20 years into his career, top trance name Gareth Emery is at a point where he has achieved more than he ever could've hoped and is looking to rejuvenate. He's played at all the big festivals, headlined to stadium-filled crowds, shot to the top of DJ rankings and received coveted awards for his productions. He made his name as a DJ at his own night at Manchester's Sankeys Soap. From there he conquered the world.
His earliest records were championed by some of trance's biggest stars like Paul van Dyk, Tiësto, Armin van Buuren and Ferry Corsten, some of whom have remained loyal and persistent supporters of his work, which was initially released on his co-owned Five AM label, then on his own Garuda label. Garuda is also the name of many of Emery's club nights, which are about to appear once again in Manchester and London, despite Emery now living with his young family in LA.
He will be appearing at the Manchester date, at Gorilla, alongside Standerwick and Ashley Wallbridge, the latter being Emery's partner in the new version of Garuda which they are about to launch.
Hailing from Stoke on Trent, Wallbridge has been a prolific producer of progressive trance over the last decade, is a DJ and has already collaborated with Emery on several recordings. His single with Darude is the first release on the new look Garuda. Prior to their upcoming dates, Marko Kutlesa caught up with the pair to ask them about their relationship and plans for the future.
Hi guys! How did you two first meet?
Ashley: Hi! I was a fan of Gaz at first. Me and Andy Moor did this track called 'Faces' and we passed the track to Gaz when he was playing at ASOT 400 in Birmingham. I went to the gig and we got chatting, a couple of years later we did a tune together 'Mansion' and that was it.
Gareth: Didn't I do a remix for you before that?
Ashley: Oh, yeah, but we didn't speak. He didn't like me back then, ha! He did a remix for 'I Believe'.
Gareth: I guess we had a similar sound so once we started to know who each other was it made sense to work on some tracks together. Whenever we collaborate it's pretty easy because we tend to go to the same melodic places.
Do you have set roles within what you do collaboratively in the studio? Do you each have different strengths?
Gareth: Yes and no. Both of us can do everything, which is helpful. There's no need to be defined to a set role. I think probably Ash is stronger on the production side, as in the engineering, and I'm stronger on the writing side, whether that be chords, melodies, vocals.
The way we've done it more recently is that I'll concentrate on the writing and he'll do most of the heavy lifting with the production. But we're both pretty versatile. Wherever there's a gap, the other can usually fit in. I've had tracks where I've done most of it but there'll be some part, like a hi-hat, that I just can't get right. I'll send it to Ash and he'll fix it. Sometimes you just need a fresh set of eyes and ears.
What role will Ashley have in the new Garuda?
Gareth: It's very much a complete partnership. Garuda was originally mine, now it's owned by four of us; Ash, me, our label manager Steven and Dan on the live side. So, it's a completely equal, four way split which includes the back catalogue and everything in the future.
Why have you decided to do that?
Gareth: I would struggle to have a label and make a good job of it, it's super, super time consuming. I've been involved in Garuda for nine years now, before that I did six years at my previous label and I guess after fifteen years I just don't have the time to do it justice alone.
The label and the night have both got a significant existing reputation. How does it feel to be stepping into a situation like that Ashley and what role do you imagine yourself to be doing?
Ashley: I've always been a massive fan of the Garuda sound. There are not a lot of labels out there that stick to a certain sound, they deviate. Going forward, it's really good to be involved in something which is my sound. In the past I've been on labels where I've felt like I'm forcing my track on there, just to get a release. I've never felt like I've had a home. When you're on a label it should feel like it's your home. Now I can finally say I have one.
What releases do you already have planned for the label?
Ashley: Our first release is my track with Darude, called 'Surrender'. Me and Gaz have got some planned, including a remix and we've got loads of new artists who we've found. We're scheduling them in now but already it's looking like it's going to be amazing.
Gareth: I'm a big fan of a guy called Alex Sonata, he's done a bunch of stuff on Garuda before, some amazing releases. We've got a few of his new ones coming up. I'm super excited about those. Ashley and me have probably collaborated on about 10 to 15 tracks which are already in our sets, being tested out. We don't quite know yet whether that's going to be a bunch of singles or if we might try and tie it up into a coherent work, like an album.
Garuda takes its name from an animal found in Hindu and Buddhist mythology. Can you tell me about the myths surrounding this creature and why it struck a chord with you?
Gareth: Well Garuda is the national mythical bird of Indonesia, which is a country I've had many, many good times in. It was one of the first places in Asia I went to play, maybe 2005. That was a very special trip for me, one of my first times outside Europe, playing on an island that we had to get a boat to reach. It was pretty mindblowing.
Ever since then I've had an affinity with the place and I've been back every couple of years. Whenever I'd go I would see these planes with Garuda on them. This isn't just a thing in Indonesia, it's throughout a lot of Asian culture. And, when we chose it originally, we also thought that because it has the same first three letters as my name, it would be easy to make the connection, ha!
You're also bringing back Garuda events, including one at Gorilla in Manchester. When I first met you, Gareth, we were introduced by David Vincent at Sankeys, a long time ago, so I don't expect you to remember...
Gareth: If David Vincent was the one who introduced us, I probably wouldn't remember...
Ahahahaha. No, no, no. It was in the daytime.
Gareth: Ah, so just in Beehive Mill, then?
Yeah. At that time the club had this fierce reputation for cool, underground nights like Bugged Out, Tribal Sessions, but he was adamant that he wanted to do a night with you too, despite raising many eyebrows in wanting a trance night there.
You didn't actually need many favours because your profile was already being established globally, but how important to you was it to have a residency in your then home town?
Gareth: It was absolutely huge. I couldn't overstate the importance of it. We had our office in that building, so that's how we initially got to meet Dave. He was our landlord.
I got to Manchester and I saw there wasn't that much of a trance scene and the accepted wisdom was that people in Manchester don't like trance. I've often tried to challenge accepted things like that and ask if it's true, because sometimes if enough people say something, it becomes accepted even though it might be bollocks.
At first, Dave would only give me Spectrum, which was the upstairs room. It was only 300 capacity, but we sold it out and after that he said, right, now you're doing Sankeys. He was quite bullish about it. We were nervous as hell. Promoting a club with a 1400 capacity? He said, no, you're fucking doing it, get a big person to play alongside you and let's make it happen. He railroaded me into that first one. We had Ferry Corsten for the first one and from that night it was an absolute rollercoaster. We had Above & Beyond, Markus Schulz, Sander Van Doorn, Armin at a DJ Mag party.
Those nights got very hectic, very quickly. We sold out the venue, probably they oversold it. It often felt like there were more people in there than should have been. It was intense. That party was pretty fucking special.
You've hinted that touring of some places like India may be toned down because of your home commitments. I know you've got two kids now. Just how much are you limiting yourself from your main revenue stream?
Gareth: Not too much really. I'm kind of fortunate enough that I don't need to take every gig that's on offer. There was a point where I was spending so much money that I had to take every gig that was offered. Now I try and live a little more sensibly which means I don't have to be on the road 52 weekends a year.
I now look at gigs in places like Asia and weigh up, if it's a week touring, is it going to be worth missing a week of bedtimes with the kids. I try and do the ones that look like they're going to be really fun. ASOT Festival in Utrecht, awesome, we're going to do that. Creamfields, South West Four. Fun.
Shows that are near where I live in Los Angeles, those are easy. It's just the ones that are super long haul that I really have to think about. They have to be pretty special to get me to go across the world including four days of travelling.
Ashley, are you prepared to take up some of the work he's missing? Have you had much experience DJing to the kinds of crowds Gareth sometimes gets to play to?
Ashley: Oh yeah, I'd love to, but the crowds I play to are more like six or seven hundred where his are six or seven thousand! Ha! My main goal for the next couple of years is to get that homegrown crowd. I've got a following in America and in some places in Asia but it hasn't grown so much in the UK. I've been concentrating a lot on the production but now I need to up my game with the DJing side.
Gareth: We're one of the hardest countries to impress, partly because we have so much choice in terms of electronic music. Before we did Sankeys, nobody would give me a headline show at a club. Gatecrasher, God's Kitchen. Not interested.
The only way to get there was by doing Garuda in Manchester and after selling out Sankeys on my own, then they realised that I did have some fans out there. Sometimes you've just got to prove it, do it the hard way.
I saw a photo of you on your Facebook with blue spiky hair, Gareth, which you described as a cringeworthy rave pics from back in the day. Where were you going looking like that?
Gareth: Sundissential Birmingham.
Do you remember anything about the night?
Gareth: Yeah, I do. Only because I was going out with a group of people who were considerably cooler than me at the time. They were cybers and proper fucking cool. I thought, wow, I'm really in the inner circle now. I remember being nervous and very much wanting to impress my new cyber friends. In the end I just got smashed and had a good night. I think Tidy Boys were playing. It was around 2000/2001. Good night.
At which clubs did you get your formative rave experiences, Ashley?
Ashley: I didn't really have any. I wasn't a clubber. I was a gymnast. I used to do gymnastics for England, up until I was 16. I was DJing at home and doing gymnastics, but I wasn't allowed to drink or party. We were drug tested. When I started to have my first beers at 16/17 I'd have one pint and I'd be on my arse. If I went to a nightclub I might drink Coke, water or have a Babycham. Nothing heavy. Different story now.
In the last year Skiddle was lucky enough to interview both Armin Van Buuren and Ferry Corsten, two great but very different guys, both of whom, in their own ways, have supported your music, Gareth.
Armin almost seems to be able to run a second career in EDM while still supporting trance music, particularly on his show, whereas Ferry dipped his toe in the EDM waters and then backed away from that scene. It's a journey several acts associated with trance have travelled. Why do you think that road exists and why is it one you're not currently travelling?
Gareth: I definitely did for a few years. If you listen back to the music I was playing 2013/14/15 it didn't go pure EDM, but it definitely went more house tempo for a few years. A lot of people assume that you're playing EDM because there's more money in it, but that's not really correct. EDM's a really crowded space to be in. There's a lot of other people doing it.
For me, I just felt like I needed a change in style because I wasn't being inspired by what was going on in the world of trance. A lot of my favourite producers W+W, Cosmic Gate, Sander Van Doorn were all making stuff that was considered more EDM than trance. I guess I just followed in that direction.
But then, a couple of years ago, I started to get a bit more inspired by trance again. The first time in a few years. Standerwick was making great stuff, Giuseppe Ottaviani was really finding his form, a lot of really great new producers. I guess if you've been into something for 20 years, half your life, you just go through phases. To me, trance has always been about a feeling, no matter what the tempo is.
To borrow the title of Armin's show, in your opinion, and thinking about a global perspective, what is the state of trance?
Gareth: I think it's in a good place. EDM's died a bit. Trance has picked up the mantle a bit.
Ashley: I think EDM got into a position where, if you've got a line up of those DJs, it's a case of who's going to play which track first. They're all playing the same fucking tunes. Each set would sound the same; a hard kick drum and a nasty bassline. It got so annoying.
Trance, on the other hand, is limitless. There's always going to be something cool going on, something different. That's why trance will never die. I think in the last year alone it's got a lot stronger. It seems that almost every week there's someone new to get excited about.
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