Stephen Emmer is an independent Dutch composer/arranger/artist hailing from Amsterdam in the Netherlands. He has recorded for and written, performed and collaborated with a variety of great artists such as Lou Reed, Chaka Khan, Patti Austin, Leon Ware, Midge Ure, Julian Lennon, Glenn Gregory, Billy MacKenzie, Mary Griffin, Peter Coyle, Claudia Brucken and Martha Ladley to name but a few. On top of that he has worked with legendary producers like Tony Visconti, Flood, Trevor Horn, Steve Power, Martin Hannett, Nigel Gray and Bob Power.
In the 70’s he started writing avant-garde type music whilst playing in various bands, like Minny Pops, The Associates and The Lotus Eaters. He’s also known as a composer for media projects and became Holland’s first in-house composer for the Dutch public broadcasting organization NOS, next to creating musical work for art exhibitions, experimental film projects, show events, radio shows, documentaries and short feature films.
He spent the majority of his childhood living with his mom, with whom he traveled abroad due to the nature of her work. She initially took him to India where he learned how to play a local wind instrument in an ashram. They then moved to the Caribbean. In Aruba he was taught to play voodoo infused percussion whereas in Suriname he learned how to play the guitar.
In the early 70’s they returned to Amsterdam. After having finished his education at the Amsterdams Lyceum, where he played in several schoolbands, he got involved in a variety of bands such as an experimental free jazz group called the Chris Frankemoller Trio and a symphonic rock group with Dennis Duchart and legendary Dutch singer Mathilde Santing.
In 1979 Stephen decided to join an avant garde new wave electro-noise band called Minny Pops, where he played the guitar. Soon the band got signed by Factory Records in the UK next to Joy Division and played alongside New Order, which gained them considerable international cult status ever since. Next to being the first international band signed to Factory Records, Minny Pops was also the first Dutch band to do a session for the legendary BBC Radio dj John Peel in the UK.
Back in 1982 Emmer’s musical idealism led him to create and produce a solo mini album called “Vogue Estate,”. It got signed to and released by WEA/Idiot Records as part of their new mini album series. The idea behind the album was to create a soundtrack for an imaginary film. Whereas it mainly consists of instrumental work one track is with vocals from the late Billy McKenzie (The Associates), who appears on ‘Wish on’, whereas Martha Ladley, known from Canadian new wave band Martha and the Muffins, contributed to ‘Eleven and then left’. Stephen’s good friend Michael Dempsey, former bass guitar player of The Cure also appears on the album. It got produced at Trident Studios in London by legendary producer Flood, aka Mark Ellis, known for the production of albums for amongst others Nick Cave, Depeche Mode, U2 and Smashing Pumpkins. In 2015 ’Vogue Estate’ got re-mastered at Zownd Studios in Leiden (NL), resulting in a fresh and now sounding timeless masterpiece of new wave.
That same year he joined Billy MacKenzie’s The Associates from Schotland, where he played alongside Alan Rankine, Michael Dempsey and Steve Goulding (former Elvis Costello drummer).
The Lotus Eaters
1984 sees Emmer and Dempsey join The Lotus Eaters from Liverpool, followed by Act with Claudia Brucken (ex-Propaganda) and Continental Cast from Amsterdam. As a guitar player Emmer can also be heard on the successful Richenel album ‘Deep As Blue’.
Around 2006 Emmer felt a sudden urge to be temporarily liberated from this ‘musical warzone’ and decided to return to his musical idealism of the early years to find what he was searching for; inspiration through catharsis. To that end, he created 17 compositions based on literary text fragments for a project called ‘Recitement’. The album features music and modern spoken word performed by famous writers, singers and actors. The album got mixed and produced in New York by Tony Visconti at the legendary Looking Glass Studios owned by Philip Glass.
The album features vocal contributions by Lou Reed, Kazu Makino (Blonde Redhead), Richard Burton, Andrea Piovan, Sylvia Kristel, Ken Nordine, Michael Parkinson aka Shyrock, Jorge Luis Borges, Tony Visconti, Alan Ginsberg, Michael Lonsdale, Carlos Drummond de Andrade, Sylvina Ocampo and Kurt Schwitters. On top of that it contains lyrical contributions from Yoko Ono, Jorge Luis Borges, Remco Campert, Hugo Claus and even Vincent van Gogh.
In 2014 Stephen then released his ‘International Blue’ album. What initially started as a plan to release a new EP eventually resulted in so many song sketches that he simply couldn’t resist creating yet another album. The idea behind ‘International Blue’ was to pay tribute tot the rare art and elegance of the pop-crooner. Emmer’s latest album infuses a modern twist to the genre with contemporary sounds & beats, studio techniques, insights and lyrical meaning in ten new and original compositions. The album was inspired by and meant as a tribute to the epic chamber music of Burt Bacharach, Scott Walker, Nick Cave and David Bowie.
Emmer’s ultimate search for the right voices for ‘International Blue’ resulted in inspiring collaborations with 4 of the great baritone voices the UK had on offer, like Glenn Gregory (Heaven17), Midge Ure (Ultravox), Liam McKahey (Cousteau) and Neil Crossley (Furlined). The album again got produced by Tony Visconti, the man behind Iggy Pop, Morrissey and David Bowie, amongst others. Production took place in legendary studios like Avatar Studios in New York and Abbey Road Studios in London.
International Blue was very well received by the press, resulting in amazing reviews in The Times (‘as classy as a gleaming vintage Rolls’), Mojo Magazine (‘International Blue is about its instantly timeless songs’), Q Magazine, Der Spiegel and Classic Pop Magazine. Dutch newspaper De Telegraaf listed the album as the #2 album in 2014, next to describing it as ‘The most beautiful orchestrated, arranged and composed album of the year’.
In 2017 Emmer released Home Ground. which is an ecstatic soul album combining the eloquence of contemporary orchestral soul music with socially conscious lyrics. The album features no one less than Chaka Khan, Leon Ware, Patti Austin, Frank McComb, Mary Griffin, Andy Bey, Ursula Rucker, Dwight Trible and Kendra Foster. It got mixed in New York in collaboration with legendary producer Bob Power and got mastered by Mark Wilder and Chris Gehringer.
Home Ground – The Wilroy Remixes
A selection od six Home Ground tracks got remixed by Canadian remix artist Wilroy, who has recently had critical acclaim by the likes of Gilles Peterson (Brownswood Recordings) and Maryanne Hobbs (BBC Radio). He pushed the traditional neo-soul tracks into a more abstract and experimental R&B area. The six remixes of the Home Ground album got released as a digital EP on Emmer’s own imprint Electric Fairytale Recordings in November 2019.
Stephen’s latest brainchild came about whilst in lockdown and comes in the shape and form of a Neo Classical concept album. No vocalists this time around and no production from Visconti. Recorded alone as an instrumental, via the medium of music in its classical form, Stephen explored isolation, family, solitude and the company of his piano and strings. Maison Melody saw the daylight in May 2020.