Walking down the cracked, rubbish-lined streets of Canning Town in East London on a rainy Saturday night, there’s a feeling of being back in Hackney Wick during its 90s squat party heyday. Or perhaps it’s a flash-forward to a post-Brexit Britain; either way, the urban decay provides a somewhat gritty welcome to FOLD, London’s newest venue catering to clubland’s dirtier sounds.
Dressed in black, behind bars of red lasers, Glasgow-raised, Copenhagen-based Solid Blake is playing back-to-back inside with Mama Snake, her regular DJ partner. A swirling back wall of visuals backlights her concentrated approach as she combines metallic, vocodered electro with modern skeletal club cuts, the dread tension of Pearson Sound’s ‘Rubble’ aptly suggesting the world outside this cocoon. As the room fills and the lighting dissolves into a swirl of hypnagogic imagery, she intensifies the trip with Voiski’s trancey ‘Rollerblade On The Grass’. “I loved the laser cage,” she tells us after the gig. “It really reminded me of playing in Tresor – and being silhouetted takes away from that weird feeling of being on stage.”
Since moving to Copenhagen in 2011, Solid Blake – aka 28-year-old Emma Blake – has evolved from a key figure in the city’s club scene into an international star. Kicking off label Outer Zone in 2017 (set up by Glasgow venue Le Cheetah), her ‘Mario’ EP arrived with expertly crafted electro-inspired beats remixed by her hero (and now mentor), DJ Stingray. Then in 2018 she exploded after Modeselektor, another major inspiration, recruited her for their ‘Modeselektion Vol 04’ compilation, next releasing a full EP that combined intricately detailed sound design with punishing drums. She went on tour with Modeselektor, clocking up gigs at Fabric, Robert Johnson and Berghain (one of the goals she set herself when embarking on a DJ career, she tells us), tore the house down at Dekmantel with another back-to-back set with Mama Snake, and somehow found time to attend the Red Bull Music Academy, rubbing shoulders with another pioneer of her craft, Mike Banks.
When we catch up with her following further gigs in Holland and Portugal, her poised booth demeanour gives way to reveal an enthusiastic, undimmed Glaswegian accent. Growing up in the West End of the city, her school was next to Glasgow’s famous Art School venue, where she started going clubbing aged 15. “There was always the fear someone would see me leaving late in my school uniform,” she laughs. “Upstairs mostly played hip hop and house, but downstairs would mix disco with heavy electroclash like Vitalic.”
It was a primer for Monox at Sound House, a club that circumnavigated the city’s 3am curfew by giving out membership cards, allowing it to stay open until five. “I remember feeling I’d found something I was dead into,” she says. “One room was industrial techno, the other played electro, ghetto-tech and everything in between. A lot of what I like now would have been played there.” With Rubadub’s Dan Lurinsky and Kenny Grieve, who went on to found Dixon Avenue Basement Jams, among the residents, DJs like Rude 66, Dynarec or Adam X provided a vital education. “I’d [decide to] see an artist I’d never heard of before,” she tells us, “then become a massive fan three days before by checking stuff out and listening to mixes at people’s houses.”
While studying philosophy and politics at Glasgow University, she poured her enthusiasm into working behind the scenes at its community radio station, Subcity. “I just wanted to get involved in everything!” she says, telling us how she once jumped at the chance to go to The Arches just to load in a soundsystem. In Copenhagen, she was similarly in love with dance culture, working in a record shop and at Culture Box, but she never considered DJing a career choice. “I had music, I had records from the shop, but I’d never thought about putting a set together,” she admits. It wasn’t until she co-formed Apeiron Crew, alongside Mama Snake and Smokey, that they all started playing together. “Before our first party we’d already been booked to play back-to-back. It wasn’t the original idea, but I’m glad it happened.”
Around the same time she met Troels Baunbæk-Knudsen and formed a friendship that proved pivotal. A d’n’b-turned-techno producer operating under various aliases, including Pyro and Ctrls, they’d meet up in his studio weekly, their collaborative efforts eventually released under the name Historical Repeater. “He taught me a lot and was always asking for my opinion on his music,” she says. “He made me feel like my opinions were really valid, and that my input meant something. One night he told me: ‘You need to do something on your own now’. And the first tune I made on my own became the first tune I released.” The result, ‘Burns’, came out in 2017 on a Various Artists EP for Brokntoys.
Since then she’s soared. Stingray remixed her track ‘Mario’, and she subsequently stayed in touch with the Detroit original, getting sage advice like ‘Don’t play unprocessed 808s in a big room’ and hearing vital feedback on her masters.
Meeting your heroes can be weird, though, and she says she embarrassed herself in front of Underground Resistance legend Mike Banks when they first met at RBMA. “I was genuinely star-struck,” she grimaces. “I found myself avoiding him rather than going up and saying ‘Tell me about James Stinson, tell me about Drexciya!’” When Banks asked whether she thought the heating should be turned up, she ranted about the positioning of radiators in old buildings, something, she clarifies, she knows nothing about. “But after that it was great!”
Her old touring partners Modeselektor are full of praise, Gernot telling us she might be the most gifted producer and DJ they’ve ever met. “There’s no grandstanding with her,” he says. “No fancy Insta Stories. No bullshit. Killer tracks only!”
But despite her career leading her to mingle with some of her musical heroes, Emma remains rooted. “You can’t have your worth decided by these signifiers,” she tells us. “It just has to be about finishing more records.” Outside of music she retains a day job in industrial design, alongside weekend gigging, and tells us she doesn’t really know what’s going on musically in Copenhagen any more, thanks to her hectic schedule.
She’s done live shows as Historical Repeater alongside Knudsen, and the duo will be performing more soon, while Emma works on her own Solid Blake live set. “That’s the next big thing,” she says. “I need to get my shit together. It will hopefully set me on the road to finishing the next record. I’ve enjoyed DJing more than ever this year, but playing live is a completely different thing!”