Welcome to our new interview series ‘10 Question to…’. In the first dialogue we interviewed the British DJ, promoter and producer Emma Clair. We want to present the artist as close and authentic as possible and experience things that document the people behind it, including the inspiration of Electro Swing!
01. EST: Who are you, what are you doing, where are you from and how did you come to music?
Emma Clair: So for those of you who don’t know me, my name’s Emma Clair. I’m a DJ and Producer from Manchester (England) and founder of the north’s largest Electro Swing Club night ‘Prohibition’.
I come from a musical family, my Grandma was a Pianist and my Dad played in a brass band, so I guess it was no surprise that I followed it their footsteps. I had Piano lessons right through High School and I also played the Clarinet for a couple of years too. My teachers obviously saw something in me as they tried to convince me to study Music GCSE, but I was a shy kid so I didn’t go for it. When I left high school I stopped playing the piano and clarinet, a decision I regret now I’m older… it’s actually cool these days to be a music geek… back then it wasn’t haha!
I was in a lot of shows when I was a kid. Despite being a bit shy, I used to love musical theatre and ended up studying Performing Arts at College which led me to studying for a Higher Natiinal Diploma, in Media & Performance, and later a degree in Television and Radio.
It wasn’t until I left University that I fell in love with the idea of wanting to be a DJ.
At the age of 18 I went to my first proper underground club night, before that my taste in music was shockingly bad. To be fair when I tell you who I went to see, some of you may say it was bad at 18 (Lisa Lashes and Judge Jules). The energy from the music was absolutely insane, and from then on I was absolutely obsessed with hard house and dance! Facebook wasn’t a thing back then, but there were message boards where people from the hard house scene used to chat, one of which was 4Clubbers.Net, it was there that I met a lot of people who were fairly well connected in the scene. DJs, producers and promoters. I got to hang out with a lot of them and I guess that was what sparked my interest in DJ-ing. I used to stand on the dancefloor listening to the djs mixing and seeing how quickly I could identify what track was coming up next! (lol) It wasn’t until I was 24 that I actually bought a pair of vinyl decks.
They were really bad second hand quality, but a friend loaned me a little 2 channel mixer and some records and that was it, I was on my way! Beat matching did not come naturally to me, but I never gave up! In May 2008 I played my first gig at a hard house night in a pub in Accrington and I’ve never looked back since!
02. EST: Why did you choose Electro Swing and not another, more successful music genre?
Emma Clair: I didn’t discover Electro Swing until 2013! I was DJing at a hard dance and psy trance night at The Beaver Works in Leeds.. The bar area was playing house music and there was one DJ playing music that I had never heard before!! My friend had mentioned the DJ before, saying, “You’ll love it”…. And she was right!
The track that will always stick in my head from his set was Luca Lento – The Cat Came Back… that was my first encounter with Electro Swing and it’s what inspired me to start including it in my DJ sets…, it was something completely new and fresh to me! It’s at the absolute opposite end of the musical spectrum to harder edged dance music but to me it evokes the same feelings! I never intended to be an Electro Swing DJ, I just used to play a bit of it on my radio show at the time which was called ‘Electro Clash’. It all kind of started to snow ball when I won an award for “Best New Radio Show”…
I was then asked to fill in for a DJ one Friday night at a local Bar. I told the manager about Electro Swing and she was intrigued! Anyway the gig ended up going that well that she asked me back again (and again….and AGAIN!)… and then she said I’d need to think of a name for the night, which is how Prohibition was born!
I started to invite guest DJs along and from there I started to play more and more Electro Swing. I will always have interests in other genres, I don’t like to pigeon hole too much. Someone once referred to me as the Male Fatboy Slim and I think that description was pretty spot on.
I play feel good party music, I don’t like sticking to one genre as can be limiting, regardless of how popular the genre is. Others may argue the opposite but to be well rounded DJs with the ability to take a dancefloor on a musical journey, and drop unexpected curve balls are some of the most exciting to watch in my opinion. There is so much more to me than Electro Swing, my tastes have evolved over the years, and I no longer play hard dance but i do still mix harder genres (techno and psy trance) but I play these under different names.
03. EST: What excites you most about Electro Swing, what’s special for you?
Emma Clair: Electro Swing is such an accessible genre of dance music… because it has so many sub genres it has mass appeal – it doesn’t matter if your young or old – this is one of the things I love about it! Because Electro Swing isn’t recognised as a genre on the DJ download sites it can be hard to find music (unless you know what you’re looking for) BUT this is actually part of the fun for me! It reminds me of digging through record shops for vinyl…looking for the hidden gem!
I’ve always been a DJ that loves to push the musical boundaries so I spend hours hunting for tracks that have elements of Electro Swing or would fit into a set but are taken from the House or Electro categories. It could just be a vocal sample in a straight up house track, it’s all about being inventive! There are no rules with Electro Swing!
04. EST: Where could it go with Electro Swing and what do you find exciting, can there be anything new at all?
Emma Clair: There will always be trends in Dance music, Electro was massive for a while, then came dub step, then grime e.t.c . So who knows what will happen with Electro Swing – some say it’s had it’s day, to me I feel, it’s still very much an emerging genre – I speak to a lot of clubbers who have never heard of it but the trend is always, as soon as they do hear it they love it!!
In the UK, Electro Swing is popular at Summer festivals but it doesn’t seem to carry the mass appeal to the clubs over the Autumn/Winter.. I’m not sure why this is – it will be interesting to see what happens next year when the 20s hit again, although it would be nice to carve a forever scene rather than a gimick for people to latch on to and get bored of.
05. EST: How would you describe the worldwide Electro Swing scene?
Emma Clair: Electro Swing like many other genres, seems to be more popular in certain countries than others – which is perfectly normal! Acts like Parov Stelar and Caravan Palace have acheived world wide success and have really pioneered the sound across the Globe. These artists’ music is often people’s first introduction to the genre. I do feel in order for the scene to grow, there needs to be more big acts following in their footsteps, ones that are proud to identify as Electro Swing.
06. EST: What do you think about the man-made climate change and what can we all do about it,such as food, travel and lifestyle?
Emma Clair: I try to live as environmentally friendly life as I can, eating a mostly vegan diet and avoiding single use plastic! I don’t drive but i do use public transport a lot – one of my resolutions for 2020 is to get more active and try and cycle and walk to places more!
In terms of the wider world – things seem to be changing for the better, more and more people are choosing a plant based diet and there are lots of environmental campaigns running..I love the recent slam on single use plastics from the UK Music Festivals. With such a wide scale problem it needs everyone to support it for things to really change, I hope it’s not too little too late!
07. EST: What’s the political attitude of Electro Swing in the 21st century, if swing in the Roaring
20’s fought for emancipation, anti-apartheid, social justice and a better morality?
Emma Clair: I’m not sure that there is a political message to be honest. What people take from music, and the messages they find in it, is personal to that person. Music is a powerful tool and can evoke emotions in different ways. I guess you could maybe say that Electro Swing is continuing the legacy set by folks in the 1920s.
08. EST: What else do you do, do you live from music and what are your interests and hobbies?
Emma Clair: If you took music away, I’m actually pretty boring! (haha) DJing, writing music and organising my own events is a HUGE part of my life!
I’m a big kid… I have a slight obsession with The Minions from Despicable Me and silly cartoon characters like Sponge Bob Square Pants and Elmo!
I love Converse! Some girls have shoes.. I have a huge collection of Converse trainers! I try to hunt out the more unusual prints – one of my favourite pairs at the moment are my Thunder Cats Cartoon ones!
I love food (I eat a lot but thankfully am quite slim!)
I try to bake as often as I can – my partner is Vegan and has recently gone Gluten Free so it’s a challenge, but it’ll be fun trying to make him tasty treats!! I made bread the other day (not gluten free) and that was pretty decent!
I was quite into my fitness earlier this year but I sometimes find it hard to get into a routine and stick to it – another resolution for 2020 – go the gym more!!!
09. EST: What do you dislike about Electro Swing, could something be improved?
Emma Clair: Hhm this is a tough question. As with all genres, there are some tracks I like and there are some I don’t – that’s just natural. I’m tending to find myself leaning more towards tracks that fit into other genres such as house music, as I like the fact they have a wider appeal. Maybe this is something that needs to change with Electro Swing, it’s still very niche in the UK which isn’t great as a DJ as there are very few places to play. It would be cool if the genre could fit into the wider market and have a more mass appeal, maybe through a more stripped back swing sound.
10. EST: What are your plans for the future?
Emma Clair: 2019 has been a good year for me in terms of my music production, so I plan to spend more time in the studio next year building on this…
I’ll continue to focus on Electro Swing but I also have plans to spread my musical wings a bit, I will be pushing my Disco sound more and also dedicating time to my Tech House/Techno project – Puls’em.
2020 sees my club night Prohibition celebrate it’s 7th Birthday, so I have a big party planned for 13th March to celebrate.
I would really like to play more DJ gigs! I find it tricky in the Electro Swing scene to do this, i would love to be a touring Dj but find the genre limiting so who knows what the future will hold. If the scene grows then this might be possible.. We will see.
EST: Thank you for this interview and a very interesting view at you and yourself and the life behind your music. We wish you all the best and good luck for the future!
Emma Clair: Hey 😊 Thanks for inviting me to take part in your interview series.