Raised on Britney Spears and The Spice Girls, and harbouring dreams of becoming a pop vocalist, Emma Kirby (aka Elkka) had a moment of realisation in 2016 that would transform her gruelling quest for success. Influenced by feminist pioneers and electronic musicians such as Laurie Anderson and Imogen Heap, the artist switched to production, taking full ownership of her sound to capture the authenticity she subconsciously craved.
Snapped up by Ninja Tune’s sub-label Technicolour, Elkka’s latest EP, Euphoric Melodies, highlights the power of seizing full artistic control. Its instinctive cross-pollination of house and electronica is built from an imaginative menagerie of syncopated cut-and-paste samples and vocal snippets. These elements bestow the EP a classic yet contemporary sound that articulates club culture’s customary sense of euphoric optimism, with more than a few interesting tricks up its sleeve.
You started as a singer/songwriter and evolved into a producer. Tell us about that journey…
“I grew up listening to pop music so my creative beginnings were traditional songwriting and singing. That’s the route I took when I started pursuing my dreams to be an artist and meant I was bouncing from session to session for a number of years. It was successful in some ways because I was doing quite well as a songwriter with people using my vocals on various tracks, but I didn’t feel I was getting anywhere as a solo artist. I felt quite lost to be honest and eventually hit a wall where I knew I needed to change or things wouldn’t happen the way I wanted them to.”
What was the breaking point?
“I had tickets to see Jamie xx in Brixton and was having dinner with my girlfriend before the gig when I broke down in tears and said I couldn’t go in because I felt so far removed from it all. The next day I started producing, which really feels like what became the beginning of my career – and thank god for that moment because it changed everything for me.”
You’ve mentioned studying Rihanna’s hit Umbrella and being encouraged by her use of preset samples?
“I was in a session, noodling about and looking for a percussion sound for a song when I stumbled across the drum loop featured on that track. It suddenly hit me that if they can use that and create something huge then why can’t I? It just shows how everything’s at your fingertips and having success doesn’t have to be some magical, impossible thing. There’s still certain people you listen to and wonder, god, how do they do that – and as a fan of music I’ll always love that, but it was reassuring to find that loop.”
You sampled Laurie Anderson’s O Superman on one of your early tracks. Is she an inspiring figure for you?
“Strong women have had a huge influence on my life and music. Whether it’s Gloria Steinem or Joni Mitchell, a plethora of people from different ecosystems inspire me. Laurie Anderson’s attitude to her creative pursuits really resonates. The energy of O Superman felt like it was saying something I couldn’t express – using samples as a way to speak my truth for me. She’s a genius.”
People may not assume that Britney or The Spice Girls are inspiring because of their pop sound, but they had a big impact on you…
“Pop can sometimes be seen as a dirty word, but if you listen to those records they’re brilliantly written songs with great production so there’s a lot to be appreciated from a songwriting and technical perspective. Their energy was also quite influential as a teenager – the whole ‘you can achieve anything’ ethos. I really absorbed that as a seven or eight-year-old. I can also trace back a lot of that stuff to what I like now. One of my favourite Britney songs is Everytime, which was produced by Guy Sigsworth who co-produced Frou Frou with Imogen Heap. Her voice and textures are brilliant and tracks like Hide and Seek are mind-blowing, so if you look deep enough within pop music you can find all that crossover work.”
You’ve said musical liberation only comes when you stop giving a damn about what people think. Is that something you’d implore wannabe producers to get to grips with early?
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