Michael Morgenstern shook his head in amazement. From his perch behind the lighting console at the Mishawaka Amphitheatre — the famed venue tucked a few sharp bends up the Poudre River from Fort Collins — the audiovisual engineer was working his seventh concert in ten days, including Halloween. This November 7 spectacle was the penultimate performance of an eight-show run, and every night the small crowds — just over 100 people socially distanced around tables and huddled by fire pits to keep warm — had danced and cheered with abandon. Only tonight their adulation seemed next-level. The crowd was going completely nuts. Then again, he’d seen similar reactions many times while collaborating with the headliner: Everyone goes nuts for CloZee.
Over the past few years, CloZee has risen quickly through the ranks of the electronic-music scene. The 28-year-old French phenom is known for her soaring sounds and organic combinations of bass grooves, world instruments and tribal chanting. Some describe her music as world bass. Others call it tribal glitch. Or tribal trap. Or future bass. Or…je ne sais quoi. Whatever you call it, CloZee has a sound all her own, and her fans can’t get enough of it. Her eight shows at the Mishawaka sold out within minutes. Granted, each offered only a handful of tables in order to be COVID-safe, but still, the chances of snagging one seemed akin to winning the lottery.
As for the fans in this crowd? Even after CloZee left the stage, they only got louder in their chanting, clapping and whistling.
“CloZee doesn’t do many encores,” Morgenstern explains after the fact. “She’s not one to waste time and leave stage and do the awkward thing.” But she bounded back on stage, punched up the mains on her Pioneer DJ rack, and summoned the subs back to life.
For true bassheads, only frequencies so low can rouse spirits so high. And as the dance party got back into full swing, just twenty more minutes felt like transcendence. It had been such a tough year: the pandemic, racial protests, wildfires, the lack of live music — which, for CloZee, included canceling an entire tour in support of her 2020 album release, Neon Jungle. People needed some kind of release. “And I think the Mish was really important for all of us,” Morgenstern says. “Not only for [CloZee] and the team, but just being able to connect with the fans on any level.”
Besides, there was another reason CloZee had agreed to play eight shows for her Colorado fans: They’re about to be critical to all her future endeavors. That’s because in May, the Queen of Jungle Bass quietly moved to Denver.
The move immediately turns CloZee into one of Colorado’s top acts. Her recent #SpotifyWrapped report for 2020 clocked her at over 2 million listeners and 22 million streams on the platform, all coming off the heels of a monster 2019 in which she played most of the major electronic-music festivals in North America. Her trajectory is on an exponential curve; if it continues, she’ll be one of the biggest names in electronic music.
Of course, CloZee — like every artist — isn’t experiencing the 2020 she’d planned for. The year’s myriad challenges have been rough. But despite the hardships, she’s already making moves in Colorado. And although she’s press-shy, she’s agreed to share her story and the reasons she came to the Mile High.
It’s funny seeing her on a sidewalk in Denver. In late February, just before the pandemic hit, I caught two of her sets at Envision, an annual festival that takes place in Uvita, Costa Rica. That had been such an exotic environment: a dirt dance floor teeming with scantily clad festival-goers, and Herry lording over the chaotic jungle boogie in a bamboo DJ booth that shot flames from its sides. To see CloZee at the Luna Stage at Envision was to see her in her element, building up the crowd with ethereal tones and airy voices before dropping beats so nasty, the crowd lowered itself toward the floor, grinding away with the crackling bass and clawing to the beat like we were all in some underground mine and CloZee was just drilling out the filth and spreading it all over us. Then, in a complete 180, I caught her sunrise set on the last day of the festival, where she lightened the mood and breathed life and purpose back into the crowd. The music was so moving it caused a couple I know to hold each other and cry.
Now, nine months later, 5,000 feet higher and 50 degrees colder than that spectacle in Costa Rica, Herry still manages to fit right in to RiNo. We’ve decided to meet on Larimer Street and do a walking tour of the street murals — one of the few things Herry has been able to enjoy in Denver while moving here during a global pandemic. In fact, there’s one mural in particular she wants to talk about.
As we start walking, though, we first discuss her upbringing.
“So you’re from Toulouse,” I begin, parroting the most obvious part of her bio.
“Yes,” she says. “Well, actually…no.”
In fact, in 1992 she was born in Paris — an important distinction, because Herry says that’s probably where she gets the tomboyish, tough side of her personality. But she and her family moved to Toulouse when she was eleven, and her father took a job with Airbus, which is headquartered there.
Located in the South of France, Toulouse suited the Herry family: its proximity to the French Pyrenees, those laid-back afternoons along the Garonne River. The oldest of three kids, Herry has always been interested in music. She inherited a few musical bones from her family — or at least the love of it. Her mom collected world music; her grandparents had sung in a Christian choir. But it was young Chloé who kept finding herself at a keyboard in front of a computer, researching the endless kinds of music at her fingertips. Her tastes stuck out for an eleven-year-old, particularly her love of classical guitar. She’d watch hours of YouTube videos of Vicente Amigo, a Spanish flamenco player, as well as performances by guitar maestro John Williams (the other John Williams — not the movie composer), whose Concierto de Aranjuez never failed to spark Herry’s imagination. She relished the cinematic aspects of guitar concertos, the kind of armchair journeys you could take using the music’s flourishes to picture fantastical voyages through foreign lands, or flights over the highest, iciest portions of the nearby Pyrenees.
Luckily for Herry, her parents not only supported their daughter’s flights of fancy, but they channeled it into something more concrete. They enrolled her in classical-guitar lessons, and for five years, Herry developed a base of music theory and classical training before quitting the lessons because of the demands of schoolwork and her other favorite extracurricular activity: boxing.
“But I never lost the guitar,” Herry adds.
In fact, she formed a band with some friends when she was a teenager, taking advantage of a free cultural center for young people in Toulouse that had a studio. “It was real sweaty,” Herry recalls. “Like just this really small box, but we’d put all our amplifiers in there and jam.”
Except the audio engineering program lasted longer than the band. As the group fizzled and some of its members moved away from Toulouse, Herry turned toward her own compositions. That was when she discovered a piece of software called FL Studio — or, as the OG beatmakers call it, “Fruityloops” — and a whole new world opened up.
With Fruityloops, Herry realized that she could add synthesized beats and harmonized sounds to accompany her guitar licks. Moreover, she could manipulate those tracks by adding “glitches,” little arrhythmic patterns that make the melodies stuttering and unpredictable, like a living, breathing thing.
In her own listening, she was drawn to the electronic sounds of Bonobo and the Glitch Mob, two artists she still admires. And with FL Studio, she realized, maybe it could all come together. Here was a way to incorporate her classical training, the evocative imagery of flamenco guitar, the world-music vibes of Bonobo’s Simon Green, the glitchy tricks used by the Mob, and the EQing techniques from her engineering course.
And so she tried to combine it all, and…
“It sounded like shit,” she says.
Herry faced a steep learning curve. When she first began recording her guitar riffs, she was still using a headset microphone designed for computer games. But unlike most people who make their first sloppy beats on Fruityloops, Herry kept at it.
“I became completely addicted,” she recalls. And little by little, she honed her skills with the software, upgrading her gear with money she earned through babysitting.
The persistence paid off. By the time Herry was nineteen, she felt ready to share her electronic music with the world. She decided to post the songs online using a moniker inspired by a nickname her aunt had given her. Only instead of its phonetic spelling of Clozé, Herry changed it to CloZee, which looked much cooler.
Her timing couldn’t have been better for posting music online, perfectly aligning with the explosive growth of SoundCloud. From 2011 to 2015, the streaming platform grew from 11 million listeners to 175 million and became the go-to hub for electronic-music discovery. More important, SoundCloud — and, to a lesser degree, YouTube — offered aspiring musicians such as Herry a community of like-minded listeners.
Even today, CloZee’s SoundCloud page includes tracks that Herry posted there as far back as 2011. It’s a time capsule of artistic growth: her earliest attempts, the experimental fits and starts, the dip into dubstep and the quick retreat — even a try at incorporating some French accordion, because why the hell not? Like an adolescent diary laid bare, you can even hear aggression at times, then hints of nostalgia for the passing of youth. The resulting vacillations between styles — some tracks more down-tempo and chill, others more glitchy and sporadic — suggest a musician trying to find her way. But always, the Internet spurred her on. You can still stream Herry’s early SoundCloud tracks and watch users’ little notes of encouragement flash by.
“Keep it up, love your music.”
“This has potential.”
And as the years ticked by and she zeroed in on her glitchy bass sound, the confidence of her listeners solidified along with her style. By 2014, few questioned her ability.
“SO unique. Love it.”
As the omggggs, the AHHHs and especially the fuck yeahs built up over time, Herry knew she was on to something.
Still, she deliberately kept her music free in order to increase her exposure. It meant living at home to make ends meet, working around her family members’ schedules even though she often found inspiration at midnight and worked through sunrise.
Then there was the other thing: performing. Herry knew she still only had one half of the equation; if she was ever going to become a self-supporting artist, especially in the age of streaming music, she needed to take her songs to the stage. And this is where she ran into mixed success. In Europe, the only real bass music at the time was dubstep, a style Herry wasn’t particularly going for. Electronic music was huge, with thriving scenes in Paris and Berlin, but it centered around trance and techno.
Herry recalls her early experiences deejaying shows as being hit-or-miss. Sometimes her ventures into bass or down-tempo fell flat with French crowds expecting something more in line with a techno rave. The awkward moments messed with her head, so that any time she was in a live setting, she began questioning herself. Even today, there are lingering effects. “When it comes time to play, I don’t like to think too much about it, because I can get really nervous,” she says. “Stage is definitely therapy for me. But I’m still nervous about things, like if people are going to like what I play, or is this selection of songs right? It’s a battle in my head, always.”
But while Herry admits to still getting butterflies, she’s realized that there is some benefit to a little stage fright. “I think anxiety is a good thing in music, because I definitely care,” she says.
It was also on this tour that Herry discovered a city where she could really get weird and experiment, and no matter what, the crowd always seemed to follow. She decided she’d try to return to Denver at every opportunity.
CloZee’s inaugural Denver performance took place at the 1Up Arcade on East Colfax Avenue, where she deejayed as a supporting act, a relative nobody. But her notoriety was about to take a huge turn, and by the time she returned to Colorado a year later, a lot more people knew her music.
“Things really took off with ‘Koto,’” Herry explains.
She wrote the song, a twangy composition that sounds like a samurai pump-up jam, in just two days. The speed with which it came together is usually a good sign, Herry says, “because sometimes you can get lost in your own compositions.”
Still, she had no indication that the track would blow up. On the day that the label Otodayo Records released it for her, Herry didn’t realize that something unusual was happening until prominent users on SoundCloud started reposting it. Then the YouTube channel Mr. Suicide Sheep, with its millions of followers, shared it. Herry, at home with her parents, watched the number of streams climb until it cracked a million. Then it happened again. (The video on YouTube has now been viewed over 27 million times.)
It was surreal.
By this time, Gravitas Recordings — run by the psychedelic bass purveyor Psymbionic — had also released some of CloZee’s songs and decided to capitalize on “Koto”s viral success by booking Herry on more extensive tours in the United States.
In 2016 and again in 2017, CloZee and Psymbionic toured together. Denver was always a prominent stop, and during Herry’s visits, she fell in love with one particular venue: Cervantes’ Masterpiece Ballroom. It was there in early 2017 that she crossed paths with Michael Morgenstern — the VJ at the Mishawaka shows — who was working lasers at Cervantes’ as part of a visual residency gig.
“I would hear a lot of bass music,” Morgenstern recalls of his time working at the venue. “And sometimes it’s hard to really hear a huge difference or have somebody really stand out.”
CloZee stood out.
Morgenstern connected so deeply with her music that he just had to meet the artist. So after the show, he introduced himself and asked if Herry had any other Colorado gigs coming up. Maybe he could do the lasers for them? Herry did: the Fox Theater in Boulder. She gave Morgenstern her manager’s contact information, and soon he was working lasers for all the CloZee shows in Colorado.
It didn’t take long for him to learn that CloZee acted unlike most other artists. She always made a point of helping her production crew set up and tear down shows, and she was unusually hands-on with her visuals: She encouraged Morgenstern to learn lighting consoles in addition to lasers, and even helped him get the software. They learned to trust each other, and when Herry offered Morgenstern an opportunity to do all the visuals for her forty-plus-date tour of North America, Europe, Israel and Australia for her 2018 album Evasion, Morgenstern went all in, quitting his day job with a hash concentrate company. Not that his hours got any easier: Herry is a workhorse.
During the week before the tour, she booked venues in Denver and Austin for closed-door rehearsals. “Her and I were probably in those spaces rehearsing twelve to fourteen hours a day,” Morgenstern recalls. “We were going through the tracks and building the looks out — the programming, all the different laser cues.”
A CloZee show had to be perfect. “Chloé definitely leads by example, and puts 110 percent in so that her team feels comfortable doing the same,” Morgenstern says.
But for all the sweat and toil, the team has a lot of fun. They call themselves “Z Familia,” a unit that includes Morgenstern and his wife as well as CloZee’s management, stage manager Austin Carriere and another key member who joined the ranks in 2018.
“Chloé definitely leads by example, and puts 110 percent in so that her team feels comfortable doing the same."
Like Morgenstern, the young woman was working at a venue — as a bartender — when she saw CloZee perform in Atlanta in 2017. Herry’s stage presence caught the woman’s eye: the way she would smile, then suddenly screw her face into a visual representation of the bass-fueled beatdown she was about to drop on unsuspecting crowds. CloZee’s aura was intense, and the bartender felt drawn to her.
The pair exchanged messages online, then met after a CloZee show in Tennessee. They started hanging out whenever Herry passed through Atlanta and fell in love during a sojourn in Costa Rica. (The two asked that the woman’s name not be shared so that she and Herry can hold on to some degree of privacy in their now-two-and-a-half-year relationship.) And like many who’ve attended a CloZee concert, Herry’s partner initially wondered whether she was as intense in person as she appears on stage.
“Even now, sometimes when I see her perform, I’m like, ‘Who is this girl?,’” she says with a laugh. “Chloé and CloZee are the same person, but she definitely has a performance persona: intense, no bullshit on stage. It’s aggressive, almost. And Chloé is badass, no doubt. But she’s also a secret sweetheart.”
Herry’s consideration for others is the true glue that holds Z Familia together. In other words, the big reveal is that the Queen of Jungle Bass, the producer of absolutely filthy beats, is actually…nice.
Soon, other top-billed musicians caught on, especially once Herry played big stages at prestigious music festivals like Bonnaroo, Electric Forest and Lightning in a Bottle in 2018. When Herry met Australian glitch-hop star Opiuo at Bonnaroo, for example, the two became fast friends.
“She’s one of the best at creating beautiful vibes in her music,” Opiuo told the site, Dancing Astronaut. “I have so much love and respect for Chloé as a person, friend and as an artist. She is super inspiring. Working together only makes our friendship even better.”
The artists’ working friendship extended to plans for 2020. In January, CloZee and Opiuo announced that they would co-headline a show at Red Rocks on May 28 (it would be Herry’s third time performing there). This was in addition to the already ambitious tour that Herry was planning around the release of the full-length Neon Jungle.
Herry had written the album with her live shows in mind. “I was envisioning the stage with a bunch of plants and lasers and lights,” she recalls. “It would have this kind of neon jungle look.”
And as she planned her tour, Herry decided to move from Toulouse to Denver. “Ever since the first time I came to Denver, I think it’s the only place I could see myself living in America,” she says. “The music scene here is amazing. I love all the venues. Any time I played here, I freakin’ loved the time I had.”
As a self-described foodie, it didn’t hurt that Denver has restaurants she loves, such as Sushi Den. Or that members of her team, like Morgenstern, already live here. Or that Denver reminds her of home.
“Just like Toulouse, it’s close to the mountains,” she says.
Not that it was easy leaving her family, which Herry describes as incredibly tight-knit. “I cried a lot when I made that decision,” she says. “But they’re happy for me. They know I’m happier here, and my parents are still excited to be able to come here.”
There were even discussions of her family members coming out to Colorado for the May Red Rocks show.
Except, as we all know, that’s not how this year turned out.
BUKU Music and Art Project alongside mega acts like Flume, Run the Jewels and Megan Thee Stallion when she got news that organizers had canceled the festival. Herry stayed put at her partner’s home in Atlanta, where she remained as the city went under lockdown. She supposed she should organize her suitcase, still open with clothes flung everywhere, because she wasn’t going anywhere. One by one, all of her shows and festival appearances got canceled or postponed, a situation that most worried Herry because of her friends in the industry, like Morgenstern, who worked in production roles. It was devastating to watch.
Even with all her new free time, Herry couldn’t summon any desire to write music. But right after she moved into her new apartment in Denver, the George Floyd protests erupted in late May.
As Herry and I continue walking through RiNo, we turn onto Walnut Street and stand before a Breonna Taylor mural by street artists Hiero Veiga and Detour, whose works Herry has been following.
“Even as a foreigner, even if this isn’t where I was born, I feel involved in this cause,” she says. Addressing racial injustice “is so important, so heartbreaking. It’s just...fucked.”
Herry felt she had to do something. She marched in a downtown demonstration. She posted solidarity messages on her sizable social media accounts. But many people were doing those same things. What could she do that was unique?
She was also able to perform a number of live-stream events, including ones for the Shambala, Bonnaroo and Lollapalooza festivals. Ever focused on her team, she called up Morgenstern, who had an idea for how to make her joint Shambala/Bonnaroo live-stream stand out. They’d light up his back yard in Louisville with lasers, fog machines and colored lights.
Herry conceded it could look cool. But doing the show in the middle of a residential neighborhood…. What about the neighbors?
“That was definitely one of Chloé ‘s concerns,” Morgenstern recalls. “Like, dude, you’re just going to blast lasers and lights and strobes in your back yard?”
After thinking it over, he decided it was probably a good idea to give his neighbors, including some old retirees, a friendly heads-up. Morgenstern even called the local fire and police stations to let them know that Herry would be doing a headphones-only set, like a silent disco of one, just with thousands of dollars in lighting production. “If anybody calls, can you please make a note?” Morgenstern asked the Louisville police. “You know, like let them know we’re all good?”
In the live stream, which has been viewed hundreds of thousands of times, you can see Morgenstern’s impressive laser work. What you can’t see are the couple of neighbors who peeked their heads over the fence.
For a while, CloZee live streams popped up all over the Internet. Herry even did a free set at Knew Conscious, the art space run by Kurt Redeker, in order to support the venue and raise the profile of fellow Denver producers who perform there, like Templo and Lucid Vision.
Still, the live streams took a lot out of her. Each one had a unique set list, and by late summer, Herry admits, she was struggling with the absence of a crowd to interact with and feed off. She was about to give up on putting together new sets when she heard about a fresh concept: drive-in shows.
But were they safe? Like a field researcher, Herry actually went to a few shows as an audience member in order to experience them from a fan’s perspective. Did the sound deliver? Were people socially distancing? Could cars parked in the back see anything?
By October, she’d decided the shows were worthwhile enough to team up with Gramatik for a few drive-in concerts in Wisconsin, Illinois and Atlanta, and then a few more headlining (carlining?) shows of her own in Pennsylvania. To Herry, it felt much closer to playing a regular show. If only she could find a safe way to do that, too. Maybe someplace like…the Mishawaka?
Herry heard that the live electronic act SunSquabi planned to perform some limited-capacity shows at the venue, so once again, the researcher went out into the field to gather some data.
The SunSquabi shows were so great that Herry immediately had her booking agent get in touch with the Mishawaka management. “I was like, ‘I don’t care what I earn because of limited capacity and shit. I just want to do it because people need these types of safe, live shows,’” she recalls. “And the Mish crushed it.”
Granted, plenty of CloZee fans griped about the ticket sales; the shows sold out more quickly than Burning Man, and the private Facebook group “CloZee Tribe,” with 11,000 of the artist’s most fervent fans, got access to a pre-sale. But there was no conspiracy, she says: “Some of my friends didn’t get tickets.” With so many CloZee fans in the Centennial State, the artist did the only fair thing she could think of: She doubled her shows from four to eight.
Now that her reign of bass in the Poudre is behind her, Herry says she’s feeling up for the first time in months. She’s writing music again. She’s already started releasing fresh tracks on her new record label, Odyzey Music, and says she’s looking at potentially releasing work by other artists in the future.
“After the Mish shows, I finally have some inspiration back,” she says. “It revived the light in all of us.”
On a personal level, she’s excited that her partner will soon move from Atlanta to Denver. On a professional level, she’s hopeful that the emerging vaccines will allow venues to host shows again in 2021. Maybe then Herry will be able to realize her reason for choosing to live in Five Points: to be within walking distance of Cervantes’, so that she can regularly pop in and watch emerging artists there.
For now, she waits. Her Red Rocks date with Opiuo is currently rescheduled for October 10, 2021, and her entire Neon Jungle tour is on ice.
She says it’s been a tease moving to Denver when she can’t fully explore the city’s cultural underbelly, but once she can, perhaps she won’t feel so new here.
But the truth is, Denver’s been waiting for her.
When we stop inside the Denver Central Market to grab coffee and tea, a young woman in line sees Herry and goes wide-eyed over her mask.
“Excuse me,” she says shyly. “Are you CloZee?”
Just moments before, a friend of Herry’s had literally jumped for joy when he happened to spot her down the sidewalk.
“You’re back!” he exclaimed, rushing up to her.
During their brief conversation, the friend referenced a street nearby. “I don’t know, I’m a newbie here,” she’d replied.
“Get the fuck outta here,” her friend said. “You own this city!”
“Oh, no,” Herry responded, laughing.
She says that now. But if she continues to sell out venues, expand her label and build her brand in Denver, CloZee just might.