties or lesbian parties in Thailand. For gay parties, straight girls are welcome, but it’d be weird to see a straight dude there. For tom-dee parties, men are absolutely not allowed. Not even effeminate gay men.
What is queer? Queer means any gender and sexuality [outside the norm.] We’re open. Whether you’re lesbian, gay, trans, drag, tomboy, or even straight, you’re welcome. If you like our kind of music, you can join us no matter what you identify as.
This type of party can be found everywhere in the world, but not so much in Thailand. So I want to introduce this to the Thai club scene since I have friends from all over the spectrum anyway. [Laughing.]
We want our parties to be fun and entertaining. We also don’t stick to one setup or production. If we feel like bringing on drag queens as our hosts, we’ll do that. If we’re interested in a rapper who happens to be trans, we’ll invite them too. We do whatever we want to, whatever’s fun and interesting.
I’d say over 80% of people at our parties are foreigners. When you say queer party, they’d know what to expect. It’s going to be fun. Everyone can be themselves, and there’s no need to keep up appearances.
You wanna dance on the stage? Go on and dance on that stage; no one will throw you out. Everyone is welcome to have a good time.”
Go Grrrls was founded in 2013, so it’s been around seven years now. During that time, you must have had a first-hand experience of how the Thai public and the local LGBTQ+ community has changed. Could you tell us about that?
“Among Asian countries, Thailand is one of the most open places for LGBTQ+ people. However, not a lot of people are familiar with the word queer. We default to “let’s go to this gay party” or “let’s go to that lesbian party” when it’s actually a lot more diverse out there.
I want people to realize that this is a legit option, one where everyone is welcome to join. I want people to be able to find themselves. There’s no harm in that. Love is free, peace!”
Which event would you say is the milestone that made you realize this project has become something big?
“Well, this year, Wonderfruit Festival gave us a whole day to perform [on the Forbidden Fruit Stage.] So we tried to showcase as much of Go Grrrls production as possible. It was such a blast.
We were really well received by the press both Thai and international, and honestly, we weren’t expecting that at all. They interviewed us on being the first organizer to bring queer parties to Asia.
Wonderfruit was three days in total. We did interviews with three news sources per day. It was a real whirlwind, and I was like, “what the hell just happened?” [Laughing.]
I think this is a sign that there’s a movement out there that recognizes what’s happening in Asia. That’s when I realize that Go Grrrls is finally in a spot where we can make an impact.”
Between DJing and organizing parties, what made you decide to found Thai Hop, an agency for hip-hop artists?
“I think by this point I’ve got a lot of experience, and I have some ideas what you’d need to do to make it in this scene.
Let’s say you’re an artist and you’ve produced some music. I know what you need to do to attract attention and stay recognized. So with this experience, I decided to found Thai Hop to help push young talents into the spotlight and let them chase their dreams.
When I started out three years ago, hip-hop didn’t have the following it has today; things like hip-hop parties and rap contests weren’t popular. The first artist we worked with was YoungOhm, and although he’s doing his own thing now, we’ve got that formula.
Nowadays, we’re taking care of many other talents. It’s fun; I get to use all the experience I’ve accumulated since I was a teenager until today, 20 years later, to push others further.
I would push myself too in the past, but now I find it’s easier to support someone else. Part of the reason is that I don’t think I have that much talent. But I can recognize one when I see it, though”
Why do you choose to work as an artist management and booking agency instead of a hip-hop label?
“I don’t want it to be a label because I don’t want to tie any artist’s work to myself and have a cut from their profit. Even if I funded the MV or produced 100% of it, but at the end of the day, it’s the artist’s idea, effort, and talent. They should get to reap 100% of the benefits until they die; I don’t want any disputes.
As a way to support artists, we host ‘Sit Down’ – a debut stage where young talents, emerging or otherwise, can showcase their work. And we pay them too; we’re not asking anyone to play for free. Then, we’ll see what should be the best approach for them or who they should pair up with.
I’ve been in the scene for a while, so I know for a fact that a good track isn’t enough to cut it. You need a good performance too. When I’m working with inexperienced artists, I’ll give them advice on when to talk to the audience, when to pause, how to arrange the playlist, or how to dance. I try to help them find their feet on the stage and take the shows to another level.
What do we get out of it? We organize concerts and offer management services, and there are sponsored and advertising gigs too.
Thai Hop is also a full-fledged booking agency. If you need to book 20 acts for a three-day event, half hip-hop and half other genres, we can handle that for you. Indie, pop, or rock artists from big or small labels, we’ll get it done.
We mainly book artists, but we can also find you light & sound production teams. Or even dancers. We’ve got them all. [Laughing.]"
How many artists are working with your agency?
“Those we work closely with, just a little more than a dozen. For some, we take care of everything, like every step of the way, while others we treat them more like family. We’ve worked with Cyanide, NiceCNX, Maddieca$h, J$R, Sir Poppa, DreamHigh, OgSmith, P-Hot, Kanom, IronBoy, J Jazzsper, Ninja, Maxlerr, and so on.”
You’ve got a lot on your plate. How do you balance your time between each role, like being a DJ and working as CEO / founder?
“I went clubbing a lot when I was younger. Since I was 14, in fact. Now, I’m 36, and I’d say I’ve had quite enough. [Laughing.]
These days I don’t go out much at all unless I have to. I think striking balance is doable. Wake up early, have your breakfast, and get everything done by 11 AM. Then, you work until five in the evening. That’s my day, over and over. [Smiling.]
For Go Grrrls, I already know what to do for most parts. And as for DJing, I don’t DJ that much anymore nowadays, just for some events.
My current full-time job is Thai Hop. I take care of over a dozen artists, book shows, handle sponsorship deals, etc. I’m on my phone all the time, even when I’m abroad. But I believe that I can manage my time and multitask.”
Are there any projects you’d like people to check out?
“If you want a new party experience and see what a queer party looks like, be sure to join our monthly Go Grrrls parties. Don’t forget to keep an eye out for up-and-coming artists from Thai Hop and sample their work. Let’s support Thai hip-hop artists!”