In review: DJ Gareth Emery

Last Thursday, the air crackled with excitement. I was waiting with a group of friends in a massive, smoke-filled line-up in Uptown Waterloo to see DJ extraordinaire Gareth Emery spin a sold-out show at Beta nightclub. Waiting in the massive queue as a heavy bass reverberated through the bricks of the old Waterloo Theatre, the anticipation in the crowd was palpable. As the line behind us grew bigger by the minute and we inched closer to the entrance, my excitement reached a fever pitch. I was ready to watch one of the best DJs rip the dance-floor apart.

In the global electronic dance music (EDM) scene, Emery is a heavy hitter. Last year saw the release of his first full studio album, Northern Lights, whose sound captured the attention of reviewers and fans alike. Alongside vocals from the likes of Lucy Saunders and Jerome Isma-Ae, the album featured intricate layering and an ethereal style, which straddled the divide between trance and progressive house.

Considered to be among the best in the EDM world, Emery’s self-titled weekly podcast has showcased both old stalwarts and upcoming artists from a variety of dance music subgenres since its inception in 2006. His self-run label, Garuda Records, is consistently releasing beautiful music from an assortment of electronic musicians. It should hardly come as a surprise that the 2010 DJ Mag’s public ranked him as the seventh most popular DJ in the world, placing him just behind industry giants Deadmau5, Above and Beyond and Tiesto.
Obviously, hype isn’t everything. Whether you take global DJ rankings with a grain of salt or not, the true quality of a DJ comes from watching them spin in front of a live audience. In this respect too, it can’t be argued that Emery hasn’t earned his popularity.

Beta is perfectly suited to a DJ like Emery. The last time I had the opportunity to see him live was for the Toronto edition of his massive global Northern Lights tour at Guvernment this past February. While the show was excellent in its own right, Guvernment is a huge, frenetic venue where the connection between the artist and the audience is sometimes obscured both by the club’s massive area and the droves of people who flock to events there.

On July 21, the energy between Emery and the comparatively small crowd at Beta was on full display. Dedicated fans belted out lyrics and danced ravenously as loud cries emanated from the dance floor. For his part, no one seemed more excited about the breakdowns of the songs than Emery himself.

At times, DJ sets can become tedious when the artist is focused exclusively on one or two genres of electronic music. Fortunately, Emery’s avoided bland repetition, and mixed up his set with numerous styles, genres and electronic musicians. He pleased his hardcore fan-base with classic tracks off of his Northern Lights album, including Fight the Sunrise and Sanctuary, as well as the Ashley Wallbridge Remix of Arrival off of Emery’s 2011 release Northern Lights Relit.

But the show also had a few surprises. In the buildup to dropping the Hardwell remix of Stars, Emery spun Skylar Grey’s vocal section from the Dirty South remix of Coming Home, much to the crowd’s enjoyment. The inclusion of dubstep in the show in the form of the Skrillex and Nero remix of Nero’s Promises alongside a few other tracks astonished the crowd. While not a genre which Emery is typically associated with, the dubstep provided for a nice break in the style and tempo of the show.

Finally, Emery’s Save the World remix was the icing on the cake. Initially put out by influential electro group Swedish House Mafia, the gritty, intricate remix left many in the crowd awestruck and left me thinking I had just experienced something very special. The music was accompanied by an outstanding visual display both from the LED light system plastered behind and in front of the DJ booth and around the club courtesy of the talented Beta light technicians.

Beta itself has taken a lot of flak from residents of our city as being too raucous and obnoxious to continue existing. But if Waterloo continues to market itself as an intelligent and cultural hub of Southern Ontario, opponents of the club need to reevaluate their own feelings of trepidation. Beta is a venue that brings music, culture and creativity to the city in the form of world-class DJs like Gareth Emery. Hopefully in the coming months and years, Thursday nights will remain as exciting as the one I experienced.