With her bright, exuberant personality and predilection for infectious dance music polished to a pop sheen, you’d be forgiven for thinking of German DJ and electronic artist Perel (real name: Annegret Fiedler) as a carefree figure. Fiedler has spent the last several years as a mainstay of Berlin’s club scene, her signature, eclectic blend of house, pop and electronica setting her apart from the heavy techno beats which dominated Berlin for much of the 2010s.
But we’re barely 10 minutes into our interview before it becomes clear that things haven’t been easy for Fiedler. In the midst of recounting the previous two years — which, for her, consisted of long, lockdown walks around the Hollywood Hills with her boyfriend, and the intensity of relocating to New York during the height of the Black Lives Matter protests — Fiedler casually mentions that her pandemic stress was heightened due to internal upheaval at her label, the James Murphy-founded DFA Records. “I was still hoping that I could put out my second record on DFA. Then, all of a sudden, DFA shut down internally... and no one ever contacted me.”
DFA’s troubles are well-documented. After nearly two decades of releasing some of the most vibrant and beloved electronic music (including records by Planningtorock, The Rapture and co-founder James Murphy’s own band, LCD Soundsystem), by the start of 2019, DFA’s release schedule had begun to dry up. Finally, news got out that co-founder and day-to-day manager Jonathan Galkin had been ousted after a 20-year partnership, reportedly by Murphy “changing the locks” on their shared office.
While Fiedler retains a great deal of sympathy for Galkin (“Jonathan was struggling with his job over the last few years. I don’t want to put too much on him, because he’s suffered enough already”), she has much less sympathy for Murphy. “I know a lot of people love James Murphy, but he has a second face, and doesn’t care personally about artists on the label. Some people know that already, but some people don’t want to believe it — especially older journalists who have been in the business forever, and who love LCD Soundsystem.”
Regardless of which of the co-founders were in the wrong, there’s no denying how difficult it’s been for the DFA artists left in limbo — Galkin has compared the situation for artists at DFA to “being stuck in a burning building”. The fallout was particularly devastating for Fiedler, who was a relatively recent signee, with new material in the works. “I was ready to bring out a new single, I had a video,” she says. “Then everything was put on ice, and no one reached out to me.”
It wasn’t just emotionally turbulent — Fiedler was also financially impacted by the upheaval. “I technically advanced all the costs — like $20,000 — for my second album, that was from the little money that I’d saved up. I was supposed to be reimbursed, that was part of my contract. Then I was told that DFA couldn’t legally perform as a label anymore. I now know this was a lie.”
According to DFA, in a statement shared with DJ Mag, Fiedler is a victim of the alleged mismanagement of the label under Galkin: “We waived the option to release Perel’s second LP in the fall of 2020, entirely due to DFA’s own precarious position/inability to function properly at the time. We simply weren’t resourced or prepared to be the label she deserved for the project, and that is 100% on us. She was ready to get working, and we knew we would be more than a year from ready to be of any use.” It’s clear there’s been an extraordinary amount of communication breakdown between the label and their artists — Fiedler refers to phone calls with Galkin in 2018, where she was repeatedly assured that DFA was able to perform as a label.
Four years on, and it’s clear that the wounds are still raw. Fiedler is particularly incensed when discussing DFA’s 20th anniversary party, which took place last month in New York, and featured performances from James Murphy, 2ManyDJs, Black Dice, The Museum Of Love, and Tyler Pope, a line-up which struck Fiedler as particularly dude-heavy. Fiedler wasn’t invited — and according to her, neither were many other female artists from the label. “It was a slap in the face. There have been so many amazing female artists over the last 10 years, who really brought DFA to another level. They weren’t invited or on that line-up. So what are we really celebrating?”
With the future of her career suddenly uncertain during a global pandemic, it was no wonder that Fiedler felt depressed. “I wrote and produced that album for DFA. I committed completely to DFA. My album was my last piece of hope. And now I don’t want to have anything to do with it.”
After taking a few months to work out what happened, Fiedler finally agreed to put out an EP with Running Back, ‘Star’ — a typically eclectic work, which veers giddily between flashes of pop brightness and brooding electronica. Making ‘Star’ — and having a positive experience working with a label — gave Fiedler the confidence to start again, and she spent the rest of 2021 working on a fresh set of songs, which (crucially) “had nothing to do with DFA”.
Those songs became ‘Jesus Was An Alien’; dropping on Kompakt in May, it’s Fiedler’s first full-length release since ‘Hermetic’, which came out on DFA in 2018. While Fiedler describes ‘Jesus Was An Alien’ as partially being “a story about everything that happened” with DFA, it’s also inspired by another form of injustice: religious hypocrisy. Fiedler was raised as a Seventh Day Adventist in a small village in Saxony, East Germany, and always questioned the orthodoxies she’d grown up with. ‘Jesus Was An Alien’ was inspired by that adolescent feeling of “growing up in a nice house in a nice German village, with a nice little garden, and feeling like you’re questioning everything”.
Nowadays, Fiedler considers herself “a spiritual person, not religious”; recently she sparked the ire of her religious followers by posting a photo of herself wearing a bikini emblazoned with ‘father, son and holy spirit’ on Instagram. While her mother worried that “religious extremists would come after her”, it doesn’t seem to have put her off good, old-fashioned sacrilege — on the album cover for ‘Jesus Was An Alien’, Fiedler appears as an intergalactic Virgin Mary, breastfeeding an alien while the Earth looms behind her head like a halo.
This sense of playful rebellion is one of the defining features of ‘Jesus Was An Alien’. Alongside the record’s striking visuals, this irreverence manifests itself sonically — perhaps most notably on the title track, a collaboration with fellow ex-DFA signee Marie Davidson, which pairs glittering krautrock synths with a droll monologue on the nature of religion, delivered by Davidson in half-English, half-French. Or dancefloor filler (and future single) ‘Matrix’, which combines a jaunty piano line with stabbing strings and a drubbing beat, with Fiedler describing it as summoning up the creeping dread of “being stuck in a system you know isn’t healthy for you”. Most brutal of all is the blistering ‘Kill The System’, which combines a moody techno beat with Fiedler’s haunting vocals, intoning, “At the centre of power, I hear a melody / It calls out the end of patriarchy”.
Now that Fiedler is attempting to put the DFA saga behind her, she has begun to regain control of her ambition. Fiedler has always been an expressive performer (there’s footage of her bursting into tears during sets), and she has long-term ambitions to transition from DJing to performing live. Her ultimate goal is to become “the female Daft Punk” — the kind of all-rounder you can drop at 4am during a DJ set and at 9am on the radio. “One day I’d love to fill out a really big stage... something with super-crazy production. Like, I could have a giant alien baby, and a giant boob with fire coming out of it. That would be so sick.”