For a producer, who, by her own admission is still relatively unrehearsed by way of releases, E.M.M.A‘s ‘Blue Gardens’, her debut LP for Keysound, can be considered a pretty remarkable introduction.
It is, for the most part, an album bursting at the seams with colour and rhythm and a carnival spirit that seems to masquerade through dance music’s murkier streets with a quiet, unabiding confidence. Where others have explored a colder, harsher world beyond the pale, E.M.M.A has looked to melodies for her kicks alongside a healthy dose of excess synths, the two of which combine to leave you with no choice but to feel happy after listening to her music. The great thing is, it doesn’t fit in a box either, with Blue Gardens meandering in and out of tempos and sounds with a freedom that you can almost feel in every track.
“Okay, well, so the whole point of it is that I’m just trying to blow the doors off dance music”, she says as I ask her to try and sum up the whole process of writing the album. “It fits in with the idea of not really fitting in a box”, she continues. “What I wanted was to create a piece of art. I wanted to take what I like from other genres, particularly the 60’s summer of love stuff, hippy shit basically and that other-worldly stuff from sci-fi and the universe too. The intro for example, if you could imagine Brian Cox talking over that, then that’s kinda what I’m going for. I guess you could say I’m trying to get people to think about the universe in a non psy-trance way.”
One thing that really stands out about the album for me is its intricacy, something embodied by the exceptional VIP cut of ‘Dream Phone’, a track that comes together as some sort of rolling, funky hybrid masterpiece; there’s so much going on creatively but it’s where you find E.M.M.A is at her best. The secret?
“I don’t think about things in terms of music”, she says, “I think about the mood. It’s all story based really. When I write melodies, that’s my main focus. I have this weird, like test in my mind, like a happy and sad continuum – it’s not depressing or dark but it’s not overly happy either. It treads the line, it’s more human and I guess it reflects how people are on a day-to-day basis. ‘At Sea’ is probably the darkest cut of the lot, I took inspiration from westerns on that one. I wanted it to represent an arid, dry landscape and I could see that visually. Equally, in ‘Shoot The Curl’, I wrote that after watching Point Break. I was thinking nostalgic 90s grungy stuff and when it came out the other end, it sounded like a funky, grime hybrid.”
My favourite track on the entire LP though, comes in the shape of ‘Jahovia’ alongside Rebel MC, a tune that had me scrambling back to the days of first hearing Mala’s ‘Alicia’ and greeting me with that same sense of awe and bewilderment. Rebel MC’s vocals sit effortlessly on a synth-drenched, dubbed out beat that nods to E.M.M.A’s willingness to explore stylistically, feeding in to her thoughts on mood earlier.
As for Rebel MC, “He’s just an amazing guy”, she explains. “I met him through music circles a while back. He’s all about revolution too and that’s something I’m really into. He’s very positive, he’s dedicated to his craft and I really respect people like that. The track itself came about after hearing he wanted people to remix tracks he’d put on an album of his from the early 90’s. A lot of my early stuff was dub influenced so I asked if I could have a go and he said yeah. The original (‘Jehovah’) captures the time and vibe in a way only certain tunes do. I loved the tune but wasn’t thinking much would come of it because it was Rebel MC. I couldn’t send him a shit version of his own tune either! Normally I’d bash the bones of a tune out over a few days but this one took me ages. I really wanted to nail the drums because I’m not usually that focused on them. I like them to sound organic and almost live in a way but in that tune I thought I’d polish them and work the old school synths. He basically brought the whole thing to life though. He did it in two takes and I found it hard to take anything out, I just loved it and more importantly, so did he – I wouldn’t have put it out if he didn’t bloody like it!”
As I touched upon earlier, aside from a great debut 12” on Wavey Tones and an inclusion on Keysound’s ‘This Is How We Roll’ compilation earlier this year, E.M.M.A is still regarded very much as a newcomer, a fact that’s hard to believe considering the musical integrity of what’s on offer here. Was she intimidated by the prospect of an album? Of course not.
“The whole process of making tunes is quite nice”, she explains, “but it’s really weird to have it out there now, mainly because I haven’t had a load of releases. The fact it was an album didn’t intimidate me in the slightest. Everything I made was really concise and focused but I’m not one of those people who churns out 10 tunes a week and sends them to people. If I don’t feel a tune it won’t get me up dancing or move me, I won’t persist with it. I knew I had a deadline with the album and I enjoyed working to that actually. I was conscious that, on good albums, you kinda like every track and remember them for years, so I wanted people to think the same about Blue Gardens.”
Keysound deserve a lot of credit with the album too of course. It’s worth noting that E.M.M.A’s debut follows in the footsteps of one of 2013’s biggest 12″ cuts from Wen and the aforementioned ‘This Is How We Roll’ compilation that welcomed a new wave of inextricably talented producers to the fold. Although Blue Gardens is certainly different to the darker, moodier 130 cuts that the label have championed this year in particular, E.M.M.A is quick to acknowledge the ‘family’ vibe that Keysound offer though too. You almost can’t help but think that without Dusk & Blackdown, we’d all be that little bit less better off..
“I’ve never really been in the scene before but I had an ear for the music”, she explains. “I mean, I’ve never really managed to make moody music but the thing about Keysound is that we all have our own spoke in the wheel and you need all the colours on the spectrum. In terms of our own ideas, there all unique to us. You know a Wen tune, you know a Beneath tune, you know a Logos tune and I guess I’m just bringing my own sound along. I would never have released on another any label though. I’ve been tuned into Keysound for years so it was inevitable we were gonna cross paths at some point.”
Looking ahead, E.M.M.A hopes to take Blue Gardens live in what would be a fitting tribute to a brilliant debut. Brilliant stuff.
“My initial ideas are revolving around a live show. The tunes on the album launch in and out of things, they’re not really meant to be mixed so I want it to be a massive ball of energy really, the way it’s intended. The Western theme is gonna come out more too. That whole Spaghetti Western soundtrack is underused and needs to be reinvigorated and I’m gonna be the one that does it!”
Words: Tomas Fraser
Photography: James Clothier