Music & clubs

A few questions for… Emika

INTERVIEW. British-raised, Berlin-converted Ema Jolly, aka Emika, made her debut in 2011 with a mix of dubstep, trip hop and classical. She delivered her fourth record, Drei, this week.

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A second-generation Czech, Milton Keynes-raised and Berlin converted, 29-year-old Ema Jolly – aka Emika – boldly announced herself with her eponymous 2011 debut that combined dubstep, trip hop and classical. Recent follow up Dva upped the production ante and included a much-reblogged cover of “Wicked Game”. The virtuoso Amazon is now making the leap from electronica to pop weirdness, starting her own label and flirting with celebrity. Her fourth album, Drei, was finally delivered on May 4.

LEAVING BRISTOL IN 2007 I was suffering in my previous life in the UK. I studied really hard and I lived a really nerdy lifestyle, I got appendicitis and then the hospital fucked up the operation… it felt like the end of a chapter anyway.

WHAT IT TAKES TO BREAK THROUGH It’s all about who you’re friends with, and if you don’t have those cool friends then you better find them because that’s how you break through – whether it’s London, New York, Paris…

THE DOWNSIDE OF FAME The other day, I had to pick up a punctured bike tyre and I wanted to buy an avocado and I got recognised three times on my way to the shop. I looked like a complete tramp, so next time I’ll wear sunglasses and lipstick before I leave the house.

BERLIN SOUNDS LIKE… a train ride in the middle of the night to a weird Bohemian village and you lose your keys and you lose your money and some strange people give you some strange drugs and you’re cold and it’s raining so you go and shelter in a tunnel where trains pass through and you listen to the wind and you listen to the trains go through the tunnel. That with a kick-drum is the Berlin sound.

BERLIN’S PROBLEMS Too many people who don’t pay taxes, aren’t even registered to live here, don’t pay health insurance, don’t care about learning German. Lots of freedom; little responsibility. It’s like if you keep taking water from a well, if you take too much too quickly you won’t have any fresh water left. No one cares about getting paid here, so if you come along and ask for a basic payment for something, people think you’re this crazy diva. “What? Because I want to get paid for work? Is this a strange concept for you?”

 …AND UNEXPECTED ADVANTAGES Berlin is a techno-prison, which I love because it inspires me to have melodic ideas and lyrical ideas and narrative ideas because I’m starved of this with the music here. I’ve just started writing a symphony for a 100-person orchestra which I’m going to record in Prague next year.

YOUR AUDIENCE IS… very, very, very smart. They can’t be fooled at all. You never consider having an audience until you get one and you’re like, “Fuck! I have to be careful now!” I have to make the right choices, I don’t want to piss these people off, but I’m lucky because I feel like they genuinely want me to succeed.

SOCIAL MEDIA As an artist you get easily distracted with DIY promotions or Facebook, or the potential that social media holds. It really starts to change your psychology. Personally, I have to tell myself, “No Facebook. I’m mixing my album, when my album is mixed I’ll check Facebook, whether that’s three days or three months and that’s it.” You need discipline. If you’re only 99 percent focused on your work and one percent of your brain is thinking about something else, you might miss that one tiny new idea…

A RICH BOYS’ CLUB When I studied music technology at university, I was one of only three girls among 200 boys. I didn’t have a laptop but everybody else had really expensive equipment. At Native Instruments, I was again the only sound designer woman there. I would have loved to have had a role model but there was nobody, no woman who had been in the university before me, no other female producer in the industry who could help me out when I was struggling to mix stuff. I couldn’t find a female manager anywhere in the business that I could work with. I mean, Jesus, it was really a challenge.

ON LABELS When I signed to Ninja Tune I made a lot of sacrifices and compromises, had arguments… being inside a record label constellation I feel like I lost a lot of freedom to express myself. I don’t just want to be a singer sitting in a studio while some guy makes me beats. Now I’m independent, I’m setting up my own label, I made the album in my flat. Some people would have chosen to have gone to a major label, I chose to be on my own. It’s 2014 and that’s the most empowering thing you can do!

ADVICE TO YOUNG MUSICIANS Don’t sign away your music rights for 20 years, don’t have a manager that’s entitled to make 20 percent of all your income. Get an assistant, you can hire and fire assistants. No one really talks about that stuff, and I wish I’d known those dangers when I was offered a bunch of contracts at 18 or 19.

WHAT KEEPS YOU AWAKE AT NIGHT I’m worried that I won’t be a recognised composer until I’m too old to get on a plane and go to the premiere, too wrinkly to want my picture taken any more. I’m really impatient, so fucking impatient, and my impatience frustrates me.

WHAT GETS YOU UP IN THE MORNING The fucking builders. Why do they start so early? It’s insane, they must get up at like 4am just to piss me off, and they stop at 10am which is when I’d actually like to get up.

ON BEING A “FULLY SET UP INDIE BERLIN ARTIST ROCKING THE NO-RULES CITY LIFESTYLE” It means that no one can tell me what the fuck to do any more, I’m my own boss and I’m about to create my own little piece of music industry that nobody else can fuck with. It’s a very exciting time for me right now. 

Originally published in issue #131, October 2014.