Emika is an English born electronic artist currently based in Berlin. Coming from a classical background with training in piano and composition, she’ since produced two decidedly more electric long players for Ninja Tune and worked as a sound designer at Native Instruments. She works alone, producing and mixing her music herself from her apartment in Berlin, and tonight in Madeira she has configured the stage to replicate her setup.
The Ponta do Sol concerts are outdoor, on a lawn in the hotel and guests mix with locals enticed by the opportunity to see such a renowned overseas artist for five Euros – and then be given a five Euro drink card. In the past they’ve offered up artists as diverse as Dirty Beaches and Thurston Moore, as well as renowned jazz artists and home grown talents. People have told me they go every week regardless of whether they know the artist or not, as this is one of the few places on the island that regularly boasts cutting edge live performances. Which may explain why despite a couple of earlier showers there’ still quite a large turnout. Regardless we’re in Madeira, a Portuguese island some 870 km off the coast of Casablanca, so the weather this time of year is balmy with or without rain.
Perhaps the most notable element on stage as we down our Caipirinhas and wait for Emika to arrive, is the piano. Prior to the performance she spoke of wanting her show to encompass her entire career, thus a synth, laptop, mixer and other electrics are also present on a table before her – which seems to effectively map out her career trajectory to this point.
After an initial atmospheric piece, twiddling knobs and raising faders, she retreats to the piano and offers up a gentle meditative quite beautiful solo piece. Though from this moment on it all becomes electric.
With smoky house funk, crunchy electrics with heavy dubesque delays and glitchy electro pop, her music is endlessly groove based; yet the key is her remarkable vocals. With delays and multi tracked backing vocals, her range is incredible, her voice commanding. And then there’ her lyrics, â€œHit me when you want it and I’ll take the blame/Hit me and I guarantee you’ll feel the same/Hit me if you think it will help the pain/hit me hit me anyway.â€ Or my favourite, â€œyou cut me like a double edged sword, now I’m split in the middle, tell me which side do you pick?â€ This line in particular caused a round of applause around me – and English is their second language!
She plays tunes from both her albums, though also newer material from a forthcoming release. â€œWould you like to hear some more new stuff?â€ She asks at one point. Everyone screams. But it’s the material from her most recent album DVA, like the dark electro ‘She Beats,’ or the sweeter poppier synthetic dubstep of ‘Sing To Me’ that demonstrate her ability to transcend genres, touching upon multiple influences, but making everything her own. At times there are links to Portishead in her electric torch songs, Ladytron, or even Goldfrapp, but then Emika’ range is such that a few moments later she’ quickly onto something new and completely different. One moment she sings in monotone and the next with palpable emotion. And through all of this she works the stage effortlessly, dressed entirely in black, initially wearing an overcoat that looks like a cape, though as the music sexes up so does she, stripping down into a kind of cat burglar leotard, complete with long black gloves. The table of electrics in front of her is no impediment, as she dances suggestively, commanding the stage through sheer force of personality – even taking a few provocative steps out into the audience and bumming a cigarette from a guy named Freddy – to whom she dedicates the next song.
The crowd seems to particularly enjoy the more house orientated material, the tunes with that easily identified steady throb coursing through their centre, though Emika really mixes it up, and in the end it’s her deep languid downtempo cover of Chris Isaak’ ‘Wicked Game’ that satisfies most. Following this she thanks us and attempts to leave the stage, but it’s an impossibility now, and as a few isolated drops fall from the heavens, the audience bring her back for an encore beneath the palms.
Piano photo Carla Martins. Palm photo Bob Baker Fish.