AMG (All-Music Guide)
Best remembered for the international smash "Unbelievable," the British dance-rock quintet EMF formed in Cinderford, England in October 1989. All five members — vocalist James Atkin, guitarist Ian Dench, keyboardist Derry Brownson, bassist Zachary Foley and drummer Mark Decloedt — were veterans of the local music scene before founding EMF, whose name supposedly stood for "Epsom Mad Funkers" (although it was widely speculated that the initials instead represented "Ecstasy Mind Fuckers"). Within two months of formation, the group played its first gig; after unearthing a Casio sampler and sequencer in a local thrift shop, a light techno element was added to their rock-oriented sound.
By the end of 1990, EMF's infectious debut single "Unbelievable" had conquered the U.K. charts; it hit number one in the U.S. the following year. The 1991 album Schubert Dip was also successful, spawning another hit single in "Lies." (The LP also garnered considerable press when Yoko Ono objected to the group's use of a voice sample of Mark David Chapman, the murderer of John Lennon; the offending sound bite was later removed from future pressings.) In 1992, EMF returned with the EP Unexplained and the full-length effort Stigma; both releases performed badly on the charts, however, and the band effectively vanished from sight until 1995's Cha Cha Cha.
[ back to top ]
Formed Forest of Dean, England, 1989.
The baseball-capped, baggy-shorted EMF - Epsom Mad Funkers or, in the words of their eponymously titled
song, Ecstasy Mother Fuckers (the band could never quite make up their minds) - made their first attack on the
UK music scene in the autumn of 1990 with the Jesus Jones-influenced Top 10 single "Unbelievable".
Sampling hard-hitting US comic Andrew Dice Clay, the single was a catchy pop pile-up featuring fresh-faced
vocalist James Atkin's sneery schoolboy vocals, band leader Ian Dench's swaggering rock guitar and a
booming bassline, courtesy of Zac Foley. Mischief-maker Derry Brownson (keyboards) and Mark Decloedt
(drums) completed the line-up.
'Madchester' had exploded in 1990, and every previously no-hoper band with half an idea sold their souls to
hitch a ride on the ensuing 'indie dance' bandwagon. EMF's ideas were better formed than most, despite the
fact that they had been signed by a major label (EMI/Parlophone) after only a handful of gigs. Denounced as
beered-up party animals by some and cider-drinking country bumpkins who'd struck lucky by others, the group
cultivated a hedonistic young upstart image that ensured that they felt as at home on the cover of Smash Hits
as they did the NME.
Steered through these giddy times by the older, uglier, Svengali figure of guitarist and songwriter Dench, who
had already enjoyed limited success with the band Apple Mosaic, the quintet quickly despatched identikit
follow-up singles in "I Believe" and "Children", with little drop in quality or commercial impact. By this stage
"Unbelievable" was breaking the band in the States, but their debut single's worldwide success was to hang
heavy on their shoulders in years to come. In May 1991 EMF released their debut album Schubert Dip ('If ever
I'm short of a chord sequence I nick one from Schubert', Dench was quoted as saying), which contained all the
band's singles to date, and already felt like a greatest hits collection. Similarly it topped the charts, although the
fourth single, "Lies", like much of the rest of the album (with the possible exception of slowie "Girl of an Age"),
paled in comparison with their initial batch of exuberant singles. It also drew attention from Yoko Ono's lawyers,
who objected to the single's use of a sample of Lennon lyrics recited by her husband's murderer, Mark
With Schubert Dip becoming a million-selling album, the band took to hanging out in LA with such luminaries
as Perry Farrell of Jane's Addiction, getting tattoos, getting high and talking big about making a 'real' rock
record. When second album Stigma appeared in late 1992, heralded by the noisy single "They're Here" and
the Unexplained EP (containing a rowdy cover of The Stooges' "Search and Destroy"), it was interpreted by
many as a deliberate attempt by EMF to distance themselves from their teenage fan base. Though they may
have won some respect from the critics by going for a harder, less straightforward sound, the album wasn't
received as well as hoped, sliding quickly out of the charts and selling only a fifth of its predecessor's total. The
limitations of Atkin's voice were also readily apparent against the crunchier guitar backing. Perhaps the band
had been partying too hard, and simply forgot to write some tunes; 'Around the time of Stigma I was pumping
myself full of anything', bassist Foley would later admit.
With the band either touring or doing nothing during 1993-94, there was a hiatus in the group's recording
career, and many assumed that EMF had simply split up until the single "Perfect Day" appeared from nowhere
in early 1995. Though it was the band's breeziest, grooviest single for a long while, it failed to recapture their
previous fortunes, and the album that followed, Cha Cha Cha - from which Massive Attack/Neneh Cherry
producer Johnny Dollar had walked out during the sessions - stubbornly refused to shift units. "Bleeding You
Dry", the next single to be pulled from the album, seemed perversely appropriate.
The summer of 1995 saw the band abandoning promotion of Cha Cha Cha and teaming up with comics Vic
Reeves and Bob Mortimer on a karaoke cover of the Monkees' "I'm a Believer". Although this commercial
move ensured the band appeared on Top of the Pops again - wearing Mike Nesmith wigs and miming badly -
many critics smelled the stench of desperation. Their self-promoted follow-up, "Afro King", seen in some
quarters as a return to their poppy origins, and in others as too little too late, failed to do as well. The band were
subsequently dropped by their label and, with no other offers forthcoming, called it a day.
[ back to top ]
Formed in the Forest of Dean, Gloucestershire, England, in 1989, EMF consisted of James Atkin
(b. 28 March 1969, Cinderford, Gloucestershire, England; vocals), Ian Dench (b. 7 August 1964, Cheltenham, Gloucestershire,
England; guitar/keyboards), Derry Brownson (b. 10 November 1970, Gloucester, England; keyboards/samples), Zak Foley
(b. 9 December 1970, Gloucester, England; bass), Mark Decloedt (b. 26 June 1969, Gloucester, England; drums), and Milf (DJ).
All had previously been in local indie bands; Dench in Apple Mosaic, and Foley in the IUC's. The band claimed that EMF stood for
Epsom Mad Funkers or, more controversially, and more attractive to the gutter press, Ecstasy Mother Fuckers. Parlophone Records
countered that it stood for Every Mother's Favourites, which is hard to believe, given the band's notorious touring antics.
Their record company signed them after just four gigs and without the advance warning of a demo. However, their opportunism
was rewarded when the debut single 'Unbelievable' became a Top 5 UK hit. The follow-up, 'I Believe', was criticized in many quarters
for being a straight rewrite, while many were also suggesting that the band had stolen Jesus Jones' pop/sample thunder.
However, their ability to win over the teen-pop market was proved by debut album sales of over two million. Together with the
aforementioned Jesus Jones, the band proved particularly successful in cracking the USA, where they were bracketed as part of a new 'British Invasion'.
The band ran into some trouble with Yoko Ono over 'Lies', where a sample of the voice of John Lennon 's killer Mark Chapman reciting Lennon's lyric for
'Watching The Wheels' from his prison cell resulted in an out of court settlement of ,000 and a retraction of the offending voice from subsequent pressings.
Other samples proved less controversial, and included Radio 3 announcers and Kermit The Frog. Stigma disappointed, with sales less than one fifth of the debut,
a fact blamed by chief songwriter Dench on an over-demanding schedule and tabloid controversy: 'It was a self-conscious record and deliberately anti-commercial.
At least we got everything out of our system.' Their label encouraged the band to spend their time getting new material right, leading to a three-year gap between
1992's Unexplained EP and 1995's Cha Cha Cha. Band suggestions for producer included Jim Foetus and Butch Vig, but these were eventually rejected in favour of Johnny Dollar,
who had previously worked with Youssou N'Dour and Neneh Cherry. Dollar, however, walked out of the sessions, and the resulting album failed to sell.
The band did return to the charts when they teamed up with comedians Vic Reeves and Bob Mortimer on a cover of the Monkees' 'I'm A Believer', but having been dropped by Parlophone
they decided to split up. Brownson and Atkin both went on to play with Bentley Rhythm Ace before forming LK and Cooler respectively.
Foley toured with Carrie, Dench recorded with acoustic outfit Whistler, and Milf released singles as Jose Sanchez for Skint Records.
[ back to top ]