Daedelus: Thrill of Invention

Ahead of his new EP being released, <b>Daedelus</b> talks about his love of Wales, secretive samples and his bond with technology.

Feature by Rosie McLean | 02 Mar 2010
  • Daedelus

Everyone loves a bit of un-trivial trivia, and I am fascinated to find that Santa Monica’s Alfred Darlington, aka Daedelus, is most likely to be found holidaying in Wales. He first heard rave on his way to a family holiday there, and holds infinite respect for the people, their history and culture, which inspired his record Of Snowdonia.

Top of his proudest moments was being sampled on the track Accordian by Madvillain for the album Madvillainy - “[Madlib] usually goes back to the 60s/70s jazz or funk, and to be made basically into raregroove is a really proud moment for me!” He likes Hyperdub’s Ikonika, but doesn’t “feel like she’s embodying a female perspective” musically. Other London-based female dubstep producers, Dot and Subeena, are “doing it maybe a little bit better.” He loves “the hunt”, and his rarest record is one of twenty or thirty studio copies of “the original Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory soundtrack from the 70s, it’s actually all sung by Anthony Newley.” It’s hard not to be compelled – Daedelus effervesces conversationally.

He does, however, excuse his hushed “morning voice” early on – “It’s kinda early here in America.” But despite my catching him at a “soft start” he’s knife sharp; articulate and anecdotal. Keen to discuss his latest release on Flying Lotus’ label Brainfeeder, which appears to be a self-consciously transgressive record, he’s comfortable in the realms of conceptual and historical juxtaposition, and paints himself thus: a modern music producer taking his name, Daedelus, from the Ancient Greek inventor. “I won’t make a song if there isn’t something behind it… You should make sure you come at something with such a furious tenacity that it shines, I think. But it’s enough just to have a melody.”

The eight track EP takes its name from a group of uprising rebels during China’s 1898 Boxer Rebellion. For Daedelus, the group's rejection of the West’s religious and sociopolitical dogmas was “an incredible moment”, made all the more interesting for his artistic purposes by the fact that “they believed they had all these magic powers – they believed they could fly, they wouldn’t die because of bullets or fire.” Their mysticism was their earthly downfall- “a hail of British gun and cannon took 100,000 boxers down”.

He locates his own element of danger, of subversion, in risking an eschewal of his own previous hip-hop leanings, and also reaction to his view of contemporary production aesthetics. “Listen to your latest dubstep song and there’s no reverb, no space to the music. It’s upfront, it’s made to hurt you… Not in a bad way but in an impactful way. This record is really about texture, its about distance, size, space, and it’s kind of made to whisper in your ear, it’s made to kind of tell you this secret thing of the past or something. And that feels kind of dangerous to me nowadays, I don’t know why!” Observing that his career has embraced various stylistic experiments, Daedelus praises his patient fanbase, and eagerly anticipates what they make of this release.

Interestingly, the Righteous Fists EP’s overall tone is abstract, symphonic, and often melodic – certainly mystical. Soft, folk and falsetto vocals, including contributions from his wife – acclaimed folk singer Laura Darlington – lend tracks like Order of the Golden Dawn and Succumbing To a perfumed delicacy. “I really wanted to have the female vocal be something that escaped those kind of clichés about war and about that masculine thing.” Track three, The Finishing of a Thing, culminates in the opposite – a cacophonous, concussive build up. Talk about the importance of tension and release in music leads him to enthuse about the 1760’s German aesthetic movement Sturm und Drang (Storm and Stress) – the musical tangent of which was characterised by dramatic oscillations between pattern and breakdown in rhythm, melody and tempo.

These tensions both cater for the short attention span of the 21st century, and makes for a turbulent emotional listening experience. Other journalists before me have asked him about the “love sound” he’s created in the past with Love to Make Music To and the Long Lost (another release with Mrs Darlington). But perhaps this is even more important working with the Brainfeeder label, as he explains “part of the mandate of the label is to explore some inner space as well as some physical space.” While Righteous Fists is very different from previous records, it retains notions of evoking emotion through reworking musical clichés such as the orchestral “swelling of film music”.

Travelling, however, has made him wise to the cultural relativism of musical and emotional conventions. “I played a show in China, in Shanghai, and a lot of the things I usually rely on for textural beauty basically didn’t work! I’m having a hard time, trying a lot of different samples, and I got to the hip-hop, and it really felt like the sound of rebellion out there. It was dangerous music.”

As well as knowing his way around five acoustic instruments, live shows often rely heavily on his monome, which allows him to cut and sample live, and I don’t think it too licentious to draw a comparison between him and his technology. The interview is littered with his historical references, as are his ideas. In a society obsessed by the figure of the innovator, the blurring of old and new appears particularly relevant. Is it important to him to comment on that? “Absoutely. I mean, everything I do is that. I mean, the reason I dress up Victorian is that!”

The secret to the perfect sample, he alleges, is finding something obscure enough that people feel they know, but isn’t located too specifically in cliché. But borrowing from history is not without its repercussions. “I hate to say this, but you have to be careful what you print as a journalist, because the way I got caught was that a journalist outed me on a sample! In a positive review the person said that 'I really flipped that Fatback Band sample'. And I did a record called A Gent Agent, and on that record I had this disco-y fun track and I sampled some of their bass… It was positive but there are people who trawl the internet looking for things like that and then I got sued, you know!”

Another chap whose creations bit him in the arse is, of course, his namesake. The original Daedelus’s invention of wings led to the death of his son Icarus, and the labyrinth to his entrapment in a tower. The Righteous Fists of Harmony EP then, is “not only about this uprising and war, but also about technology being… well, we live in a crazy age for it. It’s both about now and the past and the future I guess.”

We’ve spoken a lot about history, so I ask him to nominate some future talent as well. “Jogger are an amazing group that I do some work with and are unknown to the general public… Daphs are soon to be releasing. That group are fusing beats-music, wonky-music and song writing. It’s beautiful, so incredible. Nosaj Thing is another absolutely excellent up and coming act – his record is incredible. You got people like Illumsphere from Manchester and his debut record just dropped today I think, of all things! He’s an incredible beatmaker. He’s doing the Red Bull Music Academy this year along with so many other talented kids. Another is Tokimonsta from L.A, also doing Red Bull, as a female that’s really holding her own in this all too male dominated world of beats.”

This article has been amended

Daedelus will be playing the excellent Brainfeeder night on 10 Mar in London alongside Flying Lotus, Tokimonsta, Dorian Concept, Nosaj Thing and others. The Righteous Fists of Harmony is out 22 Mar