Gareth Emery exudes a rock-star personality, with his black leather jacket paired with jeans and chic shades as he walks out of his Burbank studio in 80-degree weather. After all, aren't DJs the rock stars of the millennial generation, with their fancy cars and private jets? But as he greets us with his English accent and charming smile, he seems unassuming. Especially since he had to ask us to pick him up because his wife and friends in town for the Coachella festivities are borrowing his car.
The U.K.-born LA resident celebrated his album Drive reaching No. 1 on the iTunes dance chart overnight just two weeks ago and made his Coachella Festival debut last Friday. This week, he's hitting Indio again as he joins the EDM crowd of tastemakers inside the Sahara Tent, manning the decks at 5 p.m. He joins us for lunch at Bob's Big Boy--a burger joint much like the diners he visited on the Route 66 road trip that inspired his new album.
Emery and his wife, Kat, embarked on a 3,000-mile adventure across the U.S., starting on the East Coast and journeying to the Oklahoma/Texas border on the dirt roads of Main Street America before venturing on to LA. "When we decided to drive across the U.S., this is the sort of place we had in mind," he says of the diner, as we sit down on cushions fused to brown plastic booths. Drive is Emery's second full-length album, following the release of Northern Lights in 2010, which also reached No. 1 on the U.S. iTunes dance chart. "I knew we had a good chance to reach No. 1, but I also expected to spend half the next day going, 'Guys, we're No. 3, we're No. 2, buy, buy, buy, let's beat Skrillex,'" he says.
He tries to order the pulled-pork barbecue platter, but the waitress quickly talks him into the Big Boy burger, saying, "It's the name of the freakin' restaurant, c'mon!" She continues to flirt with him by trying to guess his accent. "I can't figure it out, and I think it's because you live here now, so it's faded," she says. Emery has lived in LA for a year and a half with his wife and their Yorkshire poodle, Holly.
Though he loves everything about LA, he says, the Orange County crowd at his Sutra shows have been better. "Yes, [the club has] a bottle-service crowd, but they know their music, and it's always sold out--even on a Monday night!" he says. "I'm always like, 'This place is fucking amazing.'"
As we talk about the usual great places people bring up in LA--Runyon Canyon, the Hollywood sign, Amoeba Records and Mexican food--he recalls his first Electric Daisy Carnival (EDC) experience in 2010. "It was 100,00 people a day in the middle of LA. Traffic was insane and absolute chaos in the surrounding area, and I remember thinking this would never be allowed to take place back home," he says.
The biggest names in EDM have since moved to Vegas, and EDC has grown into the largest all-electronic-music festival in the states. "When history looks back and people judge this period of time, that moment would be the explosion of dance music in America," he says. "You almost feel guilty being in the right place at the right time, you know?"
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Today, Emery celebrates being a world-renowned DJ, producer, songwriter and instrumentalist and is trying to push the envelope in dance music with a new live show, plus his own record label, podcast and Sirius XM radio show. He's also crossing off career-changing gigs such as Coachella's Sahara Tent. The most important thing, he says, is to keep his sets uniquely him while onstage. "I've got to do more of my melodic stuff and what's in my heart," Emery says. "Usually, if I play what I like, there will be people in the crowd who will like it as well."
Gareth Emery performs at Coachella Valley Music and Art Festival, 81-800 Avenue 51, Indio, (323) 930-5700; www.coachella.com. Fri., 5 p.m. Sold out. All ages.