Daedelus: Inventing dangerous music, not contributing to dead media
Daedelus (Alfred Darlington) has been making electronic music for over a decade now. While he hasn’t reached the level of popularity of other electronic dance music artists such as Skrillex or Bass Nectar, he’s one of the scene’s more adventurous figures, having dabbled in breakbeat and drum ‘n’ bass and issuing material on a countless array of labels. We recently spoke to him via phone from his Santa Monica home as he prepared for the latest installment of what he calls the Magical Properties Tour.
I read that you originally intended to be an inventor. Is that really true?
I think the youthful question of “What do you want to be when you grow up?” resonated in my head. My early answer was that I wanted to be an inventor. My answer was partially derived from the fact that my middle name was Alva, like Thomas Alva Edison. There’s no family connection, but it briefly sparked my interest. I was into taking things apart and seeing how they worked. I liked transistors and power cords and all those dangerous pieces. I had no aptitude for putting things back together. I had no math skills. But I had an interest in the way things work and tick. Music is a different kind of invention and I hope it’s in small measure that I’ve found a way going forward to still realize my dream.
Talk about your formal music training and how you ended up embracing electronic music after studying jazz.
I had ears for electronic music but no idea how people were reproducing these sounds. It’s intimidating when you hear really vigorous production and you’re coming from a live instrument perspective where you think, “I can make these sounds with my fingers on strings.” But I didn’t know how they’re getting those complicated break beats and tonalities. I wasn’t a computer kid, but there’s this misconception that you’re sold with jazz that through studying jazz you can make any music you want. You’re told you can improvise whatever you want. This is true of many disciplines. When you go to school for a subject and see the actual guts of the thing, it changes your perception of it. For me, it wasn’t a disappointment. It was just a clarity. Electronics have maintained that freedom that I was pursuing in jazz. There are genres such as EDM and dub step, but we’re not held to those formulas. It’s still this beautiful place in music where if you’re inventive and creative and you do something different, it can still get ears. You don’t get kicked off the bandstand because you’re playing weird music.
Do you think of electronic music as the new jazz?
I think so. Jazz used to be something that people would dance to and would want to move to and react. The bandstand would react to that reaction and go back and forth. At some point somewhere along the lines, that got lost. Maybe it started with a cruise ship. People sat down and started to applaud after solos. Maybe dance music will also formalize as people grow up, but I see so much energy in it and the technology is catching up to be reactive to the audience. We’re heading toward the golden age.
It would have been great to grow up in that era when jazz was cutting edge.
There’s always something about dangerous music. Jazz cigarettes are called jazz cigarettes for a reason. I’m not saying it’s just the intoxication but it’s the length to which people took chances on the bands. You have to remember that John Coltrane and Miles Davis — these people that loomed so large — played to like 50 people a night. It’s not like they were playing to thousands and thousands like these electronic music stars. We’re at a very different nexus of music culture and I feel very much that I am the beneficiary of that.
You started releasing music just over a decade ago, right?
Yes. I had tried to DJ a bit, but was pushed out of that. The formal rules of some of the genres that were around at the time dictated that if you weren’t from the UK, you didn’t exist. Being an outsider had some advantages, too, because I could put out my weird sounds and get American ears at times and Europe and Asia would be reactive. Now, it’s all kind of coming true.
I’m of the belief that if you do that idea on a record, you shouldn’t pursue it any more. If you keep on releasing the same music over and over, you end up standing on a huge mountain of dead media. Who wants to add to that?
Does your early work seem primitive when you go back and listen to it?
I’m super happy with the results. There’s definitely a lot of technology that’s ill-fitting. It’s like trying to fit a square peg through a circular space. There’s something organic to it that I appreciate. I’m of the belief that if you do that idea on a record, you shouldn’t pursue it any more. If you keep on releasing the same music over and over, you end up standing on a huge mountain of dead media. Who wants to add to that? There has to be something fresh.
So when did you start playing out of town?
Even before I was releasing music and was pursuing the DJ thing between booking my own shows, I had a little something begun. Around 2001, there were some touring opportunities. The music industry was so different back then. The idea was that you toured to promote the song. You do some touring to push the CD. Asia and Europe were already listening. I did early touring in Japan and a bit of touring in Europe with just acoustic instruments and really primitive sequencers. It was the case that you were shadowing your own release. So quickly after that, it all changed. The record or release was just this idea you would have. They were very separate.
At one point did your popularity shift?
I can look back and see how lucky I was to benefit from this confusion of technology. One of my biggest moments of my career was that I was featured on the front page of MySpace in 2005 or 2006. It was this portal where people would go through the front page. I got 50,000 listens a day for about five days. I had a million listens over the course of a week. I had all these impressions and new fans and people being made aware. Who knows what small percentage of people decided to listen further or to buy, but it was this huge exposure that isn’t even possible today. Facebook doesn’t have a front page. Twitter doesn’t have a home page. Each person has his or her own sewn-up page. It’s so hard to penetrate that existence. Who takes a chance to click beyond what is curated by the Illuminati. I also got featured on the front page of YouTube in 2008. Front page culture as an experiment failed, but I’m so grateful those experiences happened.
One of the great things about the Los Angeles music scene is that there is a creative dynamic that’s very supportive. I wish I could say that about most cities and scenes.
Do you feel connected with what’s happening now in electronic music?
Amazingly so. I take too much pride in it. I’m just doing my small thing and and pushing my small toys around in an even smaller sandbox. It’s wonderful to know these people before they were producers and to have seen them from the moment of inception. It’s incredible to have known Skrillex before he was even making electronic music and Flying Lotus before he released a record. To kind of be involved in these small ways has been great and to see them blossoming into these really creative individuals. One of the great things about the Los Angeles music scene is that there is a creative dynamic that’s very supportive. I wish I could say that about most cities and scenes. But because L.A. is very competitive, it forces you to think in these collaborative terms. We’ve been pursuing this idea for the past ten years through a variety of Internet sources like Dublab.com and clubs like Low End Theory. It’s a communal idea. It’s been so well-received that we know have a third generation of beatmakers coming forward and promulgating their ideas. It’s kind of magical. I feel mostly connected to that.
You worked with quite a few vocalists on Bespoke. What was that experience like?
I worked with a lot of rappers in the past. There’s not that much difference in a lot of ways. I enjoy people’s creativity and I give them as many tools to realize that. Bespoke was partially tongue-in-cheek to relate to the record title, but I wanted to work with these vocalists that I really esteem and I feel like are coming from different directions. People like Milosh and Inara George through the lens of electronic music can blend together. It’s great to be in a studio with someone who is as consummate a writer and performer as Inara George who literally sat down for a few moments, meditated on the idea of the song, and did it in one take. She sat in front of the mike and thought about it for a minute and did it impossibly perfect.
Do you think of it as an artist album?
To me, it doesn’t feel as fragmented as a compilation would go. Fortunately or unfortunately, they’re all going through my lens. I take pride that I have an opinion. It’s easy to lose your opinion in this wash of music. It’s the Grammy idea. If it’s selling, it must be good. I don’t know if I agree with that. In this case, it’s curating an idea and putting it forward and maybe it sells a bit and maybe it doesn’t, but at least it’s coming from an authentic place. They’re stepping up to my plate rather than the other way around.
Do you sing at all?
I do. I have a project called The Long Lost with my wife that I do some singing on. We collaborate and do some singing. I don’t prefer my voice. It’s like when you look into the mirror and there’s a reversing. Your hair parts on the opposite side. It’s eerie because it’s a different way of regarding yourself in the world. I think the same holds true for recorded media. It’s somehow polarized or reversed. It’s a little eerie.
This tour is called the Magical Properties tour. What can we expect from it?
You can go and listen to some really good music in a format in which it’s supposed to be played, which is loud and bass-y. But we’re not trying to kill you. It’s important to see this as possible in smaller rooms. I like to keep it in capacity rooms that are less than 500 and curated for the night. We’re going to be doing some experimental video work, too. As much as it’s a night of audio, it’s also about synesthesia.
You don’t just use a laptop, do you?
The laptop gives us a lot of freedom compared to fingers on strings, but I can’t walk away from the audience. I gravitate toward equipment that allows me to be improvisational. If the audience wants to go up, we can go up. If they want to mellow out, we can mellow out. It’s the freedom we’re afforded in the world of electronics. I feel so grateful for that.
What are you working on?
I have a new full-length coming out later this year. I do plan to tease some of the material on this tour. There are other things cooking around in terms of remixes. I feel it’s a weird feeling to even make full-lengths any more because everyone is so single focused. You do a single remix of a song and I think there’s something enriched about sitting down for 45 minutes to an hour and listening to a series of songs that somebody curated for you. I think there’s something powerful to that.
Chicago @ Bottom Lounge
Cleveland @ Beachland Ballroom
Ferndale, MI @ The Loving Touch
Buffalo, NY @ Soundlab
Toronto, ONT @ Wrongbar
Boston, MA @ Middle East
New York City @ Le Poisson Rouge
Philly @ Underground Arts
Washington DC @ Ustreet
Asheville, NC @ Orange Peel
Atlanta, GA @ Terminal West
Houston, TX @ Fitzgeralds
St. Louis, MO @ 2720 Cherokee
Lawrence, KS @ Granada
Breckenridge, CO @ Three20South
Vail, CO @ Avon
Boulder, CO @ Fox Theater
Tempe, AZ @ Club Red
San Diego, CA @ Casbah
Los Angeles, CA @ Fonda Theatre
Pomona, CA @ Glass House
San Francisco, CA @ Independent
Eugene, OR @ WOW Hall
Portland, OR @ Branx
Seattle, WA @ The Crocodile
Vancouver, BC @ Electric Owl