On The Prowl with Emma Feline
by Sterling McGarvey
Photos by Yuriko Everett
It's 6:15am on a bright and mildly chilly Saturday morning in early April. I have just dropped one world-renowned UK garage DJ off at her hotel. I have to work in less than six hours. I have not slept yet. Miss Emma Feline had proceeded to crush the dancefloor at MJQ during her visit to Right Direction only a few hours prior. And events that ensued over the course of the interview that followed have me contemplating making her Mrs. Sterling McGarvey. Oops, did I say that out loud? Derp.
All of this started right around the pivotal point in her set when she dropped Armand Van Helden's remix of "Sugar Is Sweeter," which triggered my search for a pen. Why a pen? Because I had to write on the back of a business card, "If you have/play 'It's a London Thing,' I'll MARRY you!" Classic speed garage and juicy vibes are highly inspirational to yours truly.
But I digress... It all started a few hours prior. Fate has a funny way of smashing up your preordained schedule. A night of rapid club-hopping took a turn for the interesting. A jaunt to eleven50, then to Nomenclature, then to MJQ, then to cap the night off with LTJ Bukem changed dramatically. Emma got to MJQ just in time to play as I discovered that Bukem was on at the same time. I stuck around for the set. By the time it's finished at roughly 2:30am, I'm thinking I'm in love. Was it the accent? Was it the knowing smiles? Was it the fiery, red hair? Or was it the records? No matter what, it was high time to let the tape roll. I jaunted over to Emma and asked her, "Would you like to grab a drink and do the interview?" Her answer? "No, I'm going to run out here and dance!"
Finally, everyone coaxed her into skipping across town to catch the sounds of the Progression Sessions. Unfortunately, she'd forgotten her passport, and the security at Blü was not having it. I dropped off a message for MC Conrad and six-stepped out of the venue just as Nookie has dropped High Contrast's "Make It Tonight."
So, fast forwarding past the part where MJQ closes, I still didn't have the interview, and we'd ended up eating late dinner/early breakfast and discussing the American perception of the Royal Family and the state of 2-step in the US from the perspectives of a British DJ and an American connoisseur...
6am. It's bright outside. I've pulled up to the hotel just as the song is changing on the radio and I say, "Watch it be something good, and then we'll have to delay this again." Sure enough, Michael Jackson's "P.Y.T. (Pretty Young Thing)" plays on the radio. Oh, come on. You mean you wouldn't sing along?
So, finally, for the sake of the readers, the tape rolls.
It seems as though the UK has a certain leg up on the States when it comes to affiliations. Caffeine, Breakbeat Science, and Moonshine are among the most recognizable American affiliations known across the US. However, one can rattle off countless British name brands. Essential. Cream. Gatecrasher. When asked if she thinks that Twice as Nice is the UK garage counterpart of a superbrand like Essential, Emma says, "I think it's one of the equivalents. I think it's the promotions that have led garage to the forefront of the mainstream, and the worldwide acclaim; we don't have a 'name' to associate with it, but Twice as Nice is one of the heaviest out there."
Emma finds a great deal of her sonic inspiration in r&b, hip-hop, drum n' bass, and classic US garage. There are certain influential artists, "like Masters at Work, but in the UK, they were just playing the records a lot faster, which is how the name Speed Garage got coined for the genre." She then gives some insight into the origins of the UK Garage scene. "It was a Sunday thing. Garage was so underground that you couldn't get into the clubs on Saturday. A few promoters managed to scrape a couple of Sunday nights together, and that was like the 'underground night.' And then it evolved. You had UK producers going out making the same kind of music; it was very influenced by US producers, it was all like 4 to the floor. Todd Edwards was one of the major influences on the scene. A lot of DJs still play Todd Edwards records to this day. Eventually, the 2-step kind of came into it, and that got popular. It's interesting, though; there's been a lot more 4/4 stuff coming out, and the sound is moving back to the 4 to the floor sound."
Anyone who studies the UK garage scene with some interest finds that there is a certain amount of violence that law enforcement and media tend to use to stigmatize the scene. The most infamous recent example of garage's notoriety in the British media would come in the So Solid Crew, which runs 31 members deep. In spite of their wild popularity ("21 Seconds" was undoubtedly one of the biggest 2-step tracks to come out last year), they have been finding it difficult to get booked. One member is facing a fine for allegedly breaking a 16 year-old girl's jaw; another is in prison after being caught with a gun; member Neutrino (of the popular offshoot duo Oxide and Neutrino) was shot in the leg outside of a club; there are reports of numerous stabbings and shootings at So Solid events, including an incident in which two men were shot at So Solid MC Romeo's birthday party at the Astoria in London. The notoriety has become so infamous that the group was publicly criticized by the race relations advisor to London mayor, Ken Livingston. Recently, under pressure from law enforcement officials, they were taken off the bill of this year's edition of the famous Homelands Festival.
In the context of it all, when asked if such a successful, yet notorious group could pick up the torch and bring garage to America, Emma has mixed feelings. "Well, the thing is, any publicity is good publicity, and their PR machine is working overtime in England at the moment. The [issue] is [that] they can't actually get a gig and they can't tour; they're actually not able to play anywhere. Asher D (one of the group members) is in prison for 8 months because he got caught with a gun... the question is going to be: Can they sell albums on the strength of their bad behavior and their publicity? If they can sell an album off the back of that, then chances are that they can get over here. But the thing is, they've pissed a lot of people off, a lot of people don't like them, and a lot of people have dissed them. As soon as they stop selling records, they're going to get dropped so fucking quickly. It's going to be interesting to see. They haven't pissed me off. I do respect them; don't get me wrong. I mean, they've come from [South London]; they've worked their way up through the underground; they've done really well; they've done a concert; and they've got great backing behind them. But I've heard a couple of them came over and played in New York for Drive-By, and the promoter was not happy; he was not impressed with their attitudes. They had really, really bad attitudes. Well, actually, three of them came over, but it was one in particular who was apparently a real problem. He carried his reputation over from England."
When asked if there were any concern about America facing violence in the garage scene, she replies, "No, not at all. I'm not worried about it a bit. The scene over here is so happy, and there's so much love; it's just totally different." The parallels between the UK garage scene and the materialism of mainstream hip-hop arise. "Over here, it's not about what you're wearing'Are you wearing Gucci shoes?' or 'are you wearing this?' Over in the UK, the garage scene is a lot like the hip-hop and r&b scene over here. It's all about 'blinging'; it's all about drinking champagne; it's all about the car you drive. 'Do you have a Benz? Are you driving me in a Benz to my booking?'" It is the contrast between American garage crowds and British garage crowds that Emma enjoys so much. "That's why I love coming over here to America, because everyone is so into the music. Everyone knows their shit. People do their homework, and that's what I really like about America. And also, when I come over here, it's like my vacation. As soon as I go home, I'm all stressed out. I've got such a big schedule. I'm hungry to achieve more. But when I come over here, I do my gig, and I get paid, and I get to go out and see the world and enjoy it." She laughs as she says, "God Bless America!"
As the subject moves to what Emma is up to production-wise, it turns out that she is in the midst of launching her own label. "I'm going to ensure that my tunes get over here," she says with conviction. "I would just say watch out for my record label and my first release." Even with a label launching, Emma still plans to DJ throughout the summer. She will be playing at Ultraworld's Starscape in Baltimore in June, Barbados in July, Ayia Napa, Falaraki, Italy, and a few other places throughout the summer. The thought of a warm island full of skippy 2-step and beautiful people becomes too much to bear. I bang my head against the car seat - I want to be in Napa this summer, I think, in disgust. "Just for the record," Emma says into the tape recorder, "Sterling is banging his head against the seat."
The true test of her will comes with the Desert Island Five. After DJing and driving all over town for the entire day, it is truly a challenge for her to name her top five all-time albums. "How can you put me on the spot like this?" she asks me. "Because I do it to everybody," I reply. "Okay... Bob Marley - Greatest Hits. Lil' Kim - The Notorious K.I.M. That was such a heavy album, and what it reminds me of as well. It reminds me of, not last Christmas, but the Christmas before. It was me, my best girlfriend, and my sister, and we were all single at the same time. We'd all just come up off our boyfriends. And we just went partying so hardcore, and that's what we were listening to at the time. Dr. Dre - 2001. ... um... you might want to stop the tape." Looks like she finally ran out of gas. I give her about 30 seconds to recoup. Restart. "Michael Jackson - Thriller. And something Madonna. Oh, can't it just be one artist's work?" Nope. She picks The Immaculate Collection, because it's a greatest hits album. "Oh, can I have a bonus one?" "Oh, why the hell not? But only because I like you," I reply. "Hmm... can we stop the tape again?" This is a snicker-worthy moment. Stopping the tape for the bonus... Restart (part 2). She smiles as she leans toward the mic and says, "Craig David - Born to Do It. Yeah, born to do it, baby! I love you, Craig!!!"
As for the origins of the DJ name? "You mean, Emma 'Feelin' It' Feline? My second name is really 'Fellini,' and I'm actually Italian," she tells me just before her attempts to keep a straight face fail miserably and she cracks up laughing. "But I get bored of telling that one." Going along with the joke, I reply, "Well, I figured you were from some sort of cinematic legacy. I love Federico Fellini! You mean you don't have some relative who directed 8 ˝?" "Have you seen my pizza shops around town? Fellini's Pizza?" There's no retort for that one, although cold pizza wouldn't be bad right before I go to work. Having ended the joke with another laugh, she goes into detail. "Basically, I have red hair, so my friends said I should be 'Vixen,' and I thought, 'No, that is so shit.' So, it was Emma Foxy, and I started playing back to back with another girl, and her name was Phoenix, and 'Phoenix and Foxy' sounded fucking wack, so I changed my name, to 'Phoenix and Feline,' not that it was that much better. But there was another 'Feline' in the Drum n' Bass scene, and she called me up and said, 'You've got the change your name.' So I incorporated 'Emma Feline' to be different. And it's gone from there, and it hasn't changed. I really like it now. I went through a period of really not liking it."
Of course, as she is talking, I glance down at the recorder. It seems as though the Interview Gods want me to wrap it up. The tape is running out. I ask her what she thinks of Atlanta.
"I love Atlanta, it's really nice. It reminds me of Dallas a little bit; you've got the Southern Hospitality down here, and everything is big, but you've got lots of greenery, and I love trees. I love Atlanta; I might end up living here; do you want to marry me? I need my green card." Gulp. Looks like my record request boomerangs on me. Not that that's a bad thing at all! It sounds good, but "Emma McGarvey," just doesn't have a nice ring to it. "But you can get British citizenship as well." Good point! "And if I play 'It's a London Thing,' you'll have to marry me, anyway." Well, if she has the Scott Garcia record with her next time, this means I'm obliged to go to Helzberg Diamonds the next day. Gulp. "Hmmm... I think I've bigged up Atlanta a lot," she grins. "I love you, Atlanta!"
As the tape thins, and my reddened face begins to return to normal, Emma rattles off which tracks will be, in her opinion, the biggest of the summer. "Courtney Melody feat. Rodney P - 'Ruff Like Me (MJ Cole Remix),' Agent X - 'DJ,' Heartless Crew - 'Superglue,' anything on Red Recordings, which is Timmi Magic (from the Dreem Teem)'s label, especially 2 Wise Crew; watch out for 2 Wise Crew... and watch out for Emma Feline!"
As I make my trek back home, I can't help but to think about my state of sleepiness, my love for UK garage, the fact that I have to work at 12:30 that afternoon (and it's almost 7am), and the cost of a decent diamond in case she decides to play my track next time she's in Atlanta...
Massive thanks goes to Bobble and the Right Direction Crew for their assistance in helping arrange the interview.
London's UK Garage Mafia
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