Daniel Avery: After Inventing EDM, America Finally Decided They Like It
Photos: Camilo Fuentealba
Like great electronic album artists before him such as the Chemical Brothers, Future Sound of London, and Underworld, Daniel Avery has crafted a coherent, confident and ambitious album. And like the best work of those bands, his Drone Logic (out this week) defies easy categorization because it incorporates influences from outside the club (gasp!) in this case, shoegaze and, as the album's title foreshadows, drone. For every sonically combative number ("Naive Response") there's a dreamy bliss-out ("New Energy [Live Through It]") to match. For every film ready score ("Platform Zero") there is a warehouse epic ("These Nights Never End").
A string of stellar remixes for other people (Primal Scream, The Horrors, The Asphodells) and other remixes from stellar people (Andrew Weatherall, Paul Woolford, Factory Floor's Gabe Guernsey), a UK club night (Movement), a radio residency (RinseFM), a long-standing collaboration (with Justin Robertson), and a recent Beats in Space, it's been one hell of a 'journey' for Daniel Avery. We sat down with him here in New York to learn just how unexpected a journey it's been.
See also: Top 12"s of '12: Last Looks, People
Do you notice a difference in America, playing for a crowd that likely has never seen you versus playing at home in the UK? It was a really nice thing the first time I played in Brooklyn to have people who'd traveled down from Boston. It was the strongest sense of excitement I'd ever felt before as it was the first time they could have seen me. I was really happy with that reaction.
How are you enjoying your Rinse FM residency? Good. I'm really happy to have a radio show. Radio was a big deal for me growing up. I always liked Rinse and it's only expanding now. Optimo have a show, Horse Meat Disco have a show. It seems like an exciting time there and I'm very glad to be a part of it.
What do you like about collaborating so much? I always work with an engineer, at least. We both do stuff, but having someone who has the technical know-how of the way every machine works helps. I like using analog machines and that always makes it much faster for me. It's useful to see a reaction from a real person in the room too. In dance music, if something is good and it hits you both immediately, which the best dance music does, then you know you're onto something. Multiply that by 500 people in the room and you should see the results.
You've done a lot of records with what I would consider the best-dressed DJ, Justin Robertson. What do you like about being in the studio with him outside of possibly gaining some fashion tips? We share loads of interests, even outside of music. I think we knew from the second we met that we would get on. He's one of those people that I've really looked up to for a long time. He's a legend. Literally a legend in that world.
What interests would you say you have in common? Ascots? It's such an interesting time for dance music and I think we both share the way in which we view it. It's funny that we're doing this interview here in America because clearly after all these years you guys have finally gone "Oh yeah, we like this now!" despite inventing it.
Inventing it and tossing it away. This whole EDM thing is only going get bigger and bigger and is obviously infiltrating the world. But I think what's interesting now is how the underground is going to react to it.
It's exactly like the early '90s when "electronica" became an industry buzzword, but didn't have much to do with actual house music of the time. Or the way Nirvana's Nevermind knocked Michael Jackson's Dangerous out of the top spot on Billboard around the same time. Yeah that huge monster of EDM really bears no resemblance to what most people I know do. The same way Ratt or Poison didn't bear any resemblance to Nirvana. As soon as you see a band--and I think there's going to be a few of these emerging again--where a guy walks onstage with a keytar, I'm like, "Nah, see you later. I'm out. Nothing good is going to come of this."
I know you're a big film fan; would you ever be interested in doing a film soundtrack? What are some of your favorite films or genres? Definitely. I would love to do something like that. I studied film at university. I really love that whole French New Wave style of doing things. In fact one of the big reference points of this whole album is Lost in Translation. It really resonates with me. There's a certain atmosphere and a feeling to it that's beautifully confirmed by Kevin Shields' soundtrack.
There's a certain patience to everything in that film. Patience is exactly the right word. That's the word I was searching for. It's not brash in any way. You have to go with it and watch it in its entirety. My friend and I were just playing records at home on his turntable at home and he said "it's such a difference isn't there when you put a record on and you don't have the option of just skipping through it or putting it in a different order." The best albums, people have toiled over for hours, the way tracks work together, I think that's really interesting. Something I really hope doesn't get lost now in the next decade is that idea. The whole iTunes generation idea of just picking the tracks you think you like for an album and discarding the rest --I don't get it.
Well, it's the whole pruning thing, where you're really taking something away from the selector. People used to say "I can't wait to buy Dark Side of the Moon when it comes out," and now they preview everything quickly and then deciding "I think I'll just buy 'Money'." The idea of patience I think is a very good thing.
A lot of your music has a real cinematic feel to it. Those vocal samples certainly help. I mean I'm not sure what movie it would soundtrack. Nothing cheery, that's for sure. People always say it's dark but I don't set out for it to be dark or twisted, I want it to be an escape. I think one of the reasons - maybe subconsciously - it happens is because I grew up in a small town called Bournemouth the south coast of England where it's kind of like - it's very similar to Essex. It's quite plastic and so growing up for me, dance music was something - was like handbag house and funky house and for me, that's something that these other guys did and I didn't like one bit of it. When people asked me at fourteen or fifteen if I liked dance music, I always said "definitely not." That's what 'those guys' do. So I guess when I make dance music now, I just make it as far away from that as possible. I'm not going name any names, but there's a lot of deep house records right now that remind me far too much of that.
Handbag house. I've no idea what that is but I love it already. I guess it's similar to jock music in America. You know, the last thing that I ever want to see - and I'm lucky I don't really see it very often at all - is when you're DJing and you see a couple of dudes down in the front just fist pumping like it was a rock concert. Fuck that. That's the opposite of what I want. It shouldn't be aggressive in any way. Yes, some of the music I make has a certain toughness to it but it's not meant to be aggressive in that way. I don't really want anyone looking at me when I DJ. Just turn around and try and get laid, that's really what it's there for. The DJ can still be in control but you don't want people just staring at you. That's the other thing that EDM could ruin in some respects - this idea of the DJ in this Jesus Christ pose constantly; fire, canons, and all that. There's such a fine line between doing it right-
And Cirque du Soleil? Exactly.
Whereas what you're doing, no pun intended, is 'fantasy' in the best possible way. You put on it whatever you put on it but I'm going to try and create this world that's not just fist pumping gym rats and t-shirt cannons and take it wherever you like. Noise flies high: It can be anything you want. I hope it's psychedelic. That's what I want it to be. That's my favorite kind of dance music where somebody just totally gets lost. It's not even a drug reference there. I mean it can be and often it's good when people are on drugs but that idea of just losing yourself in it. All my favorite dance music has a psychedelic edge to it.
Speaking of, where do all those psychedelic vocal samples come from? Do you record them yourself? They're all original recordings I've made of friends and some of them are pretty warped. The thing with modern technology is that you can search for hours for the perfect sample but why not just record it yourself?
So you're saying that somewhere out there is the "Noise Flies High" Girl? That's my good friend Kelly. She used to work in Rough Trade in London and she's in that band The History of Apple Pie. The line is something of a nod to the Smashing Pumpkins, my favourite band growing up.
"Noise Flies High" is becoming your version of Bicep's "Taps Aff!". Yeah totally. It should be a t-shirt
That, or "Let Daniel Avery Take You On A Journey!". Oh God no.
Get the Music Newsletter
Keep your thumb on the local music scene each week with music news, trends, artist interviews and concert listings. We'll also send you special ticket offers and music deals.