In Conversation: EMBY – Clash Magazine

Tuning in from Manchester, North-London born, Belfast-based grime/drill artist EMBY is a buoyant mood as he analyses a year which he has seen him go from a newcomer to Northern Ireland’s burgeoning alternative music scene to the fore of the capital’s grime, drill and drum ‘n’ bass reformation. “We’re really getting back into the swing of things,” he adds, of the gigs and sessions both North and South of the border which has seen the release of three singles and just as many collaborations; “it’s been busy but still low key”.  
“In terms of making music, like I was always rapping, writing bars and spitting over little grime beats for the craic on the streets,” EMBY explains of the years before injuries prematurely ended his footballing ambitions. “It took me a while to get into music, I did LIFE festival in 2016 off the cuff with the wriggle boys but it probably took me until the last four to five years that I really committed to music,” he explains. “I always loved music, my Dad got me into the likes of Thelonious Monk, Lauryn Hill, Angie Stone, and ATCQ; but I think I’ve always has a passion for finding new music myself and being introduced to new music by anyone in my life. I listen to anything and am influenced by all sorts of creation. I always knew I loved it, but it’s not until you start going to gigs and doing gigs that you think that you can actually pursue it”.
Alexander Malcom-Bryne, AKA EMBY, was born in Enfield in North London and moved to Belfast at the age of 13 with his mother. Upon arrival in Northern Ireland, he quickly fell in love with his surroundings and incorporated himself into the local creative community. 16 years later, he’s still working hard to push the envelope in the city and make it a better and more culturally diverse place to grow. Alongside fellow artists such as Gemma Bradley, Leo Miyagi, Dena Anuk$a, Cartin and Kessler, as well as festivals such as DSNT and AVA supporting local talent, Belfast is catching up and quickly becoming the vanguard of the new counter-culture movement on the island.
Fresh off the heels of the release of his brand new single ‘Radio’, alongside Dublin neo-soul single Tomike, CLASH caught up with EMBY to discuss his growth after last summer’s breakthrough AVA performance, making the more into the spotlight after so long in the background, and what the world can expect from the next phase of Belfast’s artistic evolution.
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You’ve stepped up a level as an artist since your performance at AVA Festival in September, what have the past five months been like for you?
I got a good bit of positive feedback from it from AVA. It was new for the festival too as I was the first grime set to ever be played there, so it was really good to get that under my belt. A lot of people came up to me afterwards and told me how much they enjoyed it and how we need more nights like that, more music like that, in Belfast so hopefully it’s the start of something bigger for the city as well.
Personally, it’s been surprising that people have wanted to book me for shows and stuff but at the same time it’s not. When you think of how long you spend writing and producing even a single track, it’s a lot of work and if you work hard at anything you will get rewarded.
You’ve been involved in the music scene in Belfast since 2016, but only began releasing music last year. What inspired you to make that change?
I think I was always going to do it at some stage. I had friends pressuring me to put stuff out but I think lockdown was the first time I got a chance to really spend some time in the studio and commit to it. I think it would have happened around then anyway, but having the time and energy to commit to it definitely helped. I started to put out Instagram videos of a quick rap as I walk around the house and that gave me a bit of confidence too to go for it. That kept it authentic and free too.
You released your first single, ‘She’ in May of last year. What about that track stood out to make it your debut?
My Dad introduced me to a lot of music back in the day, and in 2000 he spent Christmas away in Australia and left me a present, and it was one album. At the time I was seven, and not going to lie I was pretty pissed because I’d gone to Belfast with Mum and he’d pissed off to Australia and all he’d left me was The Artful Dodger’ it’s all about the stragglers, but little did I know it was going to be one of my favourite album of all time, a quintessential garage album from the 2000’s.
There’s this tune on it called ‘Please Don’t Turn Me On’, and it was around that time that R&B and garage really intertwined, so I took that tune and made my own version of it with rap and a different bit, so that was the inspiration really.
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In Conversation: EMBY
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You have an EP coming out later this year, what can we expect from the project sonically?
It’s going to be a bit more serious than anything I’ve done before. Introspection is probably the word that would best describe it, looking at the shortcomings of me at times and of our own influences and how they may not have equipped us the way they should have to be who we want to be. It’s going to be more of a solo thing, I am planning to put out quite a few singles as well so there’ll be a lot coming out over the next few months. A lot of people talk about release plans and things like that, but that all goes over my head.
I just want to make music and put it out into the world, and if anything comes of it so be it. Maybe I’ll start taking that more seriously at some point. Sonically, there’ll be a mix of hip-hop, mellow grime and some harmonies from me as well, not as much of the harder grime tracks. I’ve a few harder, heavier collaborations coming out as well so I’m really working on trying new things at the moment.
I talk about the EP now, but by the time it comes out I could have chosen five different songs so this description may be completely null and void, but we’ll see.
Belfast is going through something of a cultural revolution, with the rise of genres such as R&B, grime, and electronic music, what’s it like watching that all take place before your eyes and to actively be involved in it?
It’s been great. To me, Belfast is like a country, imagine, where they’ve never had chips before, so throw a chippy into there and imagine how popular it would be. Hip-hop and grime and everything everyone is listening to on TikTok is that chippy, we just need to give people access to it and it’ll naturally grow. You just listen to what everyone else is listening to, and you see people share that sort of music on their story, so people are listening to it but it’s just not really done here or to a good enough standard to make it viable, but I’m working to change that and there are good people in the industry working to change that as well so it’ll grow, it’s just a case of giving it a platform and a chance to grow.
There’s a very defeatist attitude in the North, not a lot of people work together and if the institution’s platforming aren’t necessarily doing so for new genres so it makes it that bit more difficult but it’s bubbling. I’m happy to be a part of it and put some action behind it as well. I listen to so much of this music, of dubstep and grime, that if no one is going to put it on then I’ll just put it on because I want to listen to it, but hopefully with time people will come along for the ride too. If after a while it isn’t clicking and there’s somewhere else we can do it I’ll move, but for now Belfast is home and I want to really push things forward here and get it poppin.
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Words: Cailean Coffey // @CaileanCoffey
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