Gareth Emery Opens Up About Soulless Dance Music Industry in Memoir Excerpt
Gareth “Laserface” Emery is one of the world’s top trance DJ-producers, and while we kind of made up that nickname, the Brit earned it with his 2019 Laserface tour. The two-hour experience packed 122 lasers onto stages from New York City to San Francisco and used cutting edge technology to perfectly sync the beams to his progressive melodies and punchy rhythms.
All that said, fans don’t flock to gigs solely because of the spectacle. Emery sets himself apart with intimacy and heart. His latest album, The Lasers, was released in July by indie distributor Create Music Group, explores some of the brightest and most harrowing moments of Emery’s life.
“I’d written songs about being on planes that had nearly crashed, personal and professional battles, and major events in my family – but obviously song lyrics only go so far,” he says in an emailed interview. “It was only after finishing the album that I decided to tell these stories properly.”
Emery dug deep and wrote a memoir, a companion to the LP called My Life in Lasers. It wasn’t a calculated move, just something that grew naturally during the album writing process.
“It started out as a few blog posts, and one story led to another,” he says. “Before long, it had turned into this therapeutic process where my laptop was basically glued to my hands for a month, emptying the contents of my brain into Word. At that point, I didn’t even know if I’d publish any of it. By the time I came up for air, it was 75 percent done. I realized I basically had a book. It couldn’t have happened any other way.”
The process was incredibly “therapeutic.” Recounting the time he was detained in Syria certainly put the wrong Starbucks order in perspective. It helped a lot with COVID quarantine, too.
“It’s easy to feel like the world’s ending this year, and much of the media narrative increases that feeling,” he says, “but writing the story of your life gives you the 1,000-foot view. I’ve had struggles before. I got through them. [This year] is a struggle. I’ll get through it. It gave me hope, and hopefully, it will give others hope, too.”
My Life in Lasers will be published in October. He launched a Kickstarter for it and surpassed his goal of $5,000 in less than a day. More than 800 backers have pledged $50,879 for the project, as of press time.
SPIN was able to get an excerpt from the book, one that exposes some of the more soulless practices within the dance music industry. Check it out below, and head over to Emery’s Kickstarter to get your own digital or signed copy.
I open the door of my studio to Emma Hewitt. It’s my first songwriting session in over five years, and only the second or third songwriting session I’ve done in the last fifteen years. I am nervous as fuck.
You see, for 20 years, I forgot how to write songs.
Music had always been my thing. Unlike sport, I was a natural at it, and while I eschewed formal training as best I could, writing and producing the music I liked was effortless. During my years at University, playing in my band The Dynamos, I wrote songs prolifically; probably over 100 in a three year period. For most of my teen years, I’d imagined my career would be playing in a band. I’d play guitar on stage, write songs, and let someone else sing them.
But then I got into dance music, and the songwriting stopped overnight.
The reason wasn’t that I’d stopped enjoying it – it was just the culture in the industry. In dance music, almost no DJs write songs. I didn’t know this, but after I was able to start working in music full time, I found out quickly.
All of a sudden, everyone I met in the industry wanted to introduce me to ‘writers’. If I knew then what I know now, I would have said: “I’m a writer: so by all means find me some mentors, or people to work with, but I’m going to do this myself.”
I didn’t do that.
Instead, I slipped into the dance music tradition of acquiring what are known in the trade as toplines.
I fucking hate the word toplines.
A song, I’ve come to learn, is a beautiful, organic thing comprised of the music, vocal melody, and lyrics. In order to be any good, to reach that bit of your soul that good songs reach, all three need to work in harmony. They need to come from the same emotional place. Reducing songs to ‘the topline and the music’ is just bullshit, and part of the reason why so many dance music songs are shit.
Let me explain how it works in dance music.
A record producer makes an instrumental piece of music. At that point, he or she will email it off to writers, to see if anyone can write a decent vocal over it. Often, producers will get a handful of different vocals written for a track – the process can be a bit hit or miss.
Good writers tend to work as teams, rather than individuals, although there are plenty of lone writers out there. But the real pros will often have a team of three or four people, who’ll bang out numerous songs in a day.
Ah, what have we today? A new instrumental from David Guetta. Let’s write him a song.
Then a few hours later:
What’s next? Ooh, an instrumental from Armin van Buuren. Off we go.
99% of the time, the artist isn’t even in the room.
Add to that, the vocalist that invariably ends up singing the song is almost never the people who write it. So you’ve got the team that wrote the instrumental. The team that wrote the vocal (who are always invariably separate teams in separate countries). Then you’ve got the artist who actually sings the song, usually whoever the teams can find who has the highest profile. He or she didn’t write the music, the instrumental, and may never even have met the people who wrote it). And people wonder why so many dance music vocals are shit.
Well actually, let me rephrase that. ‘Shit’ suggests incompetency, that the songs are bad, when in reality, most of these are impeccably well-crafted pop-records. Everything happens in the right place, and the songs are written with the cold, clinical precision of seasoned professionals.
However, when it comes to my music, I don’t want the cold clinical precision of seasoned professionals. Don’t get me wrong – there’s a time for that. If I’m going into hospital for a procedure, I want a cold, calm, seasoned professional who’s done it a thousand times and knows exactly what she’s doing.
But for songs? No. I want someone who’s pouring his heart out, weaving every bit of raw emotion into the song and the music, so I feel that way too.
That’s not to say the seasoned pros don’t write some good songs, because they certainly do. In fact, most dance music hit records come from these sort of ‘hit writing teams’. But they’re not my sort of thing, and they’re certainly not the sort of records people will be playing years from now. Sure, many of them become super successful, racking up hundreds of millions of streams and playing on the radio stations around the world… but that’s not my aim. I’ve got no interest in the casual head-nodding interest of the fair-weather fan, listening along because it’s on the radio but without really caring. I want to make songs that change people’s lives. Songs that get played at their weddings, and their funerals. Songs that are still being played decades after they’ve been released. And that requires a different path.