At the start of February, Wellington based music promotions group Madcap Music are hosting the forth local edition of the boxfresh Red Bull Sound Select project through two live/DJ music showcases in Wellington and Auckland. Occurring on the 6th of February at Meow (Wellington) and the 7th of February at Cassette Nine, the showcases will feature performances from Madcap Music co-signed live electronica performers Black City Lights and Pxlx, club DJ/producer Beat Mobb and American beat music genius Daedelus – all complimented by custom visual installations created by The Interrupt Collective. During the lead-up to these shows we will be running a series of interviews with members the aforementioned acts. Today Martyn Pepperell talks to Daedelus (government name: Alfred Darlington).
In an era which often rewards familiarity over originality, Alfred Darlington stands out. Between his style of dress (early Victorian Dandism), the qualities which underpin his creative praxis as a musician, and how he articulates and expresses himself and his views, he is a singular character. A word to describe him: bespoke.
Born in 1977 to an artist mother and a psychologist father, Alfred was raised in Santa Monica. Taking to music early, he trained in classical and jazz disciplines on a range of instruments. Regardless of this formalist framing, as a child his interests were panoramic, taking in Greek legend and the mountains of Wales. Halfway through his teens, he finally convinced his parents to take him on a holiday to the United Kingdom. While they were stopping over in London, Alfred discovered pirate radio, taped some UK rave and hardcore radio shows onto cassette, and in a “eureka” moment, a lifelong love of electronica was born.
When they returned to the United States he joined rock, jazz and ska bands before trying his hand at DJing and electronic music production. Informed by Ninja Tune records and the fringes of jungle drum and bass, he formed a rudimentary take on what would over time become an increasingly sophisticated musical signature. In homage to a childhood obsession with invention he chose the performance and recording name Daedelus. What was he doing, after all, if not tinkering and fiddling and experimenting like the gentleman inventors of those earlier bygone eras.
Can we talk about coffee for a bit, because you’re a pretty serious coffee dude right? I’m actually in Malaysia right now, trying to have a unique Malaysian coffee experience that doesn’t include animal cruelty. I am a coffee dude, it’s turned out that way. It happened by the power of the international music scene, as silly as that sounds. I spent years not on the stuff. I didn’t have any appreciable drug addiction I can bring a name to. One day, several years ago in Italy, feeling low on energy I did the thing that I think most people do. I had a coffee for some kind of steam. Some kind of fuel for the fire. Lo and behold, it was one of the best things I’d ever had. It wasn’t served to me by some kind of third wave barista at a shop in Seattle or Portland. It was by the most surly grizzled, roadside veteran of the Italian coffee scene possible. He was a mean man, an angry man who would spit in my cup if I wasn’t watching him. That coffee transformed me into a person who absolutely wanted to experience coffee.
Do you feel like there is any sort of analogy that can be made between coffee and music? Absolutely. It’s all about being present. You have this experience with new music where you get transformed and pushed somewhere else. The world opens up and swallows you whole. I’ve had the experience a number of times with music, but food culture was always at arms distance. Maybe I felt like I wasn’t supposed to have that experience. I wasn’t a chef or a connoisseur. I’m sure many music fans feel the same way. But I couldn’t resist the call of the coffee.
What have been some of your favourite coffee experiences since then? Yeah. That was really special in Europe, but since then I haven’t found Europe as shining as that moment. The coffee experiences that pushed me further have been mostly in Los Angeles. Los Angeles has transformed itself into a coffee capital. It’s a Mecca for this stuff, which makes sense. You have a lot of international cultures coming together with their own versions of coffee. On the few times I have visited, Australia and New Zealand have proven themselves really really capable as well. It’s interesting, all the different ways of making and consuming coffee remind me of listening to music in different environments. It’s like when you are in a car, and you are listening to really loud aggressive music and driving really fast – that means something. Then listening in headphones to something really quiet and detailed – that means something as well. You really do seem to be able to make analogies between ways of listening to music and methods of brewing coffee.
I guess this is something that becomes more apparent the longer you’re alive. There are so many commonalities between things that on a superficial level, seem unrelated. Have you ever experienced synesthesia? [A condition in which one type of stimulation evokes the sensation of another, as when the hearing of a sound produces the visualization of a colour]
Yes. I don’t know if you are naturally inclined to it, or if it was chemically induced but apparently when we are children and we have just been born, the world is synesthetic, absolutely everything is messy. You hear a loud sound as a baby, and you will react as if you tasted something. It’s all the same. Somewhere in your childhood development you sort it out. Your senses separate and become stratified. They become very separate definable experiences. It probably makes a lot of sense for the brain to have that kind of stratified understanding, but on a basic level we’re still rooted for the synesthetic experience.
Something else you’re known for is having a commitment to dressing in Victorian garb. Tell us about how that interest has been developing? I’m actually going to be in Hong Kong next week, and I’m going to have a variety of custom pieces made for me. That is where I’m at. I’ve definitely found and sought after looks and items that I find to be evocative. Once again to talk about communication in different forms, fashion is such a wonderfully glacial one. What other experience can you have where you glance at someone for less than a millisecond and you basically get this complete view of them? Then over time, like a painting, more and more is revealed by glancing at their attire. It’s this radical experience where you make all these initial judgments and then overtime you have this back and forth communication with them based on how they are dressed. It’s really beautiful and definitely informed by choice for Victoriana as garb.
You’ve in so deep that you’re getting custom made pieces done. Let’s use this as a metaphor. If that is where you are at with clothing, where are you at with your other modes of expression right now? You’re brilliant, because you just did what a therapist hasn’t done for me in years. You tied it all up in a neat bow. Literally speaking, I used to sample other people’s music. Not other contemporaries, but musical predecessors of mine. I would mix the samples in with my own work, because I really liked that idea of code switching. I would utilize other people’s methodologies and sounds, mix it with my own, and try to make it so that the two were indistinguishable. I had a lot of fun with that. Later it was more about the synthesis, meaning the vintage samples, looking for the crackle and not so much the instrumentation or part sampling. I was looking for the fingerprints of what made those old records so nice and then meeting that with modern synthesis. This is evident throughout my catalogue. More recently it’s about the total bespoke. The total sample creation. My last couple of records haven’t had any real distinct sampling. I’ve been either recreating the sample, not even worrying so much about its headspace as much, and taking that melodic presence I want, or total sample creation, and letting my own voice be the dominant one rather than the sample voice.
Continuing to speak in terms of development and progression, how has what you do to create a sustainable life for yourself that involves music changed over the last few years? Touring is more important than ever, and the bespoke experience of the electronic musician is a thing. I can easily point towards the rise of twitter over Facebook, or Facebook over Myspace. These are easy evolutions that have occurred within the modern music industry. I think more crucial than any of this is the concept that you need to completely encapsulate an idea that can be sold easily. This is what the preference is for the modern promoter: They want a few tagline words, maybe one genre, two or three at the most. They want everything to be really easy. They want things to be paired down to the easiest meme. I know as an artist I don’t do that terribly well. I fail the promoters in this regard, but I’m shit out of luck. This is just the kind of bed I’ve made. I have to sleep in it.
What strategies do you find yourself employing to make up for what you perceive as failure in this area and get yourself over the line? Honesty and community. I don’t have any time for negativity in my personal and professional lives. I’m very upfront with people. Let’s go back to the word code-switching for a moment. There is a lot of code-switching that happens in the music industry where intelligent rational musicians who have spent years and years alone in a room being nerds, they code-switch and become party people. That is what they are expected to be within the world of modern electronica. You might have a really wonderful conversation with someone who is an international DJ superstar, and you’re really breaking it down. Then they have to pause for a second to take a fan photo with some naked girls, and suddenly they become these wild and crazy guys. That is fine. That is part of the experience they are selling. That is easy to sell, but I can’t chose it for myself. I expect too much from my audience. I expect too much from the people who have been around since my very first record, or even the people who jumped on yesterday. There is no reason to not expect that they are sophisticated listeners who want more.