Dance Evolution: Daniel Avery on Drone Logic
Fostered by Erol Alkan and Andrew Weatherall but with a tunnelling, paranoid sound all his own, Daniel Avery is convinced that now is the most exciting time for electronic music in a long while – and we're pretty sure he's the ringleader
During the notoriously prolonged production of My Bloody Valentine’s Loveless, frontman and sonic mastermind Kevin Shields told Vox magazine that 'Sound is like a picture in my head... I'm thinking of writing them down some day.' Shields' tireless pursuit of emotional sonic transcendence nearly bankrupted Creation Records and its owner, Alan McGee, who eventually made some change back with Oasis. Daniel Avery, for whom Loveless is an all-time favourite LP, shares a similar vision, but has been fortunate enough to render his psychedelic soundscapes in a landscape far less fraught with tension than his hero. “I think ‘trippy’ is the key word,” Avery notes. “I don’t want to use it as a cheap drugs reference, but trippy is definitely important. Loveless is basically the ultimate trippy record, for example.”
Out this month, Drone Logic, the first full-length from the producer and DJ, is a reliably and, it’s fair to say, refreshingly trippy record, as well as a steady and assured debut LP. Ostensibly still a club record, it nonetheless revels in feedback and delay to create dancefloor drama; it's a detailed sound that’s practically slow-motion compared to that of the current spate of young producers flooding clubs and playlists. Over 12 tracks, Drone Logic conjures both menace and melancholy amid the euphoria – and while it's full of moments that will ensure hands in the air, it’s obvious that Avery’s work is nonetheless indebted to more outsider influences such as Chris Carter and NEU!, with The Chemical Brothers as a wider reference point.
Avery is something of a survivor of the indie dance scene of the mid 00s, a lively time that, at its height, gifted us the likes of LCD Soundsystem and Simian Mobile Disco, then quickly escalated to somewhat more aggressive excesses before being put out to pasture on a trailer for the first series of Skins. At almost the exact same time, Erol Alkan closed his legendary weekly Trash party in London after a decade of evolving, sweaty service. Having passed the club’s notoriously non-specific dress code test a few times, Avery caught the tail end of Trash and would continue to see Alkan elsewhere on visits to London, alongside the likes of Michael Mayer and Ewan Pearson, DJs known for their versatility and somewhat broader record collections than many others found in the stale superclubs of the time.
“Now’s the most exciting time for electronic music in a while, because for whatever reason, crowds seem to have become way more receptive,” observes Avery, who, at 27, is something of a club veteran and saw the scene he was initially inspired by – and even a part of, through his retired ‘stopmakingme’ persona – “sort of dry up of ideas.” Or maybe we can’t see the wood for the trees? “There might just be a load of good music around?” he offers.
“I’ve seen sane kids, boys and girls lose their shit to weird records that Daphni is playing... These kids love it all” – Daniel Avery
If Avery’s acid-flecked sound isn't thundering around clubs all freshers' week long, then that's because he’s done a fairly spectacular job of carving his own offbeat niche. At a mere 114 beats per minute, the album's title track – 'drone logic' is, he says, a phrase that “doesn’t mean anything in particular, it just sounds right” – goes at an essentially leisurely pace that’s often relegated to the sole domain of the warm-up DJ. Made quickly and exclusively for a party, the record’s impact was said to be strong when a friend who dared to play it to a full room called with feedback the next day. Incidentally – not to mention usefully – that friend was one Andrew Weatherall, and the party was his much-fêted A Love From Outer Space (or ALFOS, to its devotees), an intimate dedication to everything slow, druggy and chugging. Still, Drone Logic has retained its appeal from London basements to huge outdoor festivals, such as earlier this year in Cophenhagen, where Avery witnessed the slow build of the track work one young man into such mania that it prompted a slow-mo stage dive.
“I’ve seen sane kids, boys and girls lose their shit to weird records that Daphni is playing at a festival, or something Ben UFO is playing. And these kids love it all,” he says. “And the DJs don’t really care about what genre something comes from. It’s not eclecticism for eclecticism's sake. The best DJs take things from different genres and make them sound like they’re from the same world. Things like Boiler Room have only helped with that breaking down of barriers.” As DJs, listeners and clubbers drown in splinter genres and promos, Avery is, like many, also committed to the notion of the DJ as curator, and cites Mary Anne Hobbs and her early Breezeblock shows on Radio 1 as a direct inspiration for his current monthly appointment on London’s Rinse FM. In fact, Avery was keen that the city itself left a mark on his debut LP, having rented a studio space in a shipping container beside the east of the Thames, contending with freezing temperatures but rewarded with beautiful views of the financial district at sunset.
“The whole experience made me feel like I was very much in London and I like to think that it’s one that comes across on the record," he says. "I think it has a British heritage to it but, more than that, I wanted it to sound like it could only have been made by me, in London, in 2013.”
It was during this period that Avery began to experiment to create the record’s eventual live and enveloping feel, “mainly putting synths through guitar pedals, playing live drums on the tracks and using things the AMS reverb unit that Martin Hannett (of Factory Records) made famous – basically utilising a lot of methods normally associated with bands.”
If 'never meet your heroes' is considered a standard creative maxim, then Avery’s career thus far has been laced with opportunities for disappointment and disillusionment; both seemingly dodged entirely. Having a direct line to the palm of Andrew Weatherall’s hand is an enviable position for any young DJ or producer to be in, but Avery has produced much of his finest work in a studio just down the corridor from the man himself, having met Weatherall’s muse and engineer, Timothy J. Fairplay, and taken up residency in their East London labyrinth. Such a range of introductions came about via a mutual friend in Richard Fearless, producer and frontman of Death in Vegas, but despite it resembling what might look like his own fan fiction, Avery reinforces that the whole process was “bizarre, but felt very right and natural.” But what’s it like in Weatherall’s Shoreditch bunker?
“Aside from being surrounded by a staggering record and synth collection, it's just a very inspiring place with an ever-present creative atmosphere,” he reveals. “It’s not a knees-up boys club like I'm sure some people imagine it to be; a lot of hard work goes on down there and the results show. Simply being down there for ten minutes and talking with everyone can get you excited about a new idea or inspire you to try something new.”
It's Alkan, however, with whom Avery shares the most affinity. Though over a decade older, Alkan shares with him a similar renaissance man ability, and while now in the position of being a sort of British clubbing institution, it’s easy to forget he once topped a DJ Mag readers' poll ahead of the likes of Armin Van Buuren – which isn’t bad for a man who would regularly play The Fall or Talk Talk while warming up for techno pioneers. Nowadays, Alkan remains a forward-thinking force and, as well as supporting the likes of Drone Logic, has been able to nurture offbeat artists such as Connan Mockasin through his Phantasy imprint.
“He is a good boss,” Avery affirms. “He’s a very good boss, in that we come from similar places with similar reference points. We mixed the album in his studio in his house, excitedly showing each other records and trying to work out how things were done, how people got certain sounds. So the whole thing has just been a really exciting, creative process.” Avery is also pleased with the level of creative freedom afforded to him by Alkan and Phantasy, who, unsurprisingly, “aren’t looking for a radio hit.” Nonetheless, the label’s cult following and no doubt the support of a DJ as well-travelled as Alkan have offered him gratifying exposure. Instead of endless remix packages “that nobody cares about,” the two have instead sought reworks for Avery’s original work from kindred spirits such as Paul Woolford and Factory Floor, both of which have achieved success on underground dancefloors in all corners.
“The stuff I’ve been doing seems to have clicked with a few people in a wider scale, from Maya Jane Coles to some of the Innervisions guys, like Marcus Vogel, who invited me to play with him in Amsterdam recently,” he says. “It’s great, because these are people I respect across a really broad spectrum.”
Nonetheless, those already accustomed to his particular sound – as well as those to whom the album may prove a very pleasant surprise indeed – will likely be excited to hear that Avery is still keen to press further, deeper and weirder with his music. “If anything, I just want to stick with Phantasy for the moment, where I’m quite happy, and can get weirder. I think I can push it into even more psychedelic directions,” he stresses.
Having played in suddenly dance-dominated America over two tours in 2013, Avery looks an ill fit on the line-ups of certain commercial dance events that he’s graced the stage of nonetheless. “In America, I never try and be obtuse, but I don’t do what everyone else there wants to do,” he acknowledges. “But it’s cool when you notice that there’s kids who are just waiting for a drop but then eventually have got into a groove instead. I’m not going to make millions of dollars in America, but I feel zero affinity with that scene anyway.”
Still, one of the more potentially clinical gigs on his recent tour paid alone for the ability to play elsewhere on the West Coast, and Avery still regularly turns down festivals that "aren’t for me", preferring to play intimate gigs. “Then again,” he considers, “intimate gigs don’t necessarily have to be small. Playing in Room One of Fabric can be an intimate gig.”