Drum & Bass has been blessed with an onslaught of incredibly talented vocalists being thrown into the forefront of the genre in recent years. Nottingham-based Emily Makis is, without doubt, one of those who has made the most meteoric of impacts.
With a voice as sepharic as it is instantly recognisable in the drum and bass scene, it’s the eclectic manner in which she shifts between varying themes of lyricism and moods that has become one of the most impressive assets of her songwriting palette.
From the introspective and more emotive side of her songwriting to the high-octane, rave-centric themes that have appeared in her lyrics more recently, the versatility intertwined with her music has ensured that Emily Makis’ catalogue of sonics is perfect for both bedroom and dancefloor listening alike.
Energetic collabs with Kanine on Stand Up and K Motionz on High Note, which was recently voted as the third-best track of the year in the Drum&BassArena Awards 2021 and reached #1 spot in Beatport’s Drum & Bass Top 100, have seen Emily slightly deviate away from the more emotional and thought-provoking side of her songwriting that saw her blow up in 2019 via her collaboration with Monrroe in the form of the certified anthem Never Too Old.
A self-confessed ‘studio gremlin’, 2021 saw Emily’s continuous hard work pay off, deservedly bearing the fruits of her labour in the form of many achievements in the scene. We managed to pull her away from the studio for an exclusive chat with UKF. Read on to delve into the story of her career in drum and bass so far…
Hey Emily. How was your time in Cyprus over Christmas?
It was nice thanks. I needed it. When I’m away from work I usually get a bit antsy, but this time I just let myself relax. I feel re-energised and ready to go away again this year.
Speaking of last year, 2021 was big for you. Did you give yourself much time to reflect on what you achieved over the last 12 months?
I don’t really like looking backwards. I don’t really see the point in looking backwards when I haven’t reached where but I want to be yet. I normally try to keep looking forward, keep writing, and keep that momentum going forward. I’m an overthinker, so even though my parents try and get me to see what I’ve achieved so far, I just have this existential dread of not progressing that keeps me looking forward.
Are you somewhat scared of losing your momentum then?
Yeah definitely. I’m always sort of scared that I might have reached my peak, it’s just creative anxiety that stops me from being stationary and stagnant. I will say that I’m proud of what I did last year, but I just want to keep looking forward.
I think it’s a good mindset to be in. It never hurts to step back and pat yourself on the back for a minute when you’ve worked hard, but the people who usually do the best in life are the ones always thinking about the next step in their progression.
100%. I think that if you get wrapped up in what you’ve already done, it’s harder to develop yourself creatively. You’ll be concentrating on what made you great last year instead of how you need to evolve to do the same this year. I think a great example of someone who’s done this is Simula. His recent stuff is so sonically experimental, it’s so beautiful yet dark. I really admire that he’s now fully exploring his sound.
I’ve never heard a track like Angels. I just remember hearing the clip on Neksus’ Instagram and thinking what on earth is that.
I lost my shit when I first heard that. I really think it’s so undervalued as well. Then again, I love the fact it’s still so underground.
Simula deserves a lot of respect. He built a name for himself with free downloads and now he’s releasing a mix of introspective and top tier grotty music.
I feel like his music is very representative of his inner workings as a person. Big up Simula.
To go back to you, I know numbers aren’t everything, but your music is reaching nearly 400,000 people a month on Spotify alone.
It was actually a challenge I set myself at the end of 2020. I wanted to write lyrics that were more relatable and I wanted to try and get myself more into the stream game. Looking at Spotify makes me feel like I’m on a good trajectory to achieve what I want to. Before this year, I was writing quite complex lyrics. So when COVID-19 came around, I really tried to dissect tracks and simplify my own lyrics to make them more accessible. I think that’s reflected in the streams now.
It’s great that you were able to study your own music and set out to make the changes that you thought would benefit it.
I think there’s a massive skill in writing simplistic, catchy, yet outside the box lyrics. I listened to a lot of stuff from Wilkinson, Sub Focus, and Dimension to figure out what it is that makes those tracks pop. I’ll listen and try to find influence from them.
From your POV, what do you think it is about these songs that makes the simplicity so good.
If we take Afterglow, for example, I think that from a lyrical perspective it was a topic that hadn’t been spoken about before. Everyone sings about love, but the afterthought of being in a rave was a really clever theme to write about. I took inspiration from that when I was writing High Note.
That’s a really interesting take. High Note was a standout for you last year, it got voted as the third-best track of the year in the Drum&BassArena Awards!
That was really cool. I wanted to write a party pleaser that would get people thinking positively. A lot of the stuff is quite introspective and kind of emotional, so I wanted to write something that took me away from that intensity and instead write something that just made people want to dance.
Well, from how well the tracks done we can definitely say that worked.
I actually wrote two sets of lyrics for that track.
The first version was called something like Fishing For Compliments and I legit put a load of fishing imagery in it which seems a bit weird now thinking about it haha. I sent both version to K-Motionz and he said that ‘High Note’ was the version that would work. I know as soon as heard the instrumental that this was going to work.
Is there any chance that we’ll ever hear a High Note – Fishing For Compliments VIP?
Haha. He did actually tell me to send him these lyrics but sadly I lost them the other day. I’m really glad he chose High Note, because I’m not sure how fishing terminology would go down in a rave and they just want to singalong haha.
To take a step back from 2021, I’d love to know how you first got into songwriting.
I’ve always been musically eclectic, so before I was writing I was listening to loads of different music. Then in my first year in Bath Spa Uni, I was in a neo-soul collective that toured around Bath and Bristol, listening to a lot of R&B at the time. From there as I went through university, I started getting more into electronic music and I discovered that Liquid and more melodic drum and bass really fitted my voice. Not that it was destiny, but writing to this sort of music was a great fit for me. I met Eli (Monrroe), we made a few tracks, and the drum and bass stuff just went from there.
The drum and bass track that blew you up was Never Too Old. As far as debuts go it doesn’t get much bigger.
I did another track with Eli before on SGN:LTD the year before, but it went really under the radar. After that, he sent me eight more instrumentals, I chose Never Too Old and it all progressed from there.
After interviewing Eli he comes across as such a nice person. It must have been a great way to integrate yourself into the scene.
He actually annoys me with how nice he is (laughs). Eli is genuinely such a nice person. We met through a uni social and the rest is history. He’s been a big influence on me because I’m naturally drawn to the darker side of music.
I think that’s the beauty in liquid. Even though it comes with that dark drum and bass tempo, it gives vocalists the platform to really express themselves through the emotion of the music.
Even without drums, D&B tracks could still be viable, anthemic tracks. The drums add that intensity to it. I think that’s why it’s such an amazing genre to me. You can write really heartfelt stuff, but the music means that it doesn’t sound cheesy.
You’ve got that power, meaning, and emotion just through the drums. No matter what the lyricism is, you have the capability to freely express yourself.
Even though there’s repetition in the drums and tempo, it’s still such a skilful genre when it comes to production.
Along with you, there has been a massive surge in vocalists not only getting more recognition but being put in the limelight within the drum and bass scene.
You have Riya and Collette getting nominated five times at the awards with their album which was crazy. I think vocalists have been viewed as secondary to the instrumental because D&B heads are so wrapped up in actual sound. I think it’s one of the only where because are more concerned about the instrumental, which is amazing. Maybe I’m a bit biased, but i’m happy that vocalists are coming more to the forefront because they do add so much to drum and bass tracks. Having vocalists take a more front row seat seems like the next logical step for the genre.
Definitely, so many drum and bass anthems have vocalists on them. I think the human element of someone’s voice adds so much to it and really helps the music to resonate with people.
I think it’s 50/50. The lyrics get sung, but if the production wasn’t amazing then it wouldn’t work. They need to work in conjunction with each other. Because the vocals are at the front of the track, it’s what people can tend to remember most.
Unless we’re talking about Mr Happy, it’s a lot easier to sing lyrics back than bass patterns.
Haha, that is true. I always try and make songs and not riffs. On a side note, A Little Sound is incredible at making melodic riffs. I really love writing a verse and having a narrative with the track.
Your music is so theme heavy that I think you need a whole track to transmit what you’re trying to say.
I think that with the Tiktok generation, fast access and easy to listen to music is championed. Although writing something that’s straight to the point is an art form in itself, I do like a journey and development in a track. In Never Too Old, Monrroe really tells a story. The drop is really intense, but there are breakdowns that are completely stripped back. I like to contribute to that through my songwriting.
To round off, can you let the people know what’s coming from Emily Makis in 2022?
For the start of the year, I’m going to track and lock myself away a bit. I’m going to try and force a self-isolation period on myself and just write. I want to write music that really resonates and is significant to my own personal journey and development.