Music For Dark Rooms: An Interview With Daniel Avery
, October 3rd, 2013 04:20
Daniel Avery's debut album Drone Logic finds the London-based DJ and producer tripping out into expansive, lysergic techno territory. He speaks with Rory Gibb about the enduring appeal of DJing and a love for tracks that blindside you on a dancefloor
"I like records that, when I hear them, I'm like 'How the hell did they get that sound?' or 'Where the hell did that come from?'," marvels Daniel Avery. "When I hear it out in a club, I love the stuff that knocks you sideways."
Avery talks like he DJs, musing on connections between styles, the psychedelic tendencies that run through his own tracks, and bubbling with enthusiasm about the music he's inspired by. His club sets and radio shows follow a similar pattern - though they're anchored in the sort of hazy, mood-altering house that he's known for producing, he's comfortable intuitively traveling off along other stylistic tangents, as long as he's excited by where he he's heading, and as long as it moves the floor. "Whatever works," he reflects. "If two records sound good [together], then that's the best you can hope to find."
He's sitting in a South London bar discussing the imminent release of his debut album Drone Logic, a great and varied set of tripped-out house and techno that stands out by its individuality. While contemporary in sound and feel, there's still something undeniably classicist about Avery's takes on techno and house; around a mesmerising perpetual drum machine throb gather dense assemblies of dusty tones, bleeps, whirrs and warping basslines whose roles frequently double up as primary melodic force.
Coming from a background in rock and indie, and having started DJing while living in Bournemouth a decade or so ago, he first started to attract wider attention while operating under the alias Stopmakingme, via a residency at Fabric (for whom he recorded a mix CD for the Fabric series last year) and early releases that felt like embryonic versions of his current output. Having switched to using his own name, last year's Water Jump and Need Electric EPs, he says, felt like turning points, directing him towards making an album - both tracks appear on Drone Logic, the former kicking proceedings off with a one-note bassline that bucks like a motorcyle engine, the latter's stripped-back, oddly catchy acidic percolations marking its midpoint.
House is inescapably in vogue at the moment in UK clubs - just take a scan across the schedule for London former pirate station Rinse FM, still the barometer for activity on the capital's dancefloors, on which practically every other show is built around a four-to-the-floor backbone. Avery hosts a monthly Monday session on the station too, but operates at something of a remove from those surrounding him. Rather than hewing to the bass-bolstered tech-house formula that's becoming well-established in London at the moment, his newly released debut album Drone Logic and the 12"s he released last year all place him in a longer-running tradition of idiosyncratic British dance music individuals. The personal links he's forged with Andrew Weatherall and Erol Alkan (on whose Phantasy label Drone Logic is released) speak in part to his music's nature; he mentions Optimo, Paul Woolford, Underworld and Four Tet as inspirations; and Drone Logic itself also shares something of the widescreen expansiveness and lysergic shimmer of James Holden and the Border Community set.
The Quietus caught up with Avery to discuss the art of DJing, the psychedelic in pop and the making of Drone Logic.
What I like about your music, and Drone Logic, is that it seems to operate very much in its own space. You don't feel too tied to any particular current dancefloor narrative.
Daniel Avery: I guess a couple of years ago that very thing was almost a slight concern for me - that I didn't feel particularly part of any group, as it were. But from DJing a lot and from last year doing the Fabric CD, I kind of realised that what I was doing did kind of touch on various different... I seem to be on line ups with lots of different people, I'll play one week with Andrew Weatherall, another week with the Innervisions guys, and another week with a younger thing. I've never really thought about it to be honest, it's never been a plan to sound a certain way, it sounds cheesy but I just made music that sounded good to my ears.
Now, two years on, I'm really happy with the position I'm in. I definitely don't feel part of a scene, there's lots of cool things happening that I feel a connection to, but I don't feel I have a hyped momentum behind me. I guess I kind of learnt to embrace that a little bit. DJing has been really enjoyable recently because I've found that I've been able to play so many different kinds of music from all over the place, and they all kind of fit together - I'm not saying it's just me doing it, I'm not doing anything out of the box here! - but it's been really cool to be able to play my records next to Frak records, next to Daphni records or the odd thing Hessle might put out, or a Weatherall remix. They're basic examples, but it's an interesting time to be able to throw all that together - and for it to work.
I do feel now as if I have a few more allies when I look around. When I see certain DJs play, I feel a lot more of a connection to what they're doing. I just think it's a good, interesting, healthy time for dance music - all of a sudden. Going to a record shop and being able to pick records from literally different shelves and them all being able to work together is really interesting.
Even a few years ago things certainly seemed to be a bit more obviously streamed out into separate spaces. There are perhaps more cross connections now.
DA: I don't know why. One theory I have is that the younger kids coming up, the new generation of kids going to clubs, for whatever reason... You know, you could write a whole essay about how the internet age has affected things, but I do think it has - and it's affected things in a positive way, you know, there's lots of negative connotations but there are also a lot of good things, like Boiler Room or even RA mixes, being able to offer so much. Basically, I just think these kids don't really give a shit about what genre something is.
The notion of tribal allegiances in music isn't there.
DA: It's gone. And I've seen it. Going to, say, a festival in Croatia, I've seen the same kids at my DJ gig and then I've seen them dancing to totally out there records that Four Tet's playing, and then the same kids dancing to Chemical Brothers or Seth Troxler or whatever. They're just having a good time wherever they go, they know it's probably different, but it's not like, 'Oh, now we're gonna go and see a deep house set'. It's a good thing.
'All I Need'
Does it feel exciting as a DJ?
DA: It does, and I think it's getting way more exciting. The past nine months to a year has been really interesting, and it's getting more so I think. I want to stress that I don't think it's being eclectic for its own sake, because I don't think that's what it is. The best DJs, my favourite DJs, are ones that can take records from different places and still draw a line between them. You enter into someone's world, and you trust what they're going to do, because you know that they're going to have a broad interest and taste, but are able to link them all together in a way. Optimo are the ultimate, perfect example to hold up in that case.
Were people like Optimo quite inspirational on you when you were starting to DJ?
DA: Absolutely. They were one of the first DJ groups that I kind of latched onto in a big way, because I didn't come from a dance music background, I came way more from the indie and guitar side of things. So when I found DJs like Optimo, and then Erol [Alkan] and Andrew Weatherall and Ivan Smagghe and people, I could tell we had similar reference points. They'd be playing techno but they'd still... Optimo explicitly so, or Ivan, could play a post-punk record and it'd make sense. Even when you go and see Weatherall DJ I still think you can hear a post-punk spirit within it. I recognised that from an early age, and that drew me into the whole world of dance and techno. That's how I began, those are the guys that really inspired me in the beginning.
On a similar note, I found your Fabric CD tracklist interesting, as there's a load of things on there you wouldn't necessarily file alongside each other - Forward Strategy Group next to Miss Kittin next to Kassem Mosse. Are you conscious of bringing that sort of wide-ranging approach to your DJing?
DA: [Pauses, thinks] It's difficult for me to answer because I never, ever planned on being a DJ or making it my job [laughs]. Coming from the background I did, it just wasn't something that even crossed my mind would happen. It's not like I'd considered it and thought 'that's not what I want to do' - the thought did not even materialise in my mind. So I guess the way I still think of it is that from an early age, from being 16 or 17 or younger, I always loved making mixtapes for people, I knew I loved sharing music with people, saying 'Have you heard this?' or staying up all night with mates saying 'Listen to this record'. For me DJing feels like an extension of that. It's a total privilege to be able to do it on amazing sound systems and in beautiful clubs at the weekend to a good group of people, and I don't really think of it as any more than that. Obviously I don't want to say 'I'm not a DJ, don't call me that' - because obviously I am, I've been a DJ for nearly ten years now in some way - but with the music making too, there's never a plan. It's just been something I enjoyed doing, and certain records, artists and DJs inspire you. In today's climate, in certain regards, I could be about fifty times richer, a hundred times richer, if I'd have planned it a certain way, you know - but I just don't feel any excitement about thinking 'That's going to get me a gig at Ultra' or whatever.
As a very long answer to your question, with the Fabric cd, I just love every record that I put on it, and I felt equally as inspired and motivated by all of them, and when they fit together it was like, why not? I didn't think any more of it than that. It's a basic thing of whatever works - if two records sound good, then that's the best you can hope to find. DJing has quite a primal aspect to it, in that you can visibly see the effect what you're doing has on a crowd of people in front of you. That goes back to playing a track to a friend in your bedroom and they're like 'Whoa, what is that?', but then [multiplying that by] however many hundred people in front of you.
I felt it the second I started playing records in clubs. Even though I didn't know I wanted to do it before that, the second I started playing records on a big system and I could see people sat around in the bar, starting to nod their head or come over to ask what a record was - I felt immediately that it was something that I loved and wanted to keep doing. That's what's really spurred me on the whole time with DJing, that immediate connection, the immediate effect you can see on people, it's a beautiful thing. And [when a room goes off] it can happen at the most unexpected time, it's brilliant.
What you were saying about the 'anything that works' aspect, is that an attitude you've carried over to your music making? Or do you approach that with maybe more a studied sense of what you're trying to achieve?
DA: [Thinks] I knew that the album should be an album. Again, I just let my influences, from wherever they may have come, just come into play. I knew I wanted it to be my album, it needed to represent me, and I'm happy that it does, on a few levels. It was never going to be an album of ten straight club tracks, and even though I've let some elements of shoegaze or droney stuff come into play, I never wanted it to be a wacky mash-up of those styles. At the heart of it all, it still has a techno club pulse on every track. For this album that statement needed to be near the top of the agenda. Other than that, there wasn't really a plan...
Did you know you were making an album?
DA: Yeah. I did two EPs in quick succession last year, Need Electric and Water Jump, and I really felt as if I'd hit something with [the latter]. I don't think I've made anything cyncially with particular DJs in mind, but I've definitely made things with certain dancefloors in mind. 'Water Jump' was definitely made with Fabric room 1 on a Friday night in mind, and 'Drone Logic', I wanted to make something that Weatherall might play at Love From Outer Space. Just because, one, he's inspired me in so many ways, but also because I really like the energy of that party - slow, very druggy music, but that still has a real pulse to it.
It was great fun making it, and it happened really quickly - probably in two days from start to finish - and I knew Weatherall was doing a small Love From Outer Space in London. I was really happy with what came out, and I went down and gave it to him in his studio in Shoreditch on Friday on CD, and on Monday he called me and said it was the biggest track of the night. That was unexpected but a really amazing buzz I got from that, 'cause it's still quite an oddball track, it's got really noisy drones in it and it's slow. As soon as I'd done that, I knew I had an anchor for everything else. So from that point on, I knew I was making an album, and I knew 'Water Jump' and 'Drone Logic' would be on it.
Your studio approach is predominantly hardware-based, right?
DA: It's all hardware based. I just like it. I'm not going to preach to anyone who doesn't use hardware because, y'know, again, whatever works is good. Some vinyl only DJs are great, some are fucking boring, you know. It doesn't matter what you use, as far as I'm concerned, just do what gives the best outcome. I like hardware personally because I like the dustiness you get in the sound, and I personally didn't remove any of that when it came to mixing, there's quite a lot of hiss on some of the tracks, but I like that. A lot of the hi-hats are live, we played live, I think it gives it a certain energy and extra dynamic. A big turning point in the album came when I started using more 'band'-like methods in the studio - not trying to make it sound like a band, but using things like guitar pedals, distortion pedals, [Roland] Space Echos.
It's quite interesting that the Factory Floor album has come out so close to mine, because there's definitely a mutual appreciation there, and I definitely feel an affinity with them. They're obviously a band and I'm not, but I feel that there's certain methods that we share.
The album's second half especially gets pretty trippy, and for me your music does seem to tap into a psychedelic music tradition, both in terms of British dancefloor music and in a broader sense. Would you say that's true?
DA: Absolutely. That really was the buzzword that I kept reminding myself of. I wanted the whole thing to be some kind of trip, in a way. I guess it just goes back to me being really obsessed with shoegaze music or even really trippy dance music. It can be from any genre, but that's the stuff that speaks to me the most, and when I hear it out in a club I love the stuff that knocks you sideways. Nothing against it but I have no interest in your straight up US funky house sound that's big at the moment - it does nothing for me whatsoever. I like records that, when I hear them, I'm like 'How the hell did they get that sound?' or 'Where the hell did that come from?' And it can apply to all genres - 'Get Yr Freak On' by Missy Elliott is a trippy record. It was a massive pop record, but it's weird and it has its own thing to it. That really excites me, from whatever genre it comes from. It's a big deal for me.
Well, there certainly is a twisted, sinister edge to bits of the album.
DA: It's just late night music, really. It's music for dark rooms.
You're putting the record out on Erol's label, you've mentioned Weatherall and Optimo. To me there is something to your music that feels distinctly British. Do you feel connected to a dance music lineage here?
DA: Um, I guess so, it wasn't really a conscious thing. The first gig I ever saw was the Prodigy when I was 11, way before I even thought I liked dance music. I loved it at the time, and I still love it now, that era, there is something about the Chemical Brothers and Underworld... I don't want to harp on about them too much because I don't want to feel like I've copied them, and I don't think I have.
You also want to avoid accusations that you're somehow retro.
DA: That's a big deal, actually, that's a good point. I wanted to make a record that could only have been made in 2013. I'm not interested at all in being retro. But yeah, because those were the guys that... I guess it comes from that psychedelic edge [in British music] that emerged decades ago, I think it just affected so many people and it continues to do so. Maybe it's not a nationality thing, but Britain has made some of the most inspiring records for me, and going back to how we began, what's been one of the coolest things for me has been how people from different countries and genres have started to pick up on the record. I've heard people say 'I heard 'Drone Logic' being played in Panoramabar', or 'I heard it at a festival in California'. I never expected it to reach those places. It's a really proud thing for me to say that, and also exciting in the thought that, whatever I do next, I can push it a bit further.
Daniel Avery's Drone Logic is out on 7th October via Phantasy/Because Music