DJ/producer Daniel Avery is perhaps best known as a techno master, both behind the decks and in the studio. Yet his new album Song For Alpha (Phantasy/Mute) goes well beyond perceptions of genre. In anticipation of his Phi Centre show April 13, the London-based artist talks about the inspiration behind the record and the power of patience, mystery, and letting go.
Song for Alpha is described in your bio as an "exploration of the space in which home listening and club music intersect." Musically, how did you explore that journey?
I knew from very early into the making of the record that it had to be more than simply a techno album. That genre means a lot to me, but it has only ever been one part of who I am. So, whilst this album has definitely been influenced by the club, it had to spread its wings beyond that world. Those moments away from that scene are every bit as important to me. A track like Slow Fade is a good representation of this. It has a deep kick drum and repetitive acid line which were both hugely influenced by techno, but it breaks down into something which is far more akin to an ambient track, that feeling of weightlessness I get from leaving a club at the end of the night and travelling through the fog in my mind. To me that track represents some kind of light emerging from the darkness and that’s an idea I repeatedly returned to in the studio.
Why, as humans in today's world, is that freedom to surrender so important? How do clubs participate in that?
Life is impermanent and everything we know is simply energy. As humans we put so much importance on what we do but the truth is that it could all end tomorrow. That’s not a negative thought, instead I find it hugely inspiring. As much as we trick ourselves into thinking otherwise, we don’t have control over everything and the ability to give yourself up to the universe is an important one. Music is an incredible way of doing this… particularly in a communal setting. There is so much negative shit flying around in the world right now. Clubs offer a sanctuary. They are inclusive, international and founded on love. Everyone inside is searching for an energy higher than themselves and that’s a beautiful thing to be a part of.
How did you make the transition into studio and production as a recording artist? Do you remember the moment you realized this was your passion?
I was actually making music in my bedroom long before I ever even really knew what DJing was, working on a four-track recorder, a cheap drum machine, and some guitar pedals. I had no idea what to do with any of the music, though. DJing took a firm grip on my life for a number of years and producing kind of faded away. A few years later, I was working in a record shop in London as it closed down and that was a turning point for me. I had to take a leap of faith and decided to take producing seriously. I almost felt like it had been decided for me.
How do these two forms of expression, DJing and producing, feed and inform each other? What do they bring to your understanding of yourself and the world?
I love DJing but the basis of it is relatively simple: to share music you feel passionately about, in an exciting way, with likeminded people. It’s an amazing experience but there are limits to it. When you hit your stride in the studio you feel as if the possibilities are infinite. If you are able to stay true to yourself when creating music then there is no greater rush. The making of this new album taught me a lot about patience. I truly believe that eventually music finds you. It almost has a life of its own in that regard. You can’t force it to be a certain way and instead you have to give it its own space to breathe. That’s when the genuine moments occur and something special can happen.
The record features immersive visuals from London design studio Flat-e. How did that collaboration come about, and how do you understand the relationship between these visuals and the music?
The initial plan was simply to have basic visual loops to accompany each track online but once Flat-e came on board the idea evolved and accelerated at a great pace. The finished article is so much more expansive and enveloping than anything I had initially imagined. We have very similar taste in many ways but we decided not to follow any specific references too closely and instead give both the music and the visuals their own room, almost allowing them to have a will of their own.
Referring to Flat-e, in your bio you mention the "beauty in mystery." This applies to art, certainly, and also to life! What are your thoughts on mystery as an artist and a human in today's world?
We don’t need to know everything about strangers. Artists today live their lives like an open diary and that idea terrifies me. Obviously, people can choose to live however they want, but I’m baffled by a lot of it. Mystery is powerful. Patience is powerful. The longer you spend with something or someone, the more you’re going to get out of that experience.
What can fans expect from your show at the Phi Centre?
It’s the first time I’ve ever played in a club in Montreal so I’m excited. It’s impossible to tell exactly where the music will go but I have so much new stuff to play. See you down the front.
Daniel Avery will perform at the Phi Centre on April 13, 2018.