Gareth Emery: "You've got two crowds to keep happy."
Gareth Emery: "You've got two crowds to keep happy."
Courtesy of Gareth Emery

Gareth Emery Explains Why the VIP Section Can Be a DJ's Worst Enemy

What does it feel like to release an anthem — a track that becomes unanimous with a genre? Is there any hint of what's to come in the recording studio? Does the sky blacken and the thunder clap closer until, finally, the song is done and a flock of golden hummingbirds flies into the studio to carry the fresh CD — still hot to the touch — to radio stations across the world?

Not according to Gareth Emery. "You never really can know a record will be big," he says in an email interview with New Times. "You make it as good as you can possibly make it, and the rest of the world decides from that point." Emery would know. His 2012 song "Concrete Angel" became arguably the most popular trance track of all time, carving his name into the #trancefamily hall of fame.

Gareth Emery

10 p.m. Saturday, August 22, at Space, 34 NE 11th St., Miami; 305-374-0001; clubspace.com. Tickets cost $20 to $750 plus fees via wantickets.com.

"I knew 'Concrete Angel' was a good track, but I also knew it was quite commercial. The chorus did feel a lot like pop music, and I'd worked very hard on the production to keep it clubby and cool but didn't know if I'd gotten it quite right," he remembers. "That said, it was clear within a few days of dropping the video we were onto something big, although none of us would have thought the record would still be bubbling away three years later. It's been good to me!"

Hard to argue with that. But despite the fact that Emery has made one of the most popular trance songs of all time, he doesn't like to confine himself to one genre. "I don't really like defining what my sound is," he says. "Anyone else is welcome to, but I'd rather not define it myself other than to say it's melodic, electronic dance music. Defining your sound narrowly only leads to disappointment."

Emery will play a muscle-aching five-hour set on the Terrace at Space this Saturday. He has promised a journey that will include a few of his current favorites: Alex Sonata's "Siren," Standerwick & Jennifer Rene's "All of Us," and Disclosure's "Help Me Lose My Mind (Mazde Remix)." And, of course, "Concrete Angel" will bless the congregation. But don't expect a preplanned, button-pushing show.

"A set of mine is never going to be the same pace all the way through," he says. And though Emery did tell us that Hot Since 82 would be one of the last acts he'd want to see before he lost his hearing forever, he doesn't mince words when describing the difference between the DJ and himself. "If you want five hours of 138 [bpm], go see Aly & Fila. If you want five hours of 125 [bpm], go see Hot Since 82. If you want a set that goes from one to another, through all the amazing places between those two points, then I'm your man."

And though Space has traditionally been an ally to DJs, a haven where experimentation and creativity are encouraged, Emery has played Miami music venues in the past, like Miami Beach nightclub Story, which isn't always the easiest room to play, he explains. "Story is split between the fans on the dance floor and the VIP tables, which aren't always the biggest music fans, so you've got two crowds to keep happy." It's an issue facing many big-room venues in Miami. How do you please the big spenders who couldn't care less about subtlety and craft while also appeasing the loyal fans who come to show love?

Last year, when the outspoken and polarizing Israeli DJ Borgore had his set at Story cut short, he tweeted, "The world works that 10 ppl spending 20k on a drink dedicate the music for 1k ppl who wanna rage sorry guys not my call I was fighting." DJ Shadow and Dennis Ferrer have had similar experiences at South Beach club Mansion. In February 2012, Ferrer tweeted, "Haha @mansion_miami made me get off the decks!! said I don't play commercial enough!! WTF!!!!!" after he got the boot.

"Sometimes you do a good job and please everyone, sometimes you please one group more than another, and sometimes it just goes badly, but fuck, that's DJing — reading the room and working out what makes sense next," Emery says.

"There are DJs out there, none of whom I want to name, who have their two hours totally preplanned with zero flexibility, and, yes, it makes for a very smooth-flowing set, but I've seen those sorts of sets bomb horribly because the artist won't adapt in the slightest to the crowd. Plus I'm not even sure we can call it DJing when it's that heavily planned. I mean, we're not performing the tracks live, so if we aren't even deciding what comes next, what the fuck are we doing up there for two hours?"

Still, Gareth isn't worried. He's a veteran, and he knows how to adapt to please more than one demographic, which is a must for any DJ playing big rooms in the Magic City. "Miami is a lot of fun every time I stop through," he says. "And I'm really excited for the show at Space."

Gareth Emery 10 p.m. Saturday, August 22, at Club Space, 34 NE 11th Street, Miami; 305-­374-­0001; clubspace.com. Tickets cost $20 to $750 plus fees via wantickets.com.

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