Meet the Zen DJ: Emancipator


Emancipator, aka Portland-based DJ Douglas Appling, is known for making peaceful, cerebral tracks. Somewhere between trance and chill step, Emancipator’s music soothes you into a very peaceful state of relaxation with dance undertones. His live show, now that’s a different story. Case and point, his recent New York City gig where he brought out his rap idol Prodigy of Mobb Deep fame and spit over Outkast’s B.O.B. beneath a myraid of neon triangles that made for a really beautiful visual experience, like prancing through a Windows screensaver. Emancipator’s bass is massively amplified live but does not takeover the melodies. It’s abstract and earthy, hip-hop meets trance.

VIBE caught up with Emancipator right before his dream of playing with Prodigy came true. Check out our back-and-forth with this “dougstep” DJ that’s worth checking out ASAP. He dropped his new album Dusk to Dawn at the end of January, so that’s be a good place to start.

VIBE: Your music could be considered meditative and contemplative, are you a spiritual person? Do you believe in God?
Emancipator: I’m not religious in the traditional sense. I think music is a way to transcend your earthly moments, and kind of elevate your mind to a higher place through music. And whatever spiritual energy I do feel, music is an outlet for that for me.

So would you say music is your religion?
Music is in many ways my religion, yeah.

Your song titles have these contemplative and very natural connotations. Are you inspired by nature, and animals, and the environment? Are you proactive in any of those fields?
I’m most definitely inspired by nature. I stay active in music, I don’t really have any other sort of jobs or side projects as far as environmentalism and stuff like that. I’m always inspired by the natural world, you know, I read a lot of National Geographic growing up and that sort of stuff.

Do you do yoga and stuff like that?
No. I live in Portland, Oregon where everyone I know does yoga, so it’s that vibe that comes across in the music, I think, just relaxing… meditating. I’ve had some people at yoga studios tell me that they play my music in yoga sessions all the time.

What are your feelings on bottled water? Is it the most unnecessary thing we spend money on, and do you use it? And if so, do you have a favorite brand?
You know, bottled water seems like an excess as far as production and creating a plastic bottle for every 12 ounces of water to be consumed… the part that I’ve heard about it that’s kind of messed up is that water companies are buying the rights to water, including natural rainfall in Bolivia. It’s pretty messed up. People can’t collect water on their own property without corporations trying to make claim to it.

Can we make a song about it? Drop it on VIBE?
Yeah, it’s called “Stay High… drated”.

You have self-described your music as cinematic. If you were to score a movie, what kind of movie would it be?
Oh man. How about some sort of dystopian epic? Like, Blade Runner mixed with Gladiator?

Like Waking Life?
Yeah, Waking Life maybe, something epic. Something natural. Like set in some sort of imagination land, in the past. Or the future. Chronicles of Narnia.

If you had to choose a rapper to spit a verse on one of your tracks, who would it be?
I got one, I got one. Prodigy of Mobb Deep. He’s one of my favorites. I might see him tonight at the show… I’m friends with his engineer and I might get to meet him tonight. One of my first remixes that kind of brought me on the scene was Prodigy’s remix of “Shook Ones Part Two,” and I would love to make something new with him.

What’s on your iPod rotation right now?
Bonobo, I’m always listening to him. The new Four Tet album is really dope. I checked out this new instrumentalist called Aydio, and he’s really chill… really fresh. He plays guitar, break beats kind of stuff, with ambient layers woven in there, really chilled out. I like instrumental music, usually with kind of chilled out melodies and complex layering.

What do you think about dubstep?
Dubstep? I can’t give you a thumbs up or thumbs down on it as a whole, but there are certain songs I like, certain styles of it. I like, kind of, if you consider chill-step a genre, artists like Blackmill, kind of in that direction of dubstep. I make Doug-step. That’s my genre.

Who are you rooting for at the Grammys?
What are the Grammys?

If you could choose a producer of the year besides yourself, who would it be?
You know, correct me if I’m wrong, but didn’t Dre produce the new Kendrick Lamar album? I mean, if so, I’m diggin’ that album, those are really good beats. Really good beats. Whoever did that.

Is there any stops or festivals that we can look out for you at?

Yeah, you can see me at Wakarusa this summer, Lightning in a Bottle, Electric Forest, a lot of these awesome electronic festivals.