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berlin-based talent avalon emerson DJs, produces and... codes

Fresh from the sunset motorcycle ride through the Arizona desert that was her latest video, software designer turned DJ and producer Avalon Emerson has our temperatures rising with her refreshing house and techno.

by Tess Reidy
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22 March 2016, 4:37pm

Have you ever heard Roxy Music's Avalon? You know, the one with one of those videos where the handsome but cheesy Bryan Ferry croons into a mic, wearing a white tux? Well, that's what Young Turks sub label, Whities, latest artist, Avalon Emerson, was named after. (FYI it's her actual name, not her DJ alias). Born in San Francisco and raised in Arizona, her latest release is a wistful ode to her upbringing in the desert and, quite rightly, it's getting a lot of hype right now. As she embarks on another busy weekend of shows we caught up with her in a cab en route to the airport to talk coding, cotton farms and escaping the San Francisco tech scene.

You were raised in the Arizona desert. What was that like?
I lived in a pretty rural part. My parents didn't want to raise kids in San Francisco in the late 80s so decided to move out, like a lot of other people did. When I first moved there, there were a lot of dairies and cotton farm and it smelt like cow manure most of time. It was pretty sprawling. Then, the housing developments came in over the next 15 years and a lot of tensions came with that. For the young people there, most of whom were transported from somewhere else too, it was just a case of trying to make a best of it. It was a growing city, and there was hardly any youth culture. We were trying to make something out of nothing. Culturally, it was quite repressive.

What did you get up to as a teenager then?
There was a lot of punk stuff going on and that's how I first got into making music. I was recording friends' garage bands. I had some software and a couple of microphones and an interest in learning how to do it so I sort of became the garage band producer around those times.

Did you go out partying much?
No, never. There were a few weird, dirty desert raves that I went but that was all pre EDM, dubstep, and variations on happy hardcore and hard trance. The music wasn't really interesting and it didn't speak to me. I didn't discover club culture until I moved to San Francisco, aged 19, and I started going out. I moved into a crazy 14 person warehouse and it went from there.

What made you want to leave?
The start-up culture of this era - post 2009, 2010 - completely changed the face of the city and it became something I didn't identify with. It's pushing out the unique culture and it's making that kind of thing really hard there. I didn't feel like it was my thing anymore and i'd always wanted to live in Europe, so I moved to Berlin almost two years ago now.

Berlin is known for its party scene. Is this something you're a part of?
I have a full time job as a software developer and although I often go out to see friends DJing, i'm not really a big partier.

You must be in the minority having a full time job in Berlin and being on the dance music scene, how have you found that?
Yep, I am. It's me and one other person with a full time job in our group. I don't really drink or do drugs, I go out and enjoy the music and see my friends. I really enjoy assessing vibes, my DJ brain doesn't really turn off when i'm at a party. I like listening to new DJs I haven't heard or having a masterclass from somebody. There are few things I get more enjoyment out of than sitting around writing a song or having a great night DJing. That's treat enough.

The artwork for your latest release [Whities 006] depicts a cacti, desert scene and the track names seem to be referencing your upbringing [The Frontier, Species Of Cacti, The Frontier (High Desert Synthapella)]. Was this the plan from the outset?
Not really, I just make what comes out of my head. I pay attention to how I feel when making music, how I can get into the creative flow quicker, stay longer, and maintain enjoyment without putting too much pressure on myself to make something that sounds a certain way.

Other than making and playing music, what else do you like to do?
I guess I'll always enjoy getting lost in the flow of coding something fun. To me it feels like the same chase as writing music.

If you could be really good at anything what would it be?
A really good sister and daughter.

That's a nice answer. Last question, where do you see yourself in ten years time?
I just want to hope that we'll still have an inhabitable earth to live in by that time. Until then, I'll dedicate my time to making people feel something through music and dancing together. Sorry to sound like such a hippy!

@avalon_emerson