“It isn’t a particularly macho endeavour…” Dan Snaith talks Daphni, his reaction to EDM guys with big toys
JIAOLONG, the debut album from Dan Snaith’s Daphni alias, is arguably this year’s most anticipated side gig.
Snaith began his musical life in earnest as Manitoba, producing technicolour loop music flecked with acoustic touches and glitchy detail. By 2005, Manitoba had morphed into Caribou, and Snaith’s music had become increasingly pie-eyed and psychedelic. After a pair of dreamy pop albums (2005′s The Milk Of Human Kindness and 2007′s Polaris Music Prize winning Andorra), Snaith erupted out of his cosy niche with the mesmerising Swim. That album’s strange, sinewy “liquid dance music” saw Snaith warmly welcomed into the club firmament, and he’s remained a regular presence in record boxes – and, as a selector, DJ booths – ever since.
As Snaith’s demographic has shifted towards the dancefloor, his work as Daphni suggests that his priorities have tilted in a similar direction. Properly inaugurated in 2011 with the Afrocentric Daphni Edits Vol. 1 12″ for Resista, the Daphni project has been responsible for a string of jubilant, house-indebted singles. Four Tet’s Text label put out debut calling card ‘Ye Ye’ as one half of a split 12″, and Snaith’s own Jiaolong label – also home to hobbyist side projects by Chaz Bundick (Toro Y Moi) and Jeremy Greenspan (Junior Boys) – has offered an outlet for further Daphni releases.
JIAOLONG is Daphni’s first full-length statement, and it’s a robust set. No polish here: these tracks are decidedly granular affairs, characterised by hissy analogue leads, rough-edged drum programming and an unapologetic emphasis on dancefloor magick. There’s always been a nebbish dimension to Snaith’s work, but JIAOLONG sounds surprisingly bold and brash – brassy, even. FACT chatted to Snaith about digging in Honest Jon’s, new Caribou material, and EDM’s ignoble hordes of “guys with electronic toys”.
“Hearing Plastikman or the Chemical Brothers just blew my mind, because it was something unlike anything what was going on where I was growing up.”
You’ve talked very eloquently about the revelations you’ve had in “small, dark clubs” – I wanted to know if you’ve always been immersed in contemporary club culture, or if it’s been a recent discovery (or rediscovery) for you?
The impetus for me starting to make music – or record music, anyway – was in high school. I grew up in a small town in Canada, not knowing anything about electronic music, and then a friend probably introduced me to a very early Chemical Brothers record, or Plastikman or something like that very early on. And that was the beginning of me thinking, ‘Oh, I could have the means to record music. It doesn’t mean necessarily going into a studio’. So that was what kicked off my interest in making music. It just blew my mind, because it was something unlike anything what was going on where I was growing up. So, ever since then, I’ve been a very big fan of dance music.
When I was younger, it wasn’t like I was able to go to clubs at all when I was growing up, because there was no such thing anywhere near where I was living. And then when I moved to Toronto, in my late teens/early twenties, we had to put on our own club night – it was the only way of there being a club night that kind of related to the music we were interested in at the time, my friends and I. But I guess already at that point I was already coming over to visit Kieran [Hebden] and Leaf and the people that were putting out my music then. I was really spending a lot of time buying records, black market 2-step garage records and stuff, when I came over here. So it’s something that I’ve always listened to. I was DJing back then as well.
“When DJing I always like that surprise of two worlds colliding.”
Raising DJing is interesting, because it seems that one of the defining projects of the Daphni project is that you were producing the work quickly. In a way, that’s comparable to DJing – you’re making compositional choices on the fly…
“I guess almost all these tracks were made on a Friday or Saturday afternoon when I was DJing that night, or for a specific DJ set that I was like, ‘Ah, I don’t have any new tracks to play this week, or haven’t got enough records this week. I’m just going to make a track’. And so the tracks were made with that in mind. Necessarily they had to be done quickly, because I was going to be playing them that night. Also, a lot of them are specifically a collision of an organic sounding sample or a soul/disco kind of sample against a synthesiser part of something – which is very much the kind of mode in which I DJ anyway. I always like that collision, or that surprise, of those two worlds colliding when DJing, so it was a natural thing to do when I was making this music, in a way.”
“I was really surprised at how coherent it seemed to me as an album, as a body of work or whatever.”
If, as you say, a lot of tracks were created on an ad hoc basis, do you see JIAOLONG as a coherent piece, or is it more a compilation of works in a similar mould?
“Well, it’s funny – it wasn’t until recently that I thought about putting together an album at all. I mean, some of these things came out on 12″ for the label that I started, or as a track on Kieran’s label, and that was kind of going to be the end of it. It was only recently when I put them all together and listened through them and I thought, ‘This actually, for some reason…’. The tracks are quite diverse and distinct from one another, but they also seem to sit together – to me, anyway – really well. Maybe because they’re all made with my DJ sets in mind, and there’s a kind of particular thing – I’m DJing quite diverse stuff, but I’m mainly looking for the same sort of thing that jumps out at me about the track. So maybe that’s why they sit together well. I was really surprised at how coherent it seemed to me as an album, as a body of work or whatever. It wasn’t until then that I thought, ‘Well, maybe this should be an album’.”
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