Spokes in conversation with E.M.M.A.

26.05.15

Spokes is a newly-emerging producer and member of the Loose Synths crew, whose work leans towards instrumental grime. E.M.M.A. is a producer/composer who released a debut album of vibrant, technicolor quasi-club tracks called 'Blue Gardens' through Keysound Recordings in 2013.

Spokes is set to put out his debut EP, 'Green Eyes', through the excellent Coyote Records in the not-too-distant future – an EP which is topped off with a remix of his track Ritalin by E.M.M.A. Her spectral take on the tune didn't come about by chance – Spokes and E.M.M.A. have known each other for ages (since the former's "dreadlock years", apparently), so when Coyote Records asked if we'd want to host an In Conversation feature with the two producers, we knew it'd yield a very fun chat.

Sure enough, most of their conversation was them just talking shit – "which, to be fair is what me and Emma normally do IRL", as Spokes puts it.

E.M.M.A., since the release of 'Blue Gardens', has been exploring lower tempos and putting on the occasional Emerald City parties at London venue Power Lunches. Spokes reckons she's also been working with Kanye West and has gotten a Lil Wayne tattoo on her foot, but we're not sure if he's telling the truth given he also told us he's planning to disappear after the 'Green Eyes' EP is released ("doing a Greena", in his words) and take up a new career as leader of the Labour party.

But some nuggets of truth did eke out throughout the chat, which you can read below – alongside an exclusive stream of E.M.M.A.'s Ritalin remix.

Naming conventions

E.M.M.A.: "Rob, why is your EP called 'Green Eyes'?"

Spokes: "It's a reference to the princess that David Lo Pan wants to find in Big Trouble In Little China. Basically he sends his goons to capture Wang Chi's fiance and kidnap her at the airport, and then Wang Chi and Jack Burton have to go save her."

E.M.M.A.: "Shit – do they save her? This might change my reading of your tracks."

Spokes: "Yeah, obvs. Kurt Russell is a badman. It's a classic John Carpenter movie and probably one of my favourite films for various reasons. I'm a big John Carpenter fan generally – both his films and the soundtracks he wrote for them. In one way or another, that influence has seeped its way into my music."

E.M.M.A.: "That's really cool that it's directly influenced your EP. I named my album after a The Great Gatsby quote, so it's relatable."

Starting out

E.M.M.A.: "When did you start making tunes?"

Spokes: "Fucking ages ago. But not very seriously."

E.M.M.A.: "Under New Labour? Are you a Blair generation producer?"

Spokes: "Yeah, definitely under Smooth Tony's rule – though I didn't start taking it seriously until probably under the rule of Big Gordon B. After dabbling with drumming for about 10 years or so, I went to uni and kept downloading the free trials of Ableton and not really making anything of any use. Then a mate gave me Logic, which I didn't understand at all."

E.M.M.A.: "It's ironic that Logic is called Logic."

Spokes: "Yeah, Trade Descriptions Act right there. Handily, Nottingham had a good music college which did this thing where you could do evening classes, one-to-one with a teacher who showed you the basics of Logic for like 30 quid, so it made a bit more sense."

E.M.M.A.: "Oh, word. So are you on that now?"

Spokes: "Yeah, pretty much. I've fucked about with some analogue stuff, bought a load and then sold it all again."

E.M.M.A.: "I still use the bollocks version of Fruity Loops, so I can't really comment. It's basically one step up from banging on pots and pans."

Spokes: "Whatever works innit? I just happened to get shown how to make stuff in Logic, so I've stuck with it. It's easy to get tempted by shiny interfaces and marketing bullshit, but at the end of the day, I just wanna use whatever allows me to get my ideas out of my head quickly."

"Are you a Blair generation producer?" – E.M.M.A.

First meetings, real or otherwise

E.M.M.A.: "We met on MSN chat in 2002. I went to meet Rob at the zoo but he didn't show up. Turns out he's a 62-year-old from Bognor."

Spokes: "I don't wanna talk about the time we first met – I'd rather chat about the Keysound night at Fabric where you rocked up in some sick dress and showed the whole fucking club what was what."

E.M.M.A.: "Are you talking about a very cool dress I borrowed from a PR company, but got no pictures in, so they cut all ties? I AM AN ENIGMA FFS."

Spokes: "Did you not pre-warn them that you're Burial and don't do photos?"

E.M.M.A.: "I nearly told them I don't get my face out, but I thought they definitely wouldn't let me borrow it then."

Writing bangers

E.M.M.A.: "People ask 'What are you going to do next?', which is kind of annoying 'cos you're not a beat factory – but, what type of stuff are you working on?"

Spokes: "I went through a phase after I finished the EP of just attempting to write a banger. Or, more specifically, a 'club banger'. I'm not very good at writing more club-focused stuff – I tend to end up writing lots of melodies, etc. – but I wanted to get it out of my system."

E.M.M.A.: "Yeah, I'm the same to be honest – even if it does work in the club, it's never on my mind."

Spokes: "I've noticed you've been writing a lot of new stuff which is a bit slower – around the 100bpm mark."

E.M.M.A.: "Yeah, I haven't made up my mind about BPMs. I don't feel chained to anything."

Spokes: "It all sounds like you, still. Do you like writing stuff a bit slower?"

E.M.M.A.: "I think I do, but part of slowing stuff down is kind of just where I'm at mentally and what I like to listen to. It also gives the melodies more room to breathe. I think what stops some people [from writing at a slower tempo] is the DJ side of things."

Spokes: "It's a shame – a lot of DJs will ignore stuff if it's slower. A lot of the better DJs dont give a fuck about tempo, they just work out how to fit it in. Riz La Teef is wicked for that, Mr. Mitch is another."

Remixing Ritalin

Spokes: "Emma, what parts of Ritalin did you actually use? Did you do an Aphex Twin on me, sample one blip and then write your own tune?"

E.M.M.A.: "I'm trying to remember what I did. I think Ritalin has got a very defined atmosphere and sounds otherwordly, kind of happy – less happy, more kind of well balanced and content – so I wanted to take a little loop of it and just make it a bit sinister. But I also was influenced by remixes where I've listened to them and realised that's what someone's done – so I thought it would be a cool challenge to do that, and that it would be interesting for you. I wanted to do something that you and Tomas [Fraser, Coyote Records label head] would like first and foremost!"

Spokes: "How big an influence was Hillary Clinton hiding all her emails on a home server an your arepeggio choices when writing the remix?"

E.M.M.A.: "I didnt know that about Hillary, but I don't blame her. Bring back typewriters I say. Maybe the arepeggios are tinfoil hat-sounding."

Spokes: "Do you like doing remixes? Now that you're a big time producer with a major Rolodex, do you find yourself being asked to do more? It's interesting 'cos the other remix I'd heard of yours was the remix of the Deptford Goth tune, and that was fucking great as well."

E.M.M.A.: "I do get asked a bit, but it's always pie-in-the-sky stuff, so I only execute things I give a shit about."

"How big an influence was Hillary Clinton hiding all her emails on a home server in your arepeggio choices when writing the remix?" – Spokes

Clubnights and radio

Spokes: "I think clubland in London is at a difficult point where there are some good venues about, but not loads, and the sound systems aren't always the best, especially for the kind of music I like and play. So that in turn has its challenges for promoters and then the DJs. But equally, there are loads of great promoters booking good guys who are coming through – like lots of things though, your talent isn't always what gets you bookings."

E.M.M.A.: "I think it's hard to do things in London if you haven't got some kind of brand behind you. Emerald City isn't that stressful to do when I have the time. There are a couple of good venues in my opinion – Rye Wax and Power Lunches; I also liked Bar 512 in Dalston. It's hard work putting on a night, and quite expensive, so it's great when you see small independent nights like Converge springing up. There are not enough venues though – commercially it's difficult for everyone. It's tricky when you're cultivating something small – people need to be paid. I think the trick is to find a format which kind of works for everyone until it grows a bit. Boxed is a great example of persistence and a model that works."

Spokes: "Yeah, Boxed is a great example – although behind the scenes, all those guys had been doing their own things for a while, slowly working towards a point where Boxed made sense. These things take time and don't tend to happen overnight. I think it's about keeping your head down and focusing on what you love and want to be a part of and just doing that. If it's good then hopefully it'll get noticed and more people will start coming to the nights and getting involved. Lots of the labels and parties I loved took that approach."

E.M.M.A.: "Yeah – like Tom, who owns Rye Wax, he's been in the game for years – he did Redstar Sessions. There are a few really savvy people out there who have good instincts and put the time in, and their passion is ultimately music, not money."

Spokes: "What are you thoughts on radio though? You've started the show on Radar Radio fairly recently, is that something you enjoy?"

E.M.M.A.: "I like the format – it's nice to be able to talk a bit and try stuff out live without any real repercussions. You can also craft it in a creative way without the parameters of not being concerend about keeping people dancing. Although I do dance when listening to the radio, so I'm a walking contradiction."

Spokes: "It feels a bit like its taken over the role of live stuff at times in London recently. Obviously the raves and clubnights are still there, and it might just be my warped perspective, but it feels like that's the healthier of the two at the minute."

Coyote Records release the 'Green Eyes' EP on June 1st 2015 (buy).