Introducing: Elkka

Following a string of successful releases via Ninja Tune, Gemma Ross speaks to Elkka about love songs, inclusivity in music and her forthcoming DJ-Kicks collection.

9 min
Copy of dj kicks0654
Mar 27, 2023
Gemma Ross

“I just got married!“ exclaims the London-based DJ and producer Elkka, real name Emma Kirby, when connecting over the line with Beatportal. “So yes, it has been a pretty busy start to the year,” she laughs. It’s been just a few days since Elkka tied the knot with her long-term partner Alexandra, and despite the rather fresh major life event, she’s back in her London home ready to crack on with the next musical pursuit. But the topic of love seems to be at the forefront of the Cardiff-born producer’s mind recently.

When Elkka began production on ‘I Just Want To Love You’ last year, she didn’t realise she was writing a love song. In fact, she even describes it retrospectively as a “really obvious declaration of love”, one that screams ‘I wanna love you now!’ – even if just lyrically. The single landed last September marking Elkka’s first venture onto household favourite Ninja Tune following a string of house-focused releases (including the much-loved “Burnt Orange“) on the label’s sub-imprint, Technicolour, over the past few years. “Things usually come out without overthinking it, I don’t like to communicate through my music intentionally,” she says.

“I realised I wanted the track to be a song for all kinds of love that usually get diminished, not just romantic. Like the love you have for your best friend, sister, brother, or parents,” she says. “I wanted it to be inclusive for everyone because you shouldn’t be defined by the kind of love you have in your life.”

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For Elkka, that push for inclusivity is widespread and doesn’t just settle at the surface. Below the lyrics, she’s fighting for gender equality and the addition of queer spaces everywhere in dance music – a labour of love she’s built through her co-founded label and party series, femme culture. Launched in 2016 after a period of reflection on her own career, Elkka put together the blueprints for a more inclusive scene, and with the fruition of femme culture came a series of pride events and an annual fundraiser compilation in collaboration with UN Women which, in past editions, has featured the likes of Bklava, DJ Boring, I. JORDAN, DJ Python, and plenty more.

“The compilation is really dear to my heart. We’ve had amazing music come through that,” Elkka explains. “My ears and eyes are always open for other artists to release through the label, but we never rush the process. It’s not something that we have to keep plugging into, just when it feels right with the right people,” she adds. Though the label sits on pause for now as Elkka takes some time to focus on production, she admits having an “itch” to relaunch the femme culture events, something that she deems necessary in the current landscape of dance music. “The parties are a lot of work and pressure, but there’s something really special about them,” she says. “Now, more than ever, I find that we’re lacking in queer nights for women. There aren’t enough nights for femme/queer people, which has been running around my mind a little bit recently.”

Femme Culture, as a project, was the launching pad for Elkka’s solo career. “It’s something that will always be a part of what I do because I grew up setting up that label,” she says. Before she became the globe-trotting house aficionado we see today, Elkka’s earliest contributions to music went toward the writing of pop songs for other artists almost a decade ago. With influence from a number of “strong women” who helped to shape the scene before her – including folk singer Joni Mitchell and US composer/performance artist Laurie Anderson, whose vocals Elkka would go on to use in the distinctive 2019 release ‘Avant Garde’ – there’s a clear inspiration behind the producer’s current discography.

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“My writing brain, my listening brain, and my fan brain always come back to pop music,” she laughs. “I’m definitely still inspired by pop, and that will hopefully infuse more of my music and bridge the gap between underground and pop in the future. I think we’re seeing more of that now anyway, the lines are getting more and more blurred.”

As her sound evolves from slow-burning vocal house cuts to blissed-out, pop-inspired groovers – and plenty of wiggle room between – Elkka is still just finding her feet. Until now, each of the producer’s releases have stayed relatively succinct, but 2023 could see a change to that as she plans to drop a full-length record. On top of that, !K7 Records‘ unanimously acclaimed DJ-Kicks series is set to welcome Elkka to the roster later next month where she’ll curate a 21-track compilation traipsing through “rave euphoria”.

“I knew I wanted to make something you could listen to when you’re at home, cooking dinner, on your way to work – but can also get you warmed up for the dancefloor,” Elkka explains, adding that she was “hyper-aware” of the forthcoming mix sounding warmer and less club-focused, while still keeping in a few heavy-hitters. “I kept imagining someone sitting on their sofa at home in the afternoon listening to this,” she says. “That in itself was a challenge for me, as well as the weight of being asked to participate in such an iconic mix series which I have always adored.”

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‘Hands’, the first cut to be released from Elkka’s DJ-Kicks compilation, lays the foundation for her sonic approach on this mix. Written in her parents’ house in Cardiff while recuperating from a busy touring period, ‘Hands’ is the resulting work of “all the music” she heard and connected with throughout summer, and moments that resonated from being in amongst crowds with friends, “feeling very free and fulfilled”.

Going beyond her milestone DJ-Kicks release, it’s fair to say that Elkka’s year ahead will be a super-busy one and with the promise of a new album in the works, there’s word of a US-European tour down the line for Elkka to showcase her masterful live set, too. And of course, if there’s something the producer promises to make a point of in 2023, it’s her continued attempt to redress gender equality in dance music while keeping the door open for queer artists, spaces, and communities. “Rave culture and dance music is already a community that exists which you can feel quite absorbed into, but there’s always minorities and people that are left out, and like most industries, it’s always been led by certain people who run the industry and get the headline slots on festivals and club nights, she says, closing out. “Just naturally going through my own journey, I realised I wanted to create spaces and platforms and opportunities for people to shine.”

Elkka’s mix for the DJ Kicks series will drop on April 26th via !K7 Records.