Emerson - Emerging From The Underworld
International DJ, label owner, producer and, of course,
one-time member of highly successful dance act Underworld,
Darren Emerson is a very busy man.
managed to pin him down for half an hour to talk about the
upcoming Underwater Episode V mix album, his imminent debut
solo album, DJ narcissism and the state of today's dance
Romford-born workaholic's past week has seen him play Pacha
in Buenos Aires, Argentina then to Uruguay and back to Argentina
again and we speak to him as he is trying to take a week
out, if you can call dealing with interviews for his Underwater
label's latest release time off that is. With Kuala Lumpur,
the United States and Colombia next on his globe-trotting
schedule, it's little wonder he is suffering from a cold
but he still sounds upbeat when he jokes: "It's a lot
of travelling. My office these days is a BA seat!"
fact that is immediately clear from the way he talks is
that Darren Emerson genuinely loves what he does and retains
the same passion he had for music when he got his first
set of decks as a 14-year-old. This passion helps fuel his
career and record label and drives his urge to push new
talent and raise the profiles of DJs and artists he believes
explains his decision to share half of the Underwater Episode
V double CD with Magik Johnson: "I really like what
he's been doing. He's been around a long time, he's from
Manchester, he used to play at the Hacienda. He's doing
an artist album with us and it's like what I did with Sharam
[Jey, who helped mix Underwater 04] to let people know what's
going on, just to push his profile a little bit." The
mix showcases many of Underwater's own talent including
D Ramirez, Joel Mull and The Beckster alongside tracks from
DJ Hell and Ian Pooley and various exclusives including
a tribute to Emerson's friend, the German DJ and producer
Mark Spoon, who died recently.
a heavy roster of artists to oversee and constant DJing
commitments, it is hard to see how time could be found to
produce his own music, a fact that struck the affable Essex
man recently: "I've slowly found myself trying to be
more like a businessman than a fucking artist! I'm an artist
and a DJ and all of a sudden I've been running a record
label. Of course I like running the record label but I need
someone just to be the label manager and do the business
for me." Stepping back a little seems to have worked
with the album now finished: "I've got a lot of interest
from majors and they want to put that out which is good.
I've been pushing a lot of people's careers over the years
and I just feel it's time to start thinking about myself
a bit more and just get the artist album done which is done
now so it's all good."
what can we expect from his debut solo release? "It's
dance based though it's not all electronic, there's a human
touch to it. There's some nice funky stuff, we've got some
beautiful summer tunes. I'm really happy with it."
There are a number of guest vocalists involved too: "We've
got Ben Cullum, who's Jamie Cullum's brother, Joe Malik,
Earth from Gus Gus, myself having a little blast."
Will it sound anything like his previous work with Underworld
though? He replies with a direct "No," before
continuing, "you move on. If I carried on doing the
same thing all the time I would get so fucking bored and
I want to experiment and try different things."
Having left Underworld six years ago following the critical
and commercial success of albums Dubnobasswithmyheadman
and Second Toughest In The Infants, and 'lager-fuelled'
anthem Born Slippy, Emerson seems far from nostalgic: "I
haven't really looked back to be honest. That was a good
ten years of my life but after leaving I went back to my
DJing, got Underwater rocking and I had a daughter so I've
been enjoying that as well, so it's all been good."
his phenomenal success sees him command large crowds wherever
he DJs, the superstar DJ tag is not something that sits
well with him: "There are some DJs that love talking
about themselves a lot more than others. Not mentioning
any names you know but some people if they're not in fucking
magazines they'll get pissed off! I'm not into it for that,
I'm into it because I like the music. The DJ has become
a bit like a pop star you know and some people are enjoying
the pop star bit more than others. I've just got my music
man and I'm gonna carry on as long as I can, as long as
people enjoy what I do."
has already enjoyed a remarkable longevity in the seemingly
fickle world of dance music, a scene that has changed immeasurably
since he started out: "Me and [Paul] Oakenfold and
that used to go out and we used to do a Balaeric club in
the late 1980s called Future and it was mixed with alternative
music like The Cure and hip house like Fast Freddy. It's
a shame because I think it should come back again. Why can't
you mix it up?" Perhaps he should attempt to bring
it back? He replies, "I imagine I'd be known as the
wedding DJ if I start doing it now which may look a bit
With dance music's last rites read by the mainstream music
press a few years ago, Emerson firmly believes it is a temporary
lull, but says radio stations are doing little to help:
"The thing that pisses me off is that if they play
a dance record it's usually a really shit fucking shit crap
trancey fucking load of bollocks! I don't understand why
the programmers on Radio One are picking all this crap pop
music because they could really have the power to educate
people with really good music." He also laments what
has happened to progressive house, a style he is often credited
as creating, describing it as "boring music that sounds
all the same, that's all done on a laptop and it's all clinical.
It's disposable music. You could throw it away next week,
it won't stick in your head, not like those old records.
A bit more effort went into it."
effort has also gone into staying afloat as a dance label
in the age of downloads: "We don't make as much money,
full stop, because mp3 has messed it up. We've had some
hard times but if I can keep on doing it, keep my head above
the water, excuse the pun, and put out stuff that I enjoy
doing, well I'll carry on doing it. This label is 12 years
old now and it's got to be one of the longest running dance
labels going so I should hold my head up high and be proud
of that." Indeed he should, and with that he's off,
positive optimism intact, to do some radio interviews along
with a stuffy nose. With Underwater releases lined up including
a Magik Johnson album, outings for Joel Mull, The Beckster
and D Ramirez and Deep Groove's contribution to the new
Solo mix series, along with his own mix and solo artist
albums, there's no rest for Darren Emerson, but you get
the feeling he wouldn't have it any other way.
Ian Roullier, 07/2006