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Interview: EMPHI

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EMPHI — known as Johan started his musical journey at an early age having musicians in the family. Paving the way with his personal progressive and melodic touch under the moniker ‘EMPHI’, Johan has set the bar high and has gotten support from fellow producers Armen Miran, Black Coffee, Cristoph, Henry Saiz, John Digweed, Karmon, Khen and Nick Warren to name a few. Now approaching two years since his debut, the Swedish artist has continued to build an impressive resume. Releases on Yotto’s Odd One Out, Balkan Connection, Hoomidaas and Transensations all landed with resounding success, firmly etching the Stockholm resident as one of progressive music’s top new comers. With 2022 looking to be a breakout year, EMPHI now returns to Deepwibe Underground with a stunning rendition of Dmitry Molosh’s ‘Scaur’. We had a chance to catch up with EMPHI for an exclusive interview leading up to the release. Enjoy!

Hello Johan, thanks for joining us. What is your current mood and what was the last piece of music you listened to?

J: Hey! Happy to be here. Let’s do this! I’m a bit tired since I recently got to the studio from the gym and work. I love old disco so the last track was Relight My Fire by Take That.

How’s your year so far? And what are your plans for the coming week?

J: So far so good! Many exciting releases in the works. I’ve signed to labels I’ve wanted to work with from the start of my career, so everything is finally falling into place. The situation in Sweden is finally clearing up, we dropped all the restrictions weeks ago, so everything is getting up and rolling again, FINALLY! I’m actually attending a Drum N’ Bass event this weekend at a local club called Slakthuset. Also finishing up an exciting remix for Mango Alley.

Can you name five tracks that were important in your musical development and why they are so significant for you?

J: Drowning (Avicii Remix): I listened to it a lot when it released. The mix of EDM and the emotional part of the lyrics really made an impact in my musical journey.

Nillionaire by Alesso: I remember when I heard this track for the first time. It really was something else and made an huge impact on my career as a producer, as at that time I produced EDM/Bass House stuff.

We Come We Rave We Love by Axwell/Ingrosso: Also a track that was huge for me, the track itself is a bomb. And as Swedish House Mafia are from Sweden, that was your dream growing up to produce music like them.

Caravelle by Jeremy Olander: One of my favourite tracks from Jeremy. This was also one of the tracks that made me shift my sound into a more progressive one. Fun fact: it inspired me to create my first track as EMPHI, it’s called Nightfall, I still close my sets with it sometimes.

Elephant by Tim Engelhardt, Constantijn Lange: My absolute favourite track from Tim Engelhardt, amazing producer and I remember when I played this at one of my biggest gigs here in Stockholm, it was huge.

Do you consider yourself a DJ or producer first? And which do you enjoy more and why?

J: I consider myself as a producer for sure. Hmm. I like both. And there’s both up- and downsides with both. But if I would need to pick, it would be producer. I love being in the studio and produce, just put my headphones on and zone out. When I produce, I do it for me. When I DJ, I do it to please others. Early on in my career, it was a lot of politics around the DJ-thing, what songs I needed to play according to the Promotor, etc. I love the social part, and to party with my friends, it’s always a great vibe and mood. But my goal has always been to be booked for my music and as EMPHI, not because I’ve gotten a name as a DJ only.

Sweden is a country known for electronic music; behind Pop, Rock and Classic Rock, electronic music is next in terms of popularity there. Talk to us about growing up and living in Sweden, how has it affected your musical taste and the music you make?

J: I grew up with my Mom listening to a lot of Trance which was popular here in Sweden early 2000’s. She used to download music to my MP3 so I could listen to what she listened to. Then I began to dance Hip-Hop in classes which eventually faded out a bit, so I started to produce dance music. I have Swedish House Mafia to thank a lot for. They put Sweden on the map and I grew up in Solna, the same neighbourhood as Steve Angello and Sebastian Ingrosso. My teachers went to the same class as Steve, so it has always been talked about which inspired me a lot. I went to all the gigs that Avicii, Alesso and SHM had during the EDM era. I remember one night where I went to a sold out Alesso-show, me and my friends went there early because we loved the music and there was a warmup-act who played what we today know as Tech/Deep/Progressive-House, and I remember I really liked it. It’s quite funny how I shifted between sounds throughout the years since I was into so different genres during my time growing up. It has never been a clear path.

What are some of your best memories from first going to clubs in your country? Were there specific nights or sets that really made you feel you wanted to pursue electronic music?

J: I played out quite early when I was allowed into clubs. At that time we had a club in a club concept called Teatron where we played MEG/NERAK and Shapov, that kind of EDM which was not so ”mainstream”. I was really into that type of sound. But when I started to go out here in Stockholm, I never went out for the clubs or acts since the clubs was and still is quite safe in their bookings. It was not often international up and coming acts was booked in the clubs here. I remember one night that is significant for my musical career and that was Jeremy Olander at Slaktkyrkan where he hosted an Vivrant event. That night changed everything for me, it was the night I decided to shift my musical focus completely and leave Melodic House/Afro House and start producing more of the Progressive sound.

What are your favourite venues to play in Sweden and why?

J: My biggest gig to date was at Berns for the annual Bibliothèque Party on Christmas Day, which is one of the biggest days for nightclubs here in Sweden, it was packed with 2000 people. I also love to play at Taverna Brillo, a bar here in Stockholm, it’s not big but the vibe is always on top. And all of my friends always comes down to party, the DJ booth is on the floor, so it’s very intimate and fun!

Who are some up and coming Swedish artists to look out for?

J: Layer J, he always brings fresh melodic house to the table. He is also very good live, so do keep an eye on him! OLING, the latest stuff he has put out blows my mind. We’ve been in the same circles of producers here in Sweden for a long time, so it’s nice to see him get the recognition he deserves. Vanilla John, one of my friends who is a really funny character to just follow on Instagram for the stuff he puts out. I love the disco vibes in his songs, I heard he will do more of that. We do sit in the studio together sometimes. Maybe you will hear a disco anthem from us in the future? We’ll see.

If you could set up an event with a line-up of five artists of your choice, who would you book and what set times would you ascribe to the artists?

J: That’s a hard one! But Tim Green to open the evening for the organic and lower BPM to get the crowd going. Then transition to Armen Miran for the great vibes he brings with his sound. Then Dmitry Molosh to up the tempo a bit with the darker side of his productions, but just enough to tease the crowd. Cid Inc with his driving sets, fantastic tracks and track selection to end the evening with Guy J. I admire these guys so much and always wanted to see them live and I think they would complete each other into a fantastic evening. If this would happen in real life, no matter where the event would be, you would see me dancing in the crowd.

23-00 Tim Green
00-01 Armen Miran
01-02 Dmitry Molosh
02-04 Cid Inc
04-06 Guy J

You have a new remix of Dmitry Molosh out this week via Deepwibe Underground, tell us a bit about how you approached the remix and how it showcases your sound.

J: I’ve always been a big fan of Dmitry Molosh, he is very supportive. He supported one of my first releases as EMPHI. And when he reached out to ask me for a remix, I couldn’t believe it. It was a dream come true. I’m so thankful for the opportunity. When I first heard the original, I knew I wanted to take it to the next level and do a EMPHI version of it and elevate my own sound. I changed the pitch and made it darker, which was a way for me to navigate myself in the journey, from finding Progressive House to producing it. It has really been a process for me to find my own thing in this genre, and this really represents my development and sound.

Deepwibe Underground is a label you’ve released with previously, but this is your first remix for them, what makes the label a good home for your music?

J: Dmitry, Kostya Outta and Weird Sounding Dude really opened my eyes to the label. I heard so much high quality tracks coming out from there. So it was natural for me to be where my idols is. Sergei, the label manager has been very supportive and it’s a huge honour for me that they believe and support my work.

What do you look for in a track when considering taking on a remix project?

J: I listen after overall elements that would fit with my drums and beats. I begin with listening to the original and find a way to change the groove but eventually I change everything else as well. I try to keep one stem that is significant of the original so you can hear that it’s a remix. Then I chop up the rest of the stems and sample them to fit the track and my sound. For an example, I take the bass stem and chop it up to change the groove to the way I want it to be.

What does your set-up like? Do you favor physical gear over digital? And what studio tools featured heavily in the writing of this remix?

J: Nothing special actually. Regular screen, regular keyboard, regular Windows computer. I use FL Studio. A really simple set up, you don’t need more. I have some Genelecs 8010A, but most of the time they are for reference-listening. I use my Beyer Dynamic DT1990 Pro the most. Digital over physical. I haven’t really used physical synths and gear. But I would love to try in the future! And I can imagine I would love it, it would be fun to do automations live. But I’m used to digital plugins so that’s what I prefer. I used FL Sakura, Diva and Serum for the bass. I love Serum to do basses in, so I used that for the subbass and Diva for the melodies. Generally speaking I would say I use Diva a lot.

Generally speaking, do you find it more difficult to come up with original tracks than remixing a track from another artist?

J: It’s easier to remix because the foundation is already there. But the downside can be that I sometimes overwork and overthink the concept by changing stuff too much and chopping up the stems too much so it ends up being an original instead. I’ve learned the hard way that less is more sometimes! On the other hand, when creating an original, I don’t have any deadlines and I can build them to match each other into an EP, which I’m doing a lot nowadays.

What’s a piece of gear or software that always gets used when you’re writing a track?

J: Serum and Diva, they are in every track I released.

How much road testing or friend feedback is done before you’re ready to say a track is finished? And who is someone you share your new music with first for feedback?

J: Haven’t been so much road-testing lately due to covid. But I remember that I road- tested one of my early tracks called ’Attraktionen’. People that I didn’t know came up to me and sa
id they loved the track and the response was amazing. I also went to one gig Yotto had in Stockholm, where he premiered ’Utsikten’, the response there was also amazing. It’s one of the best feelings in the world and I do miss doing that. Hopefully I can do that much more when the world is finally opening up. I usually listen everywhere and every chance I get, to reference-listen my mixing and general ideas. AirPods, in the car, speakers, monitors, studio headphones, you name it. It’s such a good way to find scuffs you wouldn’t notice otherwise. Then I go back to fix the details until the mix works in most of the places where I play it, that’s when I’m 99% satisfied. A track will never be done I guess but my headphones has always the final say and I try to keep a balance between my headphones and monitors. For feedback, I always send to my A&R and manager Faraz, he gives continuous feedback throughout the whole process, from track idea and concept to that last 1% to decide if it should go to labels or mastering. Also Layer J to get a producers point of view, and since recently, Hobin Rude.

What would be a musical extravagance for your studio you would pay for, if you were very wealthy?

J: If I had unlimited resources and a room, I would first and foremost put in the best acoustics in the world and then speakers. I want to instantly hear how it actually sounds. You can always find synths digitally.

What’s a book you’ve read or film you watched that has left an impact on you, and why?

J: I love plot-twists and when a movie takes you to a place and you think you have figured everything out, but then suddenly everything changes. So I have to say Shutter Island with Leonardo DiCaprio. I really admire the think outside the box-thing.

If you could travel anywhere for one day, all laws and limitations void, where would it be?

J: I really want to go to Argentina and meet all the people and play there. Experience the culture for the music I produce. The scene over there looks amazing.

In your opinion, what’s the biggest risk you’ve taken and what made you do it?

J: Abandoning my old aliases when they had momentum. Before EMPHI, I produced a lot of EDM and had deals on the table for labels such as Universal, I had great support and collaborations from pioneers in that scene. I remember I was producing a track, and at the same time as I did it, I realised that I didn’t want to do that genre. So I decided to start fresh and create a new name, rebrand and shift my musical focus. I followed my gut, and I couldn’t be happier today. I have new goals and dreams I want to achieve.

What is your current favourite place to eat and what do you generally order there?

J: When I usually play at Taverna Brillo, I eat at their restaurant as well. Very friendly atmosphere and great food. Their Schnitzel is amazing!

iPhone or Android?

J: iPhone

Apart from music, what makes you happiest?

J: A Swedish club football-team called ”AIK”. I’ve been a supporter since I was born, it’s our neighbourhood team here in Solna, and I always go to their home and away games. Travelling across the country to watch them together with my friends is one of the best things outside music.

What does 2022 hold for you? Anything you can share with us?

J: A lot of new music of course! This year will be focused around my original work. In terms of releases, I can’t really tell you yet. I’m so excited for it, but what I can tell you is that I signed music to my dream labels which we’ll announce very very soon. It has been a dream and in the works for a long time, so it feels amazing that it’s finally happening and I can’t wait for you to hear it.

Follow me and stay tuned! 😉

EMPHI’s remix of ‘Scaur’ is available now via Deepwibe Underground: https://bit.ly/3psLPpK

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