She’s a Berlin club kid, groomed by the Paris ball scene. With an attentive eye on Shanghai cybergoth and queer culture, Rui Ho, a Berlin-based Chinese producer, is not fond of the word “fusion,” but even she admits there may be no better description of the various East-meets-West influences that coalesce to form her personal aesthetic. On her recent EP In Pursuit of the Sun 逐日, released on August 16th, she marries plucky synth melodies reminiscent of the Chinese folk instrument, the zither, with the raving pulse of European hard trance and jungle. For Ho, genre constraints and conventions are there to be broken—and it’s a transgressive outlook that applies to her fashion sense, too.
It wasn’t always like this for Ho. Raised in Guangdong, a southeastern province along the coast, she wore uniforms to classes that ran six days a week. Her parents taught at her high school, so she essentially grew up on campus. “I had no freedom of expression,” she tells me, sipping on a matcha latte in an airy café in Neukölln, the Berlin neighborhood where she now lives. During the day, Ho is a more pared-down version of her nightlife alter ego. Her face is free of her signature bright pink eyeshadow, and she wears clear-rimmed glasses; the only hint of her typical clubbing attire are her statement dark blue denim trousers, crisscrossed with white bleach.
As a teenager, Ho says, “I was really drawn to music, in a way, because no one could limit me, and I could listen to whatever I wanted.” On her champagne-colored Sony CD player, she would run through the all-star cast of the late-’90s “Golden Age” of R&B, including Beyoncé, Kelis, and Brandy. “I listened to tracks sung in English, because even if they were singing about really filthy stuff, nobody knew what it meant,” she laughs.
It was also a form of escapism as Ho came to terms with her trans identity. “There was really no queer representation in China, and even gay culture is very underground and very assimilated to heteronormativity,” Ho explains. “I was mostly dressing passing as a boy, and mostly straight passing as well.” It was later, when finding a musical community of her own, that she would find a safe space to express who she really was.
China may have planted the seeds for Ho’s career aspiration, but it was in France where her singular style had room to truly grow. In 2012, she started studying cultural mediation at the University of Sorbonne Nouvelle in Paris, initially harboring hopes of becoming a singer, before finding herself increasingly seduced by the underground queer scene via the art of voguing. Soon after watching Paris is Burning and becoming fascinated with ball culture, she attended her first kiki ball in a dingy, old-fashioned bar. Ho entered the ‘Baby Vogue’ category of ‘European runway,’ where competitors have to “walk like Naomi Campbell.” She had no idea how to throw down. Around her, “people were just wearing sportswear, wigs, and cheap-ass high heels for just dancing down, and the energy was just crazy, so I really got into that.”
The experience opened her eyes to another side of Paris, that made for a welcome departure from the homogenous “fancy, French bobo [bourgeois bohemian] kind of thing,” as Ho describes it. “It revealed me to a whole new aesthetic of fashion, femininity, and beauty,” she adds. “With some friends encouraging me, I started dressing up in girl’s clothes and wearing makeup and long hair to the balls, but I knew I was never doing drag because I wasn’t painting my face,” Ho remembers. “I was exploring. I didn’t know what it was at the time; I wasn’t really defining it.”
By 2015—the same year she entered the legendary House of Ninja—Ho had learned how to pose, twirl, and throw shade with flair. Her three years walking runway had taught her one very important lesson in confidence: “Even if you wear a plastic bag, you make it look classy,” she states. “That’s what it’s all about.” But she eventually grew tired of the social hierarchies that dominated the Paris ball scene and decided to move to Berlin, known for its “very anti, very ‘fuck you,’ very dark aesthetic,” as well as a broader spectrum of grassroots events willing to host upstart DJs. “What’s really good about Berlin is that nobody is going to judge you.” she says, “It has a very new, fresh attitude towards fashion styles and underground culture. You can do whatever you want.”
Here, she dove headfirst into the club community by way of a residency at the now-defunct Berlin Community Radio, using her slot as a platform to reach out to likeminded left-field producers, such as Tavi Lee, the founder of Shanghai-based label Genome 6.66 Mph. She was one of the first people Ho saw combining sleek, cyber futurism with metal and goth-inspired motifs. Alongside chatting online, exchanging pictures, and getting styling tips from Lee—and another friend, visual artist Jie Min—Ho was also keeping her eye trained on the defiance with which her Berlin music peers approached their craft. “We didn’t want to play, techno, and we didn’t want to do a fixed genre,” she explains. “That’s the same mentality that influenced me in fashion.”
Today, the various facets of Rui Ho’s continent-hopping creative journey are reflected in her eclectic wardrobe. “The goal is to look trans, hot, and cute,” she says. She has a pink top from Miss Sixty that looks like a Y2K riff on a traditional Chinese qipao, with outlines of leaves and blossoms embossed across the upper left side. There’s a Jean Paul Gaultier crop top with swirls of brown and gold she picked up off eBay that reminds her of her years in Paris. Heavy doses of “Berlin queer and gender-blending fashion,” like androgynous street wear or shiny, club-ready polyurethane—either in the form of chunky platforms boots or short asymmetrical skirts—are also style staples for Ho.
“When I became serious about being an artist, I spent a lot of time figuring out how to combine my identities: me as a queer person, me as a trans person, me as a Chinese person, and seeing how I could pull all these things together and come up with something that feels authentic to myself,” Ho adds. Back then, she used to ask herself, “Will people ever get it? Will I ever be accepted?” Now, she’s grown comfortable with her role as an outsider, saying simply: “My job is to bridge that gap.”
Originally Appeared on Vogue