Maya Medvešek has spent a lot of her life in Glasgow, which you might guess from hearing her DJ. Something about the city seems to breed DJs who know how to rock a party by spanning genres and eras, unafraid to drop anthems while they do it. Medvešek is no different. Her sets encompass everything from classic acid house and electro to new-school grime and footwork. She has an enterprising spirit that keeps her selections adventurous and forward-looking, with a mixing style that hearkens back to the rough-and-ready days of classic Chicago house. This might be explained by her formative years spent in Ljubljana, a city she says took great influence from Chicago and Detroit.
It’s that push and pull between retro and futuristic that defines most of Medvešek’s work. Take her two recent EPs for Fool’s Gold. Wavejumper is a thrilling EP that combines Drexciyan electro with ghettotech and rap, while Sanctuary takes old rave music and polishes it. Her RA podcast is full of new and unreleased tracks that fold in techno, breakbeat, electro, footwork and acid. There are classic flavours from newer producers like Arttu and Bodyjack, early ’90s hardcore from Public Energy and an appearance from the king of rave throwbacks, Special Request. It’s mixed live from the decks at one of her favourite nightclubs, K4 in Ljubljana.
What have you been up to recently?
A great year so far. I released the Sanctuary EP on Fool’s Gold, Acid Mouse on Metro Jaxx, worked on remixes and music for a feature film, had the amazing opportunity to travel to India and teach production for women thanks to the British Council and Wild City, held Producergirls workshops, played some great gigs, celebrated five years of my club night, Nightrave, and my label, Heka Trax. It’s been a very personally transformative year as well as I’ve done a lot of inner work, shamanic retreats and practice, and feel I’m starting a new exciting chapter in my life and my music.
How and where was the mix recorded?
The mix was recorded at club K4 back home in Ljubljana, Slovenia while visiting. K4 is one of the oldest leading electronic music institutions in Slovenia (it’s been going since the late ’80s) and the first club I ever went to, so it has a special place in my heart. Recorded in one take on CDJs and a Pioneer mixer.
Can you tell us about the idea behind the mix?
Nice jackin’ house and techno party time, some classics, quite a lot of recent and unreleased stuff in there and a couple of my new tunes as well.
A lot of your productions and DJ sets incorporate old-school dance music sounds. What draws to you those classic styles?
I guess I’m partial to some rave nostalgia from when I started out, as it got me into DJing and producing, but mainly because it still holds so much energy and life. It’s no-nonsense music made for people to have a good time. I also love how club music has evolved into so many new forms and hybrids now, I often play quite a variety in my sets.
Is there a healthy scene in Ljubljana, and any producers or DJs to watch out for?
Ljubljana has always been a bit of a techno haven, I’m very grateful to have had such a good scene to look up to when I was a teenager—a fantastic Detroit and Chicago influence, loads of great electro, local producers like Umek and Random Logic. I moved to the UK in 2002, so I’m a bit out of touch but the scene is very vibrant. Try K4, Metelkova, Bozidar for clubs and look out for nights by Bojler, Stiropor, Rx:tx. If you like beautiful, shimmery jazzy vibes I recommend Your Gay Thoughts, they have a new album out soon.
What are you up to next?
Should have a couple more releases out this year and I’m starting a new label with a more focused direction. Apart from that, doing what I love most: DJing and travelling about. I also want to build on my therapist qualifications to hopefully help musicians with their mental health and wellbeing in the future. It’s all about creating a balance.
Nightwave – Rainbow Body (unreleased)
Lauren Flax – It’s Ours (unreleased)
Arttu – WD40 (Jack For Daze)
Arma – Girl (unreleased)
Bodyjack – Nataraja (unreleased)
Mak & Pasteman – Reakt (Boom Ting)
Oli Furness – Trigger (Jack For Daze)
Benny Rodrigues – Cocaine Speaking (UTTU)
Special Request – Make It Real (Gerd Janson & Shan Prance Mania Mix) (Houndstooth)
Raito – Gunman (BNR)
Lone – Oedo 808 (unreleased)
Defekt – Acid Bounce (Tripalium)
Solid Blake – Masha (Modeselektion)
Martyn Bootyspoon – Spread That Kat (Steve Poindexer Remix) (Fractal Fantasy)
Public Energy – Three O’Three (Stealth)
Mella Dee – Expansion (Warehouse Music)
Nightwave – Bang The Rocks (unreleased)
Bleaker – Hype (Funk) (UTTU)
Ritzi Lee – Reverse Processed (Theory)
Panteros666 – Euronature (Meteociel)
Clark – Honey Badger (Warp)
Kenny Larkin – Without Sound (Rush Hour)
Launching at The Bongo Club, Distrikt is presenting to you some of the best drum and bass, bassline and garage dj’s in the current scene and who better to headline our launch than DJ Q!
Part of the TQD collective, DJ Q is an innovative bassline DJ who is set to raise the roof for the first event. With recent performances at Boomtown and Lovebox festivals earlier this year, this event is one that is not to be missed!
Tickets have been flying, so don’t hang around if you’re keen! Grab one here.
We will be closing our doors for our annual summer hiatus, 16th July – 31st August, due to our lease being taken over by The Underbelly (who have a prior agreement with landlords Edinburgh City Council dating back more than 15 years now).
While we’re obviously saddened and somewhat financially hobbled by not being open for business through the Fringe, we have no choice in this matter, nor anywhere else to locate our events satisfactorily.
Please come and help us make our last week in the building until September a proper blast! It helps us to keep all the wheels turning (and the wolf from our doors).
It’s another coup for the Substance crew, as they join forces with Pulse once again to welcome Berlin native Boris Dolinski to our stage. He’s been resident at Berghain since Day One, having been involved with the original OstGut club & Panorama bar (from ’98 & ’00) before it opened.
But his heritage runs even deeper than that, as he also lived in New York in the mid-Eighties and was a regular at the legendary Paradise Garage and Loft parties when both were going strong, taking early DJ cues from Larry Levan and David Mancuso. How many DJs still active in the world today can lay claim to an involvement with such towering temples of dance music history?
This audio interview he gave to Resident Advisor, where he talks about his early clubbing experiences in Berlin and at the Garage and then becoming a DJ himself (‘all i want to do is create memorable experiences’), is worth a listen.
DJ Boris is kind of a charismatic, multifunctional weapon in the Berlin club life. His musical roots reach back to the mid 80s, when he lived in New York for four years where he absorbed the unique spirit of the seminal club Paradise Garage weekend after weekend. From the Club’s mentor Larry Levan Boris learned to believe in his musical intuition as well as a broad musical spectrum, which nowadays ranges from Disco, Hi-NRG, Post-Punk and (Kraut-) Rock to House and Neotrance, all of which Boris loves to throw into one set.
‘Music was most important for Levan. He was uncompromising and he knew how to convey it. That’s what I’m trying to achieve, too, when I’m djing.’ Many years later, Boris became a resident at Panorama Bar’s first incarnation in Berlin, where he was able to build a loyal following by playing long sets lasting until noon. ‘The crowd is always a lot more receptive for music at the end than at the beginning. That’s when I rather have the opportunity to present unusual stuff and that’s when I’m able to let my feelings run freely.’
After the old OstGut/Panorama Bar closed, Boris played in almost every club in Berlin, but when the follow up club Berghain opened its doors in 2004, he quickly focused on playing out here again. Since 2005 he has got another musical platform, as he is taking care of the label Careless Records as an A&R. Both as a dj and as an A&R, he is not exactly keen on refining a certain genre, but rather to push music with a certain twist.
We’re more than a little bit excited to be hosting the first Edinburgh show in some twenty years by ex-PiL bassist and all-round UK legend Jah Wobble, a unique character, a unique artist and a musician par excellence, who has worked with more inspiring artists on more records than just about anyone else who has played the Bongo in its 22 year history.
This 2014 interview by Robert Barry in the consistently excellent FACT Mag (copied below) goes some way to demonstrate why he and his amazing band are still considered in such high regard across the music scene, some 40 years after he first started out with ex-Sex Pistol John Lydon and co in post-punk innovators PiL, and also why his pioneering style is so perfectly suited to us at the Bongo.
Jah Wobble has been putting the old firm back together.
He speaks habitually of his players – in this case, longstanding group The Invaders of the Heart – as “the firm,” as if their business was bank robbery or football terrace violence instead of dubbed out pop fusion. At one point he refers to the band’s mid-’90s incarnation, when they were breaking into the Top 40 with hits like ‘Visions of You’ and ‘Becoming More Like God’, as “the Norwich City of the music scene.” Like the then-UEFA qualifying Anglian football club, he says, the group were “punching well above their weight.” But the current line-up of musicians, he insists, “are world class – and I am not saying that lightly.”
He’s a big fella, is Wobble, with a pronounced cockney accent, a face he claims has been compared to Vladimir Putin’s, and a very determined stare. When he looks at you and says he is not saying something lightly, you know not to take it so. But then he veers off into talk of karma and samadhi, quoting from Zen scholar Daisetsu Suzuki, and one is left with the curious impression of attending a yoga class with one of the Kray brothers.
In my head Jah Wobble looks much as he does on the cover of his autobiography, Memoirs of a Geezer. Suited and booted. Equal parts film noir detective and East End spiv. But today he could scarcely look more different. I’ve interrupted his morning run, so he’s wearing a sweat-blotched blue t-shirt and a baseball cap that says ‘bullshit’.
He talks incorrigibly, almost unstoppably. Even after I’ve told him we’re done and I’ve turned the tape off, he starts going on about his antipathy to art deco – something he puts down to the Highbury grounds of Arsenal FC, rivals to his beloved Tottenham. But I tentatively suggest it may have just as much to do with a more general resistance to grids and straight lines. For Wobble, everything moves in waves. and smooth curves. Nothing is ever clear cut.
“THE KARMA OF GOOD DEEDS IS RUNNING OUT,” HE TELLS ME. “IT’S ALL VERY UNSTABLE. ANYTHING CAN HAPPEN.”
He wasn’t always called Wobble. Once upon a time he was John Wardle, one of a group of friends at London’s Kingsway College that were all called John. It was thanks to one of those Johns – John Simon Ritchie, aka Sid Vicious – that he first picked up the bass. During the Sex Pistols years, Wardle would sometimes borrow Vicious’s bass while they sat up taking speed. “Bass chose me,” he says, “I don’t feel much separation between it and me.” Later, a friend stole him a guitar of his own. Without an amplifier for it, Wardle would lean the headstock against a piece of wooden furniture in order to amplify the vibrations.
In some ways this accounts for his famously negligent attitude towards his instrument. Former Can drummer, Jaki Liebezeit, with whom Wardle often collaborated in the early ’80s, would say, “it’s incredible, he just leaves his bass anywhere.” To which Wardle responds philosophically, “Where does bass dwell? It’s not in the bass. It’s in the interaction of things.” Learning to make drones by direct contact with a physical solid object “actually taught me more,” he reflects, “than having it powered into an amp. It’s natural vibration.”
But it was one of the other Johns – the one that at that time was still calling himself Johnny Rotten – that gave Wardle his first break into music. After his departure from the Sex Pistols, Rotten rang up his old pal from college, saying he wanted to start a band. Living at home at the time, on the dole, Wardle figured he didn’t have much to lose.
In Public Image Ltd., his heavy bass notes were the anchor, the solid physical object emanating heavy-duty vibrations, around which the increasingly deranged guitar and vocals would swirl and gyre like something conjured by the witches in Macbeth. “I was so lucky to have my bass to the fore, because I was a real amateur guy,” he reflects of PiL’s first two albums First Issue and Metal Box. “It was, like, three-quarters of the signal.”
Two years ago, Wardle returned to that second Public Image album for a series of gigs with the group’s original guitarist Keith Levene under the name Metal Box in Dub. This came as something of a shock to many observers, not only because Wardle had spent many of his interviews up to that point explaining that he and Levene had never got on, but also because both had eschewed the chance to appear in Lydon’s reformed Public Image in 2009 and now here they were onstage with the singer from a Sex Pistols tribute band. “It wasn’t a parody,” he insists. “I want somebody who sounds like him, as he did then. That’s the point. He’s sung these parts more than John probably has.”
“As much as anything,” Wardle tells me, the reunion came about due to a feeling that he “didn’t play enough with [Levene] back then.” With the benefit of maturity, he believed they could now make the old songs “sound better that it would have at the time.” His one regret concerning the reunion, he says, “was that we never recorded it.” Not for want of trying. They had even gone so far as to hire a mobile recording van for their London show at Shoreditch’s Village Underground, only to find that the distance from the stage to the car park was too long for the rig to stretch.
Wardle left the original PiL at the beginning of the 1980s. After a brief spell in a “power trio” with ex-Public Image drummer Jim Walker and a friend known as ‘Animal’, he put together The Invaders of the Heart. The original idea, he tells me, was “to try and present some of the feelings behind the music I’d heard from around the world.”
Since his teens, Wardle had been tuning into shortwave frequencies from around the globe, picking up bits of Egyptian chanteuse Om Khalsoum from Radio Cairo and Romani music on Radio Ankara. “It came with a natural phasing from the shortwave oscillations,” he explains, “which made it more exotic – as if it was coming from another universe.” The Invaders would bring this cosmically distorted oriental sound together with the “unpredictability” of jazz and the “spaciousness” of dub, all mixed together “in a very amateur, youthful way that probably annoyed a lot of more experienced musicians over the years.”
Around the same time, he started working with ex-Can members Holger Czukay and Jaki Liebezeit, first on Czukay’s solo album On the Way to the Peak of Normal, later receiving equal billing on Full Circle and Snakecharmer. This latter EP, Wardle calls “a mini-marriage made in heaven” for the way it brought together Czukay and Liebezeit with The Invaders of the Heart as a backing band and New York DJ François Kevorkian manning the controls.
In particular, the encounter between Liebezeit and Kevorkian’s Linn drum machine, Wardle describes as “like when Freud and Jung had a meeting, round the old oak table.” Things didn’t go so well for either party. The Can drummer “got freaked out” because it sounded like the drum machine was losing one and a half beats every minute. The Linn, for its part, ultimately threw in the towel. “A puff of smoke came out and it died.” Upon analysis, Liebezeit was vindicated. The drum machine was out of time. Czukay, delighted, exclaimed “He out-computered the computer!” Kevorkian, on the other hand, “was genuinely upset.”
Touring the record in ’83, Kevorkian showed them round the loft party scene, taking in the Garage as well as Disco Fever in the South Bronx amongst other spots. “Real exuberance,” is how he recalls the atmosphere of those clubs. “The whole idea of trance was very strong.” To Wardle, who had grown up listening to soul music, he recognised immediately a continuity with the all-nighters popular in ’70s Britain. It was, he says, all about that “special thing of people going into a room and actually worshipping the music. Real bass was respected.”
Bass, for Wardle, has always been about shapes and patterns. “I was self-taught,” he tells me, “so I made patterns – and I’m a ‘pattern mode’ guy when it comes to sequencers. It’s actually quite medieval in a way. Unlike the Bach view, of chordal progression which reads from left to right.” The statement makes me think of John Ruskin. In his mammoth work on the architecture of Venice, the Victorian art critic praised the inventive designs and ornate traceries of the gothic cathedral builders, in whom he saw the perfect marriage of craft and intellect; thought made healthy by labour and labour made happy by thought. If such a union is somewhat characteristic of post-punk as a whole, then it is particularly so of Jah Wobble, one of British music’s most articulate and philosophically-inclined spokesmen.
“WHEN I COME OUT OF PIL, I THOUGHT, GOD, I’VE GOT TO LAY OFF THESE POWDERS. BUT BY ’83, I’D GONE BACK ON THE POWDERS AGAIN.”
“It’s very theatrical in a way,” he says of post-punk (“that strange pot pourri”). And it’s this theatrical element that makes it a ripe vehicle for the expression of discontent. “There’s so many things involved in it, it’s somehow the perfect medium to say stuff and to suggest stuff.” But Wardle had little truck with the Red Wedge movement in support of the Labour Party that so many of his peers joined in the mid-’80s, detecting in it something “slightly juvenile”, though he will grant “that it was good that people resisted and were against Thatcher. For some reason it didn’t feel right for me at that time. But then again,” he shrugs, “I was an angry sort of bloke at that time so it was probably my problem.”
Wardle’s temper was once notorious, back in the days when his drunken stagger earned him the name Wobble. Histories of the punk scene tend to be littered with anecdotes detailing his various punch-ups. Even some years later, with Kevorkian in New York, he admits to being “very badly behaved. I was becoming a real nuisance at times out on the road so that started to fuck things up in every way.” He acknowledges that for much of his early career he was “drinking a lot” and taking drugs. “There was a little gap,” he says, “when I didn’t take drugs. When I come out of PiL, I thought, god, I’ve to lay off these powders. But by ’83, I’d gone back on the powders again.”
Around ’84–85, he says, “I just really broke down and had to stop drinking and drugging.” It was, he tells me, “like a bright star that suddenly imploded.” He spent several years working “part-time” in music whilst driving a mini-cab, and later, working on the London Underground. Finally, one day in 1986, his old percussionist Neville Murray came and knocked on his door. If it wasn’t for that call out of the blue, “I probably would have stayed on the Underground, to be honest. I said to him, do you really want to…? I was shocked.” That was the beginning of the group’s most successful phase, breaking into the charts and collaborating with Sinead O’Connor, Dolores O’Riordan, Natacha Atlas, Chaka Demus & Pliers – the Norwich City of the music scene.
He’s scarcely stopped releasing records since. Today, thanks in part to his own 30 Herz record label, he’s more prolific than ever. Over the last few years, new Jah Wobble projects – from Chinese dub to Moroccan chaabi to working with the Modern Jazz Ensemble or making electronic post-punk with Warp Records’ Julie Campbell – have become as regular as severe weather warnings. “I decided that I’d better hurry up and move,” he says, adding ominously, “events could take us over at any time.”
There’s always a note of apocalypse in the air with Jah Wobble. “The karma of good deeds is running out,” he tells me. “It’s all very unstable. Anything can happen.” When I point out that he’s expressed the same feeling about the period at the end of 1970s when he first joined PiL he retorts, “Yeah, and I think it was right to have it.” But Wardle takes “the long term view. What good I do now, when I die, the shadow of the good deed reverberates out and helps people in some way. The action will continue. Music’s a great emanator,” he continues. “It emanates out in a way other arts don’t.”
So the Wobble continues to send out wave upon wave, reverberating and emanating, innovating and inventing. “I’m always ready,” he says, “if a voice comes from above: Jah Wobble, you have had enough time, go away! I’ll go away. I’d be cool with that.” My suspicion is, that voice won’t be coming for a long while yet.
Back in the day, techno was such a boy’s club. You could count the ladies on the international stage on one hand. At one point, way back in the Nineties, there was just Eindhoven’s Miss Djaxx (owner of the mighty Djaxx-Up-Beats label). Then Grenoble’s Miss Kittin and Zywiec/Detroit’s Magda appeared in the late Nineties (plus doubtless one or two others, now forgotten). With pioneering auteurs such as Wendy Carlos (A Clockwork Orange, The Shining, Tron etc), Delia Derbyshire (BBC Radiophonic Workshop) and Cosey Fanni Tutti (Throbbing Gristle/Chris & Cosey) having done so much for electronic music in its early years, why should it just be the preserve of the men?
Attitudes have changed a fair bit of late and it’s more than a little bit refreshing to see so many women forging an international following as techno artists in 2018. Lena Willikens and Violet (aka Ines Countinho) are two such women and we’re proud to be hosting them, thanks to ace party-starters Lionoil. Each comes with no shortage of props and with good reason…
Willikens is a resident at Düsseldorf institution Salon des Amateurs, nearby her hometown, Cologne. She’s released on Cómeme, and as a firm member of the tribe she presents a monthly radio show ‘Sentimental Flashback’, which is class and very highly regarded. A packed diary with appearances at Panorama Bar, Berghain, Corsica, Concrete and Dekmantel alongside her long running residency tells you all you need to know about her prowess as a selector.
Violet is a relative newcomer to the international circuit, but with an equally expansive portfolio. Founder of Rádio Quântica in her hometown, Lisbon, she started the naive label last year and made a very strong impression at Berlin Atonal festival last year (recording below, so so dope). There is a strong political dimension to Ines’ work; organising a series of all-female techno releases for International Womens Day, which began with her 2014 cover of Detroit classic ‘Transition’ by Underground Resistance, which attracted much praise from the dance music community and UR themselves.
This interview Willikens gave to Alasdair King for The Ransom Note is fairly revealing:
The sky is an unpleasant shade of ominous grey as I walk amidst the hustle and bustle of Kingsland Road. It’s a moody Friday afternoon in East London and there is a stark chill in the air, summer seems far away. That evening Lena Willikens would play all night long alongside her old friend Valdimir Ivkovic at a warehouse space on the shadowy outskirts of town, the flickering lights of the city but a distant glimmer against the deep black of night.
I meet the pair at Gillet Square around rush hour and am greeted with polite smiles and handshakes, both Lena and Vladimir have been on the road for quite some time, there’s no exit route in sight. As disc jockeys and artists affiliated with electronic music they seem far removed from the stereotypical intricacies many whom spend their nights beneath the glow of lights often portray. There is a humble honesty to the way in which they speak and present themselves, this was not “the dream” but a reality based upon an array of spectacular circumstances and events which helped shape a career.
It is hard not to reference Düsseldorf at this point.
Salon des Amateurs remains a sparkling example of an institution which has helped define a narrative within a particular niche of music. It is more than simply a club but a state of mind and the perfect representation of in which music meets environment. There isn’t a stereotypical sound but a sense of understanding as to the history which exists behind each of the founders and to whom the environment is curated for. Both Lena and Vladimir have held long residencies at the club in recent years, honing their craft and expanding their breadth of knowledge along the way.
Lena talks about the early days of the club.
“In the beginning Salon was not supposed to be a club at all, it was just a place to meet, hang and listen to music. During the first few years it attracted a lot of people who couldn’t really name what it was, they didn’t understand what was happening there. There were huge queues on a Saturday night and we would run a really strict door. People played free jazz records at ‘peak time’ and there wasn’t even supposed to be a ‘peak time’. All of a sudden so many people started coming and were interested in dancing to weird shit and this led to the first regular party every weekend. I wasn’t djing back then but Vladimir was, for me it was just really welcoming and about sharing new music that we discovered. It wasn’t about DJ egos.”
The club acted as a gateway and helped form the basis of an ideology which many of those associated with Salon des Amateurs have since adopted. Just as the parties were free natured and unconfined so must be the belief system behind the people playing the records. In fact, even the notion of a “DJ” in a formal context remains up for debate when referencing the musical trajectory and style of Lena Willikens.
“For me it (the club) was super important. Without it I might never have started dj’ing and running my own nights. There wouldn’t be this belief in sharing music. It’s never been about ‘dj skills’, that was never the focus, just the music. Logically becoming a ‘dj’ was never something I intended and I still have a hard time identifying myself with the profession. However, sometimes it really amuses me. I enjoy reading the faces after telling people ‘i’m a ‘dj” and guessing the stereotypical images in their heads…”
Whilst the club acted as an entry point for Lena there have been several chance encounters which have helped her navigate through the collision course that is modern day electronic music. Cómeme, the imprint run by Matias Aguayo aided in the output of her first EP back in 2015 whilst her long standing radio show “Sentimental Flashback” was also hosted on the label’s illustrious radio station for a number of years. However, these opportunities were not sought but granted, an ethos which Lena has applied to the way in which she lives her life day by day. She smiles with genuine honesty as she reflects on her aspirations, or not, as they may be.
“All my life I’ve refused to think about ‘becoming something’. Having a profession has always felt weird and wrong. I try to stay an amateur and don’t let too much routine into the game. I try to avoid repeating myself too much, in order not to bore myself. I’m not someone who looks back much and I’ve never enjoyed picturing the future.”
There is very much a priority placed upon the present, throughout our conversation this becomes clear and apparent in regard to a variety of circumstances and life choices, not just musically but across the board… When asked about the nature of stereotypes and her somewhat abstract take on the world of dance music she laughs and relays the manifesto. It’s admirable to say the least.
“It’s neither a choice nor an accident. It´s a consequence of what I’ve done in my life so far, and which people I’ve met. I was lucky to meet a bunch of wonderful open minded people at Salon des Amateurs and in the Cómeme crew, all are dedicated to music and willing to share. Stereotypes are boring and for me it’s more of an instinct to avoid them in order to keep me going. Not only in music but in life in general.”
Little is certain and self reflection has the potential to bore and tire. Why look back? This brings us to the conclusion of our conversation, a refreshing insight into the nature of the mindful experience behind the booth which is often forgotten. Having reconciled the nature of musical discovery and the importance of a humble presentation Lena places emphasis on how best to proceed in an era in which analysis and saturated opinions far too often have the last word. If you weren’t there then what do you know?
“I really enjoy creating special moments together with people who are willing to go on a journey with me. It’s over when the lights turn on and these moments become something else in your memory – but cannot be reproduced. It’s not creative detachment, I think it’s actually the opposite. In order to create something in the moment, which I can identify with, I have to be emotionally connected with the music and the crowd. Listening back to a live recording is frustrating because too much information is missing and sometimes I just can´t recreate the feeling of the night in my head. It tries to capture something which cannot be captured. From the temperature of the room to the smell, the mood of the crowd, the atmosphere behind the bar, and so on… It’s not just the DJ and their music that’s involved in creating something that’s special, or something that’s not.”
And this interview with Violet (courtesy of laccroix.com) is equally enlightening:
Almost ten years ago, when Myspace was the best option to listen and discover new talent that was only at a distance of a mouse click, A.M.O.R., two female rappers from Lisbon (Violet and Honey), catch my attention with intelligent lyrics, really peculiar flow and beats that blended Hip Hop, Grime, Dubstep and blinking the eye to other musical hybrids. I never stop following them since then and what a better moment to ask Violet (Inês Coutinho) for an interview if not right now, following her recent collaboration with Versace for SS16 Haute Couture show?
Lacroixx: I will begin by saying that I still proudly keep your first mixtape, the CD-R “Cor-de-Rosa” from A.M.O.R., a captivating work since the beginning which let us with powerful tracks like “Game Over” or “Abecedário”. How did the group start to take form with your “partner in crime” Honey?
Violet: Aw, thank you – means a lot to know you got it at the time. It all began almost 10 years ago in Lisbon. It literally started on a specific day – 5th October 2006. It was a holiday and we had nothing to do – Maria (Honey) is my cousin and we would hang out a lot. We both loved hip hop, especially Portuguese hip hop, and we both had a vein for creating so we thought we’d write a lyric over a Sam The Kid beat off of his “Beats Vol.1 – Amor” album. We recorded it on my laptop, uploaded it to MySpace and from then on we just kept them coming.
A.M.O.R released in 2013 the excellent début album “∞” where Rap merges with instrumentals that go beyond Hip Hop. Can we expect the same irreverence in future works from A.M.O.R.?
Yes, I think that will always be inevitable for us. We relate to a vibe, not a genre – and it’s definitely a futuristic yet super emotional thing that we aim for. I feel like in the end, it is hip hop to be fair – just not a revival type of hip hop. We’ll definitely keep that edge in any music we put out in the future – we really can’t help it!
You were initially working with talented producers and beatmakers inside your group of friends like DJ Núcleo till you start producing your own music. How did Violet moniker and solo work start to take form?
Our first beat was by DJ Núcleo (Abecedário) and then we got some stuff from Photonz for “Game Over” and we fucking loved it. For the album we worked with Photonz, Shcuro, Niagaraand Chainless, some of our favourite Lisbon producers. I did produce ‘Reality Check’ for A.M.O.R. around 2007 but didn’t pursue production very seriously until 2010 when I started playing around with Ableton more often. By 2011 I had some interesting material but no finished tracks yet, and it wasn’t until early the next year that I wrapped my head around finishing tracks (it’s a right mission for me) – the first track I finished was ‘Palmas’. I put it up on Soundcloud and it got signed straight away by Nazar from Wicked Bass, and that was a real push for me to finish more tracks as I had to come up with an EP for the label – and so I did. By July my 1st solo release ‘Collective Data’ was out.
I bought that EP, “Collective Data”. “Palmas” never left my Dj sets, was such a blow of fresh air when I first heard it. These steps in music production lead you to being selected for RBMA Barcelona. Did you feel that experience was influential in your career after 2008?
My time at the RBMA was amazing and certainly helped me shape the way I look at my ‘career’ (really don’t like this word ahah). The lectures with idols like Gary Bartz, Front 242 or Goldie inspired me to do my best and work on my dreams, while my co-participants were amazing humans that inspired me to really dig deep in my soul to reach for that creative, original drive… My artistry really. They were all so talented, phew. I came back really energised (no pun intended) and bursting with ideas and plans.
One of the things I truly admire in your work is the chameleonic way how you express with the same intensity the creation of explicit music for the dancefloor, other times more chill or even song writing where you also sing or rap. Do you have a preference when creating or it can result in a surprise at any time.
I guess like all humans I experience quite a wide palette of emotions daily. I tend to listen quite closely to them but I’m not great at ritualising my emotions: I’m not the kind of romantic who will buy flowers and chocolates or call my friends just because, but I’m the go-to person to talk about anything for hours on end when my loved ones need me. I love big hugs and real human contact, and I often find myself having a very meaningful conversation with someone at a café, over the phone or even at a big rave. I feel like this kind of non-conventional emotional intensity really bleeds into my music, too. If I were to be honest about my experiences when expressing myself through sound, I would 100% have to reflect this, and that’s what I do. I also think that the intensity you mention comes from the fact that I love so many types of music with so much passion. I’m a sucker for a Chicago acid banger as much as atmospheric, melodic stuff or a great pop song, and I wouldn’t feel comfortable limiting myself artistically so I think anything could come out.
Your cover of Underground Resistance’s “Transition” inspired all the team of Donatella Versace and the fashion designer herself which created an “empowering” collection for women that helped introduce a new concept, the “Athletic Couture” Spring/Summer 2016. What was your idea when you first started to develop your version of Undergrond Resistance which has magnificent voices from different female collaborators.
For “Transition”, the idea was to celebrate International Women’s Day by re-working a classic I absolutely love. I felt like it would be great to get together with a group of girls and write that amazing piece of history again, from a female perspective. It’s a track that influenced us all so it really made sense. I did my version of the beat and Nancy Wang, 88, Nightwave, Mamacita and Coco Solid added their beautiful vocals. It wasn’t until 6 months later that Simon, the music consultant for Versace, got in touch to use the acapella for the Prêt-à-Porter SS16 show. It was a mind-blowing experience to watch the actual show streaming live – my boyfriend and I, eating toast in our kitchen in London, jaws dropped.
From the initial solicitation to use your cover of Underground Resistance till the invitation to create the entire 15 min of Donatella’s parade, it was a very small step that resulted in the soundtrack “Body/Soul 2.0”. How did all the process happen and how has been the feedback?
After the Prêt-à-Porter SS16, Versace got in touch to ask for an original piece for their SS16 Haute Couture show. That happened early this year. I locked myself in my bedroom-studio and came up with a set that merges some of my favourite tracks I’ve produced alongside an ace remix Ursa’s Reef (a.k.a. Photonz, my boyfriend) did for my track Miami. I wrote additional percussion and tweaked the tracks for hours on end, wrote lyrics with the Athletic couture in mind – Ms. Donatella Versace sent me a few pointers on the vibe of the collection and what emotions she wanted to convey. Such an amazing woman to work with. Simon, Versace’s music consultant and Photonz were both instrumental in the process, helping me through my nervous breakdowns and pointing me towards the best decisions be it length-wise or arrangement-wise (the show timings are very precise). My boyfriend mastered the track and we both got on the Eurostar to see the show live in Paris – it was an unforgettable experience. The people at Versace were super gracious and down-to-earth while very inspiring and professional, and they really adored the piece which was a great feeling. I got very nice feedback from lots of places, from instagram to facebook, media and real life. It was very humbling to get so much love from it.
Together with Photonz (Marco Rodrigues), your boyfriend, both have been collaborating in different fields of music such the creation of D55 label or the most recent Rádio Quântica, which delivers radio programming with focus on Portuguese artists. It seems to me it works also to stir people’s minds, not only the radio heads but the listeners themselves. Do you think there is a lot to do to provide a voice to Portuguese talent?
Marco (Photonz) and I work very well together. We really thrive on bouncing ideas and making things happen – trying to illustrate our common dreams in this reality is something we have a penchant for. We both felt, when we started Quântica last year, that Portugal’s most exciting talent had little to no representation in the radio medium. We felt the same about the political and philosophical ideas we believe in: they seemed to have no place in radio (or any conventional media). With the radio station we aim to make that music, that art, those ideas more accessible to everyone: kind of a cultural fast-forward, as Marco brilliantly puts it. There is still a lot that can be done to make the local artistic playground a fairer one, and we’ll be sure to keep contributing towards that goal.
You live for some years now in London, was the search for new musical challenges that made you leave Portugal?
We moved to London because we see living abroad as a very enriching experience on so many levels. The artistic level is one of them, and it’s a city that can really push you to be more assertive and productive with your passions. On the other hand, it’s a place where the possibility of being a freelance DJ is very real, as there are so many venues and opportunities, and flying to other European countries is so accessible from there.
Picking up the two main subjects of this interview, the women and the Portuguese music scene, can you leave us five names of Portuguese female artists to discover?
EDND, she is half on Roundhouse Kick, one of One Eyed Jacks’ (the label Photonz founded and my primary music home) mainstays. Her music is both beautiful and honest – I don’t think I can recall anyone who can convey their emotion so clearly in their music.
EMAUZ, she crafts a really interesting and vibey blend of acid and techno, but there’s also a very soft and soothing vibration to it.
mariavapordagua, is half of A.M.O.R. but she also makes her own beats. The first one will be released on the new Labareda compilation and features really fresh and original drum patterns and a super tight bass.
Caroline Lethô, a young producer who is really inventive and passionate. Her productions can be quite nocturnal yet energetic, great stuff.
Sonja is a DJ who plays regularly in Lisbon and blends a deep and vibey combination of genres in a variety of atmospheres with real style. She’s also putting out an all-girl compilation on her label Labareda, where you can finds lots more Portuguese girls who are making music.
We’ve lost count of the number of times Shy FX has played Edinburgh, not to mention the Bongo. One of the original ruffneck, Ragga Jungle pioneers from the Nineties, he bulldozed into the public eye with stone cold classic anthem Original Nuttah, scoring his first UK Top 40 hit in the process, alongside equally legendary MC and ruffneck vocalist UK Apache, back in 1994. [There have been a fair few more since, not least his massive collaboration with T Power and soul/r n b vocalist Di, Shake Ur Body, in 2001.]
His light speed riddims married with rude boy rhymes create a unique sound that Edinburgh, and especially the Bongo, loves and he’s somehow managed to maintain his edge throughout a career spanning more than 25 years. Oh yes, we’re set for a proper scorcher tonight!
Check out the great interview/feature (from last year) below, courtesy of Skiddle’s Marko Kutlesa, where Shy talks about his many productions, recording style and reggae soundsystem culture.
Though he often wears a cap, perhaps in part to hide the hair he’s lost, I still wouldn’t like to guess the age of Andre Williams, aka Shy FX. Though he’s been consistently releasing music since his 1993 debut, barely a sign of ageing registers on his face and his voice, quite softly spoken, gracious and impeccably polite, sounds like that of a man in his late teens or early twenties.
However this is not a man whose appearance alone defies his years. Throughout his two decade plus career he has managed to produce music that sounds so fresh that, while maintaining a consistent fan-base, has also managed to appeal directly to the youngest ravers amongst us.
Brought up around reggae soundsystem culture (his grandfather was famed 1970s London DJ, record label owner and soundsystem chief Count Shelly), Shy FX’s first forays into music production were in the reggae indebted spheres of jungle. He scored a huge hit right at the start of his career with 1994’s ‘Original Nuttah’.
He established a trend for collaboration thereafter and has most closely been linked with studio partner T Power with whom he released two albums, 2002’s Set It Off and 2005’s Diary Of A Digital Soundboy, the former containing top ten UK chart hit ‘Shake Ur Body’, the latter released on Shy FX’s own label Digital Soundboy (which has also released music by Breakage, Calibre, B Traits, Zed Bias, Skream, Benga and Caspa).
Shy FX has since collaborated with and produced music for the likes of Dizzee Rascal, Plan B, Yasmin, Naughty Boy, Wiley and Emeli Sandé plus Kano, Donae’o and Roses Gabor and re-emerges in 2017 with amazing new single ‘We Just Don’t Care’, which displays a wildly different music approach to previous offerings. You can’t, however, say that it’s a comeback, because Shy FX has never been away and you can’t call it a reinvention, because he’s made different musics throughout his career.
I really like the new single ‘We Just Don’t Care’. Where was the video filmed and what was the idea behind it?
Thanks! The video was shot in South Africa. I’m a fan of Craig (Moore), the director and I just wanted to get a high energy dance video that wasn’t, well… you know you can get some videos like that which can be kind of cheesy? I wanted something that was visually pleasing but still had a sense of urgency and was still pretty gritty, but polished at the same time. I know that sounds like a really mad description, but I definitely think it caught the vibe of the tune.
Is the other music you’re currently working on in a similar vein to ‘We Just Don’t Care’?
Yes and no. Everything’s completely different. Before playing ‘We Just Don’t Care’ to people I found it really difficult to describe. A tune at 128 bpm that sounds like me, quite tribal, that’s the closest I could get. Everything else, again, there’s a mixture of loads of different things thrown into the pot. Again, it sounds like me, but you just can’t quite put your finger on what it is or put it into a genre.
I suppose no is the easiest answer [laughs], because the next tune is at a different tempo and has a completely different vibe. It still doesn’t sound like anything else.
Is this single the precursor to an album?
Not so much. It’s just me getting loads of music out there. I think next year I’ll try and focus on putting an album out, but right now it’s about getting different styles and vibes out there.
I ask because, although you’ve been quite prolific as a producer, you’ve not really been that prolific in making albums (you had your debut and the two albums you did with T Power). Why is that?
I just think it’s important for you to have something to say when you do an album. I set up Digital Soundboy as well and along with all the touring and stuff… to sit down and think this is what I want to do and this is what I want to put out as a body of work, I take that seriously.
I think now is the time for me to do that. I had my head in the Digital Soundboy thing and in helping other people with production with their stuff and everything else that comes with being involved with running a label, other acts, but I’ve now put that aside and I’m fully focused on my own stuff.
What happened to the material you were putting together for the album that had the working title Cornerstone/Larger Than Life about 5 years ago? Did that material come out?
[Laughs] No, it didn’t, but it’s going to. With that project it was straight up reggae, but I always find that, when you do projects, people expect, for the rest of the year at least, for you to tour that and that kind of defines you for a period. And although I really love reggae I didn’t want to do a whole campaign around it, which is what would’ve been expected. But there’s over an album’s worth of music for that project which will come out as EPs. That way I can do it as an ongoing thing.
I didn’t want it to be like, “Here’s my reggae album and that’s that” because I’m always going to make it. I think ‘Cornerstone Vol 1’ and ‘Cornerstone Vol 2’ is going to work much better. That way I can keep it moving.
When the music you’re recording changes style should people expect the music you play as a DJ to also change?
Anyone that’s seen or heard me play knows that it’s very eclectic. It’s not so eclectic that it’s bordering on wedding DJ, the dots always join. And what I make is generally what I play in my set, but what I play in my set is also what I’m making, if that makes sense? It’s just what I’m feeling like at the time, what am I trying to say, let me make it, let me play it. I don’t really think any deeper than that. I’m fortunate enough to be able to make whatever’s in my head, whatever I’m vibing with, so that’s what I go with.
I just had this conversation with someone recently and I just think it’s nuts when you walk into a studio with a blank canvas, you don’t know what’s going to happen and a few hours later you’ve got something new in the universe. That’s so mad. For people to stick to one particular thing, I just don’t get it. There are so many different vibes you can put out into the world, I never know which one it’s going to be.
Which DJs that operate outside of drum ‘n’ bass music do you enjoy listening to?
Oh, wow. Right now, today, the answer would be someone like Benji B. Still Gilles Peterson, as well. They seem to catch my vibe, you never really know what you’re going to hear when you listen to those guys. It’s always a bit of an education, but you always hear grooves, music that touches your soul, when you listen to those guys. So, right now Benji and Gilles, but tomorrow that changes. There’s so many.
What do you see as being the similarities, if there are any, between ‘Original Nuttah’, ‘Shake Ur Body’ and ‘We Just Don’t Care’?
Woah! Erm… I think with all those three tracks I definitely went in the studio in I-don’t-give-a-shit mode. It literally was just sitting down making music until I was jumping up and down. I can’t say tempo, that’s for sure. It’s just touching on groove and mixing loads of elements together, which is what I generally do, I guess. With ‘We Just Don’t Care’ I think the closest thing I’ve done to that is ‘Bambaata’ in terms of it being tribal and the bass, the cinematic feel as well. But I don’t know if I can join those three. Can you?
I think you can join the dots between ‘Original Nuttah’ and ‘Shake Ur Body’. And I think you can join the dots between ‘Shake Ur Body’ and ‘We Just Don’t Care’, so yes. Not in the tempos maybe, not in the rhythms, but maybe in the vibe, maybe in the excitement of the music, yes. For me, they all sound like you.
Yeah, I think there’s a sense of urgency in there. Definitely the vocal, harmony wise, between ‘Shake Ur Body’ and ‘We Just Don’t Care’, you can join those dots. But generally I’d have to pass on that question, ha! I couldn’t tell you mate.
On the cover of the Simple Tings EP you’re pictured with your dog. Do you still keep a dog?
No, not anymore unfortunately. That was a Great Dane. Nobody’s ever asked me that question before, ha!
My mate, Shane Loughlin, used to work in a big secondhand record store in Manchester, Vinyl Exchange, and he was in charge of the drum ‘n’ bass. They had that record on display and he’d stuck a speech bubble above your head and wrote “I’m Shy FX and I love my dog” on the cover, so I never forget that sleeve.
Ahahahahahaha. Oh, wow. And that’s when I had hair as well. I had hair and I didn’t wear a cap.
T Power, your old production partner, is quoted as saying the reason he made his 1995 debut album in a more experimental drum ‘n’ bass style was he wanted to get away from a lot of the politics that were around jungle music at the time. Did you ever experience those politics and how did they affect you?
Yeah, every day, but just like now I don’t really care, I just get it done and keep it moving. I think that’s the only thing you can do. People come, people go, opinions are like arseholes etc.
At the time, when I was younger, there was loads of different camps and everyone was trying to fight for space, everyone was talking about what you should and shouldn’t do. Whenever that happens it just makes me fall into my own space and just make music, kind of like giving a middle finger up. I never really get involved in all of that. I just do what feel is right.
What, for you, are the parallels between reggae soundsystem culture and jungle/drum ‘n’ bass culture?
From basic stuff like rewinds to dubplate culture?
Whichever way you want to take the question…
[Laughs] OK, cool. Well a lot of us came from the reggae culture so I suppose we brought a lot of that vibe with; the way we played and selected music, the rewinds.
In fact, it’s pretty strange now where a lot of the younger guys who haven’t grown up on that culture and maybe not on the grime culture either, they just don’t understand the idea that when you get a tune that’s so sick, you rewind it and play it again from the beginning. They look at you like “What. Are. You. Doing?” I think they get it more now, but playing dubplates with your name on as well, they can sometimes be like “We know who you are. Why have you got your name on every track? What’s that about?”
The bass, the sense of community as well, particularly with the early jungle scene, not so much with drum ‘n’ bass. Yeah, I think because a lot of us came from there we just brought it into what we were doing.
In your own words, can you define what kind of unique voice the world of drum ‘n’ bass has lost with the sad passing of Marcus Intalex?
Oh, man… Can I think about that and maybe e-mail you an answer? I don’t just want to say something and not get it right, it just means too much.
[Unfortunately Shy FX’s incredibly busy schedule and perhaps the obvious sadness he displayed meant that no addition to this answer was sent]
Did your paths cross much? Did you see him regularly?
Not so much over the last couple of years. It was a couple of years ago I last saw him, at the Soul In Motion night. We were just vibing and, as always, talking about music and technical stuff, plug ins.
Which of his releases have you most frequently played when DJing out?
Probably ‘Lover’ by M.I.S.T. And the ‘I Like It’ remix which goes way back to 1995. When he did that I did ‘This Style’. It was the same kind of vibe. He definitely influenced me in making that. Obviously I play a lot of his stuff, but those are the two that stick in my set.
Riding high on the success of her remix of Octo Octa’s ‘Adrift’ (one of last year’s best releases for many DJs), a busy international DJ schedule (not least her much discussed B2B set with Copnehagen’s ace DJ Courtesy at the mighty Sonar festival in Barcelona) and a slew of fine releases prior to that, Avalon Emerson makes her Bongo debut for Substance on Friday 16th Feb. To say we’re looking forward to welcoming her to the Bongo is a bit of an understatement… TICKETS
Here’s a transcript of Will Lynch’s great Resident Advisor piece (from November 2016), plus video clips of some of her previous stand-out releases:
Last week, Avalon Emerson released a video for “Natural Impasse,” a track from her new record on Spectral Sound, Narcissus In Retrograde. She made the whole thing herself using emojis and clips from her phone, a process she explained on her YouTube channel.
“I trimmed each video, turned them into gifs, and processed them into various emojisaic gifs using a ruby script created by my friend Lucas Mathis (github: @lilkraftwerk), then edited them all together using Adobe Premiere, a process that took me about two months.”
Those three things—the gnarled club track, the homemade video, the scrappy method behind it—tell you a lot about Emerson as an artist and a person. For as long as she can remember, she’s found a creative outlet in music and technology, and has pursued both with relentless energy and resourcefulness, teaching herself to code, to make tracks and many other things besides. This self-efficacy helped propel her to where she is today—28, an ex-software developer, full-time DJ and producer. But there’s something else, also present in that clip, that makes her so compelling as an artist. For Emerson, this music is a rawer form of self-expression than it is for many of her peers. With all of her output, including her DJ sets and club tracks, she offers a window into herself, however oblique it may be.
Take Narcissus In Retrograde. For a bundle of club tracks, this record has an unusually deep personal dimension. The music is rooted in a period of change in Emerson’s life—the same stretch of time captured in the video. “It’s been a tumultuous year,” she told me. “A good year, but difficult. Quitting my job. Going through some intense relationship events with my family. Falling in love, and finally being in a relationship with a woman. On a micro level, it was fantastic. On a macro level, though, it’s seemed like the world was crumbling, especially with every piece of news from America. Another young black boy gunned down by police, a shooting at a Planned Parenthood, us electing this orange shit-mound for the highest possible office. There’s a strange tension there.”
We were sitting in the living room of her apartment in Neukölln, a bright attic space with wood floors and angled walls. She just moved in a few weeks ago—that’s her at 5:30 in the video, opening a box of sound treatment foam for her studio. When we first spoke, some three weeks earlier, she’d been warm but guarded, at times playfully sardonic (she raised an eyebrow at one of my questions and said, “So in other words, ‘What’s it like to be a woman DJ?'”). Things had changed since then. Trump had been elected president days earlier, an event so ominous it made it hard to talk about her music and her life as an artist.
Her recent set at Panorama Bar was a welcome diversion. She’d gone back-to-back with Courtesy for the final stretch of Leisure System, and was still glowing from the experience. Courtesy’s selections skewed dark and heady—I recognized only Karl Lukas Pettersson’s “Paradise Island” on Acido. Emerson was more flamboyant. “I’m like the colour commentator in the NBA—’Whoa! Boom! There it goes!‘”
By which she meant she played a lot of curveballs: The Knife’s “Silent Shout,” Nine Inch Nails’ “Ringfinger,” Ryuichi Sakamoto’s “Rain,” Joe Claussell’s remix of Radiohead’s “Everything In Its Right Place,” and my personal favorite, an acapella of Aaliyah’s “Are You That Somebody” layered over the opening bars of Gesloten Cirkel’s “Submit X.” In each of these selections, there was an element of autobiography. The Knife was one of Emerson’s early influences, and “Ringfinger” was on Pretty Hate Machine, an album her mother “played the shit out of” when she was growing up. Ryuichi Sakamoto is another old favorite—she’d made the edit of “Rain” minutes before leaving for the club.
“A lot of my favorite edits come to me right before I play Panorama Bar,” she said. “It’s like clockwork. I did ‘Rain’ literally 20 minutes before the cab came, and I exported it wrong somehow so it was only one break. I played the original and then mixed in my break, basically doing a live Cybernedit.” (Cybernedits being her ongoing series of free club edits.) “It’s so easy to understand what is and isn’t tasteful or cool in a certain genre and play it off your USB,” she said. “Surprise and re-contextualization of familiar morsels—that’s what I like most about playing places like Panorama Bar and De School.”
Gigs at leading clubs like those are a regular thing for Emerson these days. Something she hadn’t mentioned about 2016 was that, amidst all that upheaval, she’d had an incredible year as an artist. Her reputation as a DJ boomed, and for the first time she spent most weekends traveling for gigs. This breakthrough had been a long time coming, but there was a needle that broke the camel’s back: her EP on Whities.
“People loved that one,” she said. “That pushed things over the edge, I started getting a shit-ton more gigs and the decision to quit my job was kind of made for me.”
It’s not surprising that particular EP had such an impact. Whities 006 is an ecstatic techno record, at once rowdy and euphoric. The atmosphere is bright and windswept, the rhythms soar as if carried by gusts of wind. DJ-friendly as they are, its tracks—”2000 Species Of Cacti,” “The Frontier” and “The Frontier (High Desert Synthapella)”—brim with a heart-clenching emotion fitting to the topic that inspired them: Arizona, the place where Emerson grew up.
“Try as we might,” she recently told CRACK, “we can’t escape where we came from. You hold a fondness for the place you started out in, even if you wanted nothing more when you were 16 than to leave that fucking place.”
Emerson was born in San Francisco but spent most of her young life in Gilbert, Arizona, where she never felt like she belonged. Her household was an exception. Both parents were into music. Along with Nine Inch Nails, her mother played a lot of synth pop in the house—”Propaganda, Frankie Goes To Hollywood, Depeche Mode”—and also got her into astrology, which, as her track titles suggest, still inspires her today (when I asked about the phrase “triple scorpio supernova” on her RA artist page, she replied with this screen-grab). Her dad was into guitar, and the two of them would record themselves playing together using a program called Cakewalk, which sparked her interest in music production software.
From a young age Emerson was creative and resourceful. “That was kind of out of necessity,” she said. “Building my own computers and figuring out how things work. Not being able to afford software and figuring out how to download and crack stuff. Computer-based music creation was always super fascinating for me. I mean, even when I was super young, maybe like 11 or 12, me and my little sister would record songs on Cakewalk.”
Beyond the bubble of her friends and family, though, was a conservative stretch of America that Emerson knew she’d leave one day. She graduated high school with a full scholarship to Arizona State, where she studied journalism, but her time there only made her more determined to get away. At 19, she took an internship in San Francisco. The idea was to come back and finish her degree at ASU, but when the time came, she couldn’t do it. “I was ready to be an adult instead of staying in this stunted state of maturity you get in college,” she said. “So I dropped out.”
Emerson landed on her feet in San Francisco. She found work easily, first interning at tech startups and, later, XLR8R. Having taught herself to write code, she managed a web-store for a family of San Francisco boutiques, then got various jobs developing software for Bay Area tech companies. Armed with a fake ID, she explored the city’s underground scene. “There was this whole world of music I hadn’t had any exposure to,” she said. “Going to my first Honey Soundsystem and other queer parties, I’d never seen anything like that. I was into Pitchfork-y things like Crystal Castles or whatever. Then hearing, like, Argentinian cumbia, it’s like, ‘Whoa, what the fuck is this? This is tight!'”
That last one was presumably at Tormenta Tropical, a party cofounded by Shawn Reynaldo (then known as Disco Shawn) with whom Emerson had worked at XLR8R. “The party was in the Elbo Room, in the middle of The Mission,” she said. “This little upstairs place with low ceilings, kind of dank, with carpet and coloured Christmas lights, and these technicolor kaleidoscope Virgin Mary things, lit from behind. You could get a Tecate for a few dollars with a little lime in it. There were a lot of small little parties like that. It was a lively scene when I was there.”
But as musical influences go, nothing could touch Emerson’s second Bay Area residence: a 12-room warehouse in the SoMa neighborhood she’d found on Craigslist. The place was massive, home to 14 young creative types from around the world. It was also, occasionally, an illegal party spot called Club 380, where Emerson became a de facto resident DJ.
“There was this guy there named Matt, he was a couple years older than me and a really good DJ technically. His taste was different from what was popular at the time—more of a ravey sound instead of the DFA, nu-disco thing you always heard back then. When we threw parties, Matt and I would DJ all night. That was the first taste of real DJing I had.”
It was because of those parties that Emerson started making edits. At first she’d use Ableton to make small changes—extending intros, cutting out parts she didn’t like. Over time she got more creative, and soon she was making original productions. Thanks to a rigorous, self-imposed work schedule, she quickly honed her skills.
“I liked it, and I wanted to be good at it, so I made up my mind that I would make one track every month. I also decided to be my own PR agency. I made this massive rolodex of blogs and music media outlets, everything from small WordPress blogger sites to things like XLR8R and Mixmag. I would collect the contact information, and every time I created a track, I would write 100 personal emails to all these people. Some people picked it up and put it on their blogs. It was pretty addictive. If you release something and five pretty decently-sized blogs cover it, and it gets 10,000 plays and all these comments of like, ‘This is great!!,’ you get energized to make the next song and develop your skills.”
The once a month thing was key. “I know a lot of producers and writers and people in a lot of creative passions, professions, that will just continually work on something to no end, in private. You see yourself as your only gatekeeper, and maybe you don’t progress as fast as you want. Or at least as fast as I would want.”
Music became a vital mode of self-expression for Emerson, something she had to do “in order to stay sane.” The same is true today. “I would make music if no one heard it. But I’m not sure I’d DJ if there was no one there to dance.”
By 2014, someone showed one of Emerson’s tracks to her old friend Shawn Reynaldo, who was by then running the party and record label ICEE HOT. He decided to put out her first record, Pressure / Quoi, at the beginning of 2014, with remixes from Tuff City Kids.
The next one came a couple months later: Church Of SoMa, an ode to Club 380, was the first 12-inch on Spring Theory, a label run by one of the warehouse’s other residents, Guillaume Galuz. That fall, Spring Theory released her third one, Let Me Love And Steal.
These records chart the rapid evolution of Emerson’s sound. With their sampled vocal hooks, “Pressure” and “Quoi” had more of a straight-up house vibe than what would come later, but the urgency of the rhythms and the weight of the drums already showed a keen sense of club impact.
By Let Me Love And Steal, those house tropes had given way to something bolder and heavier, especially on the lurching “Triple Scorpio Mix.” The singular sound she has today—smooth but raucous, bright but heavy—was beginning to take shape.
Meanwhile, change was afoot at the warehouse. Emerson had moved out after a year or so but kept returning to play the parties. Others began leaving. An era was ending. “It was a very special thing, and everybody was kind of very depressed when it was over. But these things naturally ebb and flow. People move away, the French exchange students have to go home, things just change.”
By then Emerson was getting deeper into the tech world, at one point working at what she called a “stereotypical Y Combinator startup”—referring to the elite seed accelerator. At a glance, she had it pretty good. She’d made it in a city she loved, plying a trade she’d taught herself. She made tracks, she played gigs, she rode around San Francisco on a Vespa (“a 1980 P200E—really nice”).
But it wasn’t going to last. Emerson was working 60 hours a week, and falling into a career path she didn’t like, while San Francisco—”small, delicate, beautiful San Francisco”—was succumbing to a “monoculture of moneymaking,” which she couldn’t see herself in. Meanwhile, the music thing was looking better and better—her records were getting attention and she’d joined a booking agency. Some friends from the warehouse had moved to Berlin. “I’d just gotten a really big tax return, so I said, ‘Fuck it, let’s try this new thing.'”
Emerson hit the ground running in Berlin much as she had in San Francisco. She turned up with no prospects but found freelance work writing code, and eventually landed a job as a software developer. She continued making strides as an artist. In 2015 she released an EP on Shtum, a techno sub-label of Uncanny Valley, and played Panorama Bar for the first time. By the end of that year she was playing a few gigs a month. The prospect of becoming a full-time artist hovered into view. In May of this year, she went for it.
“It was kind of an economically-driven decision,” she said. “The money I made as a musician was approaching what I made as a software engineer, and finally those two things converged. But also, it was getting hard to manage. Playing two, sometimes three shows a weekend then coming in on Monday… I was becoming a little bit of a crazy person at the end. And I knew I couldn’t fully devote my brain to production and DJing until I quit my job. You have to close one door to really propel as an artist, I think.”
Things are different now than when Emerson made Narcissus In Retrograde. How this will affect her music remains to be seen. “There are things that have been so powerful and intense for me lately, and I’ve just barely been able to put them into this abstract musical form,” she said. “I’ve been doing kind of, I don’t want to say ‘experimental pop,’ but more lyrics-driven stuff not really made for the club. I’d really like to make an album.”
You get the sense that what’s come so far is just the beginning for Emerson. From the moment she quit school to stay in San Francisco, she improvised a path toward self-realization that’s just now come to a kind of landing point. “I’m really hitting my return of Saturn,” she said. “Have you heard that term? It takes 27 years for Saturn to go around the sun. When you’re about 27 it comes back to where it was when you were born. I’m more comfortable in my own skin than I’ve ever been.”