Photo: Laura Darling
Daedelus may be a self-described dandy of Edwardian vintage, but he doesn't lack for artistic courage. With every new album, the L.A. musician takes a hacksaw to his sound, destroying it in order to rebuild it again.
Long established (and sometimes derided) as an electronic producer with whimsical, jazz-like sensibilities, Daedelus often plays with genre, from the summery samba sweep of 2006's Denies the Day's Demise to the bubbly avant-hop of 2003's Rethinking the Weather and 2004's Exquisite Corpse (all on Mush records). In 2008, he's tackling rave music — specifically the “zoo rave” and hardcore/pre-jungle styles of the early '90s — which he calls “my little temple, my little altar.”
“I've been collecting these records since '92, when I was too young to know what I was putting my hands on, but I just liked the sound. And I've been buying them ever since,” says Daedelus. “Finally, I feel comfortable enough after this many years of releasing records to make a stab at it.”
The result is a pair of impressive releases. In January, influential L.A. imprint Alpha Pup issued Live at Low End Theory, a document of a Daedelus' performance at the popular Los Angeles event. Throughout the 60-minute disc, Daedelus tweaks a Monome, a small MIDI device designed by engineers Brian Crabtree and Kelli Cain, that's connected via USB cable to a MacBook running a Cycling '74 Max/MSP software program with the OSC protocol. The setup allows him to chop up dozens of tracks from his decade-long discography, remixing them into a furiously imaginative set.
More importantly, there's Love to Make Music To (2008), Daedelus' first proper effort for the venerable Ninja Tune imprint. (Before, the UK label handled European distribution for several of his releases.)
An evolutionary leap from his prior adventures, nearly all of Love to Make Music To is buttressed by a heavy club beat. For example, “Only for the Heart Strings” opens with light, flickering percussion and quickly dips into disorienting, rave-like noise; while “Get Off Your HiHats” begins with funky keyboard riffs before Daedelus adds a volley of high-bpm beats. The vocals, which come courtesy of underground players such as Taz Arnold of Sa-Ra (the rattling electro-bass of “Bass in It”) and Michael Johnson from Lilys, have a slightly dazed quality, thanks to Daedelus' heavy multilayering. Johnson's vocal on the wonderfully surreal “Make It So,” for example, features 16 different parts.
“I'm trying to take acoustic instruments or, in some cases, synthesizers and make them sound wholly different by expanding or contracting their space,” he says. “I try to stay away from fancy plug-ins, VSTs and stuff because those tend to have a specific-sounding signature. You can't really personalize them, so it sounds like anybody else who might have used that plug.”
Instead, Daedelus relies on less conventional (and slightly more dangerous) methods. He'll crack open “anything that's battery powered,” including old children's toys and keyboard equipment, and twist the wires with his wet fingers to generate different sounds out of them. For example, he took a screwdriver to his Roland TR-606 drum machine, opened the back, and manipulated the circuit wires. By bending the wires, he can change the pitch on the keyboard's kick drum, the sweep on the snare and the length and time of the hi-hats.
“I don't know if you mess with circuit bending, but it's so visceral — you spit on fingers, fingers on circuits, and circuits make different sounds,” he says. Perhaps realizing what he's advocating, he then adds that “you might get a little shock,” and “you have to really know what you're doing.”
In addition to risking modest electrocution, Daedelus also uses analog instruments such as bass clarinet, electric bass, a Yamaha nylon four-string guitar and other “odd stringed instruments.” And Pro Tools helps his kitchen-sink approach. “In the best situation, you refine the ideas, and then the diamonds in the rough come to the surface,” he says.
There's a third album scheduled for release via Ninja Tune this fall: a project between Daedelus and his wife Laura Darlington (who frequently sings on his albums) called The Long Lost. He describes it as a departure from his electronic material, “very acoustic, very romantic.” Then again, when it comes to the always-experimenting Daedelus, everything he does could be considered a departure from the norm.
“For a long time, I decided I wouldn't look back in fear of ruining it,” Daedelus says. “You do it real quick so you don't think about it, and then your ears can listen to it before you have the chance to technically doubt yourself. Because when you're in the studio, all you have is your own doubt.”