On the Rise: Avalon Emerson

A playful combination of house and techno, preferably listened to on a big club sound system

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Avalon Emerson
Guardian photo by Keeney + Law Photography

That delectable boom you hear on dance floors across the city and SoundCloud mixes throughout the cloud-cosmos, overlayed with an earworm diced-diva sample and frenzy-inducing keyboard clang? It's "Pressure," the January release from DJ and techno wiz Kahley Avalon Emerson (who goes by her last two names) on local label Icee Hot.

"Pressure's" a seven-minute beast, and B-side "Quoi" is even deeper, with a smooth acid tune-up mix from the Tuff City Kids. The entire epic shebang has been invading parties like Honey Soundsystem, As You Like It, Icee Hot itself, and Emerson's own monthly blast, Play It Cool.

And although "Pressure" has been hitting hard in the UK and Australia as well, Emerson is all about transmitting her electronic savvy with a distinctly San Franciscan sensibility. "My next release will drop March 25th on another SF (by way of Paris) label called Spring Theory," she told us. "It's called 'Church of SoMa,' affectionately named after a big 12-room house in that neighborhood, where I lived and learned to DJ when I first moved here in 2009. It's more dubby and deep, and it features me singing and playing the Fender Rhodes."

Emerson came here "to work in tech and get out of Arizona," but she's always expressed herself musically. "I've been a songwriter since I was a little girl. I was first bit by the studio bug in high school when I bought a few different kinds of microphones, pirated Cool Edit Pro, and recorded my friends' garage bands. I always liked recording and producing much more than 'jamming.'"

Heady electronic and house artists like dark-dubby Berliner Shed and Detroit mad scientists Theo Parrish and Carl Craig inspired her to explore more experimental production techniques, and she's been working with expressionistic, pioneering guitar-software performer Christopher Willits "who has helped me engineer my tracks in his beautiful studio in the East Bay."

'Church of SoMa" will help cement Emerson's emergence on the world techno scene, but she's got plenty of tunes – and local inspiration -- in the vault to keep her momentum going. "For the most part, my music is made to be listened to on a big club sound system -- it's a playful expression of my interests."

How do you survive here as a musician? What's the best and worst thing about being a musician in the Bay Area?

SF is not really a place people move to in order to pursue music, and since we've been in quite a bit of national news lately, it's somewhat exotic to be from here. Other than that, it's so far away from Europe and the East Coast that it's a little harder to tour. Being a DJ in a 2 o'clock shutdown town with a dwindling selection of alternative music spaces can be a drag, too. But there are venues here like Public Works that have a great sound system and staff, and impressive artists like Matrixxman, Aria Rostam, and Some Ember (who have a killer live show). Also, I love the pho here.

Weirdest thing that's happened at a show?

Well, last month in Seattle the drugged-out asshat playing after me dropped his Traktor laptop on my record just as I was finishing up my set. I then punished him by playing the entirety of Sinead O'Connor's "Nothing Compares 2 U," which is not an easy song or vibe to follow up.

Avalon Emerson on SoundCloud

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