Critical Sound – Emperor Interview

I don’t know about you but one thing I often ponder upon is: what is it about drum and bass that not only takes over your iTunes and bank account, but ultimately, your entire life?  Ever since I was old enough to go to raves I seem to have spent my adult life chasing that all encompassing drug, drum and bass.

I know i’m not alone in this, every head I’ve met over the years has said the same thing, If you ask us when our mother’s birthdays are, we probably couldn’t tell you, ask us what we had for dinner last night and the chances are we probably couldn’t tell you that either, but ask us about any d&b tune and I guarantee we can tell you where we were when we first heard it, who played it, what label it came out on and probably what was on the flipside!

[dropcap]T[/dropcap]hat being said, there are still those moments when you hear a tune drop and you know you’ve just witnessed something extra special, and for me, one of the last times I had that feeling was the first time I heard “Monolith” by Emperor during one of Arkaik’s sets a few years ago.  I was instantly hooked on the sticky, tech beat and couldn’t wait to hear more from this producer that, i’m ashamed to say, until that point I hadn’t even heard of.  As usual, Critical Music had discovered an incredible talent and blessed us with Monolith and Tension on their sister label, Modualations (MODULE012) mid 2012.

A few months later saw Emperor’s next release “The Fire” and “Tension” on Phace’s digital label, Neodigital which I personally feel gave us a real insight into the potential of this young producer and a better idea of what we could expect from the future.  The Fire was the perfect combination of hard and rolling drum and bass with elements of militant Limewax/Donny/Current Value drums, stabs and futuristic sounds quickly evolving into rolling neuro that would give the most revered names in the scene a run for their money.

 

So here we are in 2014 and Emperor has certainly made a name for himself and quite rightly so, with phenomenal success on major labels such as Neodigital, Critical Music and Hospital Records.  His latest output on Critical Music in collaboration with Mefjus was a resounding success, a four track EP of absolute fire!  And those lucky enough to have been in attendance will have seen him annihilate dance floors at various Critical Music events.  As he gears up to begin a three week tour of Australia and New Zealand we managed to catch up with Emperor to discuss all things studio, Critical and most importantly, Neuro!


Ok, so let’s start by going back in time for a moment. I remember reading in an old interview of yours that you come from a very musical background, do you think this helped to shape you as the versatile and diverse producer you are today? 

Music has always run in my family, in fact right now my 13 year old brother is smashing out a Rage Against The Machine riff on his bass in the next room!  I think more than anything it’s helped shaped my mentality towards music and to appreciate different styles for what they are rather than to disregard something because it’s intimidating or because I don’t really understand it at first.  I think being open-minded plays a massive part in producing any kind of music, if you shut yourself off and just listen to one genre your music is bound to end up boring, with no depth or meaning because you are constantly taking inspiration from music that sounds the same. Having an eclectic taste is essential really, it pushes you to keep trying new things.


I couldn’t agree with you more, in the past it’s been a real shame to see producers become a parody of themselves, releasing the same, slightly edited tune over and over again, it’s good to keep it fresh!! You mentioned being exposed to a lot of blues and jazz as a kid, do you ever reflect upon these sounds whilst sample hunting?

Of course!  Everything came from Blues and Jazz, when you’re sample hunting a lot of the time you take from older songs, so it’s unavoidable really.  For me it’s important to use samples that have character; old tracks from the 50’s right through to the 80’s have an strangely enticing feel about them.  As well as that, it’s more about finding something that hasn’t just been synthesised in a digital environment. You can download hundreds of sample packs looking for a certain sound with character, but 95% of the time you won’t find it; it’s when you really dig deep that you start to find great samples.

I think that’s incredible advice for any budding producers out there! With that in mind, can you tell us a little bit about your musical journey and how you arrived at the harder, more techy side of drum and bass? Was it a natural progression through the genres or did you fall in love with drum and bass at an early age and follow it from then on? 

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I started producing music on the newgrounds.com audio portal when I was about 12/13 years old at that time Drum & Bass wasn’t really something that the community had latched on to yet; it was mainly arcade style music, trance and acoustic stuff.  Eventually people progressed into making faster, heavier sounds and tracks, which led me onto discovering artists like Spor and Noisia on Myspace and I was instantly hooked from then on, as they say.  I’ve always been into the heavier spectrum of music, though.  There are a lot of parallels in electronic music and metal music, even if it’s just the sheer brutality of some of it! Current Value and Katharsys are still some of my favourite producers despite the fact my stuff sounds nothing like it.

Absolutely! Katharsys are incredible producers and although your overall sound is different there’s a definite link in the quality of your music.  With influences like that driving your production it’s no wonder you started to attract the attention of the major labels at such a young age, it must have been a mind blowing time for you. Have you ever had one of those moments where you’ve had to pinch yourself to check you’re not dreaming? 

I was filled with a massive sense of accomplishment at first, mainly because I’d been trying so hard to get these labels to notice my sound and nothing was happening for about 2 years.  Eventually I just gave up trying and just started making what I wanted under the name ‘Emperor’, rather than making music that I thought the labels would want and that was when people started noticing me!  I’m hugely grateful for the position I’m in, it’s kind of strange really as It’s like living two separate lifestyles; you fly off to play shows in other countries and before you know it you’re back home on FL Studio trying to make weird bass noises and percussions like the gig never even happened in the first place.  I’m loving every minute of it, though I’m still not where I want to be yet.

Your last release with Mefjus, the Hello World EP was a huge success! My favourite track would have to be your remix of Signalz by Mefjus as the second drop blows me away every time. If you could remix any track in the history of drum and bass, which would you pick and why? 

Thanks! I’m really pleased that we got the EP together, myself and Martin have been working on music since, so there’s a lot more to come!
I’d absolutely love to have a go at remixing Noisia & Phace – Purpose, it’s not out yet but it’s amazing.  Someone suggested I remix Bullet Time by Bad Company, but I don’t think I could ever touch it, the original and the Spor remix are so good it would be sacrilege.


I don’t know about that, i’d pay good money for an Emperor remix of Bullet Time!!  So on a similar tip, if you could organise a collaboration with any musician and vocalist from the past or present, who would you choose and why? 

I’d love to work with Erykah Badu at some point, her voice is so unique, and everything I’ve heard her in I’ve loved.  It’d also be great to work with Bon Iver; would make for some interesting sounds I think.
For me it’s important to have two varying mindsets when collaborating, that way you don’t end up producing something boring. You tap into a vibe and just go with it, and that to me is where you make some really interesting, fresh music.


It’s interesting that for someone creating such ferocious drum and bass you’ve chosen two particularly chilled artists, proof that you really do draw inspiration from all genres.  Are there any other drum and bass producers out there at the moment that you find inspirational? Any that you feel are really making waves within the scene?

I had the honour of listening to Noisia’s ‘Purpose’ EP a couple of weeks ago in their studio, it’s incredible. Hyroglifics is one to watch out for, the new Enei EP is great, Phace, Misanthrop and Mefjus are all working on some great music at the minute. But aside from that, I usually take all of my inspiration from outside sources. More often than not, I find myself wanting to produce after listening to music outside of Drum & Bass.

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Wow, sitting in Noisia’s studio must have been unreal!  Let’s geek out for a moment and talk studio.  Are you hardware or software man? 

Everything I use is in the box, aside from a MIDI Keyboard.  My favourite thing at the moment is FL’s Harmor, has some amazing re-synthesis capabilities that are really fun to play around with, it seems to have a warm, analogue feel which I really adore in a digital synth.  I’m planning on building a studio in the future so I’m looking to expand into some more hardware, probably going to get a Korg SV-1 and some proper rack-compressors.
I’d go into my setup a bit more but that would be telling! I used to use Camelphat3 and Vocodex a lot but I’m using a lot of different techniques at the moment to create new sounds!

When you’re not busy producing or playing out, how do you like to spend your free time? 

Playing Counter Strike, Cooking, watching TV Series, going to the Cinema… basically anything that’s not mixing snare drums I will do happily.

And lastly, what does the future have in store for you? I hear you’re about to embark on a tour, that must be pretty exciting!? 

Yeah! Off to Australia and New Zealand for three weeks from the 20th of June to July 5th which I’m insanely excited for. When that’s done I’ll be playing room 2 for Critical at Fabric on July 18th, and then back to work on music. I’m writing music for a new alias album, which will probably be finished sometime next year, and also writing music for an Emperor album too. There’s also an Album for another new project that I’m working on which is probably making the most progress out of the three, but I’ll divulge more about that soon.

Catch Emperor and the rest of the Critical Music crew hosting room two at Fabric July 18th.  Head over to fabriclondon.com for more info and tickets.

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