Gareth Emery isn’t a big fan of genres. After all, you don’t get to be one of the biggest names in electronic music by limiting yourself. Known for his keen ability to blend house, progressive, and trance into his sets and his music, Gareth’s versatility is a big part of his global success. Gareth prides himself in defying simple categorization. He’s a rare breed in the dance music community, classically trained in melody and musicality, and with a sound all his own. That’s what has his fans feverishly anticipating this year’s DRIVE, that’s what keeps singles like “U” in the upper echelons of the club charts, and that’s what keeps him on a tour schedule that’s taken him from his native U.K. to Europe, throughout Asia, Australia, the Middle East and the States (where he now spends much of his time).
As Gareth puts it himself, “I’ve been a fervent anti-genre campaigner, pretty much since the beginning. My aim is to express myself through good music no matter what genre you put it in.” This is a quality the producer gained early on in life, beginning with the piano at age four and expanding into a youth spent “playing in various bands and traveling up and down the U.K. performing in horrible pubs.” It wasn’t until a fateful trip to Balearic clubbing mecca Ibiza in 1998 that he found his true calling: electronic dance music. From that moment on, his singular focus became absorbing the music—from trance giants like Paul Oakenfold, to progressive house heavy hitters like Sasha and Digweed, to techno greats like Carl Cox. “There are so many beautiful styles,” says Gareth.“I can’t understand the logic of only listening to just one of them.”
You don’t have to spend much time with the energetic and down-to-earth artist to see that this passion for dance music comes through in everything Gareth does. A quick study in the studio, Gareth locked down his first record deal in 2002. “Mistral,” Gareth’s first breakout hit, turned many of his heroes into overnight fans and set in motion a career defined by its constant highs. His label Garuda is known for being a go-to source for floor-fillers. His DJ sets are highly regarded and then there’s his podcast--the first of its kind--which only serves to further cement Gareth’s reputation as a trendsetter.
Launched in 2006, at a time when there were virtually no other DJ podcasts, Gareth’s was born out of a desire to showcase the music he loves in a new way. “The reason I started it was because a lot of other DJs were doing internet radio shows,” Gareth says. “That was interesting but everyone was already doing it. The podcast gave me that outlet, where I really could play anything I wanted—progressive or chill out or whatever—and do it uniquely from anyone else.” Eight years and a half million subscribers later, the inveterate innovator’s venture is a proven success. “It’s a way of connecting with fans that I’m not able to see very often,” he explains. “With the podcast people can feel like they’re connected to the music I’m playing on a weekly basis.”
For all his accolades as a DJ and a label owner, they only serve to support his music. The past few years have been intensely focused in this regard. Coming off of his 2010 album debut Northern Lights, which instantly landed atop the iTunes Dance Chart in the U.S, and later hit single, “Concrete Angel,” which has racked up more than 15 million views on YouTube, Gareth is back with a new record and a fresh batch of powerhouse singles. Inspired by his recent travels from Manchester to sunny LA, Gareth’s latest gets its name from the cross-country road trip he and his wife took from New York to California. Recalling the beauty of their journey, Gareth says. “We don’t really have roads like that back in the U.K., hundreds of miles of desert or mountains where you’re the only car around.
The new LP, fittingly titled Drive, is written as the trip’s soundtrack. “During the writing process, my mind would skip back to times like crossing the Oklahoma / Texas border on old Route 66, or maybe some crazy Arizona mountain pass where we felt like we might drop over the edge at any moment,” Gareth says. Sound wise, this helped him avoid some of the current traps in electronic music and get back to his roots. “When I was initially writing songs, I was thinking there had to be these big EDM-style drops and big, distorted drums,” he says. “The trip helped me to clear my head and bring back melody and songs, which have always been very close to my heart.”
A number of collaborators also assisted Gareth with this process, first and foremost his sister Roxanne. The two worked together on almost half of Drive and Gareth shines when he talks about it. “She’s from a singer-songwriter world,” he says. “She brought an amazing and completely different perspective.” Gareth worked hard to ensure his other collaborators brought a similar style of creative input. “One of the things that excites me most is finding people who haven’t sung on dance records before,” he explains.
Gavin Beach, who sings on “Eye of the Storm,” isn’t even a musician full time. “We found him singing cover versions of dance tracks on YouTube and his voice is so fucking amazing, we were like, we have to get this guy into the studio,” Gareth says laughing. Gavin isn’t the only unique collaboration. Lead single “U,” a potent combination of uplifting pop and infectious emotional house, features U.K. upstart Bo Bruce, the runner-up winner of “The Voice U.K.” It’s become the album’s centerpiece, and its accompanying video —which recently cracked one million views—perfectly embodies its theme.
This isn’t to say that when Gareth did tap talent from the dance-music world, the results aren’t just as infectious. Take intense electro workout “Lights & Thunder” which features runaway Chicago talent Krewella. “It was an amazing collaboration,” Gareth says. “It took us over a year to get it finished, but I’m glad the timing worked. They’ve blown up and the track has become one of the biggest in my recent sets.”
Another highlight on Drive “Dynamite” sees the return of “Concrete Angel” chanteuse Christina Novelli. Primed for the impending summer festival season, the track was written to embody the surge of energy that comes from those immense seas of fans. “We imagined that we were in the crowd for the closing set of one of these festivals with 50,000 other people, fireworks are going off, and it’s this epic end of the night moment,” Gareth says. “We asked what would be the perfect song in terms of lyrics, melody, and emotion that would sum up that moment?”
Gareth’s fans are going to find out what this moment will look and sound like soon enough. With the album’s imminent release, a world tour will follow including a massive new stage show. “For me to take an album like this that's been so much work and then just go and play a standard DJ set, I’d be doing it a disservice,” Gareth confides. Promising that it will be the craziest, most extensive live show we’ve seen from the global talent yet is just one more development in another groundbreaking year for Gareth Emery, and further testament to a career that is defined by breaking the mold and defying expectations.