Concrete Playground Meets Sydney Electronic Producer What So Not
The allure of making beats, how 'High You Are' came to life, his progress as a musician and plans for the future.
Emoh Instead, born Chris Emerson, is the esteemed Sydney-based DJ and producer behind global electronic sensation What So Not. In the country for Laneway Festival, we caught up with Instead as he revealed what exactly it is about making beats that moves him to create, how the hit song 'High You Are' came to life, his progress as a musician and the plans for his upcoming album.
Chris Emerson remembers the first time he picked up a musical instrument. He was about 7 or 8-years-old in regional Australia with his cousin who was the drummer in heavy metal band.
"I just got on the kit at his house and started playing it. I didn't play it like you're supposed to play the drums, thinking back now. I was playing them trying to create a mood, almost in the sense of how an orchestra would play percussion."
The instinctive sense to use sound to create a mood cultivated an idea that would be his future, taking Chris Emerson all around the world as Emoh Instead. Famed for fast-tempo electro-bangers, What So Not graduated from a bedroom studio to the highly-favourited collaboration with fellow Australian Harley Streten, best known as Flume. Today it stands solely represented by Instead after he took full reign of the project to tour internationally and support the rapidly increasing following.
Following Instead's fateful experience with the drums, he played for another ten years, presumably impacting and developing his ear for authentic rhythms, uncovering beats and creative timing. He studied music throughout high school but it was at 18 when he began going to nightclubs and found a real connection with dance music.
"I really loved more than anything the concept of being placed in a room of people that you don't know, who don't really care who you are, who don't really know what you're about and trying to understand that room. To understand what sort of state those people are in, what sort of things those people are feeling and looking at friend groups. They might be with someone they met that night, and trying to create an energy in the room, based on the songs that you have."
He got into using four CDJs, building layers and loops using different percussion patterns, a cappella vocals and hooks from recognisable songs, and then layering it all together on a primitive level, due to the restrictions with equipment ten years ago.
"That's what I really loved and then I took that into production, sampling things and finding what rhythms cause what sort of a reaction; whether people dance to it, whether they throw their hands up in the air, whether they scream and all that kind of thing. I was really fascinated by it."
While Instead confesses many people were skeptical about his ideas and becoming a DJ, there were key influencers who affirmed he was on the right path. One of those people being singer-songwriter and producer Hayden James.
"Hayden was actually the first to take me into a recording studio. He was sort of like a big brother figure when I first started playing at this nightclub, and him and his DJ partner at the time were like the gods of the venue. They took me under their wing and showed me a bunch of things. That was my first initiation getting into production."
After working hard and slowly ticking off goals, Instead and collaboration partner Flume released their first EP, 7 Dollar Bill,in November 2011. Through 2012 the pair followed up their debut with remixed tunes from other artists including Major Lazer and the energy-riddled duo Peking Duk— Adam Hyde and Reuben Styles. When asked about the collaboration with Peking Duk, Instead was flooded with nostalgia thinking back to a memory with Hyde and the early days of the smash hit 'High You Are'.
"We started about the same time and the first ever What So Not show was actually at the Peking Duk's first ever EP launch here in Australia. I forgot we did a remix for them, but Adam and I, back when we used to party a little bit, had kicked on to his granny flat out the back of his mum's house in Canberra and actually started the initial idea for the song 'High You Are'. Adam and I started that way way way back and they (Peking Duk) took a writing credit on that. I totally forgot about that, that's hilarious."
By 2013, the names Emoh Instead, Flume and What So Not were catching the ear of EDM-listeners around the world. The pair worked alongside New York rapper Action Bronson and released their second EP, The Quack, in October. 'High You Are' was re-released as the 'Branchez Remix', which to date has had over 80 million plays.
With determination and a genuine love of their craft at the heart of their workmanship, Instead and Flume continued to refine their individual skills while managing their ability to work as a union through 2014. That year their collaboration with RL Grime on 'Tell Me'won the praise of fans but as the success of What So Not grew, so did Flume's individual career.
In 2015 it was announced via the What So Not Facebook page Flume would leave the group, citing Emoh to continue under What So Not and Flume to continue a new journey, independently as a solo artist. Following the decision, which wasn't so much a break-up as it was a creative renewal of direction, Emoh successfully continued to drive the What So Not project, setting a benchmark for up-and-coming producers to aspire to. Currently, he's focusing on his first album.
"The biggest goal at the forefront of my mind is this debut album. I've been writing and writing for the last few years so I have a lot of demos that are very simple or very complex ideas and I am in the process of writing more and more songs for this and getting to the centre of the vision of it all— writing video treatments, working with my graphic team on the art work and the concepts behind everything, I even started writing short-stories for each song so there's this entire backdrop that we only unveil through different media whether it be through the art, whether it be through some skits or scenes that we have before and at the end of video clips so we're working through all of that at the moment."
As Instead continues to make moves to explore the reach of his success, the inner-workings of his distinctive skill-set and never-ending passion makes for exciting times for fans.
"Honestly at this point for me it's about just putting something out there in the world that hopefully helps people and hopefully means something to people and provides an alternative to some of the things that are really marketed and shoved down our throats. I just want to provide something that's completely free of all that and a clean slate and honest view of other emotions of other matters that hopefully people can connect with."