Emika + Girsly Faye
Hare and Hounds
106 High Street, Birmingham, B14 7JZ
Wednesday 4th December 2019

Over 407,000 people listened to Emika on Spotify this year, and yet when I mention her to people, the response is often “who?”.  But for me, she’s the best electronic artist out there, bar none!

I discovered her myself in a fairly round-about fashion.  About 10 years ago I’d signed up to a streaming site which was cheap, but didn’t have much selection – most of the content was from Independent record labels.  I’d signed up mainly because they had the Beggars Banquet group of labels – I’d grown up with the likes of The Fall and Gary Numan on the main label, Cocteau Twins on 4AD, Prodigy, Lemon Jelly and White Stripes on XL Recordings and so on.

One day, I noticed they also had Ninja Tune’s output.  I’d heard a lot of people talking about Ninja Tune, indeed there were nights in London where they only played music on the label.

Obviously I knew Coldcut who founded the label, and my favourite artist was Roots Manuva who was signed to Big Dada which was distributed by Ninja Tune, but I didn’t know anyone else on the label, so I decided to work my way through their catalogue to see what gems I could discover.

It put The Herbaliser, Bonobo and Cinematic Orchestra on my radar, and I subscribed to the Ninja Tune YouTube channel.

A couple of years later a video for a song called “Double Edge” by an artist I wasn’t familiar with came up…

It was one of those rare moments in music where you see and hear a song that leaves you stunned, not quite sure what to make of it.  It wasn’t an easy song to listen to the first few times, it’s a little bit jarring, but I tend to find that the best artistic works in life are the ones that take a little bit of effort to appreciate, because once you do, they mean so much more to you than all the disposable pop songs put together, and this was one incredible song.

Despite playing the video a lot and growing to love the song, for some reason I didn’t get around to checking out the albums at the time.  I suppose with kids, work and general life, these things sometimes fall by the wayside, and it was before Spotify.

It wasn’t until Glastonbury 2015 when I spotted Emika Live on the Glade lineup that my interest in all things Emika started to blossom.

I absolutely love this song which was out at the time:

It’s just such a wonderfully atmospheric track, and the video really captures that essence of going home on your own from a night out where things haven’t gone well with your partner, a bit tipsy.  We’ve all been there!

At Glastonbury I watched Indiana’s set and I had to rush to get to the glade in order to catch the start of Emika’s set.  Idris Elba was DJing after Indiana, and he’s obviously rather popular with the ladies, so it wasn’t easy getting past about 3,000 women all desperate to stake their place in the crowd for Idris, but I still managed to get there on time, just!

It was a pretty amazing Glastonbury – it’s Glastonbury after all!  Patti Smith bringing out the Dalai Lama, Mark E. Smith being allowed back after being banned and putting on a great Fall set, The Chemical Brothers top of their game, Jungle rather good.  Posting on facebook my dilemma of whether to go and see the Young Fathers or Waterboys, and Saffron Sprackling from Republica commenting to say it is a tough choice because both bands are incredible.  (I managed to catch most of both sets in the end with some swift darting around).

But for all that, what really blew me away was Emika’s set!

I’m a bit of a fraud when it comes to music writing.  I’m not really a music writer in the classic sense, I setup a blog because I want to photograph the bands I like and try to bring them to a wider audience as best as I can.

I know nothing about musical theory, I’m not very good at articulating why I like or dislike an artist, I’m not even very good at spotting influences – indeed it’s only a couple of years ago since I noticed the similarity between Bowie’s Jean Genie and The Sweet’s Blockbuster – and even then only because someone pointed it out to me!

Most of the time I get away with it.  Bands generally come out, play a few tunes, and go home to watch EastEnders (or whatever hip young bands do these days after a gig).  So I write a few observations about the bus trip to the gig, and the choice of beers at the bar, and job’s a good ‘un.  It’s not like the old days where once you grew out of the Top 40, your only guide to the world of more sophisticated music was John Peel and Sounds / Melody Maker / NME.  Very often I’d buy a single or even album on the strength of a review in one of those publications.

But these days, people just want a few pointers – if an artist sounds interesting they can listen to them online and make up their own mind.

But on the rare occasions when I see a performance as good as Emika’s it’s frustrating that I can’t articulate just how good it was, beyond she was bloody fantastic, and despite tough competition, it was my highlight of that weekend!

I’ve lots of friends who are obsessive about the likes of Chemical Brothers and Orbital.  For example I’ve got a Glastonbury friend who left Glasto last year to see The Chemical Brothers at the Eden Project on the Saturday night, before driving back because they were playing Glasto on the Sunday night.

But for me, Emika is head and shoulders above any of these other acts.

After Glastonbury I started listening to her albums on Spotify.  Last year’s “Falling in Love with Sadness” was my favourite album of the year, and “Close” my favourite single of the year (and my most played this year according to Spotify).

Run is another incredible single:

And Promises is amazing:

Indeed the whole album is incredible!

Going back to earlier albums check out:

You get the picture!

In my end of year review in 2018, one of my hopes was that Emika would play in the UK in 2019. Imagine my delight when she announced her tour!

Since there were no dates in the North West, the obvious one would be London since you can get a direct train and it only takes 2.5 hrs.  Funnily enough I’m down this weekend to meet up with an old friend who lives in Arizona now.  I thought about staying an extra couple of days and seeing the gig at the 100 Club on Monday night, however I need to take my son to school on Tuesday morning, and there is no way I could get back from London the same night unless I left before the gig started!

I didn’t think Birmingham would be possible either, until I saw there is a coach that leaves Digbeth at midnight and arrives at Edge Lane, Liverpool at 3.15am, find a taxi and home before 4am, to get up at 6.30am!

There are very few artists I’d travel that far for, but Emika is one of them!

Let’s face it, if she can travel from Berlin to entertain us, then surely I can travel the 100 miles or so from Liverpool to Birmingham?

Arriving at the venue, it really is a stunning venue with lovely old tiles and bags of character.  I can see why Skiddle rated it the best gig venue in the UK.

Heading upstairs to the venue itself, it was a really nice room with a great vibe.

The first artist of the night was Grisly Faye.  I hadn’t heard of her before, but I quickly realised why she was on the same bill as Emika.  Great voice, great quirky tunes and very enigmatic.

This was my favourite track from her set:

When you’re as excited as I was about seeing Emika, it could be easy to ignore other acts on the bill, looking at your watch waiting for the act you’ve come for to come on stage, but Grisly Faye won me over from the start, and there was never a dull moment in her impressive set.

I look forward to hearing more of her material in future.

Emika took to the stage at 9pm and played until just after 10pm, and what an incredible set it was!  Drawn mainly from “Falling in Love with Sadness” but also playing Double Edge and her cover of Chris Issac’s Wicked Game.

She mentioned that she’d woken with a sore throat that morning unable to speak, so used a spray between songs, but other than that, you wouldn’t have known.

It was interesting that she said that 6 albums in, she’d never played small venues until this tour.  Most bands start in small venues and dream of playing the bigger venues.  Signed to Ninja Tune she played large venues in capital cities.  On this tour she is playing the venues where most artists start out, and she was in her element being able to meet her fans, rather than being whisked off by security as soon as her set is finished.

It was a flawless set which again I wish I could articulate just how good it was, in the same way that that Sounds/Melody Maker/NME writers did that made me buy music I hadn’t heard, purely on the strength of what they said about it.

I think one of the things that makes her music so appealing is that she’s classically trained and has an in-depth knowledge of sound-engineering, so knows how to make incredible sounds.  But electronic music can become quite clinical and souless, so the contrast of her very human voice and lyrics really make her music extraordinary.

Meeting Emika after the gig was a revelation.  I always imagined her to be quite cold like her persona in some of her videos, but she’s lovely, chatty, laid back and down to earth.  I’m quite shy, but she put me at my ease, and it was like I’d known her for years.

I realised that I’ve now met all my favourite artists and they are all really nice people and down to earth.  There’s no kind of “I’m a megastar, you cower down there in the corner” kind of attitude, albeit I do get a bit start struck and I feel like I probably should!

Obviously I don’t know what they are like in real life when I start getting into their music, but there must be something of their personality that comes through in their music that draws me to them.

They all do things that are out of the ordinary too.  For example, one of my favourite bands is Skating Polly.  The lead singer was 9 when she started the band, she’s now 19 and released 5 albums (4 of them incredible, the first one isn’t generally available, perhaps for good reason!) and 31 incredible music videos.

In one bio I read it said that Emika moved to Berlin without knowing anyone, and set up her own record label (something I perhaps appreciate because when I was 27 I moved to London without knowing anybody there or having a job lined up or anything like that, within a week I had a job and a bedsit and made friends, I’d go back to Edinburgh and see people still complaining about their lot, they are probably still there all these years later, instead of doing something about it).

I was tempted to hang about, but not knowing Birmingham very well (the bus driver was laughing when I was looking to see where my ticket would come out, in Liverpool when you pay by card you get a ticket and a receipt, in Birmingham you tap your card and sit down!) so I thought I’d best get to the coach station.

The trip home wasn’t actually too bad, and yes I was tired the next day, particularly as my partner is a lecturer and works late on a Thursday, so I had sole charge of my amazing but demanding 5 year old Jarvis to deal with, but when you’ve experienced a night this good – that you will remember for the rest of your life, you don’t mind feeling a bit tired the next day!

An incredible night!

It’s not too late, you can still catch the end of Emika’s UK tour – she is playing at The Louisiana, Bristol on Sunday 8th December, and ends the tour at 100 Club London on Monday 9th December.

If you like the videos above, just go, or you’ll regret it!

Lets hope Emika makes it back to the UK soon!