If you were at any festivals this summer than you’ve no doubt heard the rumbling sounds of What So Not, the Australian duo of Flume and Emoh. That ubiquitous track with the “Jaguar trap” drop? That’s them. “High you are?” That’s them. As is “Tell Me” with RL Grime. But their hits only scratch the surface of their sound, which is really found in their live shows. While they work together in the studio, Chris Emerson aka Emoh represents the duo on the road. He’s been spinning since he was a kid in Australia, eventually meeting up with Harley who brought a wealth of production knowledge to the table. We’re just waiting for them to drop some more gems.
Hey dude. I’ve been seeing you all around the country this year, from Electric Forest in Michigan to HARD Summer in LA, but I think my favorite set of yours was in the dust at Lightning in a Bottle, there was this wonderful carnal jungle vibe with the dust and fog mixing together.
Thanks man! That was amazing. It’s my favorite set I’ve ever played in the Northern Hemisphere. When I play it’s pretty left-field music. In America I’ve done a lot of support shows for more EDM acts (like Skrillex and Dillon Francis on the Mothership Tour) and it was so exciting going to somewhere in the middle of nowhere for LIB and playing the strangest music I had and getting reactions like that. Really exciting for me as an artist. A bunch of people just smiling with tons of energy.
Absolutely. I was the one hanging from the bamboo and dancing like a monkey.
(laughs) Holy shit.
Really getting into it at a set like that can put you in a meditative state on the dancefloor, and that’s true for mixing as well. You can be all wrapped up in this fluid expression, manipulating waveforms over one another harmonious to order to create an ecstatic interaction with the pulsing bodies around you. Does this make sense to you? Do you get that feeling?
I totally do man. When I play I use multiple decks and I try to play layers rather than just songs so they go in and out, playing the hook over the beat of a different track and then bringing in some vocals. I have quite a busy mind when I’m doing that and I do get into a hypnotic, meditative state.
“If there are a few people in the front that are into what you’re doing, I focus on them and feed off their energy and positivity. That can turn the whole set around.”
I was talking with Harley a few months ago about mixing styles. You come from a DJ background while he comes from being a producer. He uses both CDJs sometimes and Ableton to play a live set and have full control of all the stems. I noticed in your sets you use 4 deck CDJs, are you considering adding more tools to your repertoire?
CDJs have been the tool I’ve used for so long and the combination of 3 hotkeys plus the FX board and looping works for me. I could set something up in Ableton but I wouldn’t be able to do things on the fly. Although it gives you more options creatively in pre-planning, I can’t play a song that’s not in my Ableton set. That’s an important thing for me. They used to compare bands to DJs, bands are limited to a set list and what they know, but as a DJ you can play any one of 60,000 songs on your hard drive in any way you like.
That’s a good point. A middle ground might be controllerism, which is a bit of a dirty word but allows for beatjumping and more hotcues on the fly, have you considered adding more faders, knobs, or buttons to your set?
I’m going to move into that eventually. I’ve been so focused on writing music and studying and doing courses back in Australia lately. For me that’s been a focus, working on the live aspects, but I’ll be adding in a launchpad in the future.
Why doesn’t Flume tour with you any more?
There’s a few factors. He did one tour long ago, but when we mix together it’s mostly me mixing and him dropping in a track here and there. You can’t be as fluid with where you take the set if there’s two people up there. He’s so busy touring his Flume project that it doesn’t really make sense for him to tour as What So Not as well if I can do it fine by myself. We have the same management for both projects and it was a unanimous decision that Harley should have time to write. Everyone will be happier if What So Not puts out new music.
In that vein, it’s been five months since a release; what do you guys have up your sleeves?
Oh man, so much. I think we have more unreleased material right now than we have ever had as What So Not. We have four tracks that are almost finished, they just need a high-class mix-down and master. The team’s just strategizing how they’ll be rolled out and getting video content. It’s very exciting and they’re soon to be out in the world.
Who are you collaborating with?
“We have a collab with Dillon Francis, one with Skrillex. We have some rappers… hmm I’ll leave it at that.”
We’ve heard that Dillon Francis collab from your sets, can you tell me the story creating that track?
Dillon and Harley started something and Harley took it to me. I worked on it from there and restructured the drop a little. Then me and Dillon went on tour for the Mothership and really polished it and Harley added a few more changes. I got a vocalist on board to do a top line and we’re really excited, it’s hard to get vocals that are in line with what you want but this guy really nailed it.
Jumping back to Skrillex, you did that OWSLA mix a little while ago and you both have been playing “Africa” by Toto during your sets. What’s your relationship with Sonny?
(laughs) Well I haven’t played that in a while. I met Sonny at the start of this year for the first time and we hit it off. We did a bunch of back to back sets in Australia and then he brought me out for the Mothership tour. It’s really cool doing some different markets, playing to people who hadn’t heard us before. There was a stunned reaction sometimes but then I’d be out in the crowd later that night and people would want to know more about it.
We haven’t been able to finish off a song yet, but there’s so many really awesome aspects. The first song we did together is one of my favorite things we’ve ever written. We’re all traveling so its nice to get together in the same room and get in that moment. This one track we did has elements of Moombahton and Deep House and a really crazy, screechy synth call and response pattern.
Did Sonny put in those screeches…
He sure did (giggles). Very tasteful screeches might I add. When I was at his house in LA we’d be watching a movie or something and he would whip out his laptop and start making this strange noises and transposing it up and down to alter the pitch and then bouncing it to audio and chuck some trash on top and start distorting and phasing it and repressesing it, all while we’re watching a movie.
Very cool. I saw the lecture you gave about the ubiquitous Sylenth and Sausage Fattener and that weird plant synth, are there any other tools or production techniques you can tell young producers about?
Sure. We keep it really simple and that’s been an important part of how we work. We only use two synths, we use Sylenth and Synplant. We have a couple plug-ins to make things sparkle a little more but its about learning how to get the sound you want without having to chuck all these things on. Training myself for the past year or so I’ve even stuck to the standard Ableton plug-ins to learn automation and manipulation instead of taking a shortcut. I’m working out overdrives and chorus, you think you know what they do and then you start fiddling with every aspect of that device and you learn more and more about it. Once you understand all that you can move to more advanced in-depth plug-ins like the Lathe plug-ins or Tornado and really getting some crazy sounds.
I was talking with Wave Racer about the difference between American and Australian crowds and I wanted to hear your input. We have similar roots: you were the English convicts and we’re the religious zealots. Now there’s this massive electronic movement from Australia to here. Harley was saying he was so excited to suddenly see Australians like Wave Racer on American festival bills. What do you think it is about the Australian sound that’s so addicting to the American audience right now?
Right we’re not all that different but what’s been going on in Australia the last few years has been new. The American sound has gotten big here too, while we’re coming over. It’s in the same vein but different.
“American sound has gotten over-saturated and people are looking for something new.”
Tell me about some new artists rising in Australia we should check out.
There’s people you probably already know about, Ta-ku, Chet Faker, Charles Murdoch, Just a Gent. To be honest I’ve been in America for so much of this year I don’t even know the young kids. I’m nearly an American now. There’s NicoleMillar, Elizabeth Rhodes. There’s guys who have been doing it for a while like Peking Duck. Rufus is about to move to Berlin to work on their second album. There’s some older guys like Hermitude who have crazy live shows. Harley did that remix of Hyper Paradise but you should check them out. With the internet so many guys over there are doing well over here. It’s so easy to just put something up on Soundcloud and people are watching what Australia is doing.
Do you have any good stories about body-boarding with Harley?
We were out on the surf in Manly near where we live and the Prime Minister of Australia dropped in on Harley. Harley was getting inside the barrel and the Prime Minister cut him off and almost runs him over. I miss it so much.
In one of your lectures you talked about not only creating good music but building a good team around you as well, for example you’ve got Chris and Brett and all those Biz3 guys. There’s also branding, from Dillon Francis’ humor to Diplo having Mad Decent. What are you doing right now beyond the music to create a whole performance?
We have a solid team and we’re started to develop videos for our shows. We want to have What So Not be more a story and have a visual aspect so our vision is represented.
Can you tell me a story about one of your favorite articles of clothing?
So our record label in Australia is Sweat it Out and they did this Christmas party with the whole label. It was a crazy sold out show and when I was crowd surfing I lost my hat in the audience. A couple weeks ago a kid comes to my show and hands me my hat. I was so overwhelmed I gave him the hat I was wearing. He tried to give it back so I gave him the hat I was wearing at the time.
Do you know where you're going with your music? Does that scare you or excite you?
It excites me, and yes I do. We’ve done a lot of one-off tracks but we want to have the creative freedom to put out a body of work so that there can be more downtempo and left-field tracks out there as opposed to a song that’s going to work on radio, at clubs, at festivals, online. We want to do something different.
It’s been a pleasure, I’ll let you run off to your show.
Awesome man, thank you so much. It was really great chatting with you.
Article and Interview by Jesse Wheaton