Words: Will Stroude
In 2011, a 17-year-old Felix Jaehn left home in Germany to study music production at London's Point Blank Music College.
Less than four years later, the young musician was topping charts around the globe and sountracking the summers of millions with inescapable hits like Omi's 'Cheerleader' and 'Ain't Nobody (Loves Me Better), as life as a jet-setting superstar DJ came calling.
It was a whirlwind rise to stardom for a man who'd spent most of his life in the small town in northern Germany, and between the hours in the studio and flying around the world to play for crowds of thousands, Felix, who'd dicussed his romantic feelings for men and women with family and close friends in his former, previously anonymous, life, was left with little time to think about how to address some of his most personal feelings in public.
Before releasing and touring his debut studio album, I, Felix finally took a break from his hectic schedule and decided the time had come to come out publicly as bisexual.
Image © Viktor Schanz
Inspired by contempories like Troye Sivan and Olly Alexander, he did so in February this year, telling a German newspaper he was ready to find "the person I want to share my life with, man or woman."
Nine months on from that announcement, Attitude's Will Stroude caught up with Felix - who continues to spend his downtime escpaing the temptations of clubland in his rural hometown - to find how his life has changed for him since, and just how the search for Miss or Mister Right going...
It's been a big year for you personally. What made you decide that the time was right to talk about your sexuality publicly for the first time?
I was just ready. For me, it was a bit of a problem that I grew up in a small village - I wasn’t really in touch with the topic. I didn't have anyone in my school who was openly gay or lesbian or bi or trans. No one talked about it where I grew up, and I felt like I was hiding. It was clear that I had to be open about my sexuality publicly because otherwise there's no way I was ever going to live a happy life. In every interview they would be like 'Which girls do you fancy?' and I was like 'Ugh, I wish they would also ask me about guys' [laughs]. It was just that weird feeling you were hiding something. It felt unnecessary, like why not tell everyone? I didn't see a reason anymore to keep it a secret.
Here in the UK people will most likely know you from 'Cheerleader' and 'Ain't Nobody', which topped charts all over the globe. Did their level of their success come as a surprise to you?
At the time I didn't even realise how big those songs were to be honest. I didn't realise how extraordinary this success was. It was a blur, every day was like 'ou're number one in Holland’, ‘You're gold in Spain'. I was like 'Okay, cool!' It was just so much that I couldn’t digest it all. It took me a while. But Number One in more than 50 countries? I don't know if can ever achieve that again. It's like winning the lottery, you can't plan it.
Had you spoken to people in your private life about your sexuality beforehand?
Oh, for sure. My brothers were the first [people] I talked to years and years ago, when I was about 17, 18. That really helped a lot because before I hadn't talked to anyone, it was just myself and my thoughts. There wasn't a single day I didn't think about it, which was tiring. So when I finally talked to my brothers for the first time it was a big relief. And then [I spoke] to my parents and some friends as well. And then it took me a few years to tell everyone [else].
Were your brothers supportive when you told them?
Yeah, massively. I was making a big fuss about it, like 'I need to tell you something' and I didn't really know how to say it out loud because I'd never had to before. Then I told them and they were like 'Oh we thought it was something bad!' They were almost laughing about it, like 'Why are you even stressing about this?!' They didn't get why it would be such an issue, and it made me realise that it had only been one in my head, because I'd been thinking about it in my head for so many years. So it was really cool to see their reaction.
Image © Viktor Schanz
What's the reaction from fans been like?
It's been amazing. I'd say out of 100 comments on social media, 99 are positive and just one is something stupid - which you always have on social media. But what I'm happiest about the most is I get a lot of direct messages on Insta[gram] or whatever of people telling me 'This weekend I finally spoke to my family, thank you so much for speaking about it and giving me the strength'. That really touches me because I feel like I have a voice, and if I can make a difference and help them have confidence in themselves that's just incredible.
It does make such a difference given in the position you’re in.
Before I did it publicly I had a lot of discussions about it with my team, and a lot of people were like 'Why do you even have to talk about it? It's 2018, it's normal.' And I was like, ‘If it's normal then why should I make it a secret?'" I feel like until it actually is normal and everybody gets acceptance and we don't have to have coming outs or label, I think people have to speak up and talk about it. There are so many people in this world who don't get to.
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So people in the industry were wary of your decision?
Um, they didn't really worry about my career, they were just worried about me personally. They were like 'are you sure you're confident enough to talk about this? Are you aware that if you talk about this people will ask you about it in all your future interviews?' Which they don't, to be honest. So no, there's no downside to it.
Having grown up in that small village, was it only when you began travelling that world that you began exploring your sexuality?
When I started travelling I met more people who were open about it, but when I was growing up I also had early experiences with guys - it was just everyone kept it a secret [chuckles]. It was just a bit of an awkward thing between us, like, we'd be at some birthday party and go to a room secretly without telling anyone, and hope no one would ever ask you about it. So I did know, and I had some experiences, but I guess I didn't talk about it because it was like 'oh what was that? What happened last night? Let's not talk about it'.
Image © Viktor Schanz
The world of dance music, Ibiza and DJing can be quite a laddy, macho environment. Did you feel pressure to conform to that side of the industry when you first came on to the scene?
I actually feel like it was easier for me having a creative job and being in the industry because I think there are a lot more people who are open about it. If I'd become a banker, I dunno! I didn't feel like the music industry was a problem. He's obviously a singer not a DJ, but there's Troye Sivan; on his 'Blue Neighbourhood' record he had those three music videos, which I watched and I was really touched by. I thought maybe I should do something like that with my music also. So, I think being in this creative environment has actually been helpful for me rather than a problem.
I did see you posted a throwback picture with Olly Alexander recently - do you know him well?
Unfortunately I don't! I just met him randomly at a festival where we took the photo! But if I look at that photo now, from 2014 or ‘15, I was a lot more insecure then, and seeing him and meeting him and knowing there were people out there being open and living a happy life definitely helped me.
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You said when you came out that you were ready to find that special someone in your life, so I have to ask: how's the search going?
[laughs nervously] Well it's been better obviously, because I can search more easily! I'm just more confident in myself and I don't have to overthink stuff or be scared if someone sees me or not. So I'm more relaxed and ready and open for love, but unfortunately I'm still single! That will change eventually - fingers crossed [laughs].
Obviously everyone was shocked by Avicii's death earlier this year. How did that news affect you?
Avicii was actually one of the first artists I looked up to: I never met him in person, but I did a remix for him once and I also got to support him at a show in Poland on his last tour. When I heard the news I was really shocked. I watched his documentary on Netflix and I had goosebumps the whole time because I could literally see myself in so many situations where someone wants to pressure you into doing something you don't want to do. I think that's the problem when you have this kind of success and you're thrown into this life: it's not necessarily the life you need or want or is right for you. I think a lot of people stop listening to their bodies or their minds. If you're in pain and stressed out, there must be something wrong and I try to listen to that more. The life of a superstar DJ is amazing, but only if you actually live it in a good way with a clear mind. It's easy to get dragged into this non-stop party [scene]. I'd say mentally I'm in a really good place and can do this for many more years as long as I keep the balance right, but it's a lot of work and stress at a very young age.
Image © Viktor Schanz
Who are the dream artists you'd love to work with?
I've been trying to get a session with MNEK. I'm constantly reaching out to make something - that would be amazing. I think all of his stuff is super fresh, I think he's a mastermind, the vocal but also the production. We gotta make it happen sometime.
When can we expect new material from you?
I've already started song-writing sessions and I've got about 40 songs now already, a lot of them I think are great. I'm actually going to have some stuff out this year. I think I want to do EPs that have maybe have four, five tracks on them with a unique topic. I think that could be a cool way of staying fresh. Sometimes when I write something and feel strongly about it, and it doesn't come out until the next year. I'm still young and so many things are changing and I don't relate to those lyrics anymore. I just want to release music faster basically. But that's the good thing about doing what you love - it doesn't feel like work. I just wake up and do it - I don't have any other hobbies because I love doing music so much.
Felix Jaehn's debut album 'I' is out now.