"My body is my instrument"
Female producers are few and far between. Female producers who drop a debut like Emika, exist in a category of one -- Emika. Already hailed as the diva of dubstep, the Czech/Brit/Berliner talked to MTV Iggy about losing her performance virginity, conquering her body, and why you should never study production at school...
Emika isn’t just a producer. She’s a singer (opera-trained), pianist (classical), and a live performer currently burning through a North American tour opening for Amon Tobin.
With only one self-titled album to her name, Emika is already redefining what it means to make beats. Since 2009, when the producer and vocalist started making waves with her dubstep-influenced singles, she’s been pushing pop into uncharted directions. Her style is steeped in the techno of Berlin clubs like the Berghain, but goes in the direction of a leaner, sub-bass Portishead.
Most recently the Ableton wunderkind has blasted through high expectations with her self-titled debut album, a wild romp through the lower frequencies of her mind. Her chopped up piano melodies, smudgy reverb, and haunting vocals meld into a soundtrack that begs to be played in a cavernous club or soundproofed basement.
But she’s not resting on her laurels. The Czech-born and UK-raised musician has already started on her second album, which she promises will showcase her voice, as well as a lighter side to her personality.
She recently told MTV Iggy about her creative process, her tips for younger producers, and how her first live show felt like popping her rock and roll cherry.
Where does the name Emika come from?
My Czech name is Emička. It is a modified version.
It’s always a bit difficult to describe you — born in the UK, living in Berlin, Czech parents. Do you see yourself as more British or Berliner these days? Is there a shred of truth behind this idea that your music is influenced by your heritage?
I don’t see myself as one way or another, and I have made homes for myself in both countries.
My music is influenced by many things, but most significantly classical and traditional folk music from the East. I have been influenced by sincere music that expresses the most truth. In Bristol, I found this to be dubstep, in Berlin I found this to be techno, in the Czech Republic I found this to be classical and folk music. All types of music I reference are music made for the people, which are typically not for commerce or stardom.
You’re a regular at the Berghain, a techno club that’s part of a very special electronic music scene in Berlin. We are officially ruining it by telling the whole world about it now. But since the secret’s out, can you give us the real low-down on why it’s unique?
Because the people that run it and play there are awesome. They are the magnetic force that attracts special vibes. No one will ever manage to successfully imitate Berghain. It is its own organically formed universe.
Emika combines the deepest, groundshaking bass with your vocals, which are melodic and at some point almost like R&B jams. Can you explain how you listen to deep bass and find inspiration to sing a melody?
I don’t listen; I feel from my soul. I shut down my conscious mind and let go of the environment around me. It is comparable to meditation.
“Be Our Guest” has a sound sample of a creaking sex swing. How did you gather this, um, field recording?
Yes. Recorded at Berghain.
What was it like the first time you performed live. Has your live show changed since then?
It was like losing my virginity. You know how the mechanics are supposed to work, and roughly how things should fit together, but you cannot anticipate how it will feel or how to be in control. You just give yourself up and go with the flow.
My show is much the same today. Every stage is different, every night has the same amount of unforeseen problems and logistical hassle. Live rock ‘n’ roll is unpredictable and insane, so you just go with the flow and improvise.
You studied creative music technology, a very technical and male-dominated field. What was your class experience like? Would you recommend it to up-and-coming producers?
No. Do not study how to be a producer. Get your ass onstage, get your hands on gear, learn to be a musician, listen to as much music as possible, and give energy to a scene you believe in. This is nothing you can learn to do at uni. My class experiences were mainly horrible. Lots of dudes, every one clutching on to their precious ideas, no one sharing, no one nourishing a music community, and everyone competing for the grades, and fastest and loudest piece of sound art. It was mega boring and incredibly hard work, and I spent most of the time being ignored by guys that couldn’t look me in the eye.
Having said that, it was a very valuable experience. It has made me who I am today, and I was inspired by some fantastic teachers and mentors at uni. They gave me a wonderful education in sound and society.