Daniel Avery

From his ‘in­die’ roots, Daniel Avery has mor­phed into one of the UK’s finest pro­po­nents of for­ward-think­ing late-night techno. Si Truss quizzes him about his am­bi­ent-in­flected new LP, Song For Al­pha


Hav­ing grown up in Bournemouth, Daniel Avery moved to Lon­don in the mid-’00s and was drawn into the club scene via eclec­tic ‘in­die’ nights like Bugged Out! and Erol Alkan’s Trash par­ties. The elec­tro-in­flu­ence of these nights even­tu­ally brought Avery into the world of dance mu­sic proper, DJing and pro­duc­ing un­der the name Stop­mak­ingme, and even­tu­ally land­ing a res­i­dency at Lon­don’s Fab­ric.

In 2012, Avery re­verted to work­ing un­der his own name, sig­ni­fy­ing a move to­ward a more hard­hit­ting, ma­chine-driven techno sound, so­lid­i­fied on his ex­cel­lent de­but al­bum, Drone Logic, which was re­leased on Alkan’s Phan­tasy la­bel. This month he de­liv­ers a fol­low-up, Song For Al­pha, a more drawn-out, slowly evolv­ing record that brings Avery’s am­bi­ent and in­dus­trial in­flu­ences to the fore.

In the five years be­tween al­bums, Avery has ce­mented his po­si­tion as one of the UK’s most ex­cit­ing techno artists, win­ning over crowds with his skil­fully eclec­tic DJ sets and col­lab­o­rat­ing with artists in­clud­ing Volte-Face (as Rote) and Nine Inch Nails-af­fil­i­ate Alessan­dro Cor­tini. As the al­bum hits shelves, FM track down Avery in his ship­ping con­tainer studio to talk machines, in­spi­ra­tion and look­ing be­yond the dance­floor.

FM: Tell us a lit­tle more about the con­cept be­hind Song For Al­pha… Is it de­signed to be less dance­floor-fo­cused than Drone Logic?

Daniel Avery: “I feel like it’s a record in­spired by the club and the mo­ments away from it in equal mea­sure. Late nights and hazy morn­ings; the seem­ingly end­less road and find­ing in­spi­ra­tion be­yond the fog. I’ve be­come in­creas­ingly in­ter­ested in those mo­ments in life where you can find space and take a breath, wher­ever that may be… Drone

Logic was full of ur­gent en­ergy and while I’m still fond of it, this new record is far more con­cerned with mu­sic tak­ing its time to un­veil it­self.

“I’m into play­ing all night sets and try to do them as of­ten as pos­si­ble. Play­ing from the mo­ment doors open un­til the very end, some­times nine or ten hours. I love be­ing able to build the at­mos­phere from the ground up, start­ing with am­bi­ent and drone mu­sic – some­times with peo­ple lay­ing on the floor – and wit­ness­ing the night in­ten­sify one minute at a time, try­ing to draw a line be­tween ev­ery record played. That’s the im­por­tant part to me, that’s the very def­i­ni­tion of DJing. This new record was in­spired by all those mo­ments, I be­lieve.”

There’s a clear am­bi­ent in­flu­ence to a lot of the tracks on Song For Al­pha. Are there any par­tic­u­lar artists or records that in­spired you?

“Wil­liam Basin­ski and Brian Eno were both float­ing around my head dur­ing the mak­ing of the record. It’s the kind of mu­sic I like to put on in the studio when I need to re­set my thoughts. Kevin Shields has also been a big in­flu­ence through­out my life; en­velop­ing mu­sic that has a beauty buried deep in­side.”

The al­bum also seems to have moved to­wards more of a harder and darker techno sound...

“I’ve al­ways been a fan of in­dus­trial sounds – I dis­cov­ered bands like Nine Inch Nails and Atari Teenage Riot at a young age – but I be­lieve it’s taken me some time to find my own ver­sion of it in the studio. I love the warmth and depth of the kick drum with this style of techno; I find it com­fort­ing to be trapped in­side that in a club.”

How long has Song For Al­pha been in the works? Was it al­ways the in­ten­tion to cre­ate an­other al­bum?

“I haven’t stopped mak­ing mu­sic since Drone Logic so, in to­tal, Song For Al­pha has been in the works close to five years. In fact, there’s enough mu­sic to fill six al­bums but part of the rea­son the process took so long this time is that I was de­ter­mined not to re­peat my­self; I had no in­ter­est in mak­ing Drone Logic 2. I al­ways knew that it would be an­other full al­bum as the for­mat suits my mu­sic. Much like the ex­tended DJ sets, I like how lis­ten­ing to a full al­bum re­quires pa­tience from the lis­tener. You put a record on and you sit back, giv­ing the mu­sic its own space. There is too much im­por­tance placed on im­me­di­acy in the mod­ern world; ev­ery­thing truly worth­while takes time to un­fold.”

From a pro­duc­tion point of view, how did the cre­ation of Song For Al­pha dif­fer from Drone Logic?

“Drone Logic was made in pieces, of­ten in bor­rowed stu­dios. In the time since I have set up my own space in a con­verted ship­ping con­tainer on the banks of the Thames. You can see the city across the wa­ter but the place it­self is very quiet and se­cluded; it’s one of those places where you can stop and take a breath. More so than any equip­ment, I strongly be­lieve the set­ting helped shape the sound of the new record.”

Are there any tools that you found par­tic­u­larly in­spi­ra­tional to work with this time around?

“I bought an 808 and those long, drawn-out kicks fea­ture heav­ily. For pads, find­ing a Roland JX-3P and run­ning it through a se­ries of dif­fer­ent re­verb units in­stantly made a huge dif­fer­ence in the studio. The 101 was used a lot again this time and the sound of it will never not be sat­is­fy­ing to me. There’s a lot of nat­u­ral tape and ma­chine hiss on this new al­bum which was of­ten com­pressed and pushed to the front of the mix. Added to that, I used a very cheap con­tact mi­cro­phone to add tex­tures to ev­ery track.” At what stage do you tend to add those ‘tex­ture’ el­e­ments? “It hap­pens at var­i­ous stages. Some tracks are built en­tirely on a tex­ture I find that day, whilst at other times a small amount of static can make a hi-hat that glues ev­ery­thing to­gether.”

Was the 808 your main source of drum sounds for the al­bum or was it mostly just used for kicks?

“It was used a lot but there are many other drum sounds on there. I like to find other tones be­yond those of­fered by drum machines.”

On the sub­ject of kicks, as with a lot of techno, kick drums are of­ten a defin­ing el­e­ment of your tracks. What are you us­ing to get that full, dom­i­nant sound?

“It’s all about the depth of the sub, which is usu­ally given its own chan­nel and worked on. That warm, en­velop­ing feel­ing is what makes techno for me.”

What are you us­ing to drive the synths and drum machines? Are they mostly be­ing se­quenced or played live?

“There are sev­eral things I use but my re­cent favourite has been the Cirk­lon Se­quencer. Find­ing one of those helped shape the feel of the al­bum greatly. Say­ing that, how­ever, there’s an equal split be­tween se­quenced and live parts on the record.”

Ef­fects pro­cess­ing seems to play a big role on this al­bum – with lots of long re­verbs and sound­scape-like tex­tures – what’s your process for cre­at­ing these?

“I like to use a mix­ture of hard­ware and plug­ins. For re­verb I al­ways turn to the Even­tide Space pedal and the Val­halla Vin­tageVerb plugin – us­ing the two to­gether can of­ten throw up in­ter­est­ing re­sults. For dis­tor­tion I like the Cul­ture Vul­ture but I think the FX­pan­sion Maul plugin might be the best around. A small amount on the mas­ter chan­nel adds a grit that I search for ev­ery time. I try and record ev­ery­thing with live takes at first to un­der­stand the bound­aries of a sound.”

The tracks on Song For Al­pha of­ten feel more min­i­mal than those on Drone Logic… Did you in­ten­tion­ally try to limit the amount of dif­fer­ent tools you were us­ing?

“Well, in gen­eral I like to limit the amount of tools when­ever I’m mak­ing mu­sic. I’ve al­ways found that a cer­tain level of re­stric­tion cre­ates the most cre­ative at­mos­phere in the studio. It’s also true that I’m a strong be­liever in re­mov­ing parts from mu­sic un­til you’re left with some­thing that sounds beau­ti­ful and hon­est. Drone Logic was a very direct-sound­ing record whereas I feel Song For Al­pha is more con­fi­dent with al­low­ing things their own space. A good ex­am­ple is the use of vo­cals. Drone Logic fea­tured sev­eral hooks and peo­ple have asked me why I’ve cho­sen to dis­card that idea this time around. The truth, how­ever, is that there are vo­cals but this time they are buried deep within the mix, of­ten clouded with re­verb and ef­fects. I still wanted the hu­man as­pect but wasn’t con­cerned with those el­e­ments tak­ing cen­tre stage.”

You’ve re­leased a few col­lab­o­ra­tive tracks be­tween Drone Logic and this al­bum – as Rote, and with Alessan­dro Cor­tini. Do you find that work­ing with other pro­duc­ers in­flu­ences your own work­flow?

“Yeah, I of­ten learn things from col­lab­o­ra­tions. Rote was and re­mains a great source of es­cape from my own world, where it’s easy to be­come lost. It’s gen­er­ally a very free­ing ex­er­cise. The most in­ter­est­ing thing about work­ing with Cor­tini is see­ing his be­lief in the power of mu­sic to have a life of its own. Of­ten a take might have some­thing which on pa­per would look er­ro­neous but he will fight to keep it as that’s what makes it real. It’s some­thing I’ve al­ways be­lieved my­self but Alessan­dro’s ded­i­ca­tion to the idea has pushed me to take it fur­ther in my own work.”

Would you say that you find work­ing in col­lab­o­ra­tion more or less chal­leng­ing than pro­duc­ing solo?

“Whilst you bring your own style to a col­lab­o­ra­tion, you have to leave your role as a solo artist at the door in or­der for it to work. Com­pro­mise and me­di­a­tion rarely bring out any­thing in­ter­est­ing and it can waste a lot of time, in my ex­pe­ri­ence. You have to go in with the mind­set that you’ll be cre­at­ing some­thing new to­gether, some­thing that would

“The un­pro­duc­tive days are ev­ery bit as im­por­tant as the pro­duc­tive ones”

never oc­cur from work­ing on your own. It can feel chal­leng­ing but that’s a pos­i­tive thing.” Tell us a bit more about your studio set-up… “The ship­ping con­tainer studio I men­tioned ear­lier has been an in­te­gral part to the mak­ing of the new al­bum. I moved in there prop­erly shortly after Drone Logic was fin­ished and the sur­round­ings have as much of an ef­fect as any­thing in­side. The view across the wa­ter is the best part about the whole place. I like to use a mix­ture of hard­ware and soft­ware as I’ve found the com­bi­na­tion of the two can have in­ter­est­ing and un­planned re­sults. One thing I want to do this year is build a full ped­al­board as I love run­ning machines through that process.” Can you tell us a lit­tle about your gen­eral ap­proach to writ­ing tracks – where do you start with a project, and how do you de­cide when some­thing is ‘fin­ished’? “I have no set pro­ce­dures when it comes to writ­ing but this al­bum has taught me a lot about cre­ative pro­cesses in gen­eral. I be­lieve that, ul­ti­mately, mu­sic finds you. I’ve had to learn that pa­tience is the most im­per­a­tive part to mak­ing mu­sic. The un­pro­duc­tive days are ev­ery bit as im­por­tant as the pro­duc­tive ones. You can spend a week on a track and throw ev­ery bit of it on the fire yet still learn some­thing about your­self. You can build your spi­der’s web in the studio but some­times you sim­ply have to wait for the golden mo­ments to come. As long as you re­main cre­ative and open to new ideas out­side your im­me­di­ate field of vi­sion then you can be con­fi­dent that some­thing good is around the cor­ner.” The press re­lease for Song For Al­pha talks about how be­ing on the road in­flu­enced the sound of this al­bum – do you ever write or pro­duce tracks away from the studio? “No, never. I’ve tried it and failed ev­ery time. Say­ing that, it’s a time when most of the ideas come but I sim­ply write them down in a note­book rather than try­ing to cre­ate some­thing on my lap­top. I’ve found I need my own space to make any­thing hap­pen.” When we spoke to Erol Alkan a few years back he spoke about work­ing with you on the fi­nal mix of Drone Logic. Was he in­volved this time around too? “Yes, Erol and I mixed Song For Al­pha to­gether in his studio. For me this is gen­er­ally the most en­joy­able part of the en­tire process. I find it’s when ideas re­ally be­gin to crys­tallise. Erol is a fan­tas­tic, cre­ative mixer whose only con­cern is push­ing ideas as hard as they can pos­si­bly go, even if they seem ‘wrong’ on a tech­ni­cal level. I can safely say he brought out the best of this record.” So would it be fair to say Erol’s role is more about of­fer­ing an ex­tra pair of ears than bring­ing tech­ni­cal mix­ing skills? “I think it’s all about that cre­ative in­put. Erol is a very in­stinc­tive mu­si­cian which is ex­actly how I like to work too. If some­thing feels right then

that’s all that mat­ters. I re­alise how it could be easy to fall into the struc­tures of elec­tronic mu­sic but I al­ways try and pull my­self away be­fore that light be­comes too bright.” Ear­lier in your ca­reer you were known for in­cor­po­rat­ing gui­tar and other live in­stru­men­ta­tion into your mu­sic. Did that still play a role on this al­bum, or was this more ‘ma­chine’ driven? “My main cre­ative mo­ti­va­tion on this new record was to cre­ate ma­chine mu­sic with a hu­man heart. There are a few live drums buried within the al­bum but in gen­eral I be­lieve that this hu­man as­pect comes from the process of com­bin­ing dif­fer­ent el­e­ments: live vo­cals be­ing fed through walls of re­verb and de­lay, drum machines through a long chain of gui­tar ped­als, field record­ings pushed through lay­ers of dis­tor­tion… these are the sort of pro­cesses that in­ter­est me the most.” What sort of set-up are you us­ing to DJ these days? “I favour a rea­son­ably ba­sic set-up. I like the sound of the Allen & Heath Xone 92 mixer and I use three Pi­o­neer CDJs, two for play­ing records and one for adding sam­ples or loops over the top, although I’m gen­er­ally spar­ing with these. I also play with a Stry­mon Blue Sky re­verb pedal which is a touch more sub­tle than what I have in the studio as its role is quite dif­fer­ent in a club. It is par­tic­u­larly use­ful dur­ing the beat­less sec­tions of my sets, help­ing to cre­ate dron­ing se­quences that sound stitched to­gether.” You’ve a ten­dency to hop around gen­res in your DJ sets; is that some­thing you make a con­certed ef­fort to try and do, or is it a nat­u­ral re­sponse of hav­ing eclec­tic lis­ten­ing tastes? “Ev­ery­thing is down to the prepa­ra­tion as ev­ery gig is dif­fer­ent. There’s a trend at the mo­ment to praise cer­tain DJs as ‘dig­gers’ but I don’t buy it. By def­i­ni­tion, ev­ery great DJ ever is a dig­ger: some­one who spends their en­tire life adding to their mu­si­cal world but at the same time mak­ing it all work to­gether in a club. Eclec­ti­cism for the sake of it is worth­less in my book, you have to be able to jus­tify ev­ery move you make. You have to be able to draw a line be­tween ev­ery sin­gle record, even when they come from seem­ingly in­con­gru­ous gen­res.” Have you ever been in­ter­ested in the idea of play­ing live? “Up un­til re­cently it was sim­ply some­thing I never felt in my heart but I feel dif­fer­ent at the mo­ment. I have some­thing in my head. I can’t talk too much about it but there is an idea form­ing.”

want to know more?

Song For Al­pha ar­rives 6 April via Phan­tasy. Keep up with the lat­est from Daniel at www.danielav­ery.co.uk

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