|The increasingly less quiet life of Daniel Avery
The London DJ/producer may not be into the sound of now. But, as RA's Kristan Caryl writes, that's exactly why he's such a breath of fresh air.
Even before I get a chance to bring it up, Daniel Avery openly admits that the music he enjoys making—and listening to—is not the most du jour. In fact, when I posit that his fabric mix seems sonically indebted to Paul Woolford's freaky "Erotic Discourse" from 2006, the well-spoken 27 year old agrees. "I think it's a modern classic. Seeing Erol [Alkan] play that was a big moment that got me into club culture." The reason Avery has broken through despite his counter-contemporary sound, then, is best summed up by Andrew Weatherall's tribute in a DJ Stars of 2012 feature that ran in Time Out London back in January: "He makes gimmick-free machine-funk of the highest order."
If you do the maths, you'll realise Avery came to dance music proper rather late. Despite early dalliances with The Chemical Brothers and Underworld, he grew up in "sunny Bournemouth" with rock stars as his primary heroes. "I've never had moments of seeing Fatboy Slim change my life. That's not where I came from. When I first started playing records [at alternate indie night Project Mayhem] I had no idea I wanted to do it full-time. I just liked the feeling of it. It was about mixing but also more about selection, and keeping the energy up between different genres."
Although the music he plays has now evolved, those early DJ experiences shaped Avery. His approach to mixing is quite different from the norm. Beat-matching, for instance, isn't high on the agenda. Seeking out contrast between records is the focus. Regular Trash and Bugged Out pilgrimages made an enormous impact; hearing records by The Chemical Brothers, New Order and Carl Craig in one sitting helped to join the dots between stadium-sized electronica, indie-leaning dance and full-on techno. Inspired, Avery began playing more and more dance stuff in his sets back on the South coast.
"I owe a lot to Filthy Dukes because, through a bar they had something to do with in Bournemouth, I started playing their Kill Em All night at London's grimy BarFly," says Avery. "I was then very fortunate to open up one of their nights at fabric at just 21 or 22 years old." fabric were so impressed with what they heard from the man then known as Stopmakingme that they quickly installed him as a resident. It was a similar story with Bugged Out, where he properly met Erol Alkan, the DJ behind Avery's label home, Phantasy Sound. As such, it's clear that Avery has a bit of a knack for being in the right place at the right time. Like, say, Andrew Weatherall's fuggy east London studio. That's where he had his early tracks as Stopmakingme engineered by nu-disco deviant and hardware fetishist Timothy J Fairplay.
"It's a cool and inspiring place down there. It's constantly creative and you're surrounded by [large parts of] probably one of the greatest record collections in the UK. When I was first in there, Death in Vegas were finishing their last record. The place just has a nice atmosphere of people doing stuff that they really like and are passionate about."
The first music to come from these sessions arrived under the Stopmakingme alias. It was a DJ name made-up during Avery's youth that got the chop after only a few releases. That early music was big and bold, wobbly and electro-laden with plenty of shiny surfaces and main room ambitions. It differed somewhat from the similarly peculiar though more restrained and deeper-sounding stuff that has since emerged under his given name on Throne of Blood and Phantasy.
"I'm not hiding anymore, I feel more confortable with my own name now," Avery says. "I like weird records, that's for sure. I like weirdness and oddness. I like any record that stands out in a pack. I'm not gunning to make glitchcore or anything, though. I still want to be able to dance to what I make. I wanna see people move to it. I really think a lot of early acid house records have a weirdness to them, kinda because there were no rules. No one knew what they were doing."
"Odd" and "weird" are certainly words you could use to describe his spangled mix for fabric. A world of spraying synths, un-tethered analogue lines and unpredictable beats, it adds up to a non-linear mix that incorporates the likes of Kassem Mosse, Simian Mobile Disco, a-made-for-purpose track from Weatherall and Fairplay's band, The Asphodells ("which was fucking crazy, a real honour to have"), and is all laced up with many new bits from Avery himself.
Appreciating such a commission is a big thing so early in one's career, Avery sought advice on what to do with it. Torn between mapping out the sort of set he does at the club as resident—taking the dance floor from empty to full in as unpredictable and non-standard way as possible—or "going eclectic," he eventually decided to lay down the sort of set you might hear from him in the bowels of the Farringdon club at peak time.
"All I knew when I started was that
the mix was going to stop halfway
through, with no drums and near
silence, just for contrast."
"It's a very 'fabric' mix of stuff I've played there, but also stuff that works best on that sound system. With the lights and that sound, it's really a place you can get lost in. Something I wanted to get across on the CD was that having a big moment of unexpectedness is only going to work with a moment of something opposite before it. It needs to be about peaks and troughs. All I knew when I started was that the mix was going to stop halfway through, with no drums and near silence, just for contrast. I love doing that when I DJ."
DJing remains a big part of the story, with Avery also promoting his own occasional night, Movement Club, alongside old Bugged Out buddy Matt Walsh. The pair wanted somewhere they could indulge the more esoteric parts of their record collections, from Kraut to post-punk to new wave. Each time around they also invite a special guest, but decline to name them beforehand. "The idea is to make residents a focal point," explains Avery. "It might go monthly but the secret special guest will continue. We think it's cool not to know who is playing, to have you trust us and then you might see Weatherall, Trevor Jackson or Simian [Mobile Disco] DJ for four quid. They don't get to play small places often so everyone has jumped at the chance."
Having made something of a name for himself as a producer, it seems possible that Avery will soon become "a name" alongside the Weatheralls and SMDs of the world. "A fully live show might come next year, but all I know is that if I do one I want it to be like Caribou who does live dance music properly," says Avery. "But all my energies right now are on making music and playing out. There is an album planned for next year [on Phantasy]. I feel at home there with Erol and the other acts he has lined-up. I definitely want it to be more than just club tracks though. I take huge inspiration from The Chems or Underworld, that era where you can put an album on and listen to it, but that also makes you dance."