One of the most eagerly anticipated acts going around, duo What So Not featuring Flume and Emoh Instead (aka Harley Streten and Chris Emerson) are two producers reaching the top of their games, both individually and as a formidable production team. TOM KITSON spoke to Emerson about his transition from party DJ to full time touring artist, ahead of his appearance this Sunday, January 19 for Sets On The Beach #13 at Scarborough Beach Amphitheatre.
Starting up together about three and a half years ago, What So Not have gone from a casual studio collaboration to a trailblazing act, making waves not only in Australia but overseas, with a recent set at Miami’s Holy Ship!!! in the US.
Emerson is the main man in terms of performance, touring solo with Stereosonic late last year and building a rapport with the Destructo-led Hard Events group. He says the project is a purposeful endeavour between the two artists to play out and produce music that they want to hear.
“We planned to write music we wanted to play out in clubs that we weren’t really hearing,” he says. “Harley just heard me play one night in Sydney and we’d only met once before that, but he liked the sort of stuff I was playing. It also happened to be an uninspiring time, so we were both keen to get in the studio and work together.”
Ready to expand into the field of technical music production, Emerson combined with Streten to release their debut EP, 7 Dollar Bill; follow-up The Quack, and tunes like High You Are and Jaguar – all “because the world needs more bangers” according to their Facebook page.
Their first exhibits were rooted in four-to-the-floor house beats and short chord progressions, and they’ve since branched into slower tempo jams reminiscent of Streten’s Flume project.
“I’m more into the harder, heavier sounds and Harley likes the soulful, melodic style,” he says. “We really find common ground on things though and that complements what we put out.”
That difference in taste has enabled the two to create tracks like Touched with a melodic, slow tempo build that transforms into a warbling, bass-heavy hook that clearly is the result of two people making the music.
“We just started working on some tracks with Skrillex and the A$AP crew when they were out here,” he says. “Skrillex booked out Studios 301 in Sydney for a few days and invited us to come in and hang out and swap some tunes, so we were able to get a few things done and really enjoyed it.”
The obviously fruitful endeavour has resulted in plans for a single release around March through Skrillex’s label OWSLA and Australian label, Sweat It Out, and Emerson is convinced that continuing the frantic but consistently fresh release-tour-release-tour cycle is in their best interests.
“Coming up with tunes is different every time and it depends what setting you’re in,” he says. “Touring a lot means I might be on a plane, in a car or at a hotel, usually on the laptop hashing out chords, melodies or little grooves and then using the studio to hone in on the engineering side of things.
“I have been learning the piano for the last six months to help with writing, but at the moment the DJ sets are going really well so there’s no need to change that up in terms of how we perform,” he says. “Putting out singles and EPs periodically is really working for us as well, so we aren’t planning extended releases in the short term.”
Drawing inspiration from bands like Gorillaz as a youngster and more recently the work of DJ Ajax and Diplo, Emerson’s career quickly spiralled and a desk job career flew out the window.
“I started DJing for fun when I was 18, so it wasn’t a career plan or anything; I was actually an accountant for four years before music took over full time,” he says. “I put out an EP and did a 20-date tour as Emoh Instead and now the focus has turned to What So Not, so what I’m doing depends on the time of year and what’s bubbling”.
Bringing their energetic, fast-paced show to Sets On The Beach #13 at Scarborough Beach Amphitheatre along with The Herd, The 2 Bears, Plastic Plates, Panama and Hayden James this Sunday, Emerson (who’s also an avid body-boarder and will no doubt be dipping into the Indian Ocean) hinted at a few tunes that may get a spin, and the direction the sets are heading in 2014.
“We’re trying to move away from trap music while taking some influence from it still,” he says. “The genre is a little over-rinsed and pigeonholed, and we want to use melodic chords and more transient, chillwave elements in our music.
“Something that’s been amazing recently is Africa by Toto, and also a great edit Astronomar did of Diplo’s Earthquake have been highlights of the set in the last month.”
What So Not play this Sunday, January 19 for Sets On The Beach #13 at Scarborough Beach Amphitheatre.
Get your tickets here.