Music Interview with Emily Thomas

Emily Thomas is a music student at the University of Manchester. A life-long love affair with music and a desire to share her favourite tunes encouraged her to bag a spot on Manchester’s student radio, Fuse FM.  Eve Atkins chats to her about all things independent radio, Kate Bush and representation in the music industry.

How do you go about curating track-lists for your radio show?

I firstly think about what I want each show to be focused on, then I will research the artists and their discography. Then it’s a combination of what will work, what listeners will be interested in out of a specific area of future pop, as well as what I like listening to! I will then make a big playlist and cut it down to fit the hour and a half slot. I like to chat amongst the songs too, so I factor that in.

What attracted you specifically to Future Pop as a genre?

I was attracted to the idea of Future Pop because the ‘popular’ music streamed through mainstream radio isn’t typically seen as music which is ‘cool’ or sonically interesting, and I wanted to dispute this notion. Future/Avant pop fascinates me because it transgresses conventional genre boundaries whilst also remaining accessible. Obviously there is some bad pop music, but you could say the same for absolutely any genre!

I am a big believer in forward thinking music – as whilst there is a place for nostalgia within pretty much all music (Simon Reynolds explores this in Retromania!) – I think music that aspires to be futuristic whilst also fun to listen to is so interesting.

Since Covid shut down/limited live music and events indefinitely, how important has independent radio become?

I have always been someone who will tune into various radio shows – such as NTS / Noods / Resonance and I think radio has become significantly important in these times. Not only is independent radio good for finding new music/artists and listening to cool mixes, but the concept of live radio shows emulates the feel of live sets – even though it’s in your living room! I think people love radio because it’s always a bit unpredictable, you don’t know what’s next or where the show will go – which is something I really miss about live music events.

I was actually lucky enough to have a chat with a Scala Radio DJ (Classical music station) who presents one of the shows and he was telling me how he’s had so many messages of support through people who really appreciate the beautiful music he was playing and just hearing him have a little chat was so comforting. I think this sort of stuff was taken for granted before, and I have a lot of friends who have started listening to mixes/talk shows on radios a lot more than they would have before.

So much of independent radio is about sharing tunes which can go missed because of the monopoly services like Spotify have on putting out music, what are your thoughts on streaming services such as Spotify as being the norm for consuming music?

I personally am very anti Spotify, which is not ideal because I use it (so this is mega ironic), but as a student buying all of your music off Bandcamp is not sustainable. That said, I do use Bandcamp regularly when I can afford to support artists, especially on Bandcamp Fridays which is when all of the profits go directly to the artists. Bandcamp is a much better model for music consumption because their transparent approach to royalties is something major services such as Spotify completely ignore. There is also a great page called Black Bandcamp which I have been making a conscious effort to engage with.

There’s pros and cons of streaming: we are exposed to such a diverse amount of music but we do consume music in a way which reverts it to ‘background’ music and passive listening. I’ve been trying to avoid listening to music in the library etc. so I can be more active in my listening.

Do you think we value music as much as previous generations whose consumption was shaped by buying records/tapes?

I think this depends on the person, personally I believe most people still massively value music and vinyl is still popular, but music can be taken for granted because we aren’t having to go out and buy music in a way like before. For example, streaming has also meant the decline of the album, which is such a shame because albums are soundscapes, they’re journeys. And vinyl gives a lot more space for this. If you’re only listening to one or two tunes from an album you can miss out a lot on the beauty of an album.

Your ‘Women’ show on Fuse FM included Kate Bush, Bjork and FKA Twigs, how have these women and their music shaped your own taste and relationship with music?

I love Kate Bush, I’m struck by how ahead of her time she was in terms of songwriting and her unconventional use of instruments – especially using the Fairlight synth. It was a very different time for women in that generally the pillars for song writing were men and love, but her conceptual music and unconventional story lines are such a breath of fresh air within the music released in mid-late 20th century. She was also the first female artist to reach number one in the UK with a self-written song – Wuthering Heights!

I love Bjork because of the melting pop of genres they encompass in such an insane amount of music released – electronic, classical, pop, Avant-pop, hip-hop! Similarly with Arca who I played a lot in that show – also a transgender idol!

FKA Twigs is amazing too and I adore the timbre of her voice, which as a singer I am really influenced by.

Are there any other female musicians/artists who have had an influence on your own views of feminism and the concept of being a woman?

There’s loads! Loraine James, Kelly Lee Owens, Joni Mitchell, Shy Girl, Janet Baker. There’s also the International Sweethearts of Rhythm who were the first integrated all female band in the United States. More recently I found out about Delia Derbyshire who was an electronic music pioneer, she worked with the BBC radiophonic workshop and is known for creating the Doctor who theme tune and she also influenced the likes of the Chemical Brothers and Aphex Twin.

How do you feel in general about female representation in the music industry? And how do you think it’s possible to support female, non-binary and women of colour in the industry?

Realistically, there’s still a long way to go with representation and how non-cismales are treated in the industry. There’s a poignant Mixmag article about the coercion, bribery and harassment that exists in the dance music scene. There’s definitely something so say about the use of tokenism, but also that positive discrimination is going to be useful.

Positively, there’s lots of all female music collectives which are doing the most. For example, Equaliser, Allhands0nddeck and DISCWOMAN – perhaps one of the most important as a feminist DJ collective. There’s also more and more safe spaces for girls/non-binary people that provide open-decks and production workshops. I’m hopeful that the future will be more and more diverse and inclusive!

You can listen to Emily’s Future Pop show every Saturday 3-4:30 on Fusefm: https://fusefm.co.uk/shows/future-pop

And check out her previous mixes here: www.mixcloud.com/futurepopfm_/

Resources: 

Mixmag article: https://mixmag.net/feature/women-dance-music-experience-interview

Bandcamp: https://bandcamp.com/

Blackbandcamp: https://www.blackbandcamp.info/#/

Discwoman: http://www.discwoman.com/

Film about Delia Derbyshire: https://djmag.com/news/new-feature-length-film-electronic-music-pioneer-delia-derbyshire-premiere-online-next-week?fbclid=IwAR3qAN_1TuvC3BI_kr4bPKDEzkcRwbc0qZUUB5tsXVZpyoDqD2m-hiiflUU

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