AN ELECTRONIC artist originally from Galway but now based in Dublin, Elaine Mai has risen through the Irish music scene through her own nuanced output, but also through a series of clever, intricate collaborations.
From serving up the vocals on Le Galaxie’s wonderful ‘Love System’ to remixing Loah’s ‘Nothing’ in order to highlight the rising star’s soulful melodies, Mai has an ear for the clever twist, the arty repetition and the dancefloor-filling beat.
Her own output, she says, often revolves around themes, and the direction of her life at the time. “A couple of years ago I went through a really hard time,” she explains, “and that really informed my last EP.” The Colours Of The Night was a cathartic work centred on Mai’s experience of grief, and intensely moving with it.
With its thematic nature, though, Mai’s work is set, inevitably, to move on as she works towards releasing new music. Built on a clever use of looping that she reproduces live, and has learnt to subtly adapt as she plays, Mai’s new songs, only slowly emerging from production, will be centred on the concept of home.
“I’ll be putting out a couple of things this year, and then something bigger next year,” she said. “I went up to Donegal and borrowed a holiday cottage that I turned into a studio for a week to work on my music. It’s the first time I’ve ever done that, and it really worked well. The new tracks are all around home, but in the emotional sense, rather than the physical. I’m already playing some of it at my shows. It’s coming together.”
The regular remixes that have become a staple of Mai’s output, though, have become almost as important to the artist’s creative brand, as has a long-standing song-development and touring partnership with another well-known Galway dance act. Daithi, a former virtuoso fiddle prodigy who’s slowly adapted into a prolific dancefloor star, often has input on Mai’s work, and vice versa.
“Daithi and I go way back, and while out music is quite different, we both understand what we’re trying to do,” Mai explains. “It’s very natural and comfortable to bounce things off him. We’re on the same wavelength, even if we have quite different tastes. He’s doing this live band thing now, which I’m part of, and that’s really great, too.”
The remixes, meanwhile, tend to be done on tracks Mai either relates closely to, or else puts aside completely. “I’m quite picky about what I do,” she laughs. “I always go into them on the understanding that they might not work out. I often just mess around for a little while and see what happens.”
“When Loah sent me the stems for ‘Nothing’, it was really clear straight away how fantastic the vocal on that track is, so I zoomed in on that, and built a track that was a real vocal showcase. With remixes, it’s hard enough to get people to engage, so you really need something your confident about and happy with.”
As for her own live show? “I’m set up with a laptop, Ableton Push, and lots of looping and samples. It’s a lot of fun,” Mai explains. “I’m set up in a way that I enjoy it, and it’s quite flexible. That lets me mix things up as I go along.” Emotion-tinged dance, then, delivered in a pure, live form.
Elaine Mai plays Lost Lane, Dublin as part of a takeover from iconic Galway club, Strange Brew at the Roisin Dubh, on June 26.
This article is one of my weekly music columns for the Dublin Gazette, reproduced here with permission. Note: this column is published in the Dublin Gazette several days ahead of on this website. The Gazette is a freesheet paper available across Dublin, published on a Thursday. Pick up copies at these locations.