After dominating Sydney’s club circuit with his dancefloor-ready numbers, including the insanely famous remix of Major Lazer’s “Get Free”, Australian producer What So Not (Chris Emerson) was recently in Delhi for a thrilling performance at the Playboy Club. In conversation with Guardian 20, he talks about his “What So Not” music project that aims to revive electronica in Australia. He also shares his thoughts on collaborating with Indian artistes some day.
Q. How has your experience of performing in India been?
A. I’ve only been to India once before this trip, for the ADE [Amsterdam Dance Event] music conference. I did a presentation on music production and a small club show. I was fascinated by how interested young Indian producers were in my music and how great their own productions sounded when they showed me—as well as how excited the crowd was at the show I performed. I knew I had to come back and see more of India and do more performances.
Q. How do you adapt your performance for audiences in different parts of the world?
A. Everywhere around the world brings along its own unique experience. Even performing in different cities is a whole new experience. I played an edit of this Bollywood song “Gangland” last night in New Dehli, but my friend tells me it’s not popular in Hyderbad as they speak a completely different language there.
Q. Do you hear Indian music?
A. I often use traditional Indian instruments in my work, like the tabla, kanjira and uddukai. The dilruba has a major role in my remix of Rüfüs’ “Innerbloom”. It was an incredible experience watching a talented tabla player the last time I was here, bending the skin to create pitch slides as they strike and push along its surface.
Q. What are your thoughts on the growth of electronica in India?
A. I’m very intrigued by the vocal melodies and cadences used here in India. They’re very striking to the unfamiliar ear. I know American artist Timbaland [American record producer/rapper/songwriter] has a lot of influence of Indian music in his writing and productions.
Q. Do you hear Bollywood music? If yes, what is it about Hindi film music that you like the most?
A. I watched a Bollywood film on the way here, Sarkar 3. I want to sample this one part of it. The characters all cease talking and the filmmaker includes this chant, “govinda govinda govinda”, to create tension. It’s a really cool piece of music with interesting drum rhythms. It would be very cool moment at a show or festival. Indian music is very exciting. I hope to be a part of it and spend more time wiring, recording and doing shows in india.
Q. Would you like to collaborate with Indian artistes in the future? Any Indian artiste that you would like to see performing live in a show or festival?
A. I’d like to collaborate with anyone who has good energy and creative mind—I’m sure I could find people here that fit that. I’ve heard about this guy, Nucleya, who remixes a lot of Bollywood music. I think that would be really interesting to watch. Appropriating pop culture with remixes is always a lot of fun.
“One of the favourite parts of my job is being brought into these different cultures, tasting the food, hearing stories, understanding religion better and understanding politics of a region and of course learning about their music.”
A. I never really thought about it. I was working a day job in an office and doing music on the side. After five years of working, I quit the job and went on a backpack trip to South America. I came to a decision over there that when I come back, I wasn’t going to look for another job. I was just going to do music full time. I believed in myself and that has taken me all around the world and here today. I’ve been able to experience a life and see the world in a way I could have never dreamed of. One of the favourite parts of my job is being brought into these different cultures, tasting the food, hearing stories, understanding religion better and understanding politics of a region and of course learning about their music.
Q. What was your thought process behind starting the “What So Not” project?
A. The mantra of the “What So Not” project was to reference exciting elements of sounds and genres from around the world, and to bring them all together in one piece of music.
Q. You have collaborated with a lot of acclaimed artistes. What are the collaborations you cherish the most?
A. I have a new collaborative project coming out with the band Toto. Producing and working with artistes that wrote for Michael Jackson and now tour and perform with Ringo Star [from the Beatles] was mind-warping.
Q. What were your early musical influences? What do you think majorly shaped your sense and style of music?
A. I was very much into rock music as a child. Led Zepplin, Pink Floyd, At The Drive In, System of A Down—all influenced me. I think that infused a punk-rock/break-the-rules attitude in me that I’ve carried into dance music.
Q. New DJs entering the business and music releases happen all the time. How do you keep up and how do you decide what tracks will make it to your set?
A. Honestly, to me it’s all about following your instincts, your taste and the opinions of a few people whose thoughts you value. It’s not about trying to keep up with people; it’s about conceptualising, writing and creating something you believe in, something that has a profound impact on others and hopefully a positive impact on their lives.
Q. What do you have in store for your fans in the coming months?
A. I’ve just released a song with Silverchair frontman Daniel John, called “Be Ok Again”. I’ve just announced my first world tour, which starts right here in India. I have a huge stage production that I built for Coachella Festival. I’m also about to announce my biggest music project to date in the next couple of weeks, so stay tuned.