Gareth Emery At Digital Dreams Festival

Jul 21, 2016
Gareth Emery At Digital Dreams Festival
2016 has been a big year for Gareth Emery with the release of his latest studio album 100 Reasons To Live and a heavy touring schedule. We caught up with Gareth Emery following his set at Digital Dreams Festival in Toronto a few weeks back. It gave Emery a nice opportunity to reflect on how he gets comfortable and finds enjoyment in his live sets, and how he incorporates his album tracks into those sets. In our long read he also discusses how he got into electronic dance music, trance, and much more!
What was your set like today? How was the atmosphere?
It was amazing. Probably my favorite festival this year and I’ve done some amazing festivals. The thing with festivals, and this is going to sound strange, though I think it applies to a lot of DJs, it’s quite easy to not enjoy them. There is a lot of pressure and it’s one thing people don’t always realize from the other side when you are playing say, EDCLV, which we did two weeks ago. There is so much pressure on that set with the live stream and almost your entire focus is on doing a good job and leaving people walking away happy. Enjoying it yourself kind of becomes the second priority.
 Photo: Visual Bass Photography 
However, there are certain factors that when they fall into place allow you to enjoy a festival much more. Today, for instance, we were traveling on a really tight schedule from Jamaica. We had two flights and a tight connection. It’s a little bit touch and go which meant that we were worried we may not make it, so when we did make it, there was a lot of gratefulness for that. There wasn’t a lot of time to sit there and think about it and get nervous because of that as well. Pretty much from ten minutes in, I was like, “Wow!” You always hit a point in the set where you feel comfortable - sometimes it’s right near the end, and usually with a festival that’s the case. Today it was like 15 minutes in and I was like, “Wow, I feel really at home now. The rest of the set is going to be fucking amazing.” Toronto crowd, a lot of big trance heads. You could tell the people are represented because of the lineup - trancey lineup, but also a trancey crowd.
Did you play anything that you weren’t necessarily expecting to play?
I played an old trance classic, Chicane - “Offshore” in the Grum Remix, which I only got two days ago. It was one of my favorite trance tracks. I loaded it into my Rekordbox earlier today and thought, “I’m not going to play this, it’s far too progressive,” but it was a nice vibe and I could tell the crowd was pretty responsive to most stuff so I was like, “Fuck yeah, let’s get a bit of Chicane in there!” It’s kind of nice for a daytime set.
What was the process for integrating your album tracks into your sets?
I try and test them as much as possible. It’s really important to do that, but more important is the arrangement, the way you structure the track so that it doesn’t kill the crowd at any point. Pretty much everything got tested. The only things that didn’t get tested were the tracks that were never really meant for my sets. They were album tracks, and so I didn’t extensively test those.
Just at the time that I was finishing the album last year, I did a series of all night sets where there was a lot of opportunity to test tracks. For instance, if I was finishing the album now, in the summer it’s all festivals. It’s hour sets, and there isn’t that much space to play new stuff that may not necessarily work that well. You can’t risk it.
How many iterations do your tracks normally go through from when you first road test them to their final version?
It really depends. Some have been like 20. I’ve got a new track right now on eight that is still not quite finished. The thing is, you only finish a track once. You will only ever make the final version of that track once, so you might as well make it as good as it possibly can be. I spend fewer iterations on what I call lower priority tracks, say a remix or something, or in all honesty just a track that I’m not that fussed about. I’m probably not going to go to crazy on the final details for those like I did with, for example, “Sanctuary,” “Concrete Angel,” or “Lights & Thunder” with Krewella. Those all probably went through 15-20 iterations until we reached the final one just because I want to be able to listen back to those tracks and not wish I’d done anything differently. I think for all of the biggest tracks of my career, I’m happy that I can listen back to them now, and there’s nothing that I would really change. They’ve aged well.
That’s a little different from what we normally hear artists say. We often hear artists reflect a year later and think their productions could be better.
The production level always increases, but I’ll judge tracks based on the production equipment available at the time. I listen back to “Mistral,” my first ever proper release in 2002, and when I listen back now, would it be a better track and better produced? Absolutely. But was it made as well done as I could possibly do at that time with the equipment at my disposal?
I think production level is really the determinant on how well a track ages. When you go back and listen to music that is very well produced, Pendulum, Deadmau5, even their early tracks like Deadmau5 - “Faxing Berlin,” it doesn’t sound out of place now. Whereas there are tracks from that era that aren’t as well produced, that at that time you didn’t really notice, but as the years go by they age very quickly.
Do you have any favorite remixes from tracks from 100 Reasons To Live?
The Standerwick “Reckless” remix which I played today is a great remix, people seem to even prefer it to the original. I also played the original a lot before it came out for like a good nine months so I kind of got sick of it to be honest.
Also, the Ben Nicky remix of “Until We Meet Again.” I would say that is better than the original, and it gets a better reaction than the original. Since I’ve gotten that remix, I haven’t played the original. For the most part we have amazing remixes. I still usually revert to my originals just because I made them. Remixes are usually meant for a different audience, they are not necessarily made for me. Ferry Corsten made an incredible remix of “Lost,” but I still play the original. It’s mine - I made it.
Another one I play a lot live is the Ashley Wallbridge remix of “Story So Far.” Again, the running theme is, for “Until We Meet Again” and “Story So Far,” those tracks never worked that great in their original form. Sometimes I get it more right than others, and those tracks, “Story So Far” in particular, never quite did it in their original form. Then when Ashley made his version, I was like, “You’ve done what I couldn’t quite do.” Sometimes the other artists just nail my home listening piece and turn it into a great club piece.
Was there a favorite show that you once attended as a fan that made you want to become a DJ/producer for a living?
I think it was as soon as trance popped in the UK for the first time. North America had its dance music explosion in 2010, but in the UK it was like 1998. When I would go and hear Armin van Buuren, Ferry Corsten, and I would hear System F - “Out Of The Blue,” and Armin’s “The Communication”...I had never heard music like that before in my life. All I knew for dance music was funky house.
I can’t pick any particular night, but it was more the moment that I started listening to that music. But at first, this is the crazy thing about the way things were back then, we didn’t know it was called trance. There wasn’t the Internet in the way there is now. I don’t know if Armin and those guys knew it was trance at the time. It was pre A State Of Trance, it had morphed out of progressive house and kind of psy. Ministry of Sound released an album in 1999, Trance Nation, and that was kind of the first time we had a word for it. I was like, “Ah, trance. That’s what I like.” I got into it very, very quickly. From that point it was clear that this was the direction I was moving in. I remember coming back from a show at Passion and I was thinking in the bus, “Jesus Christ, this music has taken over my life. Six months ago I hadn’t even heard of it and now it’s what I listen to every day, I’m trying to make it, and I’m going to shows on the weekend for it.”
What’s the rest of your year look like for you?
A lot of touring. Last year, I took a lot of the year off because I became a dad. I was kind of fortunate, I had a nice deal in Las Vegas so I didn’t need to travel like crazy. I did Las Vegas, I did Miami, I didn’t do Europe at all and for the most part I just stayed in LA and wrote the album. That worked out well because now I want to go back and tour the world again. I’ve really missed it, I missed doing Europe, Asia, and Australia. This year everyone wanted me to come play for them so the summer is just mad with festivals and clubs. I don’t think I have a weekend off until December.
It’s basically doing a lot of shows and writing new music. In the past, I usually take a break from writing new music after finishing an album. This year, that’s not the case, and I’m going straight into new stuff. I’ve got a new podcast called Make It Happen which is all about giving people help and advice about how to make it in the music industry. It’s on YouTube and an audio/video podcast. It’s something I’m very passionate about, spreading what I’ve learned. For a long time, those of us who were successful kept it very close to our chest. There’s a million production tutorials out there if you want to produce music. If you want to learn how to navigate this viper's nest of the music industry and learn how to apply good daily practices and routines that can take whatever talent you have and put you on stages like today, that’s a very different thing and that’s what I’m looking to share.
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