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Escaping the EDM Maze with Daedelus

The LA beat-scene maverick discusses his esoteric productions, composing for video games, and Victorian Dandy flair...
2016-12-01 11:59:48
Anyone familiar with the quirky, shadowy, subterranean world of LA beat production (think Low End Theory, Brainfeeder) will already know the name Daedelus. The beat composer, who has a background in trad jazz bass and is instantly identifiable by his trademark Victorian suit, has come through China a few times before, gracing some of Shanghai and Beijing’s finest underground clubs. Shanghai-based promoter Antidote, wrapping up another strong year, is winging him back for a live performance this Friday, December 2 at Dada Shanghai. Daedelus returns this time hot off the release of his latest studio album Labyrinths, a multi-media album heavy on collaborators.

When asked about the title of this album, obviously a direct nod to his mythological namesake, Daedelus -- famous for his eclectic mix of hip hop boom-bap, cerebral IDM arrangements and liberal dashes of vintage sounds -- explains that it references the maze-like quality of corporate EDM, with its repetitive structures and confusing array of eyeball-piercing ad glam. Speaking as someone who just escaped that EDM maze recently, I recommend we all gather round and hear what this defiant Luddite has to say about the state of music today:


SmartShanghai: What is your musical background, both in terms of what you grew up listening to and what you grew up playing? You studied double bass in college, right? How much does acoustic playing figure into your production work or process?

Daedelus: I studied Jazz in university, but my heart was beating in BPMs I guess, because I didn't finish out the degree in Double Bass. I discovered the joy of synthesis and power of sequencing and ended my education with those classes. Can't shake my adoration of the sounds and joy in improvisation. The idea of including the audience’s reactions is very rooted in being present with the sound. I really believe that's the power of Jazz, everyone is in on the music. I try to take that same philosophy to Electronics.

SmSh: You've been a force on the LA beat scene for well over a decade now. What kinds of venues or events would you play when you were first starting out?

Daedelus: Everywhere. Anywhere. Raves and rock venues alike. This beat sound doesn't live in one setting, you hear it on main stage EDM festivals with Flying Lotus and Flume. Or conventional dance floors with Kaytranada and his Soulection. Its influence is everywhere now, but early on it was just a matter of where they could squeeze me onto.

SmSh: How have you seen the LA scene change? Can you namecheck some artists, labels, etc that we should check out to give a picture of the most interesting productions coming out of the city today?

Daedelus: The collectives now putting forward sound are the easiest to name check. The previously mentioned Soulection, but also Team Supreme, Wedidit, Fade to Mind, Brainfeeder. All function like labels and crews. A collective is strong in LA.

SmSh: In a previous interview you said that, "I’ve been pursuing an idea for sometime now that an album is for listening, deeply and alone. While a live set is tailored to be (a)loud and with movements in mind." How do you divide your time composing for studio vs live settings?

Daedelus: Imagine the listener’s environment in 2016. How much your surroundings are all begging for attention. Your phone wants to be checked, answered, touched, and fondled at any given moment. Same for half the other devices that are within arm’s reach. How can we expect someone to just listen? Same goes for the club. How the intoxication of bright lights and big bass conspire to have you pay little attention to fine details. I just try to take these factors into account and see where the music wants to go accordingly. It's fun to imagine.

SmSh: In 2014 you created the soundtrack of the wonderfully 2D video game Nidhogg. How did you get that gig? Did you go into it with a different mindset, composing for a video game as opposed to making music as a release under your own name?

Daedelus: That game is so much fun! Half of the soundtrack is the wild yelling the players make! I’ve done some soundtracks, even a bit of gamified content, but Nidhogg was really special (and retro-bloody). The team who put it together approached me as fans open to ideas, but with some strong sense of what was already compelling about the game. So we worked together just to not ruin that.

SmSh: In October you released your latest album, Labyrinths. It has a long list of contributors, including Laura Darlington (your wife or a family member?). What were you trying to get across in this album? Can you talk about its overall vision, including the sound, artwork, and "interactive" sides of it?

Daedelus: We expect musicians to make music. Reasonably enough of course. But I also believe music won't exist without a strong spark of inspiration. Eureka, really. So when Labyrinths came to me it felt like I was rediscovering an album I’d already made and just needed to write down. Laura (my wife indeed) was one of the first collaborators, but then it quickly sprawled into members of other bands and guest singers and emcees. This record wanted voices.

Artwork is so important to framing an album's concept. And I'd had the thought that Labyrinths was a reaction to getting lost in EDM culture, quite a maze with its same-sounding songs and the towering dominance of the commercial landscape. So the artwork is a shape made from typewriter +’s that resembles the very same maze, but very analog and tactile compared to the flat deep house reheats going 'round.

The interactive side was a special project to refocus what audience think is possible from the album experience. Let's keep pushing boundaries!

SmSh: I've seen you refer to your sound as "Victoriana", and was quite impressed by your sartorial dedication when you performed in a Victorian Dandy three-piece suit in Beijing last July, despite the boiling heat. What generally about the Victorian age appeals to you? How does this translate into musical terms? Is your appearance an important aspect if your live performance?

Daedelus: So much invention going on in the Victorian, both in things made and the ways we wore them. I feel like fashion speaks volumes, and if a tailcoat helps the audience know that something different is going to happen then that's great. Not the only reason I like to dress up, but good enough for stage.

SmSh: You have close ties with the internet radio station Dublab. They recently received a license from the FCC to broadcast on FM airwaves in LA, and are now applying for the LA2050 grant to buy some of the necessary nuts and bolts, like a a transmitter and an antenna. How would Dublab on FM radio expand its reach? Can you talk about the importance of such "freeform" radio stations today?

Daedelus: Los Angeles is most often experienced by car, and having Dublab in those speakers will transform the audio landscape. It'll throw our sounds into passing windows, unsuspecting inspiration will transpire! How wonderful: not having a playlist makes us wonder what's next, both what song and in our days.

SmSh: This is your third time coming to China, right? What cities, scenes, places or people have impressed you most on your travels, in terms of music? In general?

Daedelus: Music isn't just a lifestyle or trend, it seems like a deep-seeded need. We connect with the performer and other audience, but also with the sound itself. It's like we are thirsty, and music quenches. The places where I've no idea what is being listened to: La Paz in Bolivia. Beijing previously. Bucharest, Romania. A few highlights from previous runs that stepped up and danced to sounds few would have known. Those experiences changed me. I chase them around the world hoping to have similar again. Brings me back to places I've been lucky to find before.


Antidote presents Daedelus, Friday, December 2 at Dada Shanghai. Big local card of support: Damacha, Zean, Ollo-Mam, and Kilo-Vee. No entry fee.