Interview: What So Not Divulges Before His Heart-Thumping Set At Good Vibes Fest ’18

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Fronted by the super talented and fearless sound master Emoh Instead (whose real name is Chris Emerson) — What So Not, an experimental electronic music project by the Australian musician, was formerly a duo, in partnership with record producer Flume before the latter departed from the group in 2015.

What So Not’s free-for-all experimental approach to dance music has garnered millions of fans across the globe, and this year, we can thank Good Vibes Festival for ~finally~ blessing us Malaysians with his presence as a headliner.

Some of Emoh’s best work includes head-banging yet simultaneously melodic songs such as “Goh”, “Stuck In Orbit” and “Jaguar”, which he performed at his BOMB AF Genting Highlands show. He gave his fans everything we ever wanted and more — the visuals were stunningly trippy, and he played mind-blowing remixes of his own songs that you won’t find anywhere online. It was beyond perfect. In fact, his set was the definition of insane in the membrane.

Luckily, we got the chance to meet up with the man himself before his set on 21 July 2018 (Saturday). Read on to find out more:

Q: What So Not is pretty iconic. How did you come up with this name?

It was the phrase “What’s hot, what’s not”, and the idea of the project was to try and create — not to follow the trend of the moment, but to create the next trend.

Q: How did it all begin for you, and when would you say was the time you got your big break?

I played drums when I was a kid, and I never really thought I’d do music but I just kinda happened that way, you know? I got into DJ-ing when I was like 17, 18, and I really fell in love with that. And then I started producing from there and worked on that for many, many years. Then more so lately into songwriting, and working with really interesting artists from different fields of music and seeing what I could come up with.

Q: Growing up, have you ever thought that you would become a music producer?

Definitely not. It was not even on my radar. I worked a desk job for like 5 years before I was doing this, and it was a real strange and difficult decision to make, to be like I’m gonna abandon everything I thought was what you do, and just take a chance at this thing that just makes no sense. And it turned out to make the most sense of all.

Q: Kudos on your new album! It hits us right in the feels. It takes us through a journey of emotions every time. Can you tell us how this is different as compared to everything you’ve previously worked on?

I was touring for 6 years, and I only took my first break when I started putting this album together. So I had a lot of space and time to really hone in on certain aspects of sonic development, performance and recording of instruments, rather than just programming things. I started using my own voice a lot, like singing into interesting processing, like guitar amps and using that as textures and tones throughout the album.

It was a lot of fun, and it was a real serious dedication. I kinda locked myself away for a year and a half in a basement and put it all together. I was happy to get this cohesive narrative through the whole project and keep it as it was.

Q: There are many elements in your music that makes it complicated yet on point and distinct when compared to the conventional EDM genres. What shapes your music?

I guess there’s this underlying mood that carries through a lot of it. And I’d say the tone and texture — it intentionally has a lot of grit. It’s not clean music. It’s not simple and like, refined. I love the tension and the dynamic. I love holding things for as long as possible and bringing everyone to boiling point and then releasing, or not releasing and doing it again. I always have fun doing things like that. I feel like that’s a constant throughout the music that I make.

Q: Okay, what is your songwriting process like? 

It’s manic and unpredictable and never really the same. It’s extremely frustrating but I think gets a better result. It’s very unformulaic. Just getting in a room, getting in a frame of mind, and just.. zoning out of everything else and just — I am the song in the moment, you know?

Q: If you could choose three songs on your album that have the most personal stories, which ones would those be? Tell us about them.

All of them. It’s almost like one story, and then it just played out with all the songs, you know?

Q: Can you name three musicians who have impacted your music and work in some way or another?

I can name a lot. I can say At The Drive-In was a big influence when I was a kid. Really amazing band. Um.. I worked with Jono Ma on “Stuck In Orbit”, he’s from Jagwar Ma. He’s been a really cool person to hang with and pick his brain at different things. Very inspiring guy.

Q: Could you take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work?

I can’t. It’s like, one morning you get two hours of sleep and you’re on a 14 hour flight to the jungle of Nicaragua to do a writing camp, and then you fly for 6 hours to do a tour. It’s just all over the place. It’s never the same. Usually a day is like maybe 5 or 6 hours of sleep if you’re lucky, then the rest is just doing something exciting or writing music.

Q: Your recent collaborations feature quite an interesting list of musicians, such as the American rock band Toto. How did that come about?

I was playing their (Toto) record “Africa” years ago and Rolling Stones interviewed me and Skrillex cause apparently, us playing it at all these festivals in the US has made it re-enter the charts in America.

Learn more about What So Not via his official website or social media channels on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Check out his music on Spotify too while you’re at it!