The Futures Forum Keynote with Dugi & Dua Lipa
Dua Lipa played an astonishing 245 shows during the touring cycle for her debut album, the Grammy- and Brit-winning star revealed at the inaugural Futures Forum in London on Friday.
Lipa was interviewed alongside her father, Dukagjin ‘Dugi’ Lipa, by IQ editor Gordon Masson for The Futures Forum Keynote: Dugi & Dua Lipa, the final session of the new one-day event for young live music professionals, which took place as part of the 31st International Live Music Conference (ILMC) on Friday 8 March.
Described by Masson as the “hardest-working person in pop”, Dua called the period around the release of 2017’s Dua Lipa – when she played 245 concerts and festival shows, progressing from small venues in her native UK to arenas in Europe, the US and Asia – as a “whirlwind” and “the craziest three years of my life”.
Dua recalled one of her earliest shows, at the 450-capacity Rescue Rooms in Nottingham, when Tap Management had to “bribe” patrons to come and see the future star. “There was no one there,” she said. “My manager had to ask [a group of people] if he bought them a drink, would they come and see his show?
“It wasn’t so bad, because I wasn’t expecting anyone to be there anyway – and it definitely managed my expectations.”
Dugi also spoke about his own rock’n’roll roots as frontman of cult group Oda, who achieved popularity in the ’90s, especially among the music-loving Kosovar and Albanian diaspora. (Lipa Snr was born in the former Yugoslavia, in what is now Kosovo, while Dua was born in London but attended school in Pristina.)
After having a no 1 hit in Yugoslavia aged 16, Dugi moved to the UK and formed a band in London. “We made a couple of songs, played a couple of gigs, and people started to show interest,” he told Masson, “so we decided to make an album.
“We created a mini-studio in my friend’s bedroom to record this album, then we made 1,000 CDs. They took up half the flat we were living in! My wife and I were thinking, ‘What are we going to do with all these?’, but they went quickly. So we started to order more, and do more promotion and PR – we probably sold about 20,000 CDs, without knowing what we were doing at all.
“MORE OFTEN THAN NOT, I’LL SAY, ‘THAT’S THE BEST SHOW I’VE EVER DONE’, AND THEN I’LL END UP SAYING IT AGAIN TWO DAYS LATER”
“We created a cult band, and with no Instagram, no Facebook, no Twitter… it was all organic, with people buying CDs they could hold in their hands.”
Dua has also always been grateful for the support of Kosovars, she said, whose backing boosted her early career. “When I first put out my song ‘New Love’ on YouTube, everyone was really impressed by how many hits we got,” she joked, “but if you looked at the stats they were all from Kosovo!”
Lipa, who is currently recording album #2, said she makes all her music “with the live environment in mind”. “This new album is more conceptual; I guess when I’m in that world [the recording studio] I’m really thinking about the live show.” The next tour, she added, will feature “something new and something different. Hopefully now I’ll get to do shows that are a bit bigger and stages that are a bit bigger, and we’ll get to play around a bit more with that.”
On her fans, she continued: “I’m so fortunate: more often than not, I’ll say, ‘That’s the best show I’ve ever done’, and then I’ll end up saying it again two days later. The fans that come to my shows are really special.”
Futures Forum took place on International Women’s Day 2019, and Dua also used the Lipas’ keynote to illustrate the struggle faced by young female artists trying to break into the industry.
“As women, we have to work harder to be heard and appreciated,” she said. “It’s just one of those things – when you’re a female artist, unless you’re playing a piano or a guitar people think you’re manufactured, and you have to take some time to show people your stories and what you’ve gone through. Sometimes it just takes a little bit more explanation and a little more time, but it’s something I’m willing and ready to do to be heard.
“I try to use my platform to speak out; I’ve always been quite outspoken and never been afraid to say things that are true to me. I feel a duty to be a voice for my fans, because they’ve given that [platform] to me.”
In addition to helping to shape Dua’s career alongside her management, Tap’s Ben Mawson and Ed Millett, and running London-based PR company Mercy & Wild, Dugi is also founder of the Sunny Hill Foundation, which boasts Dua as a patron.
“WHEN YOU’RE A FEMALE ARTIST, UNLESS YOU’RE PLAYING A PIANO OR A GUITAR PEOPLE THINK YOU’RE MANUFACTURED”
Last year, the father-daughter duo organised the inaugural Sunny Hill Festival in Pristina – Kosovo’s first major music festival – which aimed to put the young country on the cultural map while raising funds for underprivileged groups.
“Our first fanbase came from the Kosovar and Albanian diaspora […] so we wanted to give something back,” explained Dugi, who said the festival, which was headlined by Dua, Action Bronson and Martin Garrix, grew out of Dua’s shows in Pristina and Albania’s capital, Tirana, in 2017, which raised €100,000 for various causes, including music schools and festivals, as well as autism and Down’s syndrome charities.
“As much as wanted to help with arts funding, people in Kosovo also need a bit more than that,” added Dua.
Masson closed by asking the Lipas about the wealth of ethnic-Albanian talent, including Kosovar-British star Rita Ora and Albanian Americans Bebe Rexha and Action Bronson, lighting up the charts internationally, and whether it’s still necessary to relocate to a more mature market to achieve success.
No, said Dua: “Something I didn’t have that I needed was to be somewhere where everything is happening, and that for me was London.
“But now, with the power of Spotify, Apple Music and other streaming platforms, you can be anywhere and have your music heard.”