“I’m So Happy To Be Taking Those Larger Breath’s Again”: An Interview with Daedelus

Sam Ribakoff speaks with Daedelus about the rave scene in Los Angeles, the difference between Public Enemy and NWA, and his new record, 'Wears House.'
By    November 1, 2017


Since the early 2000s Daedelus has been a musician capable of shaking the foundations of clubs around L.A. with hyperactive DJ sets that mash up the bottom end bass rumble of L.A.’s beat scene with the spastic energy of sped up U.K. drum and bass music. Atop this, he adds surprisingly sweet melodies and harmonies from pop, hip hop, R&B, and doo wop, and even bossa nova, all while rocking Martin Van Buren mutton chops and wearing outlandish Victorian outfits that looked like they were taken from Panic at the Disco(!)’s dressing room. His attention to minute details in his music, and a certain sense of musical experimentalism, allows him to dive headfirst into fast BPMs and chaotic dissonance, while still incorporating melody, counterpoint, and harmony.

On Wears House, Daedelus’s recently released mixtape for DomeofDoom, Daedelus basks in this sweet spot between an all embracing nostalgia and a love of futurism. Released only on cassette and as a downloadable album through DomeofDoom’s Bandcamp page, the mixtape is presented is three parts: side A is titled “Revisionist Rave,” which is an original mix of ’90s rave tracks culled from bootleg recordings of actual ’90s raves. Side B is entitled “Future Past,” where Daedelus mixes original tracks with drum and bass, jungle, and U.K. bass tracks at a speed and fluidity that makes it sound like an audio stream of conscious poem. The final part of the mixtape includes a number of original tracks that take inspiration from the ’90s rave scene, and try to update that sound for 2017.

Like most of Daedelus’ records, there’s a great unifying concept, but it’s the details deep in the tracks themselves that you really remember. I spoke with Daedelus about half remembered tracks, dance music, and L.A.’s incestuous electronic music scene. —Sam Ribakoff

I love how all your records have unifying concepts, they’re not just collections of tracks.

Daedelus: I bring a lot of context to my records. I like this ideas that fit neatly, like a Russian nesting doll into each other, but I also see people that glaze over that kind of stuff, and they just want some music. I like dance music as this kind of deathly serious thing, but a lot of other people have another idea of what entertainment should be.

Yeah. A lot of people see dance music as this non-serious, hedonistic thing.

Daedelus: Yeah, and hedonism doesn’t have to be a non-serious thing. In some ways, it’s one of the most transgressive acts you can participate in. I mean, I take it pretty seriously. It’s easy to dismiss when it’s not see as being “work” or having “use.”

Or people think it’s simple, compositionally.

Daedelus: Yeah, as if a 4/4 kick was simple. As if the placement of some “oohs” and “ahhs” wasn’t a precarious ballet basically. There’s lots of things in our lives that disappear quickly, and don’t persist, and don’t cause movement, like the body itself to move, but just the right series of things in secession, and all of a sudden we’re up in the air. That’s crazy. There’s this thing in the air that causes us to move without our voluntary will.

I know you studied at the USC music department. Was it classical music or jazz that you studied?

Daedelus: I did jazz. I did three years of jazz, and I got disillusioned. I was taking a bunch of synthesis classes, and I realized that I wasn’t excited for my 8 AM jazz classes, but I loved my synthesiser classes, so I was like maybe I should just do these, and drop out of jazz, and that’s what I did. I stopped playing double bass, and I really focused in on electronics.

Were those electronic music classes focused on academic, experimental, electro-acoustic type stuff?

Daedelus: 100%. The guy who lead the program released a record on one of these esoteric type labels like Nonesuch, a record of wolf howl manipulations. Like one of those dudes.

Did that kind of Iannis Xenakis type stuff interest you?

Daedelus: Yeah! I mean, that’s the kind of stuff I grew up on. My parents were way into [John] Cage and Nonesuch Records, Xenakis, and Steve Reich, all that stuff. Like, they were into the poetic, the stretched out, the strange stuff. They weren’t avid listeners of that kind of stuff, but they had it in their collection. My parents were kind of artists in their mindsets, if not in reality.

Are they musicians?

Daedelus: No, no music in their backgrounds. My mom is a visual artist, in addition to being involved in academia. My dad’s an experimental psychologist by training. Academic and out there.

Did you musically rebel against them by getting into dance music?

Daedelus: Totally. On the nose. Exactly. My sister was a big benefit to my musical education. She got me into britpop and goth, but more like The Cure. But, I still didn’t have my own musical identity until like the early ’90s when I started wandering off with these little breadcrumbs that they had left me. I went deep into the forest of annoying BPM type stuff. My parents were tolerant, but they also left me to my own devices. I got into that pitched up rave type stuff, and after I got into that I didn’t tie myself to any mast, I just wandered straight into it.

What was the rave scene like then?

Daedelus: It was probably great, but I was like 12, though the sound got me. I got into it through this show “Power Tools” on KPWR, Power 106. To me it seems like rave music touched down in L.A. earlier than it did anywhere else in the country, even New York. There is a tradition of electronic music in L.A., and obviously the music comes from Detroit, and Chicago, and New York, but that acid house driven U.K. rave music was totally a thing of its own. It got so popular that the British government passed these things called “Anti-BPM” laws, which caused the rave scene to go underground again, and a part of that was the music coming to America really strongly.

I don’t know if there was this pipeline between L.A. and the U.K., but apparently there were these amazing events in the late ’80s and early ’90s that were these incredible rave ups. But anyways, somehow the music was on the radio, and I had record stores feeding me this stuff like the junkie I was. I was torn between spending my quarters on Street Fighter II, and spending money on records.

And I still have most of those records I bought then, they’re something like 3,000 plus rave records. A couple of years later I got my friend’s ID, that really didn’t looking like me, but somehow that got me into some Hollywood clubs, but I also went to underground events in the early ’90s, and really got my feet wet in this music. Yeah, super obscure music genres shouldn’t be weaponized in the hands of a young person.

What were some of those records that really got you into the music?

Daedelus: The really revelatory tracks, the ones that really turned me around, were the ones I got in 92. There was one called “Trip II the Moon (Part 1)” by Acen. It was one of the first vinyl that I got with my own dime, but I was getting like odds and ends, it was hard to get the real U.K. rave stuff easily. I was really into breakbeat, or U.K. hardcore. All those edit vocals, the breakbeats, those trance like synths, pulse wave modulation, trying to get away from that acid house sound, and Akai samplers just started coming out, which gave you five seconds of sampling, instead of like a second and a half, so you had all this room to play with. So you didn’t have to make it like a sampled kick or a horn stab.

The technological shift was enormous, and of course, it didn’t just effect rave music, but hip hop too. But what I should say is that, I was hearing this rave music, but unannounced to me, this music was made to be mixed, by a DJ, the tracks aren’t intended to run on for four minutes, they’re meant to be mixed by a DJ. It was like I was only getting half of the story, and I believed that half. In ’92 I went to the U.K., for a number of reasons, and when I was there I stayed at the YWCA, made famous by Morrissey. While I was there I had a little tape recorder radio, and I dialed in these pirate radio stations. I was there for two nights, and I made an hour long mix, on tape, of just what I heard late at night.

Then of course, I realized that the music was made to be mixed, and that it was meant for crappy M.C.s to yell over all the time. It was incredible, half the time they’d be yelling about parties going on, or about the tracks being played. Like, this tape was monumental for me in learning about the tracks and the producers. It sent a lot of electricity to my young tween mind.

And that tape is what the mixtape is?

Daedelus: No, that tape that I made is gone now, I can’t find it, I probably played it so much it fell apart though. It probably disintegrated. It’s like my Rosebud, this relic that will always haunt me. But ever since, i’ve been collecting recordings of live raves, a lot of it badly recorded, like somehow muffled and distorted. You can hear a lot of people shuffling around on the recordings, and M.C.s getting on the mic and telling the crowd that the party is being busted, or to get loud or whatever.

But, for this mixtape, I took synth stabs and micro-moments, things that just had a vibe basically, including the vibe of the tapes themselves, that wobbly energy, and I tried to cobble out of that a kind of memory tape, and that’s what side A is. Side B is kind of more an homage to the L.A. drum and bass scene in the late ’90s, and a tape I made back then. It was kind of the first thing I made under the name Daedelus, when I was trying to be a jungle DJ, and I just failed. That tape from that time was kind of a breakup record for me to get over the scene so I could get on with my own sound and my own music.

How important was that interplay between hip hop and dance music when you were formulating your own sound?

Daedelus: For me, it was really interchangeable, because the rap I grew up on was dance music. I am truly an L.A. kid and Egyptian Lover, Jamie Jupitor, World Class Wreckin Cru, that was my hip hop. When gangster rap came along it felt pretty phony. I knew they were speaking truth about their neighborhoods, but it didn’t feel true from my experience being in south central. I think I was just shielded in Santa Monica from a lot of that stuff. The “Good time” rap stuff was what was in my ears, and when you’d go to the swap meets, that’s what people were playing. Public Enemy, to me, felt way more visceral than N.W.A. because the Bomb Squad production team would sample from anything. They were sampling James Brown and dance records, and a lot of the U.K. dance stuff was the same thing, anything was up for grabs in terms of sampling, and in many ways that’s the blueprint for my own sound.

When you started making your own stuff, did you find an audience kind of quickly at clubs?

Daedelus: I definitely didn’t have a club friendly sound, it was either too fast or too slow. It started when I got really heavily involved with the college radio station at USC. KFCR was what it was called at the time, now it’s KXSC, I got really heavily involved at the station, I was music director for a year. We were really heavily electronic music centric, like it had some of the most electronic music programing in the country for a few years.

Part of that was because a lot of the DJ party crews were based out of USC at the time. One of them was actually Kenny Segal, who does a lot of production for milo now. He was like a jungle DJ/hip hop DJ. Some guys from the Glitch Mob also DJ’ed there. The whole scene was kind of incestuous, and in some sense it’s stayed that way. So I was making tracks for my own radio show, and it became a place where I could test out and play some of my music that wasn’t dance-centric. That was the freedom of having a Monday night show when nobody was listening.

When you’re in the studio now do you have to divide that more melodic, quieter stuff, like The Light Brigade, from your harder, dancier stuff, or can they cohabit the same song?

Daedelus: There are definitely these rare moments when you find the through-thread, and my catalogue is riddled with that kind of stuff, and those combinations, and I’m proud of that. I don’t take it lightly that people listen to my music, so there’s a reason for every track name, every kick drum, every snare. Every record is built around a concept, sometimes built around an instrument itself. This record, the mix itself, hopefully dances well, but the side B, with my tracks on it, isn’t necessarily supposed to dance. I purposefully entitled it “revisionist rave.” It’s not authentic, it’s like looking back through a telescope, and all the distortion that imposes, I’m letting it kind of flow freely.

There’s something really important and interesting about the hour or two hour long thought, that a three minute song, which can have a lot of moments and movements, doesn’t have the same sort of impact as the larger breath. I’m so happy to be taking those larger breaths again.

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