Across the spread of musical styles Emily Dust is drawn to, there’s a unifying factor: “The tracks have got to bang.” Specialising in club-focused genres, from explosive South African gqom to the subversive beats of Brazilian baile funk via uplifting Afro house, infectious Jamaican dancehall rhythms, earth-shattering UK bass and more, Emily Dust’s sets are charged with an exhilarating energy drawn from the planet’s most compelling sounds.
Born and bred in the cultural melting pot of North London with parents who played her hard bop jazz and cumbia from a young age, Emily Dust has always been interested in the breadth of the musical spectrum. A taste for the riotous end surfaced in her youth through an interest in punk music and partying at squat raves, before a trip to Namibia and exposure to styles like Kwaito and South African house opened her eyes to exploring electronic music from the wider world. SoundCloud rising in prominence outside of the West provided an inspiring catalogue of experimental influences to discover
Her first foray into DJing came at University, taking on a student radio show and playing gigs around Cardiff. Although she stopped for a time after moving back to London and starting a job as a radio producer working alongside DJ greats like David Rodigan and Benji B, lacking belief in her own ability. Six years ago her passion for music and a realisation that the styles she loves weren't getting enough attention in the UK energised her to overcome this and kickstart her DJ career in earnest.
Now she’s fresh off a summer playing 13 festivals, including Germany’s legendary Fusion Festival and five sets at Glastonbury, a resident of Soho Radio and co-founder of the Baile LDN club night, which has hosted the likes of BADSISTA, Morena Leraba and a Jaymie Silk UK debut, as well having many more strings to her bow such as documentary making and hosting workshops. In March she is working with the British Council to travel to Zambia and Zimbabwe and teach women to DJ. She’s also collaborating on a new film about the Senegalese electronic scene with Dakar-based crew ElectrAfrique.
The next Baile LDN party takes place at Five Miles in London on Saturday, November 23, headlined by Berlin collective Freak de l’Afrique, who are instrumental in building the rising Afro scene in the German capital. Wherever she plays and host parties, Emily Dust is making dancefloors a more invigorating place.
Check out Emily Dust’s Impact mix and a Q&A below.
You play a globe-trotting range of styles, what drew to music from places like South Africa, Brazil and Jamaica?
They're all such different sounds. The thing that unites them and really excites me is that I like to play club music that young people are listening to in their own spaces in local areas. There are people going to Brazil and uncovering amazing music from the 70s, and they've done a brilliant job in getting people excited about Brazilian music. But for me, personally, when I go to Brazil I want to hear the music that young Brazilians are dancing to, that's why I love baile funk, and it's the same with gqom. It's exciting to feel like you're playing something connected to a proper scene somewhere, rather than 'I found this thing that everyone's ignoring here and I'm gonna put it on a big platform in Europe'.
It's important for me with my radio shows to centre the artists and communities who are making the music. It really matters to me that we have connections through music and it's not me just cherry picking stuff without any context.
You went to Durban last year to make a Global Beats documentary on gqom for the BBC. How was that, and how inspiring did you find the artists you interacted with and the scene out there?
It was a dream for me to go make the documentary and meet the artists because it was a scene I'd been supporting on my radio shows for ages. I love the genre, and being able to go to some of the clubs there and see it in context was amazing.
The first night we were there we went to Club 101, which is one of the most pivotal clubs in Durban in terms of a city centre spot that everyone goes to. Hearing gqom on the soundsystems it gets played on in the UK is great, but when you see the energy of it in Durban, it's a completely different experience. People are dancing on tables in the middle of the club — it's really connected to dance there. I think that's an element of it that we don't necessarily get so much in the UK, although there are people trying to push it.
Read this next: Gqom is the explosive South African sound bursting into Europe
I love the footage in the documentary of musicians testing out tracks in a taxi and leaping about.
TLC Fam are absolutely bonkers. They developed this style of gqom called 'taxi gqom'. To get around anywhere in the townships you have to get a shared taxi, so taxis are really important in Durban. People realised that there were all these young people going out in them, so the best way to get their music to people was to give taxi drivers USBs with music on. I think TLC Fam were one of the first collectives to break their music that way, so they called it 'taxi gqom' and develop their music specifically for taxis. The monitor they use in their studio is an actual car speaker. They rigged the whole thing up and were showing me how they make beats on it, like, ‘yep, this is normally from the back of a car!’.
It's amazing. Especially seeing artists like Lag getting the recognition for it, because he's one of the pioneers. They’re doing things on their own terms and have created something really special. They’re releasing on small labels, keeping creative and artistic control. I think those nuances are really important when we talk about local music getting mainstream on a big platform. That tune was by Lag and Moses Boyd, and Beyoncé got in touch and wanted to use it ready made with no alterations. Beyoncé saying ‘this tune bangs, I want to jump over it’. What an amazing co-sign!
Read this next: DJ Lag is the South African Gqom artist making an Impact
As someone with a broad interest in music, you’re a supporter of musical pollination and sharing. You’ve been critical of insular cliques in the past. Do you think areas of dance music would benefit from greater openness?
Funnily enough I wasn't referring to music cliques in that particular tweet. But I think everything could benefit from a greater openness. Sometimes we want to be comfortable and to be around like-minded people, but I think it's really easy to end up in a bubble. The gatekeepers in dance music haven't always been super open, and now there's people forming collectives and being open. Those people are the ones pushing the change. Diversity isn't just nice to have, I think it's essential if you want to keep the music scene growing. If you keep employing the same people to put together your line-ups and keep booking the same types of acts, you're never gonna have any new ideas. You need different people in your groups so you can have different thinking. That's how things move forward.
You’ve also worked on non-musical programmes for the BBC, covering topics like the 1917 Russian Revolutions. Do you trace any similarity between constructing historical narratives, and storytelling through weaving different genres together in your sets?
When storytelling, I think you should always get to the heart of the story where it's unfolding and not just comment on it from the outside. But equally, I think it’s important for music to be separate from the stories and for tracks to cut through. I'm not about intellectualising music — if a track bangs it bangs. Not everything needs to be dressed up in a big story of hardship for it to work, and I think that that's particularly significant when it comes to global artists.
I've seen you comment before on this myth of the necessity of an 'oppressed artist'. How it's damaging to say suffering is needed to create good music, and that everyone should be able to create and flourish in perfectly fine conditions.
Yeah, that's something that affects artists from everywhere. Maybe if you suffer for your art, you end up with some interesting experiences to write about or so on. But thinking that you have to put yourself in a position where you're vulnerable is unhealthy. That makes the art about you, and not about technique, so then it's basically out of your control. I think you can be happy and balanced and make really great, worthwhile and meaningful art. The key is to be interested and curious about the world around you.
On Twitter you’ve also encouraged producers to register their music with PRS and schemes that help pay producers when their music is aired. This practice is becoming more widely talked about in the dance music sphere recently. Do you think it’s important that producers are paid when DJs play their music?
Definitely. If you make music, why on earth would you not deserve to get paid for it? We've got to make that system easy for everyone involved to make it work. I've had a few people ask for me a set list in advance. I say I don't really play like that, but I can send my history afterwards. You have to make a personal choice about your own sense of responsibility. But also, producers, you've got to register with PRS or similar schemes in other countries, people wanna give you money!
You’re a resident on Soho Radio. How do you go about selecting the guests you bring on the show, and how important do you think it is to showcase a spread of international perspectives and styles on the platform?
Radio is a nice space to have conversations, because you never really get to do that in club sets. Whether that's chatting and giving a little bit of info about the artist, or proper interviews. I always try and have a mix of guests. It depends on who's in town, who I’m really excited about at the moment, and whether there’s an opportunity to do something a bit different.
For example, I did a Brazil grime special with Gustavo from Marginal Men, who's a really sick promoter from São Paulo. They put on this night called I Hate Mondays which I played in Rio and it was one of the best gigs of my life. He hit me up saying he was in London with some Brazilian MCs, I was like great, come to the show and let's do a freestyle session on some old grime beats and talk about how the hell you guys ended up loving grime! That was a sick show, it was really special for them to be in London in the home of grime, and to capture that in the flesh. There's so many artists who I've found researching that show.
You organised the ‘Juntos’ [‘Together’] collaborative EP project with Brazilian label Funk na Caixa in 2016 around the Rio Olympics, pairing UK and Brazilian artists. How did that release come together?
I noticed when I was doing my shows that Brazil has so much amazing music coming out. I felt like there were parallels between how East Londoners and the grime scene interacted with the Olympics, and the baile funk scene in Brazil and how they were interacting with the Olympics, in terms of a big cultural juggernaut coming into your hometown versus what's actually happening in the underground. I thought it would be cool to connect artists together. So I put that together as a free download with Funk na Caixa, a great label from São Paulo.
My plan is to do another one and set up my own label for it. Baile LDN feeds into that as well. It's a nice space to promote the sound. Because of the ‘Juntos’ project, a lot of Brazilians were hitting me up saying they’re in Europe and asking to come play, but we were having to say there's no clubs really. A lot of people are playing baile funk in UK underground sets, but there isn't necessarily such an awareness of the producers, so we thought we could bridge the two and bring people over and give them a space to perform.
What else inspired you to co-found the Baile LDN party this year?
We all came together from different perspectives. Myself and Mango Park met a few times at Movimientos parties. LoRIOca is originally from a dance crew called Pomba Girls. She was interested in coming at it from a dancefloor perspective, and we were equally interested in something that was dancefloor orientated. A lot of the dancers come down, which makes the dancefloor really fun. I think British people are sometimes a little more reserved when it comes to dancing. When I've played in Europe, people get on the dancefloor immediately even if the dancefloor is empty and just stay there. I think it was nice for a lot of the artists playing to see that in London. We're really proud of it so far.
You became the WOMEX Club Summit curator this year, what are you trying to achieve with the programming decisions, and how did the 2019 summit go?
Tthe Club Summit is a space for electronic music from around the world. I wanted to book the most exciting acts out there, and showcase the breadth of different things you can do within electronic music. We had a really interesting artist from Argentina called Dat Garcia who makes a style of dub cumbia. Her performance was mad: she had incredible costumes, including a dancer in a flesh coloured body stocking with over-emphasised genitalia, it was quite arty. Otim Alpha, who was my highlight of Nyege Nyege last year, played and was so energetic and super fun. Then we had ZJ Sparks from Jamaica who produced a lot of Spice's stuff, she brought out Jah9, Kumar from Raging Fyah and Lila Iké, who are three of the most exciting reggae artists. Lorenzo BITW played a sick set with a drummer, and Egyptian collective Cairo Concepts were wicked.
I'd love to see more dance festivals make space for more global acts, because there's really interesting artists who are falling between the gaps of two things. It would be brilliant to see more awareness from bookers and more local electronic genres getting space within the bigger dance umbrella. Festivals like CTM and Unsound, who have a collab with Nyege Nyege, are forward thinking in that sense.
I saw Bampa Pana & Makaveli play Panorama Bar at CTM last year. They were bathed in this intense red light, ripping their tops off, jumping on the booth. It was incredible to see them disrupting that space usually reserved for house and techno with frenetic singeli music.
I wish I'd been at that. Some of the singeli guys played at WOMEX too and it was absolutely electrifying. I think if you put more artists in electronic spaces, people respond to them in the way that they're supposed to be responded to, instead of through this lens of culture. As I said earlier, context and culture around artists is super important, but the tracks have got to bang. If you put people in the right spaces, it helps people to see things in a different way. That's why the singeli crew at Panorama Bar is so exciting.
How did you approach Impact mix?
I wanted it to be representative of what I do. Something that people who know me would expect, and people who don't know me would be excited by and want to hear more. I was thinking a lot about mood, tension and tone. Some of it is really dark, there's a big section of gqom and a lot of hard drum, but there's also moments of light and a bit more fun. I was also thinking about freedom of movement and freedom of expression. There's not really a theme, but there's a few moments in where that comes through.
Patrick Hinton is Mixmag's Digital Features Editor, follow him on Twitter
Baile LDN takes place at Five MIles on Saturday November 23, head here for further details
Cain - Cirrus
KG & Scratchclart - B2L
Burutuma - Binta (Original Mix)
DJ N Fox - Talanzele
Kensaye - Vas-Y
Agoro Music - Gbele Mo Mlin
Fox ft. Rtkal & Sinjin Hawke - Poseidon Ride [Emily Dust Dubplate Special]
Tess ft Logan – Watch How Mi Dweet
DJ Polo & Scratcha Dva - Not That Deep
LR Groove - Warmonger ft Blackout Ja
Sho Madjozi - John Cena
Griffit Vigo X Ree - Gqom Planet
DJ Lag, Moonchild SanellyUhuru Dis (Original Mix)
Cultivated Soulz - Durban's No.1
Mxshi Mo - Afro
Nan Kolè - Day And Night Feat. Poté
Boogzbrown & Cubenx- Butcha
Jumping Back Slash - Spikes
Doubt & Tension - Steam Cycle
Daniel Haaksman - Occupy Berlin (Avernian & Strick Remix)
Amor Satyr - Qunk
Ouri - Mmmmm
MC Lan - Amigas E Poucas
MC Doguinha - Foi Por Isso Que O Dg Se Encantou
Lorenzo BITW – Pika
DJ Galack - Fico De 4 Faço A Posicìção Tu Come Minha Tcheca Na Xre
Badsista - Montagem Da Xereca
MC Kevin O Chris & DJ Zullu - Pitbullzado Loratcho Bradock
Equiknoxx - Jump!
MC Yallah X Debmaster - Kubali
Midnight Ravers - Koroni Foli (Mawimbi Remix)
MC Waraba, Mélèké Tchatcho - Ambiance Bamako
Edwin - Call My Mother For Me
Subance - Bay Pat
K.O & Pitchboy - Tap It
Ricardo Drue X King BubbaOut Dey
Polyvox - Super Mario World