Let’s play a game. The game is called “name as many dizzyingly-prolific-experimental-electronic-musicians-who-dress-like-a-Victorian-dandy-and-perform-live-using-a-little-white-box-covered-in-L.E.D.s as you can.” It’s not a very hard game because of course there’s only one and his name, after the character from Greek mythology and/or James Joyce’s “Portrait of the Artist”, is Daedelus.
Daedelus, known in a former life as Alfred Weisberg-Roberts, is playing his way across the country starting on the 31st of January in Brisbane as part of St Jerome’s Laneway Festival but when I speak to him he has just arrived back home in LA from a tour in Mexico. I ask him how on earth he arrived at such a mad musical identity and what was his background musically speaking?
“Well my first introduction to music came from two sources really. My parents are kind of academics in a way so they had all sorts of crazy field recordings and early electronic composition kind of stuff, record collection wise. On the other side, my best friend’s father’s brother – yeah, it’s fairly complicated – was the manager for George Clinton’s band Parliament-Funkadelic and I used to love all their records. So I was born of fire basically. I was born of the fire of Parliament-Funkadelic and these awesome, strange folkways records. Those were my two godfathers in the game of music.”
It figures because Daedelus’ music is nothing if not eclectic. His latest album “Love To Make Music To” – which incidentally is his 10th full length release since 2001 and he also has 13 solo EPs, a collaboration with Bus Driver and another two with Adventure Time to his name – is far dancier than previous efforts. As Colin Buttimer for the BBC recently put it, Daedelus’ current single Fair Weather Friend “comes on like Boards of Canada on uppers,” which is very far from a bad thing. What’s’ the reason for the stylistic change? Daedelus is finally beginning to feel comfortable in his own skin.
“I’ve always loved that dance/rave kind of sound, particularly the rave stuff – like early 90s rave, techno, breakbeat and hardcore, whatever you want to call it. It’s always been a focus of my inspiration, a bit of an obsession and it’s only now that I’m beginning to feel comfortable with even attempting it. When you kind of hero worship, it’s hard to pluck up the courage; even imitation can be difficult. The other thing is that I’m on Ninja Tunes now. I’ve been doing records with them for a few years but this is my first chance to really take a step forward with them – like an internationally released record. They’re a dancey fun label, so I just try to fit in with the crowd!”
From a man who likes to dress in a waistcoat, cravat and top hat, fitting in with the crowd comes across as a little rich. Not least of all because when he’s not busy kitting himself out in Victorian finery, you can probably find him fiddling with a bizarre electronic instrument developed in Philadelphia called a Monomer. It looks like little more than a box covered in buttons that flash when you push them but is in fact a sampler on steroids (if you’re reading online check out this clip, it’s pretty bloody impressive: (http://au.youtube.com/watch?v=bjZwlCbUU8M&feature=related). As Daedelus explains, the monome effectively signals the next generation in the performance of live electronic music. The doomsdayers who proclaimed that electro would eventually bring about the demise of life couldn’t have been more wrong.
“[The monome] gives me the power to really tailor what I’m playing to the audience and the sort of sentiment in the room. You know all I’m playing is little sections of songs, mainly my own stuff but sometimes I dip into other peoples’ music, but the monome means I can just have so much at my finger tips.”
Whether the music is being electronically or organically produced, it must always engage the listener on an emotional level. “The thing is that despite how manufactured music is getting in some cases these days, they still haven’t built a computer that can write a song anybody will give shit about. They’ve made machines that can beat people at chess and machines that can pilot advanced aircraft, but they can’t get one to write a song. I like that fact.”