Interview: Gareth Emery

The global superstar takes time out from tidying his flat to talk about genre-pigeonholing, his Warehouse Project Boxing Day appearance, and playing guitar in a punk band.

Jayne Robinson

Date published: 21st Oct 2010

Welsh-born, Southampton-raised and Manchester-settled trance DJ Gareth Emery has risen through the ranks in recent years,  to become one of the world's biggest exponents of Trance music.

Last year he reached the heady heights of the top ten in DJ Mag's Top 100 poll; making him one of only a handful of DJs to crack the world's top ten before the age of 30. Composing, producing and engineering records that span the worlds of trance, progressive, electro and techno, Emery has impressed fans and peers alike all over the globe to become one of the planet's most sought after DJs. 

Here the global superstar takes time out from tidying his flat to talk about genre-pigeonholing, his Warehouse Project Boxing Day appearance, and playing guitar in a punk band. 

Hello! Where do we find you today? 

I'm literally just at home having a quick tidy up before the cleaner comes. I've been away so much the past few weeks that he's not been able to get in, so I'm gonna quickly make the flat a bit more presentable before he gets here. Pretty boring and domestic I'm afraid!

And home is Manchester? Is that right?

It is yeah. Not originally - I grew up in Southampton, but I moved up here two years ago and really like it so yeah, still here!

What brought you to Manchester two years ago?

It was actually an ex girlfriend! She got a job here and I was working from home at the time, so I made the decision to move up as well and just really got on well with the city. And once I got here I changed the way I worked. I got a studio and an office... so after a year or two I was really settled. And obviously we do nights here as well, so I'm quite well set up now.

You've travelled all over the globe with your work. Do you find that fans in different countries react differently to your music, or is it generally quite universal?

Some stuff is universal, but you definitely get general differences between countries. For instance, if you're playing a festival in the States you're gonna play it a lot differently to a club in the UK. One big difference I find is that America in particular is probably one of the most open-minded countries musically, which is probably surprising for a lot of people to hear because they're known for being closed minded in other ways (laughs). But musically, they're really incredibly open minded. Probably because you don't get 'trance' clubs or 'house' clubs like you do in the UK, you just generally get 'clubs'. And one city in the States will have one dance club that'll put on everyone from Mark Knight and Richie Hawtin to me. So it's different names every week, but you'll get the same clubbers going to see all the different genres. So you find that you can play all sorts of music there - it doesn't matter if you're a trance DJ playing a house record, the people just get it. 

Whereas in the UK it's much more genre pigeonholed. We're brought up with very specific clubs known for catering for very specific genres of music. Which is cool, because it means you can really get the sound down, and you know when you go to a certain club that's what you're gonna hear. But it also means you need to be a bit more careful playing in the UK, because if you go to Godskitchen and play too many house records the people are going to think 'well we're Godskitchen, that's not what we expect to hear here'. So yeah, I think we're a little more into our genres here.

You weren't always into dance music... didn't you used to play guitar in a punk band? 

Yeah, I was really active in music in the days of indie and Britpop, back in 95-96, then when that scene died and became uninteresting I moved through different areas of music, and punk rock was one of them. I was really into that stuff. We had a reasonably successful band back at uni, and we played a lot of the venues in London. That was just before I got into dance music; I guess it was 1998 or 1999, something like that?

So how do you go from Punk to Trance?

It's funny really, it was my first year at uni and I was going to this night which played what I later found out was called Trance music. And initially we weren't going for the music - we were just going to get drunk and have fun as first year students do. But I found this night, with electronic music which was completely different to anything I'd heard before, and I just really loved it. And the thing then was that we didn't know it was called 'Trance' - it was just a night we were going to. And you didn't really have dance music on the internet in the same way, and this was before the days of youtube and Twitter... so there was really no way of knowing what music you were hearing. So it wasn't until Ministry of Sound released their first ever Trance Nation CD mixed by Ferry Corsten, and  all these tracks that we'd been hearing but didn't know what they were called were featured on this CD, and it was like 'wow, this music is apparently called Trance'. 

Your podcast champions a lot of new artists. What new DJs are really doing it for you at the moment? 

There's loads of guys... I'm well into people like Ashley Wallbridge... and Jerome Isma-ae has got this great crossover sound - he works the house crowds and the trance crowds really well. And then on the housier side of things, I know he's been around for years but Michael Woods is really killing it right now. There's loads of guys. 

What I try and do with the podcast is just cover as much different stuff as possible and not be over obsessed with playing underground or upfront stuff either. Even though there's lots of brand new stuff and exclusives in there, you also hear the  big stuff too - I try and make it as comprehensive as possible.

You've just released your first studio album, entitled Northern Lights. How long was this in the making? 

I've been trying to write an artist album for about five years (laughs). I ended up promising it for years and never delivering. In the past I'd always just ended up giving in and releasing the tracks as singles. But I actually managed to get the album done in about seven months. It was a pretty quick process. I started in January and it was finished by mid-July

What about flow? Do the tracks benefit from being listened to in order, or are they their own entities? 

That was how I designed it yeah. While I was putting it together I was listening to a lot of other electronic albums and one thing that struck me was that a lot of them tend to be quite broken up. There are seperate tracks, and you've got these 4 or 5 second gaps between them. And for me, that doesn't totally work for electronic music. I'm not saying every album needs to be like a DJ set, but I think it should be continuous to a degree. A lot of my favourite dance albums were done that way, like Sasha's Airdrawndagger has a great flow to it... so one of the most important things to me was the structure of the album, how it flowed, that it was an engaging experience from beginning to end.

I had a demo playlist in my itunes, so for about three or four months on tour, everytime I was on a plane I was checking the order, making small refinements... so yeah it was pretty important for me that it made sense from beginning to end and that it made sense as an album - as a continuous piece of music as well as the constituting tracks. 

Would you ever perform it in that way - as one continuous piece?

Probably not really, because I generally wouldn't play ten of my own tracks in a row. We did a concert in Leeds a couple of weeks ago which was kind of like the album launch, and there were seven of the tracks from the album performed, but it was over the course of a four hour set. But to be honest, if the whole thing was mixed together in the style of a conventional DJ set it would be a good flow. It kind of starts out in progressive house territory and then gets slowly tougher, and then by the end it's full on trance. So I think it would work in that respect as well. 

How would you describe your live performance style? 

I think these days it's gotta be fun. I think the days when you had a DJ that'd play a set staring down at the decks with no interaction are a bit numbered. Although I enjoy a lot of those more traditional DJs, I do tend to find that these days the kids want a bit more; they do want a bit of entertainment, so you've gotta make it as fun as possible - and that's what I try and do.

Do you like to have a drink while performing, or do you try to keep a clear head? 

Generally I prefer to keep a clear head. In the past I really enjoyed drinking while I was DJing, but I wasn't doing enough shows for it to really be an issue. When I found myself doing 12 or 13 shows a month rather than 4 or 5, well you just can't drink that many times, so I try to disaccociate DJing from drinking.

I probably will drink at a couple of gigs each month, but generally speaking those will be the ones where I've got friends there, so it'll be a bit of a social occasion. And I'll never get completely battered - I mean maybe like 2 or 3 drinks during a set. But generally speaking I prefer to stick to diet coke, and if I do have a few drinks and party, I do it after the set rather than during.

You're playing at The Warehouse Project on Boxing Day. What do you have planned for that show? 

For that one I'm playing the last set... Boxing Day's a bit of a mad day, because I'm starting out at Planet Love Festival in Ireland, which is kind of an early one, then we're taking a jet over to Liverpool to do Cream, then driving to Manchester for The Warehouse Project, so it's gonna be the third gig of the night. So it's gonna be pretty tough, it's gonna be pretty banging, and hopefully it'll be a fitting end for me of what should be a pretty epic night!

Your Garuda nights at Sankeys are known for their three hour sets - will that be on the cards for The Warehouse Project?

I don't think so, because there are more people on the line-up and we're a little bit constrained for time ourselves. But we don't tend to do long sets that much in the UK.  In other countries a lot of places will insist on a three hour set as a minimum, so I started to really enjoy playing these longer sets because you get a lot more freedom, you can structure it a lot better, and that's why with Garuda we've always tried to focus on less artists doing longer sets.

How do you rate the Warehouse Project as a venue? Have you played there before?

You know what, I've never played there... I've never even been there! I've wanted to go there ever since I've been in Manchester but every time there's a night that I really wanted to see I've ended up being somewhere else. 

I've heard great things about it, and we get a  lot of love from the Manchester crowds because of the Garuda nights at Sankeys, so for years people have been saying that we should play there. So I'm just interested to see how it is in comparison to Sankeys. Obviously those are the two decent, high end clubbing venues in Manchester. I know Sankeys very well; we've done a lot of nights there, and my office is in the same building (laughs), so I'm just keen to cross over and see what the Warehouse Project's like for a change.

So your Boxing Day apearance will be the first time you've ever been to the venue?!

First time I've EVER been to the venue, yep! (laughs) So it should be interesting.

Where will you be spending Christmas day? Will you get any time off?

Yeah, I mean last year I accepted a gig on Christmas day - it was a bad move, my agent caught me at a weak moment and I agreed to do it. The gig was great, but having to leave home at 2pm on Christmas day is something that I didn't particularly want to do this year. So I think I'm in Syria a few days before, but then I'll get back down to London on Christmas Eve, see some old friends - do the traditional Christmas Eve pub thing - then Christmas day at home, and then Ireland on Boxing Day. So two full days with the family down in Southampton. So that should be good. 

Lovely. Well I'll leave you to your cleaning and tidying...

Wicked, well tidying more than cleaning but yeah, I'll get back to it! 

Thanks Gareth! See you at The Warehouse Project!

Interview by: Jayne Robinson

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