Daedelus sits patiently in the waiting area at Denver International Airport, about to fly off to Portland, where he plays yet another gig tonight. He’s chatting with me about his new album on Ninja Tune called Love to Make Music To. The title is not a typo, but in fact a good way of describing what Daedelus does and how he got things all twisted around in the making of a record — in this case to such happily and highly slamming effect.
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Bringing back the ascot: Alfred and his tools
Daedelus — original name Alfred Weisberg-Roberts; his assumed name refers to the sculptor of ancient lore — is a nattily attired young man whom one might like to lazily call a “DJ,” although this particular artist should more accurately be thought of as a “serious composer” working within, roughly, the experimental-dance/electronic realm. Over the course of several albums released on many of the most primo progressive/electronic-oriented labels, such as Mush, Phthalo, Plug Research and, most recently, Ninja Tune, he’s collaborated with the likes of Dntel, speed-rapper Busdriver and Radioinactive, MF Doom, Sci, Cyne, Mike Ladd and Prefuse 73’s Scott Herren, along the way finding time to craft extraordinary sonic statements like Exquisite Corpse (Mush/Ninja Tune), a cinematic, sampled-string-drenched wonder world of arcane dialogue bits blended with impossibly complicated beats.
It is said that Daedelus has a bigger record collection than you or you or you, though the size is only part of its import. It’s the type of stuff he collects and which ends up inhabiting his own music — your basic hip-hop stuff, of course, but then a lot of jazz, vintage funk/R&B/soul and most of the Hollywood and Euro film soundtracks circa 1940-1980, every kind of world music, vast hunks of vintage electro-acoustic and musique concrète, and four tons of bossa nova, música popular brasileira and batucada.
But that’s just to give you a hint of where the Santa Monica–born, USC-educated Daedelus is coming from, and to give some contrasting shades to his new Love to Make Music To, an upbeat, positive, romantic, fulla life virtual homage to rave culture that seems very deliberately, well, extrovert, and which is in many respects a total departure for Daedelus.
“It definitely is lively,” he says with a laugh. “The label had a great deal of effect, plus the idea of working with a London-based label and the European market. There’s Ninja Tune’s psychic image, their weight of history — a label that really is known for strange dance music, or strange electronic-music culture.”
He points out that, regarding the album’s upbeatness, the whole time he was doing this record, he was also working with his wife, singer-composer Laura Darlington, on a very dour and dirgey project called the Long Lost.
“So in some ways on past records, where I kind of oscillated between different tempos and different moods, this one kind of kept me grounded upbeat, ’cause I was throwing a lot of energy in a different direction on a different record.”
On this one, he attempts to rediscover and re-create a moment in time that was very brief but had, for many, a shatteringly deep impact and that was, at the same time, sort of a dream state that was only loosely hitched to reality. He explains:
“There’s at least an aspect of that rave culture when there was confusion about what dance music was at that moment in time,” he says. “And actually, I was too young to really have a sense of what that exactly meant, but just as a reflection that I was receiving, it was almost optimism; even with all these dark synth pads and cheesy samples, at times it really did identify with me as being a very positive thing.”
Thus, his homage to rave tips a hat not just to the happy vibe or atmosphere of the original scene, but to the actual analog-synth sounds that gave it its ferocious heat and whamming impact. All of these things have their sources in even earlier scenes, of course.
“We’ve really had rave culture since the Northern Soul parties in England, these all-nighters. It’s been around for a long time, just in a different form,” he says. “But the moment that most people would talk about was ’92-’93.”
This was, in hindsight, a mere moment when a lot of divergent music, like house and hip house and acid house and early techno and also breakbeat, your Bomb Squad and Ultramagnetic MC’s (sampled heavily by the rave producers of the time) all came together in one genre.
“There was a moment in time when every record that everyone was putting out was a rave record,” opines Daedelus, “and that was really rare in our highly fractured genre. It was a mad mix where you had people doing very computer-based production, very drum-machine-type production, but mixed with these really advanced samplers, where you start to have people throwing in longer, you know, five seconds’ worth of a string sample or something. This was really like people taking musical history and throwing it all together.”
Which is what the rather antiminimalist Daedelus does too, on this new album. Just so much sonic information shoves for attention in these tracks, not to a claustrophobic, show-offy effect but with his now infamously architectural flair for sound design and, most importantly, extremely reverberant combinations of melody, harmony and texture.
From the impossibly up opening “Fair Weather Friends,” which is built on a sample of a Japanese surf guitarist from the ’60s, to the “failed experiments in minimalism” of tracks like “I Took Two” and “Twist the Kids,” however, some of the production ideas behind these tracks differ quite a bit from Daedelus’ typical styles, with less emphasis on the painting with samples of his past work and a newfound hands-on wrangling of a lot of vintage analog-keyboard gear.
It’s that thick, fat, buzzing analog-synth sound that gives his new tracks this in-your-face sort of sociability, all of which arrives courtesy of the vintage gear of his beloved 1992 rave scene.
“On this record, I have a love affair with the Roland SH-09. In rave culture, the SH-101 is the most stolen synthesizer, and one of the early analog synths to have. It was one of the first to have an arpeggiator, in a real cheap form, so it wasn’t your kind of really fancy Jupiter synths, it was more a ground-level kind of thing. So, using the SH-09 allows me to sort of get to some of those sound sets, ’cause it’s really an exact precursor to the 101. It doesn’t have an arpeggiator, but it has its own unique bass sound. People talk about the Moog series having an amazing bass sound, but this one is really different.”
He’s also doing some extraordinary things with the famous old “Hoover bass” technique: Basically, a kind of very low subtone would come into a record at certain intervals, and in so doing on a big sound system, it would kind of blow people’s hair around back in the day. It can also make the material around the knees of your pants vibrate.
Then there’s his trusty midi-controller the Monomeme, which allows him to sample bits and pieces of a song he’s created, or even live material, and rips ’em apart on the fly, recombines, reverses, repeats ’em, allowing for a lot of improvisational control in an immediate fashion. That’s his main ax onstage, and he’s now used it extensively in Love to Make Music To.
“When I’m using the Monomeme live, I’m trying to find the audience,” says Daedelus. “I’m trying to find what people want to hear and what they want to do.” It’s a reflex that steered the early rave DJs toward the sound of surprise. The original rave masters “were making music that was futuristic, and it’s a future that never came to pass,” he says. “As quick as it happened, all those genres — breakbeat, house and techno — they all fragmented back into their own individual categories. So this is a dream more than a reality.
“It’s bittersweet to be dealing with genres that people aren’t familiar with, so when you’re subverting them, people won’t know. And rave music, a lot of people won’t know — and why should they? It’s a very specific moment in time, and that’s what makes it so compelling.”
Daedelus celebrates the release of Love to Make Music To on Saturday, July 12, at a private downtown location. For more information, go to www.groovetickets.com.