South-African artist Alice Phoebe Lou discusses avoiding record labels, starting off as a street musician in Berlin, and how a risk paid off. (Andrea Rojas)

South-African artist Alice Phoebe Lou discusses avoiding record labels, starting off as a street musician in Berlin, and how a risk paid off. (Andrea Rojas)

Q&A with Alice Phoebe Lou, playing Capital Ballroom May 16

How marching to the beat of her own drum brought global success

Marching to the beat of her own drum has gotten South African singer/songwriter Alice Phoebe Lou far in life and her quick rise to fame on her own terms is why she is an artist to follow.

She’ll be bringing her own style of ethereal bedroom pop with elements of folk, synth pop, jazz and blues to Capital Ballroom on May 16.

For those unfamiliar with her work, check out the track She on the 2018 Oscar’s shortlist for Best Original Song as part of the 2017 documentary Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story. Executive producer Susan Sarandon personally invited her to perform the song before a private screening at The Feminist Institute in New York City.

The song features ethereal, strong vocals with defiant lyrics that tell a coming-of-age journey about female empowerment: “She didn’t wanna fuel the fire, she didn’t wanna lose her desire … She said I wanna go to Mars. And this, this planet, it ain’t ours.”

Another recent track, the light, romantic indie-pop song Shelter, was released March 2023 and already has over 800,000 listens on Spotify, demonstrating Lou’s current momentum.

Lou’s career took off due to bravery in following her dreams. During her gap year, she contemplated going to university in South Africa, but instead ended up purchasing a batter-powered amp and going to Berlin.

READ MORE: Blues Revival: How a group of young talent in Victoria are heating up the local blues scene

After one month of street and park performances, she ended up playing on a television program. In 2014, she self-released the Momentum EP and began playing venues. A performance at TEDx in Berlin in September 2014 led to offers from record labels, but when confronted with the choice, Lou made the personal decision to stay independent.

Born and raised by parents who were documentary filmmakers in the small Cape Peninsula South African town of Kommetjie, Lou was a multi-instrumentalist by 14 who also earned money taking photographs at trance concerts and as a fire-dancer in her young-adult years.

With 149,000 followers on Instagram, and shows in Japan, Europe and North America under her belt, Lou’s decision to purchase that amp turned out well.

Lou will be joined by Los Angeles musician Sam Burton on May 16 at the Capital Ballroom, 858 Yates St. Tickets are $26.50 at and entry is ages 19+.

Q & A with Alice Phoebe Lou

You received offers from record labels, but decided to stay independent. Why did you decide to go that route?

When I started playing music and performing on the streets, it was mostly a gut instinct that kept me away from the sparkly deals and music biz folks, but eventually as I grew into myself, I understood that the independent route was definitely the right one for me on many levels. It’s not that I think that record labels are all bad, there are some great ones out there and I think it can be a great way to jumpstart someone’s career and get an artist to achieve their dreams, but I think it’s such a personal thing, the trajectory of your life and career.

It’s so important to know what you want and need and most importantly, what you don’t. I’ve always felt as though I’d drown in A&R opinions and being pushed and pulled in all sorts of directions, having people try to put me in a box or change how I look or present myself in order to cater to a target market. It’s all stuff I understand and feel can be useful for some artists but it’s always felt so relieving to not have that kind of pressure on myself and my art. I’ve been so lucky to have success in music without having to sign deals that might stop me from feeling autonomous.

Also, I’m just so happy with where I am and the size of my fan base and the sizes of the gigs, it almost feels too overwhelming sometimes, so it’s felt redundant to try and push things to ‘the next level’ or push for more fame and money when it’s really not something I want for myself and I really enjoy where things are at.

A lot of people often dream of pursuing music but don’t take the plunge. What made you take that step to go to Berlin to pursue your dream and how did it feel for you at the time? What was your experience like that first year before you had started to taste success?

It was pretty terrifying moving to a new city at 19, not having any friends or connections and close to zero in the bank. But I had seen on my travels how possible it was to make enough money to get by with street performance, and so I just had this feeling that it would all work itself out. Berlin 10 years ago was a very cheap city (still is, but things are changing) and a very easy place to get by as a struggling artist, so I felt quite safe and inspired by all the art happening outdoors and the international scene of musicians. I didn’t really think much at the time about where it would go, I was just so excited about how playing on the street could earn me enough for food and rent. Very quickly I was selling CDs that I burned on my laptop and earning more than parents and it totally blew my mind. I felt successful already! So everything that happened after that was just a bonus. And playing on the street really prepared me so well for touring and what would come.

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