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Family members: Emma Ryalls (aka DJ_Emma)

Updated: Nov 13, 2023

The UK-based DJ Emma Ryalls started her career during the nineties. I discovered her a few years ago and absolutely loved her "musical vibe". Let's dig deeper into her realm!


It's difficult to talk about someone when you're "connected" to that person: sometimes, I stop and wonder. How can it be that without actually Knowing someone, you can receive so much, feel so much happiness, feel so "complete"? The best way would be to use the well-known "It's Music" answer. Of course, this is true as far as Emma is concerned (her ability to take you out of your daily routine is unparalleled, blending tracks you would never have thought could go together...), but, as we shall see, it's also much more than that when you know what the Lady has in store (find out more about her on Mixcloud and on Instagram)...

Starting her career in the '90s (an era she's stayed very close to this very day), the classy, soft-spoken DJ played funky house and garage sets in bars and clubs around the South West of the UK from 2003 on, an experience she deeply appreciated but that she had, eventually, to cut short in 2008 to take Care of her then growing Family. Still, when you love doing something, it seems you can't let things go, let alone when Life has a master plan laid out for you... And this is where things get Humanly interesting as Emma explains it in her own words: "I began to teach music in and out of schools. I loved doing this, and it became my main focus for the next few years" (we shall dig deeper into this aspect of Emma's life later during the interview she agreed to give us (a dream come true for me)!

Resuming her DJ career for good in 2015 after playing a set at her brother's wedding, DJ_Emma played great venues and renowned festivals (Shindig, We Out Here, Camp Bestival, to mention a few), becoming a respected radio host (her show on 1BTN allowed me to discover her), issuing her own solo tracks - working as a Freelance Producer, being featured in the "Lady Of The House" book, teaching children both in schools and on a 1:1 basis and even joining the Balearic Breakfast Family (her 2022 Balearic Breakfast set is to die for...)!

With these few lifeline moments in mind, I asked my beloved "Risky DJ' if she could join the Balearic Breakfast Blog and answer some questions... She gladly did!

DJ_Emma and Norman

Hello Emma! Thank you so much for answering these few questions! When we listen to your mixes (« All back to the rave », for instance, and even one of your last, the great « Reflections of Garage & House ’96-’99 ») we can hear that you’re really into the '90s. What does house music have that other musical styles don’t? Is it solely nostalgia that drives you back to these musical horizons?

House music for me, and specifically 90’s US House/Garage, holds a very special place in my heart because this was the music I discovered when I was ‘coming of age’ as a very curious, excitable and literally ‘bursting at the seams’ 16/17-year-old. I grew up in a small medieval cathedral city in the South of the UK – had gone to an all-girls grammar school (that was not at all suitable for me and I was always getting into trouble of some sort), and during 6th form – I became friends with an older crowd (much to my parent's horror) who regularly drove all around the UK to experience the best clubs – the main ones that we went too were Ministry Of Sound & Bagleys in London and Lakota in Bristol. I was absolutely mesmerized by this alternative way of life and the music was part of that incredibly exciting time. I had always loved music from a young age and previously had always had an ear for old soul and funk tunes and then acid jazz in the early 90s, but discovering house music was a huge life-affirming moment for me – and those first friends that I experienced that time with are still my best and closest friends today!

You’ve played a lot of great places & festivals over the years. How do you prepare your sets? Are you only musically driven, or does the location have an impact on what you’re gonna play? Does it happen that you change your set on the fly following what the partying people bring to your "inner table"?

I always make a playlist of the tracks that I’ve been loving in the lead-up to the festival/club night etc. I have way too many playlists now and a very bad memory, so I try to be as organised as I can with my music. I am mainly musically driven but luckily, I love a wide range of music, from house to disco to UK garage to funk, so I feel like I can cater to a wide range of audiences. I play a lot of daytime sets at festivals or early evening, so of course – it’s important to think about the time of day and who is coming on after you. For example – at one festival last summer (Shindig), I was playing the 12-2 p.m. set on a very hot Sunday and Melvo Baptiste and Norman Jaye were on after me. I had to work out if people wanted to chill in the summer sun after a heavy Saturday night or needed picking up and an injection of energy. I also knew that the ‘main act’ of the day were on after me, so I had to take all these things into consideration. I ended up playing a lovely fusion of funk, spacey disco and classic house. That was a very different set to another festival I played over the summer (Camp Bestival) in a huge tent. I knew that it was a festival full of middle-aged parents, young kids and quite a big array of 16-18-year-olds – I also predicted that as the other huge tent had the Stereo MC’s performing (so lots of the ‘older’ gens would be there) and on the main stage – Sam Ryder was performing – again a certain audience would be in attendance – I pretty much guessed my tent would have the teenagers looking for a party…(which turned out to be correct). And so my selections responded to that – lots of UK Garage and party edits that would appeal to that crowd. The tent went from empty to absolutely heaving within 15 minutes, so my prediction was correct. As I said – I love a variety of music and because of that, I am quite a versatile DJ.

My favourite festival set of the summer was at an intimate late-night venue, ‘Gay Paris’ at Beatherder Festival in Lancashire– I don’t often have the opportunity to play a late-night set and these are the times I really feel I can express myself fully with my selections that go much deeper and more soulful to a crowd who are really responsive and truly love the music. I am not on a raised stage as the focal point, and everyone is looking up at me – I am on the same level as the crowd, and my job is to create the vibe and atmosphere – not to be a ‘performer’. Of course – I am constantly reading the crowd, observing what is working for a particular audience because there are always events that surprise you or groups of people that you judge to be one way but respond totally differently. But I have literally all my music with me at every set so normally it’s all ok!

From an early point in your career, you started teaching music/DJing to the young generation and even today, you keep on doing this, even sharing on your socials how impactful music can be on injured people. Was it a vocation or a necessity for you to share your knowledge? What is one of the strongest memories you experienced with your pupils?

I had been teaching music part-time and DJ’ing in local bars in my home town during my 20s, but because of the way life was – I felt I needed to have a ‘proper job’ so when my children started school – I decided to train as a primary school teacher. Teaching in a school environment wasn’t for me in the end – so when I decided to become a self-employed tutor and go back to DJ’ing about 7 years ago – it seemed to make sense to put both my skills together and teach music and DJ’ing to children and teenagers in schools.

It was 2 years ago that I was approached by someone I had known from teaching DJ’ing in schools who had set up a business teaching DJ’ing to brain-injured teenagers and young adults. He asked me if I could teach a young woman who had been in a catastrophic accident at the age of 19 that nearly ended her life and had left her with a life-changing brain injury that required round-the-clock care. Although I have had a lot of experience working with children who are neurodiverse – I had never worked with people with severe acquired brain injuries but I thought it would be good to give it a go. Fast forward 2 years, and my pupil has performed at the Standon Calling festival – this so far has been the most inspiring and joyous moment of my teaching career and I now teach a second student who is going to be performing at his first festival next year as well. There’s lots more planned in the pipeline with both of my students – so watch this space!

You’re an experienced radio host, and you really have a free and joyful way of blending tracks together (that’s what one calls a Style…) even when they seem to be worlds apart. What drives you when you mix?

I have always loved music from many times and genres, and when it comes to radio (which is my number 1 passion!) I feel like I have the freedom to be totally self–indulgent when it comes to my musical selections. I do radio for me primarily, and if anyone else wants to listen and likes my show – then that is a massive bonus. That is where radio differs hugely from my club/festival sets. Even though, of course – I have to love every single track I play when I’m playing sets out and about – I always have my audience in mind so that will guide my choices, whereas with radio – it’s so much more intimate and it’s like I’m inviting anyone who wants to join me into my world for a couple of hours.

I also love promoting other new and upcoming artists on my radio shows and playing their music as well as celebrating music from the past that I love – this means that the music will sometimes go from one genre to another completely different style in quick succession but I always put a lot of time and thought into my radio shows because it’s important to me that they are professional, well-structured and hopefully enjoyable to listen to.

Being a member of the Balearic Breakfast family, can you tell us more about how you discovered the show? According to you, what does it take to « be Balearic »?

I can’t actually remember how I discovered it! It may have actually been through you, Artur! I know I started listening in late 2020, and since I discovered it I have tried to listen most weeks either live or on catch-up.

I am a huge fan of Colleen ‘Cosmo’ Murphy – I learn so much from her encyclopedic knowledge of music and I love her voice on the radio and the way she puts together the show each week. It was a great honour to have been asked by Colleen to DJ in the ‘Love Dancin’ tent at the "We Out Here" festival in 2022 to curate a special ‘Balearic Breakfast’ set. I really enjoyed researching and creating a special playlist for festivalgoers to relax and chill in the Love Dancin’ tent on Saturday morning. I also saw her DJ live this past summer at the "We Out Here" festival, and I can safely say – it was the best set I have ever seen. The whole experience was just incredible and the way she selects tracks and puts them together is absolute genius – like ending the night with the 17-minute version of ‘Get Ready’ – Rare Earth, complete with a full power cut halfway through! When the song came back on after about 10 minutes of silence – the ‘Love Dancin’ tent just erupted with joy.

For me – to be ‘Balearic’ is to feel calm, at peace and centred. I love listening to the Balearic Breakfast each week and I have discovered so much wonderful music through Colleen and through the listeners of the show who request music for the show. Balearic music is eclectic and can be from many genres, but the feeling it gives reaches into your soul and creates a warm, positive feeling.

Thank you so much Emma!

My pleasure Artur!

DJ_Emma published a brand new track which really is a great musical trip! Have a listen!

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