“Music can grab you by the hand and move you somewhere else entirely.” That much is true for Daniel Avery’s sophomore record Song For Alpha. Released on April 6th via Erol Alkan’s Phantasy label, the album is an intimate exploration of twilight hours on the road, and the hazy space between listening at home and losing yourself on the dancefloor. It’s been five years since the release of his acclaimed debut Drone Logic, and in that time Avery has been practicing the art of patience, taking time to create a piece of music that felt true to himself.
Daniel Avery has firmly cemented himself as one of the most respected figures in dance music, making the follow up to Drone Logic hotly anticipated. A stunning and hypnotising debut, Drone Logic helped established a cerebral blueprint for Avery. A Daniel Avery cut has an idiosyncratic quality, it summons a specific feeling; the physical sensations of deep groove, throbbing synths, melodic chord progressions and rolling house and techno rhythms.
Since the release of Drone Logic, Avery has held down a monthly NTS show, put out a DJ-Kicks mix, curated a remix compilation and even released a side-project with Nine Inch Nails synth connoisseur Alessandro Cortini. He’s also been touring constantly, refining and defining a craft he’s been perfecting since the age of 18. “It feels like a natural extension of my life”, he says as we discuss the impact DJ-ing has on his production. Away from his hectic touring schedule and into the studio, Song For Alpha has been born out of seemingly endless nights on the road – “floating in time” – and he’s learned to harness that timeless feeling instead of being afraid: “I’ve learned to embrace that energy, and I’ve found inspiration beyond the haze.” Ahead of the release of his stunning new album – Song For Alpha, “inspired in equal parts by the club and the road” – Daniel Avery and I discuss weightlessness on the dancefloor, the effervescent energy of London and the importance of an unproductive day.
“The more negative energy there is in the world, the more clubs demonstrate their importance in our society.”
Thrown in at the deep end from an early age, Avery’s father took him to see The Prodigy when he was just 11. Whilst he didn’t necessarily associate the sounds he was hearing with the club, Björk and Aphex Twin were also key in his formative explorations of music. Growing up in Bournemouth, his initial perceptions of clubbing were far from inspiring, “Honestly, I hated what I saw of clubs in my immediate field of vision” he says, “shitty music for people I wanted nothing to do with!” It took stumbling upon a small party in the basement of a hotel for his tune to change. This discovery led to attending the party every week, and later he became the warm-up DJ. Avery describes the hotel basement as a critical starting point, “I discovered an entirely new world” he says, “I learned that you could draw lines between anything musically, from The Stooges to Joy Division, krautrock and electronic records.” Playing around with production in his bedroom, he used to make music with a four track, a drum machine, guitars and a few pedals. “At the time I didn’t take it seriously and I don’t know what happened to the recordings, but I bet there was a naïve truth to what came out” Avery says, before telling me that if he could go back and give himself one piece of advice, it would be to not throw anything away.
Contrary to many producers who become accustomed to largely nocturnal studio habits, Daniel Avery has found that he can only make music during the day, explaining that “nights are too heavily associated with clubs for me now.” His studio – a converted shipping container on the banks of the Thames – is quiet and peaceful, giving him a moment of respite, slowing things down after the restless nature of his weekends. “I feel as if the studio itself has had an effect on the overall sound of Song For Alpha” he explains, “I can see the financial district across the water, so you feel part of the city but it also feels like an escape.” It’s that recurring idea of occupying two spaces simultaneously; the city-centre retreat and the music that belongs on the dancefloor as much as it belongs at home.
“There are some outright club moments on Song For Alpha” says Avery, “but that’s only one part of it. In that way, this record feels more personal than the last.” Having amassed almost 100 new tracks in the five years since Drone Logic‘s release, it took time for Daniel Avery to feel like his material was saying “something new”. It’s here that he harnessed the art of patience – a mind-set that’s becoming increasingly important in his day to day – allowing the music its own space to breathe and cultivate. “The unproductive days are every bit as important as the productive ones” he says, “they all shape the final sound.” Drawing an analogy of building a delicate spider web and then sitting back to wait for what comes next, he goes onto say “You can set everything up beautifully, but I’ve come to the conclusion that eventually music finds you.
Music can find you, but it can also help you find yourself. It can transport you, restore you, revive you, and help you find clarity. On his biggest influences, psychedelic sounds with the ability to take you somewhere else are top of Avery’s list. “It could be a beguiling ambient piece, a hypnotic techno record or a guitar band creating huge walls of sound – it’s all music in which to get fully lost.” This feeling of losing yourself is key to Song For Alpha. Does it make you want to close your eyes? Definitely. Does it also make you want to float your hands in the air and feel weightless? Absolutely. “Weightlessness was a theme that kept cropping up in the studio as I worked on this record” Avery says, “It’s that feeling of forgetting the outside world when you’re immersed in a club sound system.”
You only need to spend some time with a cut like ‘Sensation’ to recognise that weightless and hypnotising nature of Daniel Avery’s material. It’s a physical sensation that’s not a million miles from the way that dubstep affects the body. “I like it when music sounds bigger than you and totally engulfs your senses” explains Avery, “with dubstep and also with Detroit techno, there’s this futurism, and a desire to make music that sounds like it came from another galaxy.” A hypnotic momentum and a desire to reach beyond the confines of a single genre; these are common denominators in dubstep and Daniel Avery’s music, and he finds comfort in being surrounded by these otherworldly soundscapes.
Finding comfort in music could be challenging when music represents your livelihood as well as a pastime, but for Daniel Avery, William Basinki is a reliable reminder of “the power music has to change your perspective.” Basinki’s Disintegration Loops 1.1 is Avery’s go-to composition whenever he needs to clear his head. Delving deeper, he describes the “utterly enveloping” nature of the music, and its ability to “unapologetically demand your attention for the entirety of its duration, so much so that the room feels empty when it’s over. It’s a piece of music that forces you to stop and take stock; it’s truly a reminder of the important things in your life.”
Avery’s Divided Love series at fabric had been put on the backburner as he concentrated on his production. Now, having sold-out an eight hour set at London’s York Hall, he’s looking to find new spaces to dance and aims to build a new concept from the ground up. As we talk about the current climate of London clubbing, he’s refreshingly optimistic, naming fabric, Corsica Studios, Printworks, Phonox, and Village Underground as his favourite spaces to play. “From where I’m standing there is a young, effervescent energy that feels stronger than ever” he says, “the more negative energy that starts flying about in the world, the more clubs demonstrate their true importance in our society. Clubs are based on the idea of love and everyone inside is searching for some sort of higher energy. I feel that more than ever right now.”
There’s no doubt that Daniel Avery is responsible – time and time again – for invigorating dancers with that higher energy that he speaks of. Giving life, joy, energy, and freeing weightlessness to dancefloors across the globe, it’s easy to forget the outside world when Daniel Avery takes the helm.
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