In this new Rolling Stone AU/NZ series, we take a look at some rising Aotearoa artists who are looking to impress in 2023 and beyond. It may still be an uncertain time for the Kiwi music industry at large, but exciting new artists like those included in this series keep on emerging.
Rising electronic music star Emma Davies can’t remember a time when she didn’t have a deep affinity for music. It began at a young age, listening to rock songs with her dad in their New Plymouth family home.
Her affinity with the music didn’t just revolve around how the sound captivated her, but how all of the artists were unapologetically themselves.
As she got older, she fell in love with the heavy bass in electronic music and decided that she would pour her soul into making a career in music – just like her idols – operating under the moniker EMWA.
Reassurance that she was on the right path soon came when she received critical praise for her first release, the crushing single “Crush”, in 2021, reaching number 38 on the Beatport Dubstep top 100 Singles Chart.
Two years later, EMWA is an established Kiwi summer festival favourite thanks to her bruising bass anthems. Her music offers crowds the chance to really let loose from any burdens and truly connect to a moment.
And you never quite know what’s coming next in an EMWA set, with crowds kept on edge across increasingly speedy tempos before she finally lets go with an almighty, uplifting drop.
Support slots for the likes of Dillon Francis and Quix have brought her the confidence to explore her own sound, which was powerfully on show in last year’s single “Show Me the Way”, a sublime collaboration with singer-songwriter Erin G.
In the below interview, EMWA tells Rolling Stone AU/NZ about being hand-picked to support some of her heroes, the gift of performing on stage, and offers advice to other young musical trailblazers trying to make it big.
When did you first realise your talent as a DJ?
I think once I started to get out of my own way and realise the only thing stopping me from doing what I wanted to do was myself. Once I got over the heart palpitations and crippling anxiety and became more comfortable being myself on stage is when I started to reap the rewards. I’ve always been a bit dramatic so harnessing that into stage presence has worked in my favour.
You’ve managed to rub shoulders with some pretty big names, opening for artists like Dillon Francis and Quix. What has it meant to you to be acknowledged by them?
It’s always humbling being chosen for these support line ups because I’m a huge believer in our plethora of talent in New Zealand. I still think, “wow, of all people they’ve chosen me!”. Both Dillon and Quix were monumental parts of my exploration into electronic dance music so it was a very gratifying, full circle moment. I’m so lucky to be able to sit here and say I’ve met some of my idols and they are great people.
How does it feel to share your music in a live setting?
Music is such a powerful thing and something I never fully grasped until these last few years but it’s something I’ll never take for granted. I was a punter first before becoming an artist and I had such a love of losing myself and forgetting about whatever was going on in my life for that one moment/hour/day and “dancing myself clean” to the likes of LCD Soundsystem. I always try to see it from that perspective first in terms of how it’s going to be received.
I want people to walk away from my shows feeling better about whatever is going on in their lives because I hope, even for just a minute, that I gave them a break from whatever they’re going through. It’s the best part of what I do and it holds so much weight to me. I also hope that I can be proof that being yourself is cool, way cooler than trying to be someone else!
How gratifying was it to see your first release chart so quickly?
To introduce myself as a producer was something that I had been wanting to do for a very long time but I didn’t want to rush the process. My first track, “Crush” with Seek N Destroy, went better than we could have ever hoped. It was a real trip seeing my name among artists I have looked up to for years on the charts.
How has your experience been as a woman working in electronic music in Aotearoa? Do you find you have to work harder?
You absolutely have to work harder. When I started DJing eight years ago, “female DJs” (worst terminology ever) were few and far between compared to today. Right out of the gate I had more eyes on me purely for the fact that I was a woman in a male-dominated space, which sounds better than the reality of the situation.
I had to work twice as hard as my male counterparts to prove that there was space for me on the lineups and do what I like to call “out mixing the boys.” So many male DJs in the space at the time were not willing to help me in any way, shape or form. Looking back I think they were comfortable with how things were at the time rather than doing it with malicious intent. With that being said, it lit a fire within me early on to prove myself and show that I deserved what was coming my way.
What’s your advice for young women who are trying to break through?
Be yourself. Play the music you like and don’t sell out to the popular genre at the time. Be a good person and be easy to work with in the sense of having a good attitude. It sounds cliché but it’s said so often for a reason – go to the parties/events/gigs you want to be a part of and introduce yourself to everyone you can.
Networking is a game that you have to play but I think being genuine and expressing your love for your craft and what you’re trying to accomplish will take you further than any business relationship ever will. It’s also important to have your ducks in a row – do your research, create an EPK (electronic press kit), and have content online so promoters can see what you’re all about.
What are you hoping to achieve in 2023?
My goals for this year are to play some shows in Australia for the first time and keep releasing music that speaks to me as an artist.
How can we hear your music and follow your progress?