"Just picture a cupid with a drum machine."
It's the amusing, accurate little summary that Emmanuel John – better known as UV boi فوق بنفسجي – provides when people ask him to describe the sound and style of his music. Littered with 808 drum machine beats, metallic synth lines, signature iOS samples and harrowing vocal samples, John has masterfully and candidly harnessed the power of SoundCloud and social media to strike a chord with a whole new generation of online music lovers. Riding high on the success of his eclectic, accomplished new EP ‘「L-UV」’, there's never been a better time to join UV boi's swelling crowd of super-supportive admirers.
I catch up with the man himself on a sunny afternoon in Sydney for a quick little photoshoot. After Emmanuel ducks into a nearby flower shop to pick up a bunch of pink roses on a whim to use as a prop, we explore the backstreets behind the now-iconic Oxford Art Factory, where he's about to play the first of two landmark headline shows on his national ‘「L-UV」’ tour. Soon enough, we're snapping away all over the place, and the entire experience is an absolute breeze. With an easy-going confidence both in front of the camera and in conversation, it's astounding to think that Emmanuel has only just turned twenty (🎂 Happy birthday! 🎉) At the same time, after digging in to his swiftly developing discography, it's no surprise that the producer behind the brooding, progressive "Show You" (featuring MTNS) and the complex, multi-layered "LUV" (featuring Fionn Richards and Brasstracks) is wise and mature beyond his years.
A week later, Emmanuel and I catch up over the phone again as he prepares to finish up the last few dates of his tour, where he fills me in on how fans have been receiving his new set, the birth of UV boi, the importance of honesty on social media and his place in the expanding Australian electronic music family.
Best Before: How has the tour been going? Where have you played so far?
Emmanuel John: Great, man! I'm actually about to start setting up for rehearsal. We're going to fix up some stuff for Saturday night's show in Melbourne. It began in Perth, and then we went to Melbourne, Adelaide, Brisbane, Sydney for the first show, did a loop to Canberra and back to Sydney, and then I just got back from Townsville last weekend. It's all been over the course of month.
Have you had a chance to relax and take in the cities you've been visiting?
Yeah, we have actually. It makes it more fun when you're touring with friends, and having Gill Bates, Collarbones and Villette with us has made it so awesome.
I love taking care of [social media] myself, because I know exactly how I want to be portrayed. I don't really want someone else telling me how to connect with people who listen to my music.
Gill Bates is from your hometown, right?
Yeah! We've been friends since way before I even began UV boi, and way before he became Gill Bates.
I wanted to get the lowdown on the birth of UV boi. Where did the idea of your name and image come from? Did you know from day one exactly what you wanted to do, or did it all come to you after you'd started making music?
Right before UV boi, I had another initial project that was more of an experiment across a few genres. I wanted to develop an alias that focused on a certain style. I think UV boi actually came out of the blue. The name came about when my friend and I were talking about sun protection gear and Legionnaire hats, and I was like, "Hey, we can be the special sun protection boys... or the UV boys." Then I was like, "Woah! 'UV boi' sounds cool".
So that was a lightbulb moment for you?
Exactly! As soon as that name came up, it wasn't long before I'd developed a persona for it. It all just came naturally. I was just being me, and expressing who I am. At the same time, UV boi and I are actually separate people. UV is a more enhanced, exaggerated version of Emmanuel.
How does the visual style, personality and imagery for UV boi all come together? Do you sit down with designers or social media managers? How hands-on is your approach?
I pretty much handle it all. I love taking care of it myself, because I know exactly how I want to be portrayed. I don't really want someone else telling me how to connect with people who listen to my music.
When did you start producing and working with music? When did that first project come to life?
I put a stamp and title to my first project at the start of year ten. That was when I started releasing a few things online. There were a few moments after that where I stopped doing music because I felt like there were things I didn't understand, or there were moments where I honestly thought I wasn't good enough. But in the end, everything came quite naturally.
Did you find that there were places or outlets in Brisbane where you could nurture or develop your craft, or did you have to rely on the internet for that?
When I was younger, I didn't really know anything at all. I had to teach myself everything. I owe a lot of that to Youtube. I did take piano lessons towards the end of high school, though. I'm still teaching myself music theory everyday.
Have you had much of a chance to go out in Brisbane and explore the nightlife since you turned 18?
After I graduated high school, I started UV boi. After I turned 18 in May, I was pretty much touring from August onwards. I couldn't even get my 18+ card sorted, but I could get into clubs and venues because I was playing. Now, I'm able to go out with friends.
Have you been following what's going on with the lockout laws that have been announced for Brisbane?
Yeah, I have been.
What do you think?
I definitely don't think they're the right solution. In saying that, the lockout laws have brought up more conversation and awareness on issues like violence and alcohol. I don't think it's the right way to approach it, though. It's a really tough issue. Businesses – especially music venues – will feel it the most.
It's frustrating to think that you could come back to play a hometown set and be denied entry to your own afterparty if you can't make it there before the lockout time.
Yeah. It's tough, hey? I guess we'll have to see how it goes. I've seen first-hand how it's affected Sydney, and that's pretty scary.
How have you found people in other cities have responded to your set for this tour?
It's been great! "LUV" is one of my most known tracks, so starting with that has been really effective. Everyone sings along. I also noticed that "If She, If He" has pulled a great response at every show. The EP as a whole has had a really good response live, actually. The crowds have even embraced some of my older songs, which was really cool to see.
What went into your set for the 'LUV' EP? What have you learnt from the shows you've played so far?
It was good after each night to analyse the response to my set. I think there was a really nice reception throughout. I designed the set this time around to have a really big start, but then I wanted to take everyone on a rollercoaster ride. It may start with full-on bangers, but I wanted to go up and down. I've also been ending on a slowed-down version of "Running Out Of Time Pt 1" with a few variations.
I was at your Sydney show, and I noticed that. It was like a sad boy goodbye to your fans. I thought it was cool!
Thinking about it now, I think that variation actually suits the vibe of my next project. I'll probably include it on there as an outro.
'LUV' has been pushed as an EP, but at eight tracks long, it could be considered a mini-album. What was the idea behind the structure of the EP?
That was actually an idea I was trying to approach. I wanted it to become a mini-album that's cohesive, with an idea and thought behind what it means. People really liked the layout of the EP, and that was a result of me writing more cohesive material. I'll create an album, of course, but for future EPs, I'll continue this trend of having specific sections and structures that lead into each other. I'm planning the next EP as a sort of sequel to 'LUV'. I can't really reveal too much about it, but it's basically more about me breaking people's hearts this time. *Laughs*
Are you going to call it 'PLAYA'?
*Laughs* That could probably be a track or interlude on there.
If you release the tracklist and I see "PLAYA" on there, I'm expecting full credit.
If we roll with it, I'll make sure you're fully compensated. *Laughs*
Your latest single "Show You" was a collaboration with MTNS, who live right near you. How did you get in touch?
I met those guys at the art gallery because they were performing, and there was an amazing Japanese installation, which was really nice. They performed after Last Dinosaurs – who are also from Brisbane – and we just hit it off. They came to my show that night. A year later, I ran into Tom at Wafia's show in the city by the river. We were catching each other up on what we were working on, and I told him I had a track that I was thinking of putting on my EP that I wanted him to try something on. We linked up later that week, I went to Tom's studio, and by the end of the week, we had the whole structure of the song together. It was an organic experience; everything just flowed.
I write and release music to express my emotions. I may not be able to speak that well, but I put everything into my songs.
What about "If She, If He", your collaboration with EASTGHOST? That was all pulled together thanks to the power of the interwebz, right? I know he's one of your biggest influences.
He really is. I've been a huge fan for so long, and I've always loved his songwriting and production. Just before we were about to release a single last November, I had just finished the instrumental for "If She, If He", and I sent it over to EASTGHOST. He came back with exactly what I was envisioning that he would do. It's crazy, because every artist I've ever approached to work with has sent back exactly what I was imagining for the song. I didn't really need to direct them at all. I'm quite picky with who I work with, but it seems that it's worked out well every time so far.
Are there any key producers or artists who have had a direct influence on your production style?
As of late, Burial has been a huge influence. I've also always looked to Chrome Sparks as an inspiration for my work. EASTGHOST has always been a big one too. I draw inspiration from little things all over the place as well, but those three are probably my top three.
I've noticed that there's been a rising wave of young Australian electronic producers over the last couple of years. You guys are all in your early 20's, or even younger, and you all seem like a tight-knit family. Do you find that bleeds into your music? Do you send each other unfinished tracks and bounce off each other?
I think it's really cool that there's so many new artists coming up in our local scene. Everyone is taking their own direction and route in forming their own sound, and I love that. As for the people that I've linked up with – artists like Basenji, Cosmo's Midnight, Wave Racer, Young Franco – we do share our music around and get insight from each other. It's always good to have a friend suggest another idea, or a different perspective. We definitely do that. Even when we're in the same city, we'll try and visit each other in the studio. Sometimes it doesn't even end up being a song, but we still play around or give advice.
Where do you think this boom has come from? Why do you think so many young Australian artists are stepping up and getting their music out there now?
Music altogether is just an amazing thing. I write and release music to express my emotions. I may not be able to speak that well, but I put everything into my songs. I guess with technology being so present now, I wouldn't say it's so easy to make good music, but things like the internet have made it so easy to create and share what you've come up with. If you love it, you love it.
You can purchase UV boi فوق بنفسجي's EP ‘「L-UV」’ on iTunes. Read our review here.
Words and Photos by Jordan Munns.