Three years of gigging and two EPs now stud the crowns of Sydney’s electro magnates, What So Not. Sitting comfortably upon the throne of a genre they’ve reworked entirely, the duo has plunged the local music scene into a menagerie of quirky soundscapes, causing ripples behind decks internationally. Chris ‘Emoh Instead’ Emerson, the wunderkind counterpart to production wizard Harley ‘Flume’ Streten, has just unveiled his first official solo track, ‘Out To Dry’, on the prestigious dance label Sweat It Out – and with Flume’s single-handed debut going platinum and fuelling two national sell-out tours, we all oughta pay attention.
What So Not’s latest output, The Quack EP, has garnered praise from the likes of Flosstradamus, Boys Noize and Diplo. Emerson says their approach has remained simple. “When we started, we weren’t trying to do anything. We were just doing what we loved and what we thought the scene was missing. I really don’t think you can do anything better than that; just draw from the best elements of the best elements around. You just bring it all together in your own way and I think people really like that.” He admits the A-list attention is still frazzling, though. “I was talking to A-Trak earlier this year and he said, ‘It’s like you guys have this sample pack of the weirdest sounds in the world and you only use those to make your songs, and it’s freakin’ amazing.’ Yeah, that was pretty cool.”
The new solo material, however, isn’t the first time Emoh’s had to set himself apart. The former accountant was thrust into a legal battle when he began DJing at 19 as Elmo Is Dead. “Sesame Street had to take me to court. It was pretty tormenting and cost me a lot of money to just nullify it. We ended up doing a settlement agreement, but it was really bad for someone so young to go through something like that.”
So how did the dream team come about? “I was DJing around Australia and Harley had just turned 18, and he saw me play at Chinese Laundry. At the time – we discussed it later, but we both felt the music at the time was headed quite mainstream. He was like, ‘Hey man, do you want to get in the studio and write music? I like what you’re playing.’ It was really a sort of way of me breaking him into the industry, and him breaking me into production.”
In between sets, tours and recording, Emoh says the two don’t have a set formula for creating a track. “We’ve definitely got a very good working relationship and process. At the start, it was very much trial and error. It’s always changing. We’re at a point now where we don’t get a whole lot of time in the studio together, but we just send each other project files and almost remix each others tracks to develop them into what eventually becomes a What So Not finished product.”
The Quack, out through Skrillex’s OWSLA label, vaunts collaborations with the crème de la crop of international beatmasters. Spiking oriental mixes with signature warped soundscapes and thundering bass, the record had its world premiere on Mark Ronson’s Authentic Sh*t radio show and has since infected the masses at packed-out music festivals. Emoh seems pretty chuffed. “We’ve got Action Bronson, DMAC, Deize Tigrona, Blood Diamonds… it was really good working with a bunch of vocalists on that EP. I honestly just love getting in studios with anyone, finding out how they work, finding out little tricks. I just spent this week in the studio with Crookers. He’s really given me some insight into things I haven’t really thought about. A lot of the guys coming through Oz are international and often want to meet up, catch up, share some tracks. It’s really cool like that.”
While there are hints of the grimy pulses of his work in Fake Bratpack, Emoh says songwriting alone is still a whole different mindset. “Because I’m writing it myself, it heads in a different direction at different points in time. So where Harley might say, ‘Let’s do this’, I’ll say, ‘No, let’s head in this direction’ … It’s like the middle ground between What So Not and Flume; it’s got similar elements but I think I focus a lot more on drums because I was a drummer all through my childhood, and also brass and horn are something I’ve always loved – more ghetto booty kind of music,” he laughs.
After a snowboarding accident a year ago, the 23-year-old Emoh has made pilates and stretching a daily ritual and a pre-show routine, teaming it with “no more than three drinks before I start, and then a shot just before I go on.” In the wake of a raved-about two-part set at this year’s Splendour, What So Not are hitting up Karnevil at Luna Park’s Big Top to ring in Halloween. With luck, Emoh will remember all his gear this time. “[Splendour] was the biggest show that we’ve done thus far. Harley was really pissed off… I forgot to bring the headphones for the first half of the set while we were warming up for James Blake. That’s okay for me, but Harley can’t play without headphones. He was onstage just smiling, hands up, but he was like, ‘I’m so angry at you right now.’ It was pretty hilarious.”
BY MINA KITSOS