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Lucky No. 7 - Interview with Gareth Emery

Up to seven in this year's DJ Mag's Top 100 Poll, Isabelle Salter catches up with rising star Gareth Emery ahead of his Boxing Day gig for Cream in Liverpoool.

Spotlight: Hey Gareth, you first entered the DJ Mag Top 100 in 2006, and within four years, have shot up twenty-seven places to number 7 this year. Are you surprised at how quickly things are progressing or do you feel that all your hard work is simply being recognised?

Gareth Emery: I think it’s a bit of both. In some ways I try not to take it too seriously, I think it’s important to remember it’s based on votes rather than talent. I’ve been in the Top 150 since about 2003, but 2006 - 2008 things really started happening; I started my Podcast, released more records, became more established as a DJ, and yeah I guess the numbers followed with that.

Do you have any big plans for the next few years in order to get to first place?

It’s not even something I’ve been thinking about! Being at number 7 now, look at the 6 people above me [Armin Van Buuren, David Guetta, Tiesto, Deadmau5, Above & Beyond and Paul Van Dyk]; they’re music giants! I’m happy doing what I’m doing; trying to keep stuff interesting and doing something new every year.

David Guetta and Deadmau5 are both in the top 5, and yet they are both much more well-known for their productions rather than their DJ abilities. With the poll being based on the public’s votes rather than industry experts’, how accurate do you feel it is, and would you prefer it if it was taken out of the public’s hands, and in to those of critics’?

No probably not, being a public vote is far from ideal, but it’s probably the best way of doing it. Often critics have opinions which are not aligned to public views; they tend to be involved in much more obscure music. Personally, I don’t really think we need [the Top 100 DJs], I think it would be better for people to be judged on what their DJ sets are like, what their productions are like, how many people come to see you in the club... We don’t have Top 100 Actors polls or Top 100 Comedians, but if we are going to have a poll, the only way you can do it is by public vote.

Earlier this year you released your debut album, Northern Lights. Having been on the trance scene and releasing tunes since 2002, what’s taken you so long? How long had you been planning on releasing an album of your own?

Since about 2002, it was always something I wanted to do, but in the early years I wasn’t in the right place to do that. I think I promised it in 2006, and then it took another 4 years to produce it. It’s easier to release singles and there’s always a pressure to have music out. To sit down and write an album takes a big chunk out of your year, I was relatively quick but it still took seven months from beginning to end.

2009 has seen a continuing recession and increasing illegal music downloads, has setting up your own label in the same year caused problems for you, or do you feel relatively unscathed?

The label’s gone really well, as well as a label can go. We’ve smashed it in all the download charts. It’s definitely the case though, the only reason it’s not an issue for me is that my income comes from my sets; the label is almost just a promotional tool. Making money out of underground dance music is incredibly difficult, not because people don’t listen to this music, because they do, just a lot of people don’t buy it. I remember a mix album I had towards the end of last year, within 3 hours of it being released illegally, it has been downloaded something like 1200 times.

Is there any good to come from illegal downloads, such as people hearing your music who might not have heard it otherwise, or it is simply killing the music industry?

There’s definitely good that’s come from it as well, although the good mostly benefits DJs. What it’s meant is the dance seen has been able to grow in developing countries that probably wouldn’t have otherwise. I’ve played in Columbia, Ukraine, Moldova – pretty obscure countries. These aren’t countries that have record shops, prior to illegal downloads there would be no way for them to share underground dance music. Now they can form an underground dance scene and you can go there and play, but again that only benefits DJs. The main plus point of illegal downloads is that it’s helped spread dance music to the corners of the world that probably wouldn’t have got their otherwise.

How do you feel the Trance scene is currently doing in the UK? Do you feel there is enough emerging talent to keep the scene progressing?

I don’t really like thinking of things in terms of “the Trance scene” or “the House scene”, I know I’m primarily thought of as a Trance DJ, which is cool because that’s the genre that I’ve come from but on my podcasts I play a big variety of stuff. Obviously I play Trance but I also play House, Progressive, Dubstep, Drum and Bass. The kids who are getting into the scene now, couldn’t care less whether they’re listening to House or Trance or whatever, if they hear a tune and like it, they’ll go check that artist out. That’s how I see things going really, breaking down the boundaries of genres, and taking things on a song-by-song, artist-by-artist basis.

I read that you have a degree in politics, what made you pursue a musical career rather than a political one?

Politics is difficult to get into and the more I learnt about it, the less it was something I wanted to do. I think it’s a pretty dirty world, there are massive sacrifices to be made, in terms of what you actually believe in if you want to achieve success in politics. You have to sell out in a far bigger degree that you have to in music.

How do you feel about the student protests going on around the UK at the minute? Would you have gotten involved in the protests had the tuition fee rises been introduced when you were a student?

I don’t know if I would have got involved with the protests, I don’t particularly agree with the tuition fees. I remember when Labour first introduced them, it was just before I went to university, I thought they were a disgrace, especially the fact it came from a Labour government, as that’s not what they were elected to do. You’ve got a generation of politicians all of whom enjoyed free university education, now that they’ve done it, they’re pulling up the ladder for everyone else. In this case, I don’t see protesting making any difference, I think there’s times you should protest, there’s times when you should take to the street, there’s times when workers are quite right to go on strike, but in this situation, the country’s in a pretty bad way financially and realistically, we’re not going to see them roll back.

Finally, what do you want for Christmas this year?

(Laughs) Some time off! It’s been a ridiculous year. For the first seven months I was writing the album, but also touring, I had three days at home each week in between gigs, which I spent locked up in the studio, absolutely no social life! Once I’d finished, the schedule was still hectic as I was promoting the record. By the end of the year I’ll have done 130 shows! It’s been an amazing year but I’m kind of glad it’s going to end! I’ve got three weeks off in January, just really looking forward to not working and chilling out, basically!

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