A marvelous confusion
Electronic artist Daedelus escapes easy classification
Sacramento, CA 95814
When Alfred “Daedelus” Darlington takes the stage to perform at this year’s Sacramento Electronic Music Festival, he’ll have a decade of material to choose from. There is the glitchified orchestral soundtracks of 2002’s Invention, the surreal bossa nova of 2006’s Denies the Day’s Demise, and the tweaked bass and breakbeats of 2008’s Love to Make Music To. There are side projects such as the Long Lost, a 2009 folk excursion made with his wife, vocalist and visual artist Laura Darlington; and the whimsical avant-hop of The Weather, his 2003 album with rappers Busdriver and Radioinactive. More than most of his electronic contemporaries, Daedelus escapes easy classification.
Based in Los Angeles, Daedelus has become something of an elder statesman in that city’s widely celebrated beats ’n’ bass scene. Yet he clearly stands apart with his eccentric look—modeled after Victorian dandies of the 19th and early 20th century—ever-present monome keyboard and studious disregard to convention. His recordings may sound lovely and pastoral at times, but his live performances (captured on the 2009 disc Live at Low End Theory) make them nearly unrecognizable. Instead, he culls the melodies and hooks and attaches them to a series of jackhammer beats that resemble early 1990s U.K. hardcore jungle, or “rave music.” They are experiences unto themselves.
Daedelus is currently on tour in Asia, so he chose to respond to a few questions via e-mail.
Please explain your visual and conceptual aesthetic. It’s been called “steampunk” and Victorian, but it’s actually Edwardian, right?
It’s been so knocked around and twisted, I’m mostly interested in Victoriana and all things inventor-ly. Now much like a Venn diagram, Steampunk also intercepts with such, but also includes plenty of Edwardian touches, even some [World War I] weirdness, and [it] seems to me more about historic (re)visionary-ism (wow, that isn’t a word!). Nothing against all that fun, I’m just not that interested in that much modern-ism in my historic ramblings.
Which instrument(s) do you use for shows? Do you rely on presets and, if so, how do you generate organic sounds?
I am quite embroiled with this fantastic instrument/controller called monome. Using two versions, one being 256 buttons and the other 64, which are both connected to a computer. In many ways it is like traditional keyboarding, or finger percussion at times, but with unlimited sounds to choose from. This is simplifying things a bit, after all, it is still pretty DIY electronics, so night to night the show can vary by huge margins as called for.
When I’ve seen you perform live, your sets tended to be much more chaotic and noisy than your recordings. Is that typical of your performances? Overall, can you describe your approach to live performance?
Sturm und Drang is a very useful concept for performance, I believe. As is tension and release, expectation, and exuberance. All qualities to aspire for, often fail to execute, and try, try again.
In recent years you’ve trumpeted “rave” and “hardcore,” especially during your sets. But “rave” is a relatively vague term, especially here in the United States. When you say “rave music,” what are you referring to? And how do you explore “rave” in your music?
There is currently a marvelous confusion of tempo in the dance-music world, mostly centering around 140 [beats per minute]. Genres like dubstep, electro and footwork (a little faster paced then the others) are staples of the current rave scene. Without getting into what makes these styles stand apart, I’m enjoying the possibilities in a shared tempo with different feels throughout a live set. Getting historical, rave-ups were all-night dance parties in the 1960s fueled by music and substances, pretty familiar territory to our current concept of rave, right? Things don’t change; time just bends and strings touch, some physics, and poof!
Can you talk about your relationship with Flying Lotus? I know you were something of a mentor to him, and lent a remix to his first album, 1983. Also, Laura Darlington has sung guest vocals on all of his full-lengths.
I’m a fan and consider myself a friend. He seems to be making waves for the best reason, good music! We’ve had a connection [through] the L.A. music scene for a spell, and I was honored to have my EP Righteous Fists of Harmony be one of the early releases on his label, Brainfeeder.
Speaking of Ms. Darlington, she’s been a close collaborator with you since Invention, and you even released an album together as the Long Lost in 2009. Can you talk about your work together for a minute? How is the Long Lost project different from your solo work?
The Long Lost predates my solo work by a couple of years; we’ve been collaborating that long! It has been song-driven from the get, and often revolves around the instruments of our shared past (meeting in high-school orchestra): flute, bass clarinet, bass and guitar. By having a limited sound [palette] (unlike the previously mentioned monome) and a strong-willed writing partner in Laura, we’ve had a small output but very focused in sound.
A new Daedelus album is set for release this year. What’s the title? Will it have special guests?
The album is [titled] Bespoke and features guest appearances from Milosh, Inara George, Bilal, Amir Yaghmai (as Young Dad), Baths, Om’Mas Keith, Busdriver, Poirier, Pete Curry and a first release from vocalist Kelela Mizanekristos. It’ll be my fourth LP for Ninja Tune.
OK, time to play “Daedelus for Dummies.” If you could recommend one album or song for someone unfamiliar with your work, which would they be?
Let’s start at the beginning, and perhaps my first released song would be quite telling. “A Mashnote” from 2001 appeared on Dublab’s Freeways compilation, from so long ago, but I still can totally relate to the purposefully slack drums and simple melody. I hope others can hear something of now from way back then as well.