The reign of EMPEROR is only just beginning, but his plans to conquer the electronic music industry extend much farther than the confines of its dancefloors.
Making dark, dystopian four-on-the-floor beats with a tribal twist, the anonymous beatsmith has found a home within the underground techno scene. It serves as the seedbed for his upcoming debut single, “Secret Society,” a visceral techno track that evokes the primal unity of an empire’s citizens.
There is no ruling class in EMPEROR’s kingdom. Shared experiences are its touchstone and togetherness is the core tenet by which it will propel.
“I feel like the underground techno scene is just flat out united,” EMPEROR tells EDM.com. “We’re a part of something.”
The aptly-titled “Secret Society” is scheduled to hit streaming platforms on October 3rd via Summoned Empire Records and you can pre-order the track on Beatport. Driven by stomping kick drums, the track’s stentorian soundscapes resonate with an uncanny sense of authority, functioning as an assault on the senses and rippling like the relentless march of an empire’s army.
In the meantime, we caught up with EMPEROR to discuss the origins of the project and his goals to redefine underground techno.
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EDM.com: At first glance, EMPEROR seems to have an enigmatic and mysterious nature. Can you share a bit of your origin story and what inspires you to maintain such secrecy in the music industry?
EMPEROR: What’s wrong with being enigmatic? I find mysterious things appealing. EMPEROR’s story begins a few years ago when I was at a place in my life when I felt like I had lost myself. My power. My energy. I was in the studio developing myself through music, building myself back up.
When I’d created the first EP, It was almost as though I wasn’t creating the music, but the music was creating me. EMPEROR isn’t just me as an artist, DJ or musician—EMPEROR is the energy and mindset I was in while in the creation process. I felt through music I’d gotten my power back. My voice. I became the ruler or EMPEROR of my life.
As far as the secrecy of EMPEROR goes, I want people to enjoy the music… not the face. Not the image. Not the person behind. Because at the end of the day, it’s all about connecting with your fans through music.
EDM.com: Your music often explores dark and unconventional themes. What draws you to these themes and how do they influence your creative process?
EMPEROR: I feel everyone has had moments in their life when they haven’t felt like they were the best versions of themselves. My view and belief are this: how can you bring people to a brighter, lighter, more peaceful, uplifting place in their lives through music unless you’ve met them where they are in that moment?
As DJs we are sherpas to people’s emotions while they’re on our dance floors. My process when I’m creating is always steeped with empathy that I’ve also been in those dark places. The places shed while we’re in the middle of that crowded dancefloor. I just want my music to be that hand reaching out from the fog, or dark places that help lift people back to a place of self-empowerment.
EDM.com: Many of your tracks feature intricate and layered soundscapes. Can you shed some light on your approach to sound design and production techniques that contribute to your unique sonic signature?
EMPEROR: Creating for me is very experimental and emotional. I come from a love for different Latin and African percussion as well as orchestra instruments. I’m a huge lover of disco and house music, but techno just does something internally to me.
When I’m producing, I’m always trying to think of creative ways to infuse the elements I love. My process usually always starts with creating the kick and of course doing a ton of different things until I’m about 70% satisfied with it. I can spend a few hours just on the effects chain of the kick but, I’ll almost never end up with the same kick I started with. Once the track is about close to done almost always there needs to be different things done to make it perfect.
EDM.com: In the world of underground techno, collaboration can be rare but impactful. Have you ever considered collaborating with other artists, and if so, what kind of artists would you be interested in working with?
EMPEROR: Of course. Collaborating with other artists is something I would love to do. I’m a big believer in collaboration, not competition. When you consider just the diversity of techno artists, it’s massive. The opportunity to share ideas with another artist and experiment using multiple creative minds and perspectives is what it’s all about.
I in no way want to use the interview for name-dropping but there are artists I’d love to get stuck in a studio with for an entire day. I think of Nicole Moudaber. I love her natural energy. I feel that creativity stems from connection so I would want to know her as an individual. What upsets her. What makes her shine. What drives her to create what she creates. Only then does the studio makes sense and just allowing the raw energy and experimenting to naturally go where it goes.
Then, there’s Carl Cox. I’d love to collaborate with Carl for reasons such as his ability to connect with people. Learning how he connects to the crowd and the journey he takes them on would be a priceless experience. He’s in a league of his own in that realm so to be in a studio with Carl, I’d be very intrigued to learn things about him that make him him.
TESTPILOT. What I like about Joel is his ability to be excessively passionate about his craft and, in the same manner, create and play what feels right for him. He’s unalterable. This is this, and that’s that—enjoy it, or don’t.
EDM.com: Your performances are said to be immersive and hypnotic. Can you give us some insights into your live setup and how you engage with your audience during a performance?
EMPEROR: Now my setup consists of what most touring artists are playing on which is four CDJs, DJM and RMX. However, the show is ever evolving and I’m playing with a host of new technologies to create a more synergistic experience for the audience. Looking forward, I will incorporate more theatrical style performances with live percussion, choirs or even an opera singer. Nothing is off the table.
EDM.com: The underground techno scene has a passionate and dedicated fan base. What is it about this genre that you believe resonates so deeply with your listeners?
EMPEROR: I feel like the underground techno scene is just flat out united. We’re a part of something. Whether it’s at Ultra Music Festival’s RESISTANCE stage, or in an underground warehouse in Berlin, or a rooftop in Brooklyn. People come for the techno.
I’ve been to some insane techno events in my life. Sometimes all the club lights are off and you need to hit the side door with an email verification that you were invited. The best part was you didn’t really care who the DJ was. You were there for the vibe and the energy. You were there for techno. Techno just has a unifying component that makes it magical.
EDM.com: Your track titles often hint at a deeper story or concept, like your new single “Secret Society,” for example. How important is storytelling in your music, and can you elaborate on any particular track that carries a significant narrative for you?
EMPEROR: “Secret Society” is my debut. I have a catalog of music that I was considering for the first single but this one had to be it.
Yes, storytelling is a huge part of my music. I want my music to pique some inner knowledge that resonates when the frequency lands. I didn’t want the first single to be some contrived “banger” of a record. I wanted it to be unique. The emotional side of EMPEROR and I think this record does that. “Secret Society” isn’t about any physical group or social gathering. It’s about you. When you’re at that festival or in the nightclub and you’re dancing, you’re the secret society. It’s your life. Your world. You can be free to be who you are.
EDM.com: Maintaining anonymity can be challenging in today’s digital age. How do you manage to keep your identity a secret while still engaging with your fans and the music industry?
EMPEROR: I’m not necessarily doing anything to keep people from learning my identity—it is insignificant. Who I am behind this mask, my true “identity” is in the music I create.
EDM.com: Techno has evolved significantly over the years. What trends or changes in the genre do you find most interesting, and how do you see your music fitting into this evolving landscape?
EMPEROR: What I’m starting to notice is the creativity of artists shifting. Artists in the techno arena today are creating what they enjoy as opposed to churning out predictable dancefloor “destroyers” or what will land them on forgettable charts.
EDM.com: Lastly, can you share any hints or teasers about upcoming projects or releases? What can fans of EMPEROR look forward to in the near future?
EMPEROR: I’m working on a full album for release in 2024 and have a few more singles to drop along the way. Something for the warehouse crew will follow up “Secret Society.” Look for “Ruler” to drop in time for festival season 2024.