RAMONA WORKSHOPS: PERIOD WITCHES

BABES IN BUSINESS: Emah

Interview of Emah Fox by Freya Bennett
Hey Emah, how are you?
Currently laughing at the online anxiety over the recent Dr Who casting!
Where do you hail from?
I’m a Melbourne girl.

Tell us a little bit about yourself:

I’m a musician, songwriter, video artist, producer, singer, writer, editor, and studio supervisor at the incredible Melbourne Electronic Sound Studios. I’m a cat-lady and dog-appreciator, amateur astrologer, and I have ADHD and Ehlers Danlos Syndrome which both play a big part in my day to day life! Also, I’m a proud and passionate feminist.

Now tell us a bit about your music: 

I make dark electro-synth pop – I use lots of vintage analogue synths and layered vocals, I’m in love with polyrhythmic melodies and odd time signatures, but my songs are essentially epic pop, despite all the weirdness I throw at them! I also compose more abstract sounds for experimental and contemporary dance theatre, and have a sneaky side project exploring some of the classic synth collection at MESS.

You’re a self-produced electronic artist, how did you get into this?

I started writing songs when I was about 10, just lyrics and melody – I didn’t really play any instruments, so I just kept it all in my head and my journal. I did an audio engineering course at 19 to build confidence in understanding how the studio environment worked then I fell in love with the tech side of music, and realised I really loved producing. From there, I slowly started playing around with computers and soft synths, gleaning bits of knowledge and gear as I went, until I was able to build whole songs on my own.

What do you love about producing your own music?

I love how experimental I can be, most of all! I can take a germ of an idea and follow it through in a million ways, there are no restrictions, no-one to say – that’s not gonna work, that’s wrong. For me it’s a lot easier to figure out what I want to do by doing it, than by trying to find the words to explain to a producer and hope that they can translate it into something I’m happy with. Also the songs I write are so personal – it can be super vulnerable bringing a song like that to someone else and having them shut it down immediately. As my own producer I can be as vulnerable as I need to be, because I know I have my own back, if that makes sense! I get to be exactly who I am, and know that no-one can push me in a direction I’m not comfortable with. That’s hugely empowering and reassuring! 

What do you love about working in electronic music?

I love how fluid it is – you can exercise meticulous control over every aspect if you want to do that, or you can be very loose and explorative – I tend to seesaw between both. I’ve always been drawn to dichotomies of co-existence – which sounds super dense, but I just mean – the way that opposite feelings or qualities can exist in the same space – a song can be both happy and sad, it can be soothing and stirring at the same time. Electronica has so much flexibility – to be straight up nasty-sounding, or pure and lush – to be super simple and catchy, or complex and uncatchable. That’s kind of how I write – my songs are pop, and hopefully they express something universal in a delicious bite-sized serving, but within that there are layers of musical and emotional complexity and contradiction. I’m not musically trained and I make it up as I go, so I may be biased, but I can’t imagine another genre of music allowing me so much room to move, and grow, and change on a whim. Electronica is ultimately so open and alive!

This field is heavily male dominated, did you have any feelings of being left outside of the ‘boys club’ because of this?

Lol, yes I have a lot of feelings about this! Honestly, my heart kind of breaks for who I was when I started making music. It was very tough. From being the only girl in my audio engineering course, to being told flat out by studios that they ‘didn’t hire girls’, to being sexually harassed and talked down to by producers, managers, label dudes, venue bookers, hired musicians, bouncers, or just the constant assumption that there’s a dude behind the scenes who makes my beats and bleeps. It makes me so happy that things are finally starting to shift – but it’s really only started to shift in the last couple of years I think – and it’s still a huge problem. I’m so deeply invested in the importance of talking about our experiences – a few years ago I started having conversations with other female musicians and we were all like – holy shit, it’s not just me? It’s so easy, when you’re isolated to feel like your shitty experiences are down to your own lack of confidence or skill – when actually no, it’s a systemic issue, it’s just that the dudes around you are literally living in a whole other world where those problems aren’t visible, because they don’t affect them personally. It has to reach a point of critical mass where enough voices are speaking loudly and often, before it’s heard and taken seriously. We’re not there yet, we’ve really only just scratched the surface of shifting the playing field. But it makes my heart sing seeing so many amazing female and non binary artists connecting and sharing. 

If so, how did you combat that?

This is such a big question! I’ve combated it in ways that did and didn’t work, I think. I have put a lot of pressure on myself to be the best, to know my shit so thoroughly and never fuck up, to make myself invulnerable. That doesn’t work though, and it shouldn’t be necessary – everyone, even the most experienced performer, and especially those starting out – we all make mistakes, we all have technical issues, and trying to avoid that can be exhausting and stressful and hold you back and keep you small. It’s a joy-killer. So is trying to conform, or control how others see you. A huge shift for me was realising that if people are dismissive or objectifying then no amount of skill or confidence or ‘seriousness’ on my part will change that – and that I don’t want to work for anyone’s acceptance or approval. Taking time out from music for a while actually helped me to realise that I deeply want and need to make music, and that my body, gender, sexuality – they’re all a part of how I express myself creatively. So I give myself permission to explore that in my songs and my videos. Art can make us feel less alone, when it’s brave, and honest. I need freedom to be able to do that, so now I am my own label boss, sound engineer, video producer, etc… So yeah, autonomy is important. But also, community. Talking to other women, finding my professional ‘girl gang’, and allowing myself to be perfectly imperfect, feeling supported, those are the things that help. I try to actively reach out and connect with women and non binary people who might be interested in electronic music and production, and to connect them to each other. The musicians in my live band are women – synthesist Ania Reynolds and drummer Nat Grant – and when booking line-ups I look for women, trans, POC. There are so many ways to change the landscape, and so many ways it needs to change.

You’re also a sound designer, can you tell us a bit about what  that involves?

The way I tend to approach sound design is very collaborative. I like to really thoroughly explore the possibilities of what can be expressed and how sound can enhance that, so it involves a lot of talking through of ideas, and becoming really familiar with the material of an artist’s installation work, or with how a theatre production is developing through the workshop and rehearsal period. The theatre-makers I’ve worked with have been highly experimental (Aphids, and Slown Smallened and Son), so the sound has unfolded in response to the performance, and vice versa, and what we start with may be very different to what we end up with. Sound Design can be completely unmusical, or it might be highly compositional. But essentially, a sound designer creates sound for an installation, theatre, video or film work. 

What is your favourite thing about collaborating with other artists?

A good collaborative relationship kind of opens up and expands the ideas that each artist might have had on their own – as someone who writes my pop songs completely alone, it can be great to bounce ideas off others. That happens in band practice too, when we’re figuring out how to play a song live – and having awesome bandmates who are creative and fun and great communicators is awesome. I also really value the way sound design allows me to really push my ideas into some really strange territory. Working with dancer-choreographers is my favourite, because I see how their movement morphs in response to my sound, and vice versa. It all feels very alive and open, right up until opening night. It can be a rollercoaster but it’s really exciting to be a part of!

What advice do you have for girls or non binary folk or are interested in getting into the electronic music field?

Trust yourself. Trust your instincts – creatively but also when it comes to your boundaries – if someone is making you feel unsafe, don’t second guess yourself. There is no right way to approach music production, so be wary of anyone who makes you feel like your approach is invalid. Believe that you don’t have to have ‘cred’ or even any experience or specific skills to exist in a tech space – everyone starts somewhere. Having amazing gear or technique is less important than having ideas! Also, if a particular space – a course, a studio, a collective, an online group, a venue, a media outlet – feels toxic and exclusive, its days are numbered, and they don’t deserve you. Invest energy in spaces and people that support and welcome you, and most importantly *find your tribe*. Peers and mentors are so important – it’s literally how every industry works, through building relationships. Reach out to people you feel an affinity with, even if you feel like you don’t have enough to offer yet. This is something I have to remind myself of too! 

Where do you see yourself in five years?

I’d love to have established a label and my own music rep enough to be able to support other artists, releasing their music and using my experience of navigating this crazy industry to help others. I definitely want to keep working on building diverse supportive communities, curating events and creating platforms. Ideally in five years I’d be in a position to spend most of my time writing, recording and playing music, making videos etc, and the rest of the time mentoring and promoting others. I’m still working on getting a debut LP out but in five years I’d like to be on my third, and touring nationally and internationally for sure! Then coming home to lots of snuggles with my cats Raleigh and Mako. 

Where can we hear your music! 

My website is emahfox.com and all my social media is @emahfox so it’s pretty easy to find me on youtube/spotify/itunes/facebook/instagram etc. 🙂

[share]

Freya Bennett

Freya Bennett is the Co-Founder and Director of Ramona Magazine for Girls. She is a writer and illustrator from Melbourne, Australia who has a passion for youth rights and mental health. To combat her own battle with anxiety and hypochondria, you can find Freya boxing, practicing yoga, taking sertraline and swimming in the ocean. She believes in opening up about her mental health struggles and shining a light on what is not spoken about. Freya welcomed her first daughter, Aurora into the world on the 21st of November, 2017 and spends her days building blocks, reading stories and completely exhausted. With a passion for grassroots activism and creative community, Freya began Ramona Magazine as an alternative to boring, image-obsessed teen media. The magazine is founded upon Freya’s core values of creative expression, equality and kindness. You can follow her on Instagram @freyasadventures.

One response to “BABES IN BUSINESS: Emah

  1. Emah is a real inspiration, and a gravitational force for other women and non-binary people to meet up. With her as a fore runner she’s made it so much easier for new people to get into the scene and learn and “find their peers”.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *