My Life In Records
Alongside the likes of Flying Lotus, Nosaj Thing, The Gaslamp Killer and, more recently, Baths, Alfred Darlington has been making sure L.A.'s so-called 'beat' scene has stayed ahead of the electronic music curve for quite a while now. Darlington, better-known by his prolific recording moniker of Daedelus, returns with his latest full-length offering Bespoke this week (currently streaming over here, folks), and the "full-time musician, part-time dandy" kindly agreed to talk us through a life in records that began as a toddler dancing to George Clinton and, unsurprisingly, has taken a few turns since.
A combination of a best friend's uncle's direct connection with P-Funk and open-minded parents not minding that I'm dancing to songs about drugs, sex, and Pac-Man means that, although I'm only five, this is my favorite music.
Pure Energy then becomes my adolescent escapism. I'm flying when listening to the breakdown, crushed by the industrial metal clanks. This is pre-rave electronic sounds appearing on US airwaves, but the blueprint is laid out for the UK invasion of breakbeat sounds that become my everything starting in 1992.
At the same time, the electronics are boiling my mind; there are other sounds rolling too: grunge, some shoegaze and whatever The Pixies are considered. Having the NAD LP on cassette was isolating – no one else at my school knew who they were. It wasn't empowering hipster-ish stuff, though; it was a lonely planet.
So this is it, the first revelation of what I'd like to become. Silly to say it aloud, but this track turned my head around so strongly that I have forever judged my output against a song twenty-plus years old that, at the time, made me feel something so incredibly life-affirming that I was undone. Again I'm alone with this at my high school for a time (although I'm also beginning to religiously share the sounds I'm ingesting, which I believe to be the basis of all DJing).
My further electronic education throughout the 1990s consisted of various versions of this compilation; mysterious heart-beating music that was mostly in accents as far away from California's Valley-speak as was possible. Hardcore never meant punk to me: it was 4/4 jackhammer beats, and 'The Amen Break' was so divorced from The Winstons that I only learned it was taken from a funk song years later. The melody was the only constant for me, and the beats were florid flourishes, both unstable and exciting.
A fellow Los Angeleno, Mingus was my reality check. That is to say, I didn't think my pursuits with electronics merited serious consideration of a life forward – I just didn't know how it would work – and my studies of classical music had taken a serious turn with the double-bass; enough so, in fact, that I was going to university for jazz studies. The Clown opens with ‘Haitian Fight Song’, and I can imagine thousands of musicians have sailed ships under that banner. The playing and songwriting is so full of passion; it underlined how good I'd never be, and that can be a gift sometimes.
It wasn't just d&b rhythms that kept me up at night; I was growing increasingly aware of outsider artists in parallel that were never played on the radio or in the few clubs I ventured to. They seemed to take what I had loved about rave into outer space and beyond. By this point I was ravenously buying vinyl, traveling hundreds of miles for unpicked-through crates of children's records, spoken word, oddities and especially IDM and drill 'n' bass. This particular comp from 1996 is holding hands with those junglists, but it also showcased new producers who were to go on to make quite an impact, like Tom Jenkinson, Richard D. James, Luke Vibert and others.
With the past parting and the future oncoming, the foundation in 1999 of L.A.-based internet radio station Dublab provided an outlet for DJs of all strange stripes (myself included: my show Entropy Sessions was mostly dedicated to breakcore, low-slung beats and IDM). This very jointed compilation featured so many fantastic artists and, as a very-first-time-releasing bedfellow, it was both thrilling and scary. Ultimately, Dublab is still an underground force for all that is right in the musical world.
The experiences around all the aforementioned LPs cannot quite compare to the brief strange moment I've had with this full-length. Beyond the excellence of two strong musical voices in MF DOOM and Madlib and the creation of their villainous world, I was drawn into it by a chance sampling by the latter. His accordion was actually mine (from 'Experience', on 2002's Invention LP)... and even odder was getting to play accordion onstage for the duo whilst they were on tour with J Dilla. Things that change you forever...
Some time after electronics became my all-encompassing vision, I needed a strong break from the trappings of youthful brainwashing music theory and jazz-y chord changes (for the record: I never really escaped, just became unawares). The entire catalogue of Jorge Ben and his contemporaries woke me up once more to the idea of a good song (no matter the language) and, crucially, the notion of saudade – something I previously had no word for, but which was already a part of my music. It basically means 'longing', and it bleeds from every note Ben plays. So, in 2005, when I finally began answering that particular what and why, Jorge Ben was my greatest coconspirator.