Mavericks of Indie Rock and Alternative Dance EMF to Perform First US Gigs in 32 Years — Plus Interview

EMF, those mischievous lads from Cinderford, Gloucestershire, burst onto the scene in 1989 like a confetti cannon at a solemn dinner party. The name, officially standing for “Epsom Mad Funkers,” was a cheeky nod to a New Order fan club. They rocketed to fame with their debut single Unbelievable, which, let’s be honest, was stuck in everyone’s head for the better part of 1990.

Their debut album, Schubert Dip, released in 1991, was an exuberant mash-up of Madchester rhythms, catchy hooks, and a sprinkle of cheeky attitude. It wasn’t long before Unbelievable hit number one in the US, leading to a brief but glorious moment when EMF were the toast of both sides of the Atlantic.

Their follow-up album, Stigma, released in 1992, was darker and more introspective, which, in the music world, is usually code for “we’ve been through some stuff, man.” The party vibes of their debut were replaced with a more sombre tone, possibly inspired by the cold reality of constant touring and the existential dread that accompanies realizing your biggest hit has been used in far too many commercials.

By 1995, EMF was ready to unleash Cha Cha Cha, their third album, which felt like the musical equivalent of an all-night rave followed by an early morning soul-searching session. It was eclectic, unpredictable, and a bit like being at a party where you’re never quite sure if the host is about to pull out the karaoke machine or have a deep conversation about the meaning of life.

Despite their initial success, the band went on hiatus in 1997. But, like a persistent case of hiccups, they just couldn’t stay away for long. They reunited periodically over the years, much to the delight of their loyal fans. After the group went on hiatus in the early 2000s, songwriter Ian Dench found success as a songwriter for major pop acts including Beyoncé, Shakira, and Prodigy.

Throughout their career, EMF embodied a certain kind of irreverent charm. They were the pranksters of the early ’90s music scene, unafraid to mix genres, break rules, make a political statement or two –  and generally have a laugh at the absurdity of it all. Their legacy, much like their music, is a delightful mix of chaos, energy, and decades-long earworms.

Slated to grace Milwaukee’s Summerfest on June 21st, Detroit’s Magic Bag on June 22nd, and The Brooklyn Monarch in NYC on June 23rd, EMF is making their grand return to the U.S. after a staggering 31-year hiatus. Yes, you heard that right—1992 was the last time these cheeky chaps last set foot on American soil. Their live shows, famous for amplifying the already high-voltage energy of their studio recordings, have somehow retained every ounce of their youthful swagger and sweat-drenched exuberance.

Their latest album, The Beauty And The Chaos, saw the band smartly reinstating Ralph Jezzard—yes, the very same who twiddled the knobs on their first two albums, Schubert Dip and Stigma—to the producer’s chair. The album’s first single, Hello People, features actor Stephen Fry.

As they prepare to take the stage in the U.S. once more, fans can anticipate a show that’s less a reunion and more a revival of everything that made EMF unforgettable -and if their history is anything to go by, it’s going to be…unbelievable. spoke with the band’s Ian Dench about the upcoming tour, the beauty of synchronicity, a unique collaboration with Stephen Fry, and more!

It must be wild to be touring the US again after thirty years! 

Oh yeah! We’ve got fond memories of the US, and having that number one record as a relatively new band…we love the US, and I think that the US loved us. It will always be a special moment in all our lives. We did that tour just when the record went Number One after like, six weeks. We started in Chicago and went to Cleveland, New York. I was going down the East Coast, across, then up the West Coast – and just had the most amazing time. This time around we’re promoting a new album, The Beauty and the Chaos…Dipping our toes. And again, you know, to just get back over to the US. We’ve kind of slowly been becoming more active.

I just listened to it this morning!

Doing your homework! 

I love it. It’s very upbeat – it’s, it’s got that great early 90s Britpop, Madchester sound. I really enjoyed it. So this tour is going to be promoting the album?

I think something happened in 2020, when we did our 30th anniversary shows. We went out on stage and the audience knew all the words of all the songs. Before that we thought, oh, this might be a farewell, because  time has passed. And I think there was so much love out there going both ways between the audience and us. I think we were wanting to relive those great moments. We wanted to do the good stuff! We needed to be doing more of this! …We toured a little bit, and then straight away we went to The Beauty and the Chaos, the latest album, and toured that a little bit in Germany. We did eleven dates in the UK this year, it’s good to be back – we’re enjoying it! So, you know…we thought we would perhaps we could get back to the States!

What are you looking forward to with your tour? What are US fans going to be able to expect from your live shows? What are you going to be bringing to the concerts?

Well, hopefully we’ll give them a little bit of everything! I think, you know, people want to remember the first album, Schubert Death. We’re going to be playing a lot of that. And, you know, a little bit of everything from our career, and a couple of new songs as well. We’re not going to just play a load of new songs.

Let’s talk about your album a little bit, The Beauty and the Chaos. What were the themes, creative process, or the inspiration behind it?

I think the most remarkable thing is that we did it with Ralph Jezzard, who produced the first albums. That was so great, to be with him again.

It must have been surreal!

Yeah, the strange thing is, that Ralph had been in Texas for years. We’d been meaning to work with him a few years ago because we always loved Ralph. And we thought oh, well, perhaps we’ll send Ralph a message and said that we conceived of a mix of something, and we could send it out to Texas. And he just moved back to literally round the corner from my studio.  It was wonderful. He’s very much part of the EMF sound, he did Unbelievable and Super Def and Stigma, the second album. It was great to have him back. So that was, that was remarkable for a start. 

A wonderful synchronicity! 

Synchronicity! Yeah! Then another bit of synchronicity was Hello People. It’s about refugees an all the hate myths around right wing, talking points – like, people coming and stealing our jobs, you know – and that’s and they’re real people. We need to welcome them and look after them because they’ve had a hard time, and we heard from Stephen Fry, who’d been a fan of the band for years…In fact, he’d read a poem or one of our tracks before, and he did this amazing video called, Facts Versus Fear, dispelling some of the myths around immigration.  I sampled some of that and sent his management and a message saying, would Stephen mind if we sampled him? He kindly agreed to let us do that and did a video for us. 

These issues are still being talked about in this country, too, especially in areas where people are paranoid and ignorant. But you can’t let prejudice dictate life.

It’s a tough subject in these divisive times. But I feel like in a sense, we’re all immigrants….We need a considerate, welcoming debate…we’re all trying our best.

I know EMF has a history of doing samples, and I’m curious about brought you into that whole idea? I grew up with “Unbelievable.” It was a staple in high school. What sparked the idea to use the Andrew Dice Clay voice?

That’s a good story! That IS Andrew Dice Clay. Well,  funnily enough…the Andrew Dice Clay record, was put out by Def Jam. “There’s this sort of misogynistic comedian like…” But there’s a sense that there’s some irony in there. Well – I’m not sure in retrospect whether that was. But but anyway, we, we, we sampled it and tried to clear it through his, you know, like contacting the Def Jam offices – and, you know, honestly, I think they get lost. This was back in the day of faxes, there were no phones or emails. We were trying to call them and nothing.  Well, we just happened to be in Los Angeles, talking to the record company – when record companies were wooing us. Well, we went into the Rainbow Room, the bar on Sunset Boulevard…and there was Rick Rubin.

Oh my god!

Yeah! I just went up to him and I said, “Hi, Rick. EMF’s a great fan of your work, and we just sampled Andrew Dice Clay. We can’t seem to get to to your office to clear it. And he’s like, “Fax me in the morning and I’ll clear it.” So it was like the stars aligning. Things were meant to be! He kindly cleared the sample for us, and off we went.

It’s a whole lifetime of synchronicities. What would you like to do in forthcoming albums? Where are you at creatively?

Well, James the singer and I always had great chemistry. We’ve always made music. Even in the time when we were being quiet and not necessarily playing or doing recordings, you know, we would get together occasionally and write a song, just because we love writing songs together. The last couple of years have been amazing because we thought, well, we’re going to write songs together and we’re going to put them out….I feel like it’s the band’s in a really good place and we’re enjoying what we’re doing so much. And long may it continue, until we’re on stage with our walking sticks!

It’s a great attitude.

Funny thing I talk about walking sticks, but I got a really bad back…slipped disc. But when I go out on stage, it’s like I don’t feel it at all. It’s like the most wonderful cue of an adrenaline. Wonderful thing. It’s like the years peel away, and there we are leaping around the stage again. I’ve been very fortunate along the way. I made a bit of money, but I think you have to follow your heart. It’s a bit of an old cliche, isn’t it?

You were given a very incredible gift with, with “Unbelievable,” because that has allowed you to have that freedom do things that you care about. I know there’s a lot of pressure with labels to get artists to keep churning out stuff.  When you force that, you know, you lose the art or artistry in it.

I think it’s really important that you hold fast to your principles and write music that you feel is good, instead of just dashing it off to appease somebody else. Because you don’t please yourself, and if you jump for these other people who tell you what to think, then everybody suffers.  

EMF 2024 Tour Dates:

  • 06/21 – Milwaukee, WI @ Summerfest 2024
  • 06/22 – Detroit, MI @ The Magic Bag
  • 06/23 – Brooklyn, NY @ The Brooklyn Monarch
  • 07/05 – Bolton, UK @ Right to Roam Bolton
  • 07/06 – Gloucester, UK @ Nibley Festival
  • 07/20 – Portlaoise, IE @ Forest Fest at Emo
  • 08/30 – Dorchester, UK @ Barnstomper Festival
  • 10/25 – Manchester, UK @ O2 Ritz Manchester
  • 10/26 – London, UK @ O2 Forum Kentish Town
  • 10/27 – Bristol, UK @ Marble Factory

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Alice Teeple

Alice Teeple is a photographer, multidisciplinary artist, and writer. She is not in Tin Machine.

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