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Emit 0094 (1994, Emit)
Emit 3394 (1994, Emit)
Emit 2295 (1995, Emit)
Emit 5595 (1995, Emit)
Emit 2000 (1995, Instinct)
Emit 2296 (1996, Emit)
Emit Explorer (1996, Instinct)
Emit 1197 (1997, Emit)
Emit 0003 (2003, Emit)
Emit 0004 (2004, Emit)
Reviewed by Mike G
In both its first incarnation (1992-1998) and its second one (2003-2006) Emit Records delivered a varied, idiosyncratic vision of ambient music in the tradition of the great ambient labels of yore like Editions EG. Although bankruptcy hit the label twice, Emit's reputation in the dance and electronic underground for quality and innovation remains undiminished to this day. Emit artists provided us with some of the most thrilling, audacious chill-out music of the 90's and beyond. Ignore it at your peril.
The label started as a division of the Nottingham-based Time Recording, a parent operation which first made waves releasing 12-inch dance singles. But despite such a pedigree, co-founder Alan Thomson was to quickly distance Emit's take on contemporary electronica from club music. In an interview with him in 1996 he described it to me thus: "[Club music is] a simplistic 4/4 thudding designed for chemically over-excited children...it's curious how such a diverse spectrum of music is automatically seen only in relation to a club context, whether appropriate or not".
In other words, this may be technological chill-out music for the techno age but its creators conceived it as an alternative to what they saw as the disposable ethos of club culture. It is certainly music of lasting quality, designed to invite and reward the careful listener (which, I hasten to add, I believe is also true of the best progressive dance music).
From the stunning nature photos of the cover art to the engaging and provocative music within, Emit releases share both a strong graphic identity and a highly sophisticated musical subtlety. Not forgetting some masterful single artist albums over the years from Gas, Woob, Beatsystem, Gel-Sol and International People's Gang, the compilation albums are what best define Emit and every one of them qualifies as a must-have. Among these, Emit 2000 and Emit Explorer are perhaps easier to find, being releases from the North American label Instinct which combine several of the original single CD compliation albums listed here and present them as double CD sets.
So is there an actual Emit sound?
Not really. In fact almost anything goes, yet most of the featured artists match the high level of invention with a similar level of control and intelligence that avoids self-indulgence. The albums are also surprisingly accessible. Said Orbit magazine: "Tunes aren't outlawed, simply concealed from ideal ears". Lazy, jazzy, dubby rhythmic breaks sit quite comfortably next to steamy, tropical abstract sound collages. Intriguing samples from TV and radio pop up in exactly the right places. A piece of subtle, bleepy ambient techno with a distinctly spacey chill might end up with an unexpected warmth and looseness thanks to live instrumentation like percussion, bass guitar or saxophone. Never inaccessible to the open-minded, this music is the sound of musicians defining their own territory and paying little or no heed to electronica trends of the time.
Emit 0003 and Emit 0004 are compilations from the label's second incarnation and if you want the CD versions they are a bit easier to find. Emit 0003 is a fantastic release and arguably the label's most accessible compilation, combining the subtlety and intelligence of the best in ambient techno with real humanity and melodic warmth. Emit 0004 may be more abstract and less immediately approachable but reveals some incredible depths on repeated listens.
Some of the label's releases are still available to buy via a few online stores. Second-hand CD copies can very expensive so downloads from filesharing networks may be your only option.