Elkka, aka Emma Kirby, was already writing songs as an eight-year-old in Wales using a toy keyboard loaded with melodies. But by the time she’d got to London in her early 20s, working as a singer-songwriter inspired by Carole King, Joni Mitchell and Annie Lennox – “people who write incredible music that still transcends decades later” – the experience was turning sour.
Mostly writing for other people – “always men” she notes when we talk on the phone – the work was divided: she wrote the songs, they made the music. Despite some success, including working with Diplo’s Mad Decent, her solo career had no direction. One night going to see Jamie xx with her girlfriend she broke down. “‘I can’t actually see someone so amazing and feel so shit about my music’,” she recalls saying. “The next day I started learning how to produce and a year later I put out my first EP and started Femme Culture.”
This decision to take control changed everything. Tired of her creations “being on someone else’s laptop and having to wait for them to finish it,” she set out to crack production, and experienced so many eureka moments: working out side-chaining, how to sample, using filters to create exciting, dynamic effects.
Femme Culture was originally a name under which to release her debut ‘HER’ EP, but she knew she wanted it to be “a community thing”, and after throwing a first all-female party she met Ludo, who was DJing but became involved in running the label. BADSISTA and Ariel Zetina were next to join the fold with releases. The remit soon extended to become “a platform for women and queer people in the arts”, exhibitions showcasing work and Alex Lambert handling the label’s distinct visual identity.
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It’s also delved into charity work, a Pride afterparty, Proud, raising money for the Albert Kennedy Trust and annual ‘HeForShe’ compilation, now hitting its third year, a partnership with UN Women. With the latter featuring a diverse cast from Octo Octa to Mr Mitch, “It embodies who we are. It’s about everyone, not just women.”
Elkka’s latest EP, ‘Every Body Is Welcome’, salutes this and continues an increasingly dancefloor-focused sound fuelled by gigs and a residency on Rinse FM, after starting on Reprezent. It’s also “a reflection on dance music and house music being the soundtrack to finding myself as a human being and finding my identity of a queer person.”
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Near the end of 2019 she came full circle when Floating Points invited her onto an extended NTS show to play alongside an all-star cast including Caribou, Midland and, the person who inspired her evolution, Jamie xx. “They’re people I really look up to hugely – it was amazing to be DJing next to them,” she says.
This year brings more gigs as she unveils her live show. Having developed her producer side, Elkka’s singing and songwriting side may re-emerge. Whatever happens, she’ll continue cheerleading others. “You have to believe sometimes, and begin,” she says. “I opened that door and stepped through without knowing I could do it, then found out I could. It was the best thing that’s happened to me as a musician.”
Joe Roberts is Mixmag's house editor, follow him on Twitter
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