Daedelus keeps himself busy. Since 2001, the Los Angeles-based producer has released albums on underground hip-hop labels Plug Research, Mush, and Alphapup, experimental techno label Phthalo, German label Laboratory Instinct, and the prolific underground electronica giant Ninja Tune, amongst others. In 2003, he collaborated with LA underground MCs Busdriver and Radioinactive for the childrens’ album-soaked “The Weather,” (Mush) only to release a completely reconstructed instrumental version later that year. Upcoming projects include collaboration with his wife, Laura Darlington, a second collaboration with Los Angeles’ DJ Frosty (after 2003‘s marine-inspired “Dreams of Water Themes“), and a full-length album for Ninja Tune. And hot off the presses are the “Fair Weather Friends” EP (Ninja Tune) and “Live At The Low End Theory” (Mush) from LA’s new weekly home for underground hip-hop.
I caught up with Daedelus on a recent tour with Busdriver and Antimc at The Great American Music Hall, possibly San Francisco’s best-sounding small venue. Here’s what he had to say about creating music, distributing music, and, well, music.
The new album was released on MP3 download only and 12” vinyl. What do you think about the CD format, the vinyl format, and the download format? How do you see all of those panning out in the future?
It’s difficult- I mean, there’s definitely people…there’s a market research breakdown, basically. People over 25 tend to buy CDs, tend not to download. People under 25 tend to download more than buy CDs. People that buy vinyl, buy vinyl- and sometimes only vinyl. So, okay, market research be damned, I’m trying to get my music out in any way that will be heard. That’s my goal. And I enjoy vinyl- I mean; I use vinyl constantly in my personal day-to-day life. And I really like the fact that you can see the audio and you can handle it with your fingers and all that- CDs don’t have that charm. Of course, they’re more flexible and portable and all of that kind of stuff. All of that aside, I’m really trying to find a way of capturing and delivering to people. So, I know with Ninja Tune, they made a decision to have vinyl and digital only, and it’s kind of a way of just making it so that I could have something to present, and yet, at the same time, kind of save the real punch of it for the full length that’s coming out next year.
Oh, okay, so-
So this is kind of a precursor. It’s really just myself and Ninja Tune trying to become accustomed to each other. I’ve already done stuff with them in the past, but always a pre-packaged kind of deal- like, “okay, here’s the record, it’s done; coming out in the states on a different label”- it’s spoken for, in a way. And this is sort of a chance to really try and see where we can go together.
Okay, so I guess that leads me to another question. You’ve worked with a lot of different labels- it still seems like you’re putting stuff out on different labels at different times. Do you find that there is any difference between what you’re giving the labels and the process?
Absolutely- every label has its own personality. As much as you try to believe that it’s just one source of distribution vs. another source of distribution, they all have their own characteristics and their own teams and the way they operate or run and pay structures- all of this kind of crazy stuff that, no matter how much you try to ignore it, it intrinsically involves what you do. Especially if you don’t have the music already completed when you’re delivering something- it’s a concept; it completely colors the experience. And for someone like Ninja Tune, I stepped into it thinking, “Okay, well this is my chance to do something more dance-y,” because that’s what they do really well. And, it’s kind of a shame in a way- like, why set yourself up for that? Why not be open to whatever’s going to happen next in your life? But, probably, if I was on my way to signing to Ninja Tune, I’d probably want to do a dance record…
That was actually going to be my next question- different labels; you know…Do you try to put out different stuff for different labels? And I guess you already answered that question…
And the same way, like, with Plug Research, I knew I was tapping into a little bit of a dreamier place. I think because of the label mates and because of Allen (Avanessian) who runs Plug Research, and kind of the direction he was going for a long period of time, it’s just…You know, I think the inner dialogue with music is just as important as what actually happens; the outer dialogue. And it’s not something that’s easy to convey in music because music has that great advantage of not really having any, you know- set-in-stone kind of moments. They all kind of…
It’s subjective, yeah…
Like, totally subjective in that terrible, wonderful way. And it’s so real, that subjectivity of it. It’s so real, the state that you leave people in and what it means to people. It’s so tangible, and yet, you can’t hold onto it.
Yeah, and I’m sure even if you weren’t consciously doing something-
No, you do all of these details; you braid into your music all these little things that you hope people will notice and they never do. People never notice the crocheting you do at the end of a song or a little, like…I did a records called “A Gent Agent”, – this is what really brought it home for me – I did a record called “A Gent Agent”, and I did a precursor EP called “Meanwhile” These are on an obscure German label called Laboratory Instincts. It’s out of print, it doesn’t exist anymore- I don’t think anything exists anymore- and the record, to me, was- “Meanwhile” is a list of characters. “A Gent Agent” is a story for that list of characters. It’s all a side-story. Every sample I meticulously took from spy soundtracks. Everything means something. Nobody cares. Nobody cares! And why should they? I mean, it’s like you say, get some enjoyment out of this. It’s the most you can really hope for. So why should (the audience) be along with your crazy conspiracy theories?
Well, I mean, that’s just the age old question of what art is, you know- what’s important; is it the artist’s intent, or is it, you know, what the audience receives? How do you feel about that whole dynamic?
I think that’s giving too much credit to both parties. I think the artist, at least the music more so than the classic art- modern music, I should say. You’re dealing with an idea of making something that communicates to a large number of people, rather than in fine art, where you have one object that communicates to a few elite people; them being cool, or them being rich– usually a combination of those two.
But one of the reasons I like music so much is because you’re not making something for a dude out there with lots of cash. Be that as it may, I really think the artist is best used- musician or whatever- is best used as a conduit for an idea. So, this whole idea of genius- it’s kind of overrated. Like, people aren’t better conduits or not, their just in the right place at the right time. Lightening can strike a few times. And then the listener- you don’t want to give them too much credit either, because, honestly, in the right circumstances, things can shine. Shit can shine, basically. You’re at a great party, and you have all of these great feelings, like, “Oh, this is going to be the best party.” And then the music sounds great.
And then you go back another day and it’s terrible. Well, you know, terrible at the moment, or whatever it is. So, you know…circumstance, circumstance, circumstance. Location, location, loc- no, that sounds terrible. Anyway…
That’s like a real estate slogan.
Yeah, exactly. We can leave that part out.
So, back to the whole “Digital Revolution” that people might talk about today. The means of creation and distribution- it’s really set the power back into- especially for music- to musicians.(Pause while I gather my thoughts)
Go on, go on. I might disagree with, maybe later, the question, but…
What do you see in the future in terms of the music industry? Do you see it changing…
Positive change, negative change…
I see it as a real positive change- to make it so people can be quicker to engage that they enjoy or like. And they can sift through it faster. The only problem though, that I see dramatically in our current dilemma is that there’s very few trusted voices. Very few, you know- for lack of a better term, real, true DJs. True tastemakers. And it’s a terrible word, but people that can present something and have authenticity, and have…you know, like John Peel. With someone like him dying, and being, really, one of very few people in the entire world that you can go, “This person has a hugely diverse music taste.” Everything he picks isn’t always great- he’ll be the first one to admit that, but everything he puts forth is of integrity. Like, he believed in it in this kind-of truism kind-of way. We don’t have very much of that. We have a lot of websites that profess different things, and they have different slants, and it’s difficult when a Pitchfork– not to bring them up, but when they have a festival, and they do a lot of media coverage on acts. Something in international, maybe nationwide, news stories- and some of them are less (so). And those same acts tend to play that festival. It’s just, there’s a conflict of interests that can happen. Which is fine, I mean- it’s how the world works and everything. I’m not against it. But, it’s tricky territory. Slippery slopes. And people get hip to that real fast, and they can fall in and out of it. So, it’s wonderful on this one hand- they have this pile of music. But, with people with hundreds and hundreds of gigs of music to listen to, who’s going to sift through for them, and give ‘em a chance to see the interrelation that can happen. I mean it’s like with a good music journalist, you can see things further sometimes than the average hobby listener. So, I wish we could give that to more people. That’s the dilemma, though. There’s no way of sifting through. And, also, a lot of these services now that make (music) available and say, “Okay, if you like this, you might like this.” It’s great, but that’s so, just- It isn’t like radio used to be where you would hear a diverse playlist, and it would lead you to a place that you liked. I mean, it’s so payola-ridden and everything. Okay, so that’s a disease. We’re losing that. But what are we moving toward? We haven’t quite figured that out- to actually distribute this wonderful amount- this torrent. Bit torrent.
So, can you describe the difference between…you’ve done a lot of collaborations with MCs and…
Yeah, and vocalists. Some of your albums are more vocal heavy, and some are more instrumental. What’s the process like? How does it differ when you’re making an instrumental track from when you’re making one with a vocalist?
I try not to let it get to me. I try not to think about that in those terms. It really is just instruments. You know what I mean? And sometimes, I’ll have something soloing longer; that’s usually when it’s a voice. You know, when I have someone come in and do something, it’s like a long solo.
So when you bring someone in, is it something you have planned out already?
Rarely. I really like to improvise in the studio. Even when I’m making tracks. I mean, I’m just trying to be as nimble as possible; to be in the way as little as possible. So, say you’re making something and it feels right… if you start to over-think it, at that moment, you’re going to tend to bog it down. The tracks that seem to communicate best to people, of my limited catalog, are the ones I made basically in 15 minutes. The basic ideas- the structure, was there. Then you do other stuff on top of it to make it so it’s 5 minutes long, or whatever, but…the nugget of it, the thing that calls out to you; it’s done.
So I guess that leads me to another question. I sort of see two stages of the creation process in music. There’s sort of the fundamentals- the melodies, the ideas. And then there’s sort of the arrangement of those ideas. Does that-
I think that’s one way of looking at it, for sure. And I don’t think there’s anything invalid about that. But really, I think that when it’s really functioning, everything serves its purpose. So there’s not any distinction between my drums, my melody, when everything is working right. And melody is simply just a timekeeper, at times. Everything can function as everything else when it’s all functioning. Don’t get me wrong; there’s plenty of moments when it’s like, you need to make the drums better or hit harder, or the melody is just weak. But then, typically, it’s better to leave that track on the drawing board. Or leave it, maybe, for another day when you can kind of figure out the puzzle of it.
And do you ever have those sort of moments when maybe you’re working with someone else, and you say, “Oh, I have this sorta sitting on the backburner,” and having someone be able to figure out what to do with it?
Totally. And it’s inevitable. And I really find it valuable to be in the studio with other people. I have a few groups. I’ve had a few projects where I’ve been in the studio really actively with other people. I did something with Busdriver and Radioinactive called “The Weather.” That was a real active process. And I have a project called “Adventure Time”. That was an active process. And a project with my wife, Laura Darlington- and that hasn’t come out yet, but we’ve done little remixes and stuff. But that’s a very combined process as well. And you totally get to go to places you never expected, and that’s always more exciting. I think one of the real dilemmas of being in the studio by yourself, in the production kind of moment, is that you end up working in cycles. There’s only so many ways of escaping yourself in those situations. And it’s very limited. So, anything you can do to sort of mess up your process- be it circuit bending, or trying to mine through records to try and find someone else’s mindset, or having someone come in do something, or even just getting away from it and going on tour for a month and then feeling like your fingers are too long to hit the keyboard right. So, something else happens. You know what I mean- it’s serious. Anything to get out of yourself.
Making electronic music I’ve always seen as…a very individual process. And hearing you say that, it sounds like you really thrive off of collaboration and working with people.
I come from a live music background of playing instruments. So, I think it still calls me. It resonates the ideas that if you’re just doing everything by yourself, you’re going to be limited. You’re imagination, no matter how forward the idea is, it’s going to be one-dimensional. Which is okay, sometimes- for electronic music, especially. Electronic music tends to be less than one-dimension. It tends to just function on its own. Like a reference to it’s own self. It’s nice when you can escape that a little bit.
Do you find that, when collaborating with other people, when you go back, and you’re all alone doing things again- does that sort of spark new ideas for you?
Yeah. Every time you can try anything, you get a little leg up. When I meet younger producers, sometimes, I just encourage them to be as passionate as possible. Because, not only is there not enough time in the day to waste on anything else- You know, if you’re going to do this, you should be so desperately passionate about it and blinded by it that you don’t function very well in the real world, which is sadly true, and probably not good advice. But either way…
(both mutually take a deep breath and realize that that train of thought had come to a halt)
You had mentioned “The Weather” album with Busdriver and Radioinactive. You also did the album “Rethinking the Weather” which, I’ve heard a few instrumental albums of hip-hop or vocal albums, and usually, they’re pretty much the vocal album without the vocals. And your (instrumental) album was so different from the original…
They approached me about doing that. That’s the genesis of the project. They approached me to do an instrumental of the record. And, when I took away the voices, they were so much a part of the process of making the record (that) it felt empty to me. Entirely, all of the music is reacting to their vocals. Like, reacting. Like, really trying to mess them up, or et cetera. Without that, it just felt bland. It didn’t live the same way. So I had to try to do something- I remixed everything.
So, was it challenging to, after having this history with all of this music and all of these things in your head that are already stuck this way, was it hard to get out of that sort of mindset and make something new?
Extremely. And, also just the fact that I was trying to preserve the nugget of what made the songs the songs, but, at the same time, move away from them. Yeah, it was really hard. I actually don’t know if that record was successful for that reason. I enjoy a lot of the songs, but I just don’t know if it really collectively is a record because it’s still one foot in its previous idea, and then one foot trying to go further…
I was impressed with it. I listened to the vocal album for a long time before I actually heard that one, and I thought it translated really well.
Oh, cool. Thank you.
Especially all of your older stuff, you sample a lot of older music, or children’s music…sort of a thrift store sound.
I like the term “Broken Music”- Music that is innately crippled in a way, because it was fashioned from something else. It’s not made for listening; with kid’s records, it’s made for entertaining kids. With soundtracks, it’s made for a movie. With demonstration records- all these things are made for a different purpose. So when you decide to engage with it, you can become that extra purpose, even if it wasn’t the intention of the music.
Would you rather work with music that was made before sampling, before that technology was around…I mean, there’s records out that are just for DJs that just have guitars or drums, or sample libraries…Do you prefer to stay in the older realm, where you know that these people weren’t conscious of what someone else might be doing with this music? Is that an issue?
No, I mean- everything is a tool. If you seriously start putting rules, at least rules that you impose on yourself- as soon as you start putting abstract rules, then you’re going to fail. Because there is something out there that is probably better at what you’re doing, and you’re limiting yourself from it just because…well, you don’t feel like it. But at the same time, I am trying to be conscious, more conscious, of the legality of things, and where they’re coming from. And I know that it’s illegal, and you make that choice that you want to do it, because it should be there, and it musically makes sense rather than, “Oh, this is going to be a great cliché.”
(Music starts playing upstairs, Daedelus looks upward)
They’re starting their set. I gotta go.
We cordially thank each other as Daedelus heads to the stage and me the audience. Armed with a laptop and a space-aged Monome 256 sequencer, Daedelus commands an army of flashing buttons and broken drums. Despite sound problems early in the set, Daedelus successfully convinces his audience to climb aboard his glass elevator ascension into antique horn sections, dreamy synth lines, and Willie Wonka samples.