WHP FEATURE 032
After the first interview with Dan Avery, I listen back to the recording to discover that Dan’s voice has been drowned out; it’s barely audible under a fug of digital hiss and ambient sound. Several panicky texts and one hastily rescheduled interview later, it’s hard not to reflect on the irony of Avery seemingly coming with a built in miasma of white noise. His breakthrough album Drone Logic was true to its name; an exploration of the sense and energy that can found from layering subtly textured drones over machine rhythms. And now, as he contemplates getting round to recording album number two, his obsession with the possibilities of ambient sound have, if anything, grown.
“I’m not interested in aping a techno album, I want to make something that comes from me,” he says when we talk a second time. “I’ll take elements that come from what I’ve learnt DJing over the last three years, like the warmth and depth of a kick drum, or the hypnotic repetition of a loop ,but I want to push them in my own style. I’m exploring drones, ambience. There were quite a few psychedelic elements on Drone Logic and I think they’re going to come to the fore on the new release.”
Avery is a considered, cerebral producer who approaches his work in much the same way as he does conversation, carefully thinking through just what it is he is trying to convey. As has been often noted, he came into dance music from an indie background, starting out as a DJ playing post punk and new wave in a Bournemouth club, before gradually falling for the mutated electronica played by the likes of Andrew Weatherall, Optimo and Erol Alkan. In his eyes, he came from outside of any traditional dance background, and Drone Logic was an indie kid’s take on techno, forged at the meeting point where both post punk and electronica strive to create something awkward and new.
“I always felt like a bit of an outsider when it came to dance music. A lot of the very early reviews of Drone Logic were focused on what it wasn’t-” he laughs at this- “they were saying it’s good, but it’s not UK garage, it’s not Disclosure, it’s not rotary mixer house –but then again that’s something I’m quite proud of.”
Still, having started out as an outsider, Drone Logic was an objective success feted by critics and fans alike. With Avery now a regular fixture at Fabric (and a notably loud voice of protest when Islington Council attempted to shut the club earlier this year), can he still consider himself to be an outsider in a scene that has, if anything, morphed to allow space for him on the inside?
“Well, yes, I’ve definitely taken steps towards the inner circle of whatever this scene may be, but I like to be able to occupy a position of being from the outside looking in. I do still feel like an outsider. I didn’t grow up listening to Dance Mania records! The first electronic music I really loved was stuff like Aphex Twin, or Bjork, or stuff like that. I didn’t touch on techno ‘til much later. I do occupy an outside position, but I’m more than happy to occupy this position. I feel comfortable coming from the outside.”
“The reason I’m so focused on making another album -rather than just knocking out 12”s – is that I love the idea of how an album could encapsulate so many things; you can have a nosebleed techno track that has an effect on your body, followed by an ambient drone record that takes you elsewhere.
Whilst Avery may still feel like he is coming from the outside, there would appear to be a lot of people on the outside with him. His near constant touring has seen him remain in RA’s Top 100 constantly since Drone Logic was released, this year charting at #67. “I don’t understand the people who moan about the RA poll,” is his response to the backlash the list garners every year “all it means is that a group of readers of one website enjoy certain DJs. There’s nothing wrong with that. It’s nice for me to be featured, but at the same time I’m not too bothered by it.”
Bothered or not, his maintained position in the poll is best explained by his recent DJ Kicks mix. Fans have noted that it is markedly different from Drone Logic, the DJ Kicks session far more concerned with creating a virtual club experience than reprising the off kilter meanderings of his debut album. To Avery this was always the plan; through near constant touring he has honed his DJing to a rare high point, and a mix album was the obvious way to give an honest summery of these last few years of his artistic life.
“What I want to do with the DJ Kicks was something that was more of a reflection of the dancefloor . People say it’s not Drone Logic, but it wasn’t meant to be. I wanted to represent being out on the road for three years. From touring I got thrown into the world of electronic music head first- that’s been my time since the album, and I’ve loved every moment of it, I’ve played some of the best shows of my life, and to me that’s why the DJ Kicks mix felt like it was important to represent those last few years.”
Those last few years have seen Avery travel across Europe, out into North and South America and beyond. He’s been happiest when playing extended sets, manning the decks for 6 hours (or more!) at a time. “It’s far easier playing a long set than a short one” he notes, and this opportunity to let his music spread out, to let it create an entire, if temporary, eco-system in the space it fills, has inspired him.
“Just this weekend I played all-night sets in Paris at Rex, and in Lyon. Those types of gigs have been moments where I’ve been able to build the atmosphere from the ground up. You get that feeling when people come in and they find their spot and they don’t leave it for the whole night; you can really lock in, you can create a world that feels so strong and you can really push it and take chances in those scenarios. Those are the real special events, and that’s what I was I was trying to get on DJ Kicks. It’s quite a linear mix. I wanted it to be quite hypnotic. I wanted you to be able to close your eyes and get absorbed into the mix, to have that feeling of it unfurling. I’ve become more and more interested in the idea of patience, of letting something gradually build from the bottom up.”
It feels like DJ Kicks has provided a bookend for Avery, a chance to encapsulate his last few years of working up dancefloor energy, before he returns to his obsession with creating impressionist, textured electronic soundscapes. As such, after his next live shows he’s taking a break to entirely focus on finishing his new album. He talks about having recorded the material for three albums already, working with field recordings and glitching analogue kit, laughing that “if someone put a gun to my head, I could release an album tomorrow.” But, sans gunman, he wants to hone down all the material he has into something that has the dynamic of a proper, old fashioned album- something he attributes to his years of listening to bands.
I don’t know what the fuck’s going on. For me it feels quite natural to turn to music, that’s something we can do together.”
“The reason I’m so focused on making another album -rather than just knocking out 12”s – is that I love the idea of how an album could encapsulate so many things; you can have a nosebleed techno track that has an effect on your body, followed by an ambient drone record that takes you elsewhere. I think that’s a bit of the indie kid in me coming back, with an album you have to go with it, you put it on and you have to be patient and allow the record to take you somewhere else. The best albums are the ones that do take time to unfold. This year I really liked the Convextion album that came out, and the Planetary Assault Systems album. Luke Slater is someone who, even though he makes predominantly techno, can get so much more out of the music. Actress is also a really great example of someone who takes elements of club sound and culture and makes something out it that interests me.”
When Avery lists off his electronic contemporaries, it shows that he’s far more immersed in the scene than he ever was whilst recording Drone Logic. Does he worry that this means he has somehow ‘learnt the rules’ of how to make techno in a way that will stifle the unthinking experimentalism that ran through his debut?
“It’s very easy to get stuck in a trap,” he agrees. “Every producer ever has fallen into it before. But now I feel confident that I can make something that sounds like me rather than trying to sound like everyone else. I’ve come to the conclusion that music comes to you, if you feel comfortable just doing what you do then it just comes naturally. The second you try to force creativity, or you go in with a preconceived notion of what you want to sound like, nothing good comes out of the session. It’s only when you go in with a clear head and let your instincts take over that the interesting sounds happen.”
As anyone who follows Avery on twitter is aware, he’s not shy of voicing an opinion on events outside of dance – whether that was his aforementioned championing of Fabric’s reopening, or recent tweets taking the piss out of Michael Gove’s attacks on the art world. So when he lets his ‘instincts take over’ does this mean he will find himself explicitly commenting on wider culture on his new record? As it turns out, he still has no current intentions of any of what he perceives as ‘the real world’ making it into his music. Whilst he calls the lyrical content and delivery of arch provocateur John Lydon “an inspiration,” they’ll remain a subtle rather than overt inspiration.
“Personally I don’t feel any need to tread the same lyrical path as someone like John Lydon. I don’t think I have it in me yet. I feel as though I’m at a stage where I want my music to act as some form of escapism. It’s not there to make a point it’s almost there to do the opposite, to take you somewhere else where the real world doesn’t seem that consequential. Even the DJ Kicks had that idea in mind; that you can go into a club, close your eyes and time stops when you’re in there. That’s a place I’m in right now, I don’t feel any pressure or desire to make any points that have anything to do with the real world. I mean what a year! What the fuck’s going on out there? I think it’s got to the stage now where it feels a bit like there’s a lack of hope, it feels like, what the hell do we do next? 2016 has been a year of revealing how many people in the world think entirely the opposite of what I think, which is quite a frightening feeling. I don’t know. I don’t know what the fuck’s going on. For me it feels quite natural to turn to music, that’s something we can do together.”
This belief in the collective power of music sustains Avery, and as he considers it, he reverses his position; a post Brexit, pre Trump world may seem uncertain and bleak and lacking in hope, but ultimately there are constants in humanity that cut through. He feels like he’s seeing them every weekend-
“There are glimmers in the dirt. Touring gives me hope – there are so many like-minded souls in the world. Touring and meeting people and seeing that whilst cultures might be different, at the heart of things, when you step into a nightclub everyone is so similar. Everyone is there for a positive goal. Just seeing that literally everywhere in the world I’ve been to, that gives me a real comfort. That is where the hope is.”