Congratulations on your latest single ‘Give It Away.’ Can you talk to us about how the track came together and what the writing process was like?
Thanks! The bones of the song were the bassline and the lyrics/melody, which I wrote on a dodgy out-of-tune piano in the share house I was living in at the time. It’s basically the same insistent descending 12 note line repeated four times, then a four note resolution – people always ask what the time signature is, so that’s a complicated explanation!
I was really figuring out my ‘sound’ for a long time, so it stayed as that simple idea in my head for ages, and I started to play with beats and programming synths around that a couple of years ago.The kernel of the idea that came quickly to me is still very dominant. A lot of it was figuring out just how frantic to get with the tempo!
What message are you wanting to get out to the audience with the music video to ‘Give It Away?’
The song was written about someone specific and obviously (as you can see from the lyrics!) he was extremely controlling. With the video I wanted to turn that on its head a little, and play with the ways that women, and the imagery of women’s physicality, sexuality and creativity, have been controlled. So there’s those hyper-feminine roles – muse, exotic, bombshell, bikini babe, and the confining white square references the way that women are so often framed as the object of art, rather than creators themselves. I wanted to show both the ridiculousness of that, and also how uncomfortable and angry I feel about those attempts to control and define me, my body, my work. The lyrics are basically me recounting the words of a man who is trying to control, so I wanted to take some strength back in the visuals I paired with it – be honest and vulnerable but also be 100% in control of my own complexity and creative energy. It’s a tough line to balance and I know that not everyone will see it the way it’s intended.
You mention the video is a cathartic commentary on your experience within the music industry. Can you talk about what your experiences have been?
Well, without going into explicit details, the music industry, and particularly the electronic and production scene, are very dominated by men, particularly when it comes to who has the money and the power and the access. The reason I do literally every single thing myself now is because of how much control and credit goes by default to any man who is involved in your career, and also because of how rife sexual harassment is on every level of the industry
– I’ve navigated this with producers, label managers, managers, collaborators, mentors. People can get very nasty when they realise you’re not going to sleep with them. It made me doubt my ability for years, seeing opportunities dry up so blatantly. I felt for a long time that my face, my body, my sexuality, my gender – compromised me. That I had to hide or downplay them in order to be taken seriously, or in order to protect myself against being seen as just something to fuck. This clip was scary to make because it reversed those protective behaviours to such an extreme. But I finally feel so much more clear about my worth and ability now, so I want to keep making work that expresses difficult, complicated, vulnerable things.
You run a series of free Synth workshops for women and non-binary people at Melbourne Electronic Sound Studios – how important do you think female collectives are for progressing equality within the industry?
I think that discussions around gender, sexuality and race have become a lot louder in recent years, and personally having more peers to play with and talk to, makes a huge difference. I think that places like MESS have to take the initiative in not just paying lip service to the idea of being a welcoming supportive space, but actively reaching out to communities, which is why I started the Synth 101 workshops. If we want diversity we have to actively listen, and we have to look for people outside our immediate circle, it takes work. There are a lot of amazing people doing that work right now, but I would really love to see more men in the industry be more pro-active about creating change too – there’s often the assumption that male DJs or bands are featured in the media or booked for line-ups because there’s just not that many women or non-binary peeps out there – same goes for programming white artists – it’s simply not true. Work a little harder, ask more questions, you’ll find a smorgasbord of talent. Music programmers at radio stations, music editors and bloggers, festival and venue bookers, promoters, bands looking for support acts… we all need to think critically about who we are promoting, and who we are ignoring.
What else do you have coming up for 2017?
I have so many more songs I want to release! I also have really fallen in love with the video medium so expect to see a bunch of singles and videos roll out… I’ll be working on some sound design projects, I’m heading into pre-production workshops next month with some long-time collaborators on a contemporary dance show. I also want to keep putting energy into community building! I’ve got more of an instrumental analogue synth project simmering away too which is a nice balance for the pop stuff.
Listen to more of Emah Fox here