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Emerson Todd - The Hands Of Todd

Author: Cyclone
Wednesday, May 13, 2009

A familiar name in the Sydney underground clubbing scene, New Zealand-born, soon-to-be Europe-based, DJ and producer Emerson Todd has joined the ranks of this city’s finest figures of electronic music. 3D’s Cyclone chats to Todd ahead of his final sets in Australia.

Australia has long poached talented Kiwis – and Emerson Todd could be another example.

The DJ was born in Hamilton, New Zealand, but moved to Australia at 10. Nevertheless, he returned home as a teenager on a short visit in 1996 – and ended up staying for seven years. In that time, Emerson, already a DJ in Brisbane, achieved superstar status. However, Todd, who’d fly back to Oz for regular gigs, eventually outgrew NZ’s circuit, and relocated to Sydney. It wasn’t about a need to earn more. He simply sought greater challenges. “I did make a good living out of it in NZ, a very similar kind of living as I do here, but it’s just so much smaller,” he says. “I think that’s what gets a little bit frustrating. You’ve got one major city, and once you go out of that city, out of Auckland, everything gets smaller. There’s not the possibility of going somewhere else and having a bigger, more exciting gig – and that gets a little bit tiresome after a few years. I don’t know if you can make much more of a living of it in Australia, particularly in my thing, because I play a lot more niche, underground music.”

While NZ has internationally renowned reggae, hip hop and drum n bass acts, house music is marginal. “The NZ club scene is quite far behind. It’s a struggle over there to do underground gigs. You’ve got someone like Simon Flower, who releases on Steve Bug’s label in Germany and can go around and make a successful living of it in Europe, but he’s from NZ and actually loves living in NZ ’cause of his family. He probably plays three times a year in NZ – just as there’s not the opportunity for him to play underground music in NZ’s club scene.”

Todd rarely visits NZ now. “I played there a few weeks ago, and I played there for New Year’s Eve at the Rhythm & Vines Festival, but that’s been about it, really. I don’t have any time back there. I don’t work with anyone back there or anything like that anymore.”

Still, Todd didn’t immediately scoop gigs in Sydney, his tech-house at odds with the prevailing musical climate. Nor has he DJed interstate as often as others, like Goodwill. As such, in Sydney Todd initially concentrated on his work as an audio engineer for the likes of The Presets. “I didn’t play for a couple of years – there was just nowhere to play.”

The Lost Baggage resident won’t be in Sydney for much longer. He’s heading to Europe. Will that be permanent- “I would say so. It’s definitely the plan to make it permanent. I’ve gotta see how it all goes, obviously. You never know in this industry!” Todd will be based in London with his wife, but he really fancies Barcelona. (“I just like good weather.”)

At any rate, Todd’s preferred genre is now at the global forefront. He considers himself primarily a tech-house DJ, though his roots lie in deep house. He describes his style as “bouncy”. “I like my music to be playful and quirky.” But Todd does feel, to some extent, that a DJ must adapt. “I try to keep up with what’s going on around the world. I like to be a sponge for music. I really try to listen to as much stuff as I can. I’m always downloading DJ mixes from people.”

It was perhaps inevitable that Todd would gravitate towards music, his mum operating independent music stores. He certainly has a business acumen that not every DJ possesses. Emerson entered the production arena seriously in the late ’90s, partnering Christian Ercolano as House of Downtown. Techno godfather Derrick May span their first single Up for the One. The pair secured a label deal with Universal and handed in two albums. They also helmed a soundtrack for 2001’s “cult” Stickmen, produced by the UK’s Film Four of Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels notoriety. Ercolano knew the director Hamish Rothwell. Todd collaborated with him on the project at Peter Jackson’s sound studio. “It was an amazing process and a lot of fun to do. It was quite early in my career, and I walked out of the experience going, Wow, that’s it – can’t wait to do the next one! And there’s never been another one since. You don’t get offered that many feature films, unfortunately. [But] I still get royalty cheques from it being played in Russia or Italy and stuff.”

Recently Todd has been in the throes of re-establishing himself as a producer. In the past he has issued music on Darren Emerson’s Underwater and lately signed an EP to Claude VonStroke’s Dirtybird. Todd began the year with My Eyes on Anabatic. “I’m just producing music that I enjoy. I like to keep it varied. I’m working on a lot of collaborations at the moment. I just finished one with Tim Green, another one with Kevin Griffiths from Tsuba, another one with Yousef... so I’m busy doing those and then just working on new material for Dirtybird and some other labels that I work with – Suruba and so forth.”

The biggest challenge is keeping up. “I’ve got a number of labels who want me to do some stuff for them and I’m trying to fit that into my schedule. I’ve got a number of remixes I need to do. At the moment, it’s all about finding the time to be able to achieve all those things for people, so time management is where it’s at for me.”

Todd has no intention of embarking on another album. He favours singles. They are “throwaway” and the producer has less of an emotional attachment to them – and that’s liberating. “I’ve done three albums in my life. They’re a lot of work. It’s a long, long journey – and a big investment into that journey.”

WHO: Emerson Todd
WHAT: Plays Lost Baggage at The Cross / We Love Sounds, Hordern Pavilion
WHEN: Saturday 16 May / Saturday 6 June