EJ Discusses His Years As The Music Man For Formula E

To the novice auto racing fan, Formula 1 and Formula E appear at a distance to be identical. And, while the sport can easily be equated to F1 in some categories, the two are staunchly different. Without going into a full dissertation of the sport, here are some highlights:

Formula E is a racing championship that features open cockpit, single seater cars like F1, but the machines are battery operated creating far less noise. Instead of the cars coming into the pit lane for fresh tires and refueling as F1 cars do, FE drivers switch cars, once a race, into an identical one with a fresh battery and tires. Unlike F1 cars where engines and tire choices vary by team, FE cars are fitted with identical batteries and tires, creating a much more competitive race. And, while an F1 race is the completion of laps, FE competitions are timed events.

2018 Formula E Car
2018 Formula E Car
Courtesy: Road & Track

While Hardwell preformed the first-ever DJ set on an F1 awards podium after the Mexican Grand Prix back in 2017, FE has done one better. When the championship series began in 2014, FE had a vision to provide its fans with in-race entertainment that would keep them engaged. In other words, they needed something to compensate for the lack of noise that regular racing cars provide. Enter Sam Cannon a.k.a. EJ.

Once the decade-long Ministry Of Sound go-to guy for supplying DJ’s to its worldwide events, the London, England native met Ali Russell, Formula E’s Media Relations Person, who inquired about starting a festival series during its weekend events, much like F1. After meeting and discussing many scenarios in 2013, Sam left Ministry Of Sound and created his own music production company that would quickly become the soundtrack for Formula E.

Sam is a DJ by nature, so when you combine that with Formula E, Formula E.J. or EJ was born. “It’s funny,” EJ recounted. “It didn’t feel like a leap of faith in a risky sense, leaving Ministry. I was never scared. I was excited! I loved the vision that the team put forward in bringing me on board not only from the entertainment perspective but the professional nature and global growth of the project.”

The beginning of the 2014 season brought some obvious doubt with EJ. “What if they just don’t get it,” wondered EJ. “What if our hard work doesn’t pay off? I was nervous!” Before the opening race in Beijing, EJ met with International Automobile Federation (FIA) officials to discuss racing protocol during the season and to introduce his new brand. “I needed to keep the energy level of the fans up during the race,” remembered EJ. He also needed something that would make him recognizable as he live mixed his selection of Progressive House and Progressive Trance tunes.

With the combination of dance music disguises and motorsports in mind, EJ developed his now signature helmet that he wears during all Formula E sponsored events. And, while the helmet has undergone major upgrades since its inception, the alter-ego that has been created by it has only continued to further EJ’s branding and made him one of the most recognizable figures in all of motorsport.

EJ with a young Beijing fan before his inaugural Formula E DJing performance. 
Courtesy: Instagram
EJ And A Young Fan Before The First-Ever Formula E Race
September, 2014
Courtesy: @formulaej Instagram

In the event of an accident or a red flag meaning the temporary stoppage of the clock and race, EJ continues to play but must be quick on his feet and adjust the music accordingly as the safety of the drivers is paramount. The first test of his mental came during the opening race as two drivers crashed on the final lap sending one car over the barriers to land on its top. Luckily, both drivers walked away from the crash. “You have to be ready for anything that can happen,”

With 10 teams, 20 drivers, and 40 cars, the series travels to 12 different cities on the 14 race calendar that runs from November through July. During this time, EJ is constantly providing PR for the Formula E brand while adjusting his music for the differing political and religious climates that the brand takes races.

November 2018 saw EJ make history as he was the first DJ to ever play to a mixed crowd in the extremely political and conservative nation of Saudi Arabia. “We had to be extra careful with that one,” remembered EJ. He had no idea what to play as he was the first act to perform that night. “It was tricky,” said EJ. But, after removing his helmet shortly after beginning his set, the crowd was very receptive. “Girls were taking their headdresses off and dancing around,” EJ proudly recalled. “I’d never seen anything like it!”

EJ With Modern Day Helmet
Courtesy: Sam Cannon

Asked if he ever experiences “that guy” who wants to make the race’s music their personal rave, EJ comically said, “It’s not too bad, to be honest. I’m on stage so people can’t get to me! There have been occasions when doing the after parties though, and one of the teams had won the championship and wanted ‘We Are The Champions’ on repeat. Alright, once or twice, but ten times? Come on, man!”

As FE concludes their fifth season at the end of July in London, EJ is eager to return home to see his family for some downtime but is quick to say that when the racing schedule permits, they come to him. “They came over after the Mexico race, and we went to Tulum,” EJ happily said. “That was incredible!”

With his time as the helmeted EJ soon to be over for another season, the question begs how he separates the two and how he can readily transition from a psychological state of being the face of Formula E’s music back to Sam Cannon. “EJ, that persona behind the mask, the shows, the fans, it’s still me – it’s just an extension of me,” explained EJ. “I understand a lot of artists can feel that ‘crash’ both physically and emotionally when coming home from touring, but I’m very lucky. My family takes great care of me and I with them as soon as I get back to London. And, that’s the most important thing; remembering exactly why I do this.”

Thanks to modern technology, EJ can work from anywhere in the world but welcomes home to continue to do what he has done for most of life, produce music. Let us not forget that he is still a top recording artist for Garuda and Armada Music and has made a choice to continue his EJ persona even after his unmasking. “I’ve played ULTRA Europe and a host of Garuda events,” said a grateful EJ. “The touring will continue both nationally and internationally.”

EJ has recently launched “EJ Radio,” and with Volume 1 of the Formula E soundtrack released this past February featuring EJ’s mixes of tracks from the likes of Ashley Wallbridge, Gareth Emery and Nash, he is already working on Volume 2. Along with several new tracks, EJ is set to launch a new venture that will incorporate his passion for something away from the world of music to help people from all walks of life with the similar interests. “I can’t say too much more than that, for now,” revealed EJ.

EJ With Modern Day Helmet
Courtesy: Sam Cannon

EJ says that he is very proud of every opportunity that has come his way and insists that if he weren’t EJ, he’d still be working in music. “I think it stems from a combination of things; London’s club culture influence, my passion, and realizing that there are multiple avenues you can take in the industry. Plus, what other line of work lets you party on the job?!”

The last thing I asked was whether EJ had been allowed to take an FE car out for a spin and was he scared he’d wreck the piss out of it? “I’ve been taken around the track in a BMW i8, and that was insane!” EJ exclaimed. “But, in regards to me taking an actual FE car out, watch this space!”

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Erik Lake

All this machinery making modern music can still be open hearted.

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