We've made our affection for Daniel Avery pretty evident: his debut LP, Drone Logic, released on Phantasy Sound last year, made our top 25 albums list for 2013 and his track "All I Need" was #15 of our top dance tracks for the year. I managed to catch him on two very different tour stops in the last couple weeks: his set at my "home club," the cozy Middlesex Lounge in Cambridge, MA, as part of Boston's Together Festival, and an early afternoon set in Detroit during my techno pilgrimage to Movement.
Commonly, my artist interviews happen in whatever reasonable corner can be found at the venue, so I was relieved to hear that my last-minute chat with Daniel Avery during his stop in Boston would be happening in the afternoon at a restaurant. As it turns out, that setting, too, comes with its complications (chia-kale-smoothie machines are almost as loud as a muffled soundcheck) but it sure beats sitting amidst the pounding bass of a festival stage.
Read on to hear more about the parallels between Daniel Avery's live and recorded mixes, how touring plays into production, and why he won't be dropping DJing for a "live" set anytime soon.
EARMILK: You've done a lot of mixes on a regular basis, like your Rinse FM show, and also a lot of one-offs. How is the process different for something like the BBC Radio 1 Essential Mix, versus something you're doing more often?
Daniel Avery: The Essential Mix had to be a definition of what I do, of where my head is at currently. That was all I went in with. A mix is only ever a snapshot of a certain point in time. My Fabriclive CD is a definition of where I was two years ago. The two mixes are different from each other but still both very much what I'm about.
EM: And how does creating a recorded mix differ from performing as a DJ?
DA: Every room is different, no two energies are the same so there's always going to be that difference.
EM: What was your favorite part of the process of producing an album?
DA: It wasn't a rushed process. I spent about a year in total making the record. It felt very natural, there was no pressure. Half the album is music that I wanted DJ out and the other stuff just happened. Again, it had to represent where my head was at during that time. I listen back to it now, and it means a lot to me, but I can hear how it was the sound of me 18 months ago, two years ago. That's different from where I am now.
I don't mean that in a negative way — it's just that that was where I was then, and I believe the next record will be different because I feel like I'm somewhere else. It's the same road but I feel like I've taken several more steps down it.
EM: Did you know going into it that you were going to make a cohesive album?
DA: I knew that it had to work as a whole piece, as an album because I grew up listening to albums, that's how I consume most music. That was very important to me.
EM: Did you start out DJing or producing? How did you get into each?
DA: As of last month I've been DJing for ten years. I started when I was 18, it was something that naturally happened. There was a night in my hometown that was a revelation to find. It was this diamond in the rough, this alternative night that played the kind of music that I didn't really know got played out in clubs until I found it. I went there every week, and then I became a weekly resident there.
The producing happened over time, from meeting people and trying to experiment with things. But I still consider myself a DJ first and foremost. That's changing — it's definitely changed over the last year, with the album — but DJing is still where I feel my most comfortable. Drone Logic was made to work like a DJ set in that respect. Highs and lows, euphoria and calm.
EM: That was kind of going to be my next question — how do the two feed into each other? Did anything change about DJing once you got into producing?
DA: For me they're intrinsically linked. I don't have a live show. That's a conscious decision, that's not me not having it ready yet. I think for most producers DJing is just a stopgap until their live set is ready but, for me, the DJing side of things is still so vitally important. It's unique, in that you can be at a venue and you can feel and see people's reactions and you can change the atmosphere of the whole room in the space of minutes. The energy you feel from the crowd plays a huge part in that.
EM: What makes a club experience stand out for you?
DA: The best club experience is a communal moment. The crowd puts in as much effort as the DJ and it's a shared experience. Sometimes the stars align. It's certainly not something you can manufacture from nothing.
EM: And what are some of the things you're listening to lately that are coming out of the underground?
DA: Ghost Culture on Phantasy; Call Super on Fabric's label, Houndstooth; Powell, Silent Servant, the stuff on Opal Tapes; Ricardo Tobar; the new KiNK album…. I've been listening to the James Holden record since that came out last year. Electronic music is really great right now, whatever anyone says. It's the healthiest I've ever known it, the underground is fighting back in its own way, I really feel that at the moment.
EM: How does the frequency of playing out affect your ability to produce? What's the sweet spot for you in terms of how often you're DJing?
DA: Right now, I'm touring non-stop but once summer is over I'll definitely put some time aside to start work on new stuff. Music has always been the biggest thing in my life, since I was a teenager. It's omnipresent in my life. So whether that's just spending a day record shopping or in the studio experimenting or traveling and DJing, it all feels like one and the same. And they all feed into each other.
Everything you experience has an effect on what you create, even if it's subconscious, it's there. It has an effect.