Deriving his nom de plume from Greek mythology, Alfred Darlington certainly lives up to the enormity of adopting the name of a fine demigod artist. With his affiliation with Low End Theory along with having his albums released through respected indie labels such as Flying Lotus’ Brainfeeder and Alpha Pup, Daedelus is yet another notable producer that has been borne out of the LA beat scene. The dichotomy that makes up this abstract artiste can be seen in the way he approaches with the making of an album and the manic way in which he performs. Take his latest concept album The Light Brigade for instance; it explores the severe idea of mortality via the Crimean War, whereas his live sets are typically boisterous and exude positive vibes. In spite of a horrible jetlag, there was a definite enthusiastic energy radiating from Mr. Darlington as the following questions were met with bright eyes and eager nods. Expectedly, JUICE took his eagerness as a go-ahead to interrupt his rest in order to understand the inner workings of an underrated Victorian garb-clad LA beatsmith.
You’ve managed to convey your interest in history and myth through electronic music and technology, were you conscious of that contrast?
Yeah, absolutely. When I first started, it was a little bit more pronounced, especially the idea that electronic music and emotion weren’t mixed, that the only emotion you are allowed to feel is ‘dance’ emotions – you know like, uplift[ing] and euphoric, and everything else is left behind. I feel like there’s so much more territories [now]. When I first started, it was a little bit rarer. But then overtime, you see more and more people deal with all kinds of sophistication and of course, there is a little bit of history to it as well – and all of music is there to express. And interestingly enough, all music starts as a dance form – you know, people used to dance to these symphonies, dance at jazz concerts – so electronic music has that opportunity to be that as well, to be all kinds of things. But in terms of the technology and in terms of the history, it’s like, “Why not?” Anything you’re interested in, I think it’s either you’ll find similar resonators, like people who are interested in similar things or [it’s like] we can’t escape ourselves, anyways… if that makes sense? I know that’s kind of like a long way of saying it but basically, we’re afforded this opportunity to really express ourselves, either we squander that because we are living up to some other expectation or we just embrace it. I’m kind of on the ‘embrace it’ side, maybe to a fault. Maybe a little too much embracing (laughs).
You once said that you would think of some relative adjectives — such as blue or wonderment — before you embark on a project. Have the ideas always come in abstractions or do you sometimes allow ideas to be more specific?
I think working in abstraction makes it easier to compose. No matter how much we try to think about things in advance, music always has its own mind, and sometimes it has to do with computers crashing, you’ll lose all your information or sometimes, the piano is sticky on a key and so the melody you’re planning doesn’t work because of that note, or maybe it’s a note that you should be playing more because it’s there. So, there are all these devices to get you to think outside of traditional compositional ideas. It’s good anyway, it’s too much of that going on.
Is wonderment still the idea that you’re trying to capture with your music? Because The Light Brigade was quite mournful in tone.
Yeah. [But] I mean to different degrees. The Light Brigade was a bit of an anomaly for me, it was such a soundtrack, it’s a history we don’t know much about and then equally, a lot of my albums – but especially live shows – it’s really about how there’s this synaesthesia happening, confusion of senses, and I think wonderment is part of that. I would like to say yes but again, I shoot for the stars a lot and I only get to the moon sometimes, you know? (Laughs).
But you also spoke about the frustrations you had about people not understanding or even care about the stories that were told in your albums. Is it slightly demoralising for you when your ideas do not translate well to listeners?
It is demoralising just in the sense that you put all this energy and effort, and you spend months and months crafting this thing. But also, it keeps me inspired because honestly people [surprise me]… like the record I made The Light Brigade, which does have its mournful elements, but people will come up to me and tell me like it’s their love songs; their songs between their lover and themselves, and it’s like, I’ve never intended this but their outcome is like really real and I really appreciate that. You know, it’s hard to get outside our own ears, we hear something we like, we hear something we don’t like, it’s hard to change those opinions. If we get this opportunity to hear something through somebody’s eyes and ears, it’s incredible!
You’re very open to listeners’ interpretations…
Yeah, I love it! Like when I did thematic records, I didn’t say anything about it, really. Like the titling of the record would be the only hint, but I wouldn’t try to tell people too strongly, but now I realise you’re either gonna read it or not. Maybe they are gonna hear it either way.
Have you ever considered that some of your music may be too conceptual for people?
Absolutely, I feel like weaving in concepts even in live shows by leaving it to more of improvisations rather than it being a singalong? You’re leaving people behind, but also, there’s a beautiful world of sound and thousands of musicians and other musicians do that other thing better than I do, so I might as well keep on focusing on things that keep me interested and that’s honest. If I just keep on doing the popular thing, maybe it would succeed or maybe it would fail, but it wouldn’t be me. But that’s the other thing too, there are so many other musicians that I would be happy to recommend and they do it really well, you know? They crossover, so I’m for like a small bandwidth of people but that’s okay — like it’s amazing how full the world is with very particular people.
You once said that you make music for 18 to 20-year-olds instead of 45-year-old pundits. Do you think those 45-year-olds would not know how to surrender to the music and enjoy themselves?
(Laughs) Well, this is interesting right? I get older, but my audience stays the same age, so it is one of those strange things, I feel like it’s one of those things, I want my music to speak to everybody, I want it to be universally felt, but man! When people don’t go to shows and they don’t get the real sonic experience of like loud music in a dark room where their imaginations can go wild… It’s like what exactly are they hearing? What are they getting?
Maybe they are over-intellectualising, over-analysing? You know, they wanna box you up.
Maybe, yeah, yeah. It’s tough. I really do feel like at a certain point, everybody stops going to shows. Their lives get complicated, they get children or they get married, or they get like a working life that kind of takes it out? And, your listening habits change, you listen to a few less things, maybe you only listen to those same records you listened in high school or college? It’s kind of a tough fate, especially considering that the artistes still appeal to those senses and try to get you to listen to something else, and yet people change with their own personal lives. It can be very demoralising, so I know there are strategies out there to deal with that, but I just try to keep my head focused and probably appeal to those younger crowds because they are still there at shows.
But what about know-it-all teenagers with Pitchfork aspirations who have all these preconceived notions? How do you try to overcome that?
It’s hard, right? Like everybody knows everything with just a click of a button or, you know, Siri just tells them whatever they want to know, but the truth of the matter is that I do feel like the appeal can happen when you’re someone at an emotionally available time via a record or at an emotionally available time at a live show, those are very raw moments. So when you catch somebody at a right place, you can tell them everything, you can weave the story in any direction.
Speaking of pundits, musicians are sometimes at odds with music critics and journalists. What are your thoughts about music criticism in general?
We are at a tough crossroad because at certain point, music journalism became more about controversy rather than really describing the music. Like, I know that there are some really good critics out there, that there is some really good journalism in general, but when was the last time you read an album review that really told you what the sound was gonna be like? There’s a lot of comparisons and also a lot about the history of the band and like what the direction of the album was… Again, I make conceptual albums, it’s okay when people talk about the concept but when people actually talk about the sound, like what kind of chords are being used, what kind of tempo, you know… dynamics; it’s seemingly absent. Kids go to journalism school, they are not going to music school, so it makes for a disconnect and that’s my primary grievance. Somebody can read a 10,000 word review and know nothing about the music, they just know what the band is wearing or something (laughs). And I’m guilty of it too because I like to get into other people’s head space, other people’s senses that you appeal to as well. The truth of the matter is journalism is in a funk. But I do think that’s why the music industry is suffering so much, because those critical voices aren’t the music makers themselves and that (music knowledge) needs to be stronger… I do think an actual job people should have is as the listener – it’s like a really important component in the musical experience. It’s actually much more important than what I’m actually doing – [the act of] active listening from intelligent, interested people who are passionate about it. It’s like so rare, people just have like a gigabyte of music and they rarely listen to things and really get deep in on it. A good journalist can really focus people’s attention than a musician putting out music ever can.
How do you try to balance wanting people to react physically to your music but also wanting them to experience it on a deeper, more emotional level?
I have schizophrenia, so my records are about deep listening and my live show is… sometimes it gets to a point that’s it’s so messy, I’ll hone it down just a little bit and to a secret emotional place, (snaps fingers) it’s really effective, I find. Like tonight, it’s probably gonna be loud and bombastic and hopefully, at some equal turns, it will get really sweet, just maybe even for a moment before it goes back into bombast.
While you put a lot of effort in creating a stunning live experience visually via the use of your trusty instruments, such as the monome and the Archimedes, and your moves on stage, what are your thoughts on producing music videos for those who can’t experience a live Daedelus set?
It’s really hard because I’m a fanatic about sound—body music especially—music that we not only listen with our ears but our whole body and sometimes it’s the rumble of our organs or almost like a primitive response we have to loud sounds, so when we try to capture that in a video, you’re taking a tiny microphone [and try] to squeeze a lot of that experience into that microphone. Also visually, we hear with our noses sometimes, pheromones spinning around in the room, the pretty people dancing around you, they are so much more effective than just my wild moves on stage, you know? I want to share this experience with people, but I don’t know, my theory or my method is just to try to be [at different] places. I just like touring, I think that’s the most honest way of presenting. Like yesterday, I played in Dubai, I really didn’t know what to expect, but people went crazy, I guess they don’t have this kind of music there very often. They were saying this kind of music was more avant-garde or experimental or fringe. Man! They were hungry. But also, I feel like that there are many gateways to get to where I am, and from me further on down, there’s so much music, it’s great.
Earlier this year, we interviewed TOKiMONSTA, who much like you, has a background in classical music; she said that sort of music has a way of telling a story. Do you share the same sentiment as her?
Yeah. It’s funny because when you learn music theory, even if you don’t know the words, by playing the music, you get it in your fingers in a way that you understand this kind of ideas. It makes perfect sense for people like TOKiMONSTA and myself and other people who did classical music and jazz, you get this sense of tempo and finishing phrases in certain ways [and] movements more than the songs. I feel like it shows up in all these ways, it’s good to unlearn that stuff too, it’s not useful in our modern ears, we want it a bit faster and stronger. But I am really grateful that I have that background, so I have a sense in things.
Do you think that it’s a form of discipline?
Maybe if I practised more I would agree but I don’t practise that much.
Is that sort of training very rigid?
Yeah, when I did classical music. Do you know what long tones are? Okay, so like especially with bass, you just hold a note for like minutes, just see how smooth you can make that note, how centred and more round-sounding, just for minutes, you know? Just to understand how it feels like under your fingers and how it sounds like. There isn’t the same opportunity in synthesis and electronic music composition; we’re not mining the same space. But I do feel like the discipline of waking up and working is important. But, man! I oscillate on it because I live in music since I was like five, that’s what I did and at a certain point I didn’t want to be a player playing dead people’s music, you know? That’s what classical music represents—you’re playing music that’s understood and known hundreds of years ago at times.
Is there no place for experimentation in classical music?
It’s rare, you know? To be a modern composer, it’s like very few people do that. Even then, what they are actually expressing is a reflection of what classical music was. Still, they have to work in a tradition to be considered – it’s really hard. So, electronic music is freedom and I chose freedom. But I appreciate people who have that discipline to do the more traditional approach. But can you imagine? It’s crazy!
How would you say you have evolved musically and technically throughout your extensive career?
Both having that classical training and trying to lose that. I mean, my early compositions sound more like little symphonies than they do songs. And also, I was really afraid of making dance music when I started. The power to move someone is a great… it’s… (struggles to find words)
… it’s a burden?
Yes, it’s a burden. Because when you start, you don’t want to let them (the listeners) down. Also, it’s very primal and honestly, it’s also associated with intoxicants too. As a younger person, I was really scared to just push alcohol on people because I grew up in the rave scene, I saw so many burnouts, and so I didn’t want to be associated with that. I had my own ideas, over time I’ve seen this other side of it that’s actually like euphoria and joyousness that’s just so rare in life, it’s so wonderful to be able to give that to people, and each of us has our own internal rhythm and if we can just reflect that out a little bit, it could be powerful and really uplifting, so I’m much more on that side of it now, but it took me a long evolution to get there – records upon records of maybe danceable material. I’m not saying that The Light Brigade was a dance-y record by any means, but now live, I feel much more comfortable in that space.
We’re sorry but can we talk about your Victorian outfits? Is one of the reasons to confound people? Because it’s very odd to see you dressed the way you do while you perform electronic music.
Sure, I can understand that. It’s funny because it’s reaching out and being myself. Over time, I’ve been drawn to the Victorian aesthetic so strongly that I just try to incorporate it more and more into my life. And part of it I feel is that it’s like a blank slate that I can paint in. Men’s fashion is kind of limited, right? You’re either dressed kind of formal or you’re dressed kind of casual and maybe you put more cargo shorts on the sides. It’s like that’s it, that’s all you got. As a young person growing up in Santa Monica, California, I wore shorts for the first 18 years of my life, unerringly; there was no temperature to change for. So I think I was drawn to difference, I wanted to move but I never moved, so I just changed my clothes. But then over time, by harkening down this by-gone era, nobody has any ideas, you could be up on stage with huge changes in my set, dressed up Victorian as I do, and I don’t think anybody cares because it’s so out of the box. It’s nice – the freedom it allows, it affords. But that being said, I have been mocked about it quite recently, and I just find it so funny because fashion is such a very personal attack, it’s a form of communication, right? When they want to offend somebody, they want you to know it really quickly; I just find it so funny. People get so up in arms about it… It’s like sexuality can be offensive or challenging to people’s perceptions, but men’s fashion rarely goes in that direction. But if people don’t quite understand, they get really scared. I think we should be scared more often, there’s so much unknowable in this world, it’s nice to live in a bit of a fear and it’s accepted, you know?
Do you think that the electronic music scene is an accepting place?
At its roots? Definitely. Historically, all these marginalised population found space in that forum because of that, it had a very wide space to really grow from. But over the years, the EDM scene is sort of narrow and very bro-y and party[-centric]. I mean, I play those events sometimes, I find it very interesting, people just don’t know what to make of [my] music. When the music isn’t like strobe lights, they just sit there – they are waiting for the next big blast. Like, how? They’ve worn down their brains. It’s crazy; the ears just don’t work in the same way. It’s kind of sad but kind of interesting, the mad scientist in me appreciates it but the musician is kind of shaking my head.
Being someone who aspires to a dandy ideal, what do you think of the way people dress and behave now? You know, like millennial culture, twerking, and all that dirty Gen-Y nonsense.
Yeah, sure (laughs). Well, it’s not nonsense necessarily, I mean if you were to twerk on my leg, I would rather you take me out on a date, I’m taken but like I’m just saying. But still, it’s all forms of communication and I wish people would wield that communication in more interesting ways. It’s all really blatant. Like, have you been on Tinder and all these sites? It’s so… I don’t know. Okay, so politeness is an illusion right? We’re all like looking for meat to eat, like it’s a sustenance and mating and all that stuff, if you just put a tiny veneer on it, the world would be much more beautiful and so politeness can be that paint, could be that thing that makes the world more vibrant. It’s the same way with attire, just do something in your space, you know? And one more thing about the millennial culture — well, not exactly the millennial culture — just like now, it’s people with their practised smiles. They know exactly what their smiles look like – be it in their selfie or picture – their smile is just instantaneous. It’s kind of amazing and you look better in photos. But the truth is it’s just creepy from the perspective of [an outsider], it just doesn’t seem as authentic or true, it’s just that you have it readied.
Courtesy of RBMA, Daedelus performed at Under9 on Friday 12 June ’15.