Producer Spotlight: EMIKA
Producer Spotlight: EMIKADecember 19, 2022
Ever since EMIKA, aka Ema Jolly, first sat down at a piano as a child her musical talent has expanded to find and fill the creative spaces in front of her. Electronic, classical, singer-songwriter; the British-Czech artist can do it all and in some style. Her productions are infused with the DNA of the places where she has called home, whether it’s the raucous bass energy of Bristol and Berlin, or the ornate instrumentation of Prague.
EMIKA’s enigmatic blend of “futuristic storytelling, club context and classical influences” is striking for its ability to live in both warehouse raves and the upper reaches of the charts. Her early years were spent collaborating with dubstep pioneers like Pinch and Mala, while also reaching No.2 on the USA iTunes chart and No.1 in Canada in 2013 with an icy electronic cover of Chris Isaak’s “Wicked Game.”
EMIKA’s wistfully elegant vocal has become her trademark, but she also boasts considerable skill as an instrumentalist, and her solo piano works from the 2015 album Klavirni have racked up more than 15 million streams on Spotify. On top of that, there’s even been time to crowd-fund a symphony and record with the City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra in 2017.
After relocating from Berlin to a small village in the Black Forest with all of these musical experiences in tow, Emika has been busy building a new music studio and EMIKA Records label home. During this time she’s also put together a Producer Sounds sample pack for Loopcloud that she has described as “an imprint of my soul”. We spoke to the multi-talented artist to find out more.
What came first for you, being a musician or a producer?
I started doing classical grades and going to private piano school, so music was my thing. I’d already figured out that I wanted to go to university and do music, it’s just that I really didn’t like the world of composition degrees, because I’d have to go and study more Bach and pay tons of money.
I found this course in Bath called Creative Music Technology, which at that time was one of the only ones, alongside another in Leeds. Now they’re everywhere! It was such a weird, radical course to go and do because it was all about sound design, which also wasn’t such a big part of the mainstream conversation as it is today.
I just wanted to get as far away from the classical world as I could because it felt like such a dead end, and I went and miraculously got onto that course because they needed more girls. I had none of the grades that I technically needed to get in there, but I’d been in studios with drum and bass producers from my hometown Milton Keynes and I’d made tons of music, so I at least had demos to show.
It ended up being terrible, it was so hard trying to understand Max MSP for three years. I’d gone from one horrible world to another, and there was a brutal amount of stuff to get my head around. I went from Beethoven and harmony to being around guys making pieces from helicopter sounds. But I somehow kept things risky and interesting and just kept going, because I didn’t really know what else to do.
That’s kind of how my professional career is, the music industry really takes its toll on my health, my mind and my soul. I hate it, but I don’t want to stop doing what I love, which is making music. So, yeah, classical music came first, and then sound design came second. Emika came third, after I arrived with my first album and my own signature sound. Emika became my own safe world where I could choose what was in there and what would change. I could finally make my own decisions, because there wasn’t really any outside input at that point.
Having experienced both of those worlds separately, was the option of bringing them together obvious to you or was it something you had to work at over time?
There were two really interesting movements that figured it out for me through the sounds, if that makes sense. I was in Bristol at the time when dubstep was kicking off, it didn’t even have a genre name, it was just a handful of producers doing it from there and London. I went to some of the really early dubstep nights, run by my friend called Pinch, and the sound was so minimal, using all the techniques I’d studied at university or that I was studying at that time.
There were all these weird sounds finally coming together in a place that felt like my world, it wasn’t this expensive, rich, academic context. Suddenly these sounds were cut to dubplates and I was hearing them in the context of having a drink and dancing. It felt really grounding and inspiring. Pinch and Mala are kind of the founding brothers of my sound, we’re still really good friends today. And although my music doesn’t sound like them, what they were unknowingly concocting became the root of my sound.
After being in Bristol I went to Berlin and stumbled across Berghain, which was where a lot of avant garde sounds were happening, from people like Marcel Dettmann and Ben Klock. Again, it was all taking place inside this club culture, more of an experimental, dance context. That also then became the other root of my sound, and I’ll kind of swing between the two and mix it together with other things like songwriting and harmony.
Those were some amazing times in my life, where it all started to make sense to me. I was finally making connections with people, and doing all those Max MSP exams wasn’t for nothing after all! Then I went to work at Native Instruments and realised there were hundreds of other people who were into this stuff. It was such a weird little niche thing that I was doing in England, but then suddenly being in Berlin it felt like everyone in the city was into music tech.
What kind of sounds can people expect from your Producer Sounds sample pack?
I’ve done my best to cover the whole spectrum. There are different kinds of vocals, dry but also using my signature effects like reverbs and echoes that I layer and have as part of the composition. There’s also words and poetry because that kind of thing is really cool to combine with different types of beats and genres. Then there’s big melodic, harmonic phrases that you can use as well, by grabbing a vocal and composing it around it.
There’s all my favourite kinds of drums that I’ve programmed and recorded. You’ll also find basslines, and a lot of chord progressions and phrases. It’s predominantly all loops because I figured that producers can cut out single parts if they want to anyway. I wanted to share my total sound, and then see what happens.
I didn’t hold back making this sample pack, because I wanted to invigorate the scene in some way. I think when people make sound libraries they go through and cut out parts and generally give away the best bits. I thought, why not put the best bits out there, and hopefully inspire a ton of new music?
You’ve spoken about artists being able to make amazing things from periods of burnout, is that something you’ve experienced firsthand?
Yes, definitely. I think there’s a lot to be said for figuring out how to rebuild who you are and where you’re going. It’s kind of like getting to start again. When you make your first album, you put your entire life into it. Then your career almost starts from that point, so everything from then on is career-based rather than life-based.
Once you go through something like a burnout where you lose the meaning in everything, you have to basically put all the broken pieces back together in some kind of form. They don’t stay back together just like that, you also have to figure out a way to maintain it for consecutive days and months, through a period of relinking things that are important to you. It’s such a creative process in itself, even if you’re not an artist, going through something like that.
Do you think that process is a valuable experience then, or is it better to avoid burnout in the first place?
It’s definitely better to prevent having a burnout, but during the pandemic years, I think difficult times and difficult periods were basically inevitable for so many people. There were sectors that suffered more than others, so I think burnout is unavoidable in certain kinds of people or branches of work, depending on what’s going on in the world. Self-inflicted burnouts should definitely be avoided. I don’t think it’s a good idea to push yourself so hard for the sake of art that you jeopardise your real life.
Are there any artists or individual tracks that you’re particularly liking and feeling inspired by at the moment?
There’s so many! All of the current Rick Owens campaign, from his latest fashion season and tracks on Instagram. It’s all my dubstep people, but when you see it in that high fashion world it’s really cool. I’m really into Rosalia, I love her voice and her minimalist beats. I’m also really loving this track by Rival Consoles, there was a Bella Hadid performance recently at Paris fashion week where she came onto the stage naked, and she was sprayed by a fashion house called Coperni with this track playing.
There’s this new producer on трип, Nina Kraviz’ label, called u.r.trax who is really exciting. I’ve been waiting for Nina Kraviz to find another girl to play with in that world, so much of that stuff is always about queens and divas and it’s so stupid, so I’m really happy to see this new producer with loads of potential on her label.
Is fashion something you’re inspired by quite a lot then?
Yes. I think that fashion designers are often really inspired by music, too. A lot of the designers and photographers I’ve met over the years have the best playlists that I’m always finding new music through. They are hardcore fans of music and they need it to inspire their work. They hunt for the most inspirational music they can find, whereas I think producers and DJs are more looking for the functionality of something.
DJs are wondering if they can play it in their set, but fashion designers are completely out of that, they’ll just find something that shakes their soul and then put it in a Spotify playlist. So yeah, I find myself checking the fashion world intuitively, because usually it’s just music that’s easy to mix.