In classic Greek mythology, Daedelus was the name of an artisan and master craftsman who is perhaps best known for creating a pair of wings for his ill-fated son Icarus. Fast-forward a few thousand years and the name has been adopted by California native Alfred Darlington as the sobriquet for his equally well-crafted electronic productions. Having spent his early musical career studying jazz (in particular the double bass), Alfred found his calling in making music through samples and electronic beats; releasing his first album in 2001 and signing to the eclectic Ninja Tune imprint in 2008. Daedelus is infamous for his eccentric Victorian dress and his live performances in which he frenetically pushes buttons on his Monome – a mystifying laptop controller which is simply a box with a grid of back-lit buttons, with no labels or icons. Appearing in Tokyo next month as part of the RBMA Weekender, we caught up with Alfred on his European tour for a little insight into his music.
Hi Alfred, I believe you are somewhere on tour at the moment. Describe where you are, what you ate today and how your last gig was?
Indeed! Just arrived in Copenhagen to play for “Kulturnatten” or Culture Night, when all the public parks in the city stay open until the early hours and unlikely people come out to party in strange places. As for food I am quite passionate about coffee, it’s culture and taste, so I’ve sought out two fine establishments to try espresso at. Not much food yet, I should change that shortly. Yesterday was in Utrecht, Netherlands where I performed an intimate uptempo set to a kindly dancing crowd. We all got a bit sweaty.
You famously use a Monome on stage when you play, why did you decide on this particular bit of kit?
Live electronics are difficult. On one hand you want the full range of sounds that the modern soundsystems can produce with all the gymnastics that computer production allows, but on the other hand live music should “breathe” with improvisation and audience interaction. I have been obsessed with these possibilities since I was just a traditional musician playing double bass. When I first saw a prototype Monome in 2003 I really believed that it was the future of performance, electronic or traditional. It seemed to me to be a wonderful balance of control. All these years later I still feel the same and I am discovering so many new ways to perform with it.
Do you think there are too many “laptop performers” these days? Do you deliberately try and keep your style visual?
Yes. DJ culture in general has sadly lacked interaction (actually a Japanese DJ ECD was the first I’ve ever heard to push those boundaries and perform with the turntable facing forward). Similarly most laptop performers spend their time hiding behind screens. Alternately I really esteem the modern audience’s understanding of what goes into music creation, I think then facing instruments forward gives a chance for better dialog between the musician and the crowd. No gimmicks or tricks, just trying to make good sounds, in ways easier to understand.
Where do you see the next leap forward coming from in electronic music?
Styles change so very fast, and young audiences flit between one tempo and another… the sound is ubiquitous, it permeates all genres. I can see this is as finally a tipping point where the next generation of producers blur the lines of what dance can mean, it’s already happening but soon on a scale that makes the explosion of Rap music in the 1990s look small by comparison. But that’s just acceptance, the real leap forward will be the tools available in everyone’s pocket, the mobilizations of the production studio, more voices make for a richer choir and same is true for electronic music, more producers will make for a more interesting scene.
Talk us through how you begin writing a track.
I must admit I have no one way, it always plays out different. Each album is a flirtation with sounds and studio techniques that becomes a collection of similar songs. My latest “Drown Out” on Anticon is an easy example, I was trying out variable stereo compression, musique concrète, and thinking towards steganography. Those thoughts along with writing the music itself became the album, even if that meant starting with melody, or on another song it was first a drum beat.
You are also performing as Adventure Time. How does this differ to your solo work?
Adventure Time is Frosty and myself. The aesthetic is fun first with wonder and adventure close second and third. Our first album “Dreams of Water Themes” was almost entirely samples from Frosty’s considerable collection of international vinyl. We have a new LP out in 2014 that is space themed and still has an insane palette of sampled sounds!
One of my favourite Daedelus performances was at Sonar 2008 where you played a daytime set in the tent outside. I didn’t think your sound would translate to that kind of environment, but it was fantastic! What kind of environment do you most enjoy playing in and why?
Thankfully the Monomes I use allow for adaptation and thusly any environment can provide interesting chances to change up the normal operations. However I do find that the best shows are the ones where the audience can be quite up close and personal, where I can see the whites of their eyes and they can see my finger’s trying. Those situations tend to be my favorite.
Have you ever had any nightmare gigs?
Of course, but it isn’t about how bad it may get and who was throwing beer bottles towards the stage or the amount of rain falling on my laptop, but rather it’s the struggle to get through, the will to make a good show no matter the difficulty. The worst gig can be some of my favorite memories when we prevail over the challenge it presents. There is a satisfaction in such a moment that is sublime.
Daedelus and Adventure Time will perform as part of the Beacon in the City event at the RBMA weekender festival in Tokyo on November 2nd. For more information and advance tickets please visit the Red Bull Music Academy website.
Words: Mark Birtles
Translation: Asuka O.
October 29, 2013