Behind The Bassline :: What So Not
February 21st 2014
Having a chat with Emoh Instead won’t reveal the secret to getting your head on a cardboard cutout, but it’s still a conversation worth having.
Ableton Liveschool runs a quarterly event at FBi Social called INPUT, through which fledgling music producers can learn heaps of stuff from established artists and respected industry dudes. November’s event brought a bunch of interesting people to the stage – Vic Edirisinghe of Astral People, Anthony Garvin of Studios 301, and Sydney makers of danceable tunes, What So Not and RÜFÜS (whose Behind The Bassline feature is also worthy of a gander). Sandro Dallarmi – presenter of FBi’s The Mixing Bowl on Saturday nights – sat down for a beer and a chat with Emoh Instead of What So Not after his presentation, but the results haven’t been published until now.
Sandro Dallarmi :: A lot of kids are starting out producing then learning how to perform live, whereas you did it the other way around. Do you think that gives you an advantage?
Emoh Instead (What So Not) :: I actually feel the opposite. A lot of young people really focus on something; some focus on computer games, some focus on a certain sport, and if you’ve focused on music production – I mean that’s what Harley did, he focused on production for like six years and that was before he’d even got out of high school. It’s insane the amount of knowledge and skills you can get if you have the right people around you. Like he had Sean [Naderi, The Only] around him, really escalating his knowledge and taking him to levels that most people his age wouldn’t get to. If you have all that time and commitment to it, then you can definitely escalate your skills to a greater extent.
S :: What about taking it live though?
E :: Live is a different thing. I don’t think you have to be knowledgeable about live performance and shows to actually get that far. You can just be one of those DJs that rocks up and hits play on a set. It’s really the music that’s gonna carry around on the internet, that is gonna be shared by everyone, that is gonna make you popular, that is gonna get played on the radio. The live show is sort of second to that. I mean if you’re a great live performer that’s amazing because that’s how you’re going to hold fans, but if you want to get big and get famous, you’ve really just got to have a great product that’s going to be shared.
S :: On that point of treating your music as a product, you spoke earlier [in your INPUT presentation] about production skills not being as important as marketing yourself well…
E :: Well you need to be a strong enough producer that people want to invest time and dollars into you. You need to be able to hold your own. I can write music to a certain degree, and people see value in that, so people develop me, people market me, and people represent me in terms of management, an agent etc.
“It’s really about the idea. If you don’t have that idea you’re developing nothing and you’re not going to have a song.”
S :: To what degree do you need to be able to write and/or produce music though? Your presentation mentioned putting creative concepts before the methodical tweaking of every individual drum sound.
E :: Yeah I used to have that problem, being a drummer and not understanding synths and melodies. I used to just sit there for hours and hours and hours fiddling with the drums, and Harley’s the one who got me out of that. He was like “look you can’t do that, it’s really bad for your creativity, you’re going to be really bored and tired and then you’re just gonna stop writing.” I think that’s something that a lot of people start with, because dance music is a lot about the drums. The energy of the track comes from that. So a lot of people when they first start just want to get it really fat and heavy so they spend too much time on it, but you have to realise that it’s all about getting the chords together and getting the melody down, the hook down, getting some drums over the top, and then working on the sonics of the sound – improving them and building them and making them stronger. It’s really about the idea. If you don’t have that idea you’re developing nothing and you’re not going to have a song.
S :: You guys have been making music as What So Not for over three years now. How has it progressed?
E :: What So Not has been a snowball. I think Flume was like a skyrocket. It just came on the map and went gangbusters because there was such a gap in the market for what he was doing. It was so appealing to radio too – it was interesting and soulful but not too hard, whereas What So Not has always been very clubby, so we’ve been going very well on the club circuit, but not so much crossing into the mainstream with that project. It’s been really exciting to see What So Not build from the foundations and just keep chugging along, gathering speed.
S :: How has life changed since before What So Not?
E :: Half a year before What So Not was noticed in a major way, I was working full time as an accountant while studying as well. Me and my long-term girlfriend broke up and I ended up going overseas for a month to South America. When I came back I had no job, no girlfriend, and I was just like “I’m going to focus my entire life on music” and I did. Now three years later it’s going pretty damn well!
S :: It took almost three years before you released a solo EP too. How did that all happen?
E :: With Harley being so busy, my whole life had to be focused on What So Not because of the level it was escalating to, and we only had half the people there to do it. Harley has always been the core producer of What So Not, so when he wasn’t available to provide input – like very necessary input – into the productions, I had to spend about 9 months training myself intensely in different genres, different styles, production techniques, just learning a lot. I came to Ableton Liveschool for a couple of courses to try and skip ahead as much as I possibly could in the shortest amount of time possible so that I could make up for the lacking abilities that I was used to in the project.
In that 9 months I’d written about 4 or 5 tracks that were quite good. We were going to use them as What So Not tracks and just get Harley to finish them off and give them that extra sparkle that he can do with his talents. But he was like “look let’s just write a few more other ones together when we get back in the studio” and I said “yeah cool”. So I was just sitting on these tracks. I was meant to go to the US but we changed managers and a couple of other things happened which meant that I had this period without shows. So I spoke to my agent at Sweat It Out and we decided to put out the tracks as Emoh Instead and set up an Emoh tour, and in about two weeks we finished all the tracks and booked a 20 day tour around the whole country so that was pretty sick. It’s been amazing. My first original track got a quarter of a million plays in 3 weeks and I’ve got more tracks waiting to come out. We’ve got the new What So Not EP about to come out too. I think I’ll roll out another Emoh Instead single after that when there’s time for me to tour solo again.
S :: It’s funny because you’ve got so many plays on that track, but when you were giving your talk and asked for a show of hands of who’s heard it, very few hands went up. So I guess it’s an international thing maybe?
E :: It is! I’ve been looking at the stats and the majority of the plays are from the US, the second most from Australia, then France, but the US is actually quite far ahead. It depends on what type of blogs are picking it up I guess. I mean with radio too, you guys at FBi picked it up and put it on rotation so it’s been circulating in Sydney. Triple J have given it a few spins too. But I guess something like that can be kind of a niche sound, and I guess if it’s not on high rotation on some of the major radio stations not everyone’s going to hear it. I’m not really fussed if everyone in that room hasn’t heard it though. It’s my first solo release so you can’t really ask for much more than what it has done already.
S :: It must be nice to step away from the whole “oh here’s the Flume guy” thing too.
E :: Yeah, I mean not so much that, but more that I’m in complete control of it – I can finish it and I can put it out straight away without waiting for another person’s decision. It doesn’t matter who that person is, but just being independent and having control over my own creations is really great. I love writing with Harley, but it’s great to do that individual thing as well.
S :: What were you doing in What So Not before all that?
E :: I had more of a creative director’s role. I’d contribute percussion and some cool loops, ideas, concepts. Plus like I said before with ‘The Quack’ – using the t-shirts and blow-up ducks at shows, just marketing ideas as well. I said “the quack” into my phone and that became the hook of the song. Just little things like that. I mean I’ve always been the DJ of the group, and that’s my forte – performing live and knowing what people want on a dancefloor.
S :: Except people get angry when Flume isn’t there not DJing.
E :: [Laughs] That doesn’t really happen that often. I mean I’ve seen a few things online, and the people who write that sort of stuff – I’ve looked at their whole feed and I’m like “man they’re not really there for What So Not, they’re just there for Flume and they’re just pissed off because he’s not here. I mean Benny Benassi is two people. There’s one guy that produces the music and one guy that tours the world and represents it. There’s so many acts like that, and to go to a show and be pissed off because Flume isn’t there, you’re not going to a Flume show y’know. I understand if people are upset if Harley’s not there, but to be honest the sets are just as good. It’s not gonna make that much difference. Harley’s the core producer of the group and I’m the core DJ, so the whole idea is that I go and do the DJ shows.
S :: Has being a DJ and knowing what works in clubs informed your production?
E :: Counter to what I said earlier, starting in that realm is a big asset that I’ve had. Sure, I couldn’t write music to begin with. I mean when I first started working with Harley I’d never used a synthesiser, not even a soft synth. I just fiddled around with edits and drums and things like that. But coming from a dance world, I knew what worked on the floor, I knew what sounds worked, I knew what people were into, I knew what was on the edge of cool, as opposed to what is out there everywhere that everyone is listening to. It was like, if you’re DJing, playing cooler tracks and finding cooler tracks than the ones everyone else has, then you’re gonna know what sort of sounds are going to be popping – what works in a club – without them being mainstream.
S :: That’s sort of the What So Not philosophy isn’t it? Making cool things that work in a club without being mainstream?
E :: Yeah, it’s about listening to some really great sounds and concepts and genres and ideas that are coming through and being like “okay let’s put this together in our own way and focus on the parts that we’re really inspired by”.
S :: I like that. You wouldn’t want to call it an ‘Australian Sound’ though.
E :: [Laughs] It’s so funny because Harley just accidentally coined that phrase. Everyone went with it and he’s like “I didn’t even mean it like that”.
Ableton Liveschool are hosting another INPUT event tomorrow! Touch Sensitive, Oscar Key Sung, Michael Kucyk of Modular and Thomas McAlister of Alba/Canyons are all going to be there. You can get tickets here and sign up to their newsletter if you want to be notified of future events.
Watch Emoh Instead’s presentation from the last INPUT in the meantime so you know what you’re in for.
Related: Behind The Bassline :: RÜFÜS
Related: Live Mix :: Emoh Instead
Related: Listen :: Elizabeth Rose – ‘The Good Life (Emoh Instead ‘Poolside’ Mix)’