Nine Songs: Daniel Avery
“It’s almost like everything on this list put into a blender might make the kind of techno record that would make you question every aspect of your life. In a good way.”
Daniel Avery sticks out in the mind as an accomplished electronic DJ and producer, with tracks that gradually layer hazy textures and vibrations to create full-bodied sounds that audiences around the world have excitedly absorbed. But as Avery points out, when he looks back at the music that impacted him most, it’s telling that he didn’t discover techno first.
Growing up in the seaside town of Bournemouth, the music scene felt very insular. What he saw in his immediate field of vision were clubs and a buzz for music that didn’t resonate with him. His father, an avid record collector, introduced him to some of the greats, taking him to his first gig, The Prodigy, at the age of 11.
“Guitar music became my first love”, he tells me when we meet in a coffee shop in West London. “At 18, there was that real rush of discovery of going backwards and making those connections with things like Black Sabbath, New Order, The Stooges. It remains one of my most exciting times.”
He soon came across a club night called Project Mayhem, which was run by a guy called Matt, who also managed a record shop in the town. It was here that he realised how expansive electronic music could be when intelligently placed beside other genres. After months of “hanging around too much” he was offered the opening slot on the weekly line-up. From there, his path towards DJing, and techno, began.
For many, listening to techno is an experience in zoning out, but for Avery, it’s more about zoning in. “I think I’ve won if I can see people with their eyes closed, but that doesn’t mean it’s a passive experience. You’re connected to something that is deep inside you.” To Avery, the artists that have inspired him most, have done just that.
The songs Avery has chosen are all examples of fearless artists daring to create music that finds beauty in the eerie spaces and ethereal sounds of an other-wordly consciousness. It’s his fascination with off-kilter and occasionally unsettling melodic journeys that has not only inspired his own work, but has helped to shape the identity of music that has gone on to deeply impact others.
“I was probably about 16 when I discovered Loveless and it remains my favorite album. I remember listening to it for the first time on headphones and being transported somewhere else. I’d never heard sounds like this before. It reminds me of going out into the world on my own because it was a record I discovered by myself.
"Before that so much of the music I was into came from my dad and his record collection, so a lot came from hearing stuff in the house. But this album came into my life through my own research. It felt like a true discovery of my own - a form of coming of age.
"It’s a record with incredibly brave production; it embraces intensity. But that’s all underpinned by beautiful hooks and melodies that remain with you. That's something that struck so deeply with me and something I try to remember myself; that you can make the noisiest, most aggressive sounding piece ever but unless it has some kind of soul or hook to it, then there’s almost no point. I listen to that record once a month, even now."
“This record represents the moment club music fully entered my life. It was that time when I found the club in Bournemouth and from there I discovered characters like Optimo, Richard Fearless, Erol Alkan, Miss Kittin, Ivan Smagghe, - DJs who had an outsider perspective.
“Before then, Djing was an alien concept to me, but when I found these figures who had a more punk, outsider way of doing things, that's when I thought ‘Maybe I can do this.’ That’s when I started playing, when I was 18.
“Of course the godfathher of this idea was Andrew Weatherall. I had to include a production of his on this list and I especially love all of the Two Lone Sworsmen stuff. He was the perfect example of someone who came at everything with a different mentality to the mainstream and did everything on his own terms. This track felt like a light into the most enticing shadow I had ever known.
“Weatherall realised that fads come and trends go, so all you can do is make stuff that’s true to you, whether it’s running a club night, starting a band, building a new art project or recording an album. It was fascinating working in the studio next to him because everyday, he would come in and consume art, read books, work on prints and create something. That’s what drove him. Literally up until his dying breath he was still doing stuff and it’s the best lesson I’ve ever learnt. It'll stay with me forever.”
“When I first moved to London in my early 20’s I worked in a record shop called Pure Groove. I loved every moment of working there, it was such a beautiful small community and I was responsible for organising the in-stores. It was during a period when 7” singles were selling a lot and there was one that was always flying out by Micachu & The Shapes, who made really cool off-kilter pop. We invited them in to do a gig.
“The singer Mica, I didn’t know anything about her before, but she had this amazing presence to her. Sometimes you meet people and the second they walk in the door, they have something special.
“She seemed to disappear for a few years and then came back with the soundtrack to the extraordinary indie film Under the Skin which this track is taken from. The second I heard it, it just made complete sense. It was entirely different to what she was doing in her band but it had this energy to it from someone who was clearly a singular artist.
“I love this idea of someone who - and I think it’s true for many of the people on this list - finds some amount of success only to swim against the tide of favour, because they believe in something else and they have the confidence and the conviction to do that. Mica is the defining example of this. I just admire everything about her and I love this piece of music so much.”
“The Walker Brothers’ hits were in my head from a young age but the more I learnt about Scott Walker, the more fascinated I became with him. He was as big a popstar as you can get. He was the equivalent of Justin Bieber in the ‘60s but then he decided to go out on his own, becoming more interested in avant-garde music.
“With this song in particular, “It’s Raining Today” which is taken from his third solo album Scott 3, you can hear the gears of change beginning to grind. On the one hand, it’s a beautifully romantic song, but then, particularly on headphones, it also houses an incredibly intense and unsettling atmosphere. For someone who was one of the biggest pop stars in the world only a few years earlier, to start making this music because he believed in it, I find it so exciting.
“I chose it because it came on shuffle on my phone when I was walking recently, and it knocked me sideways again. For a record that’s so old, for it to still have that effect is staggering. Scott Walker was and is a hero.”
“I didn’t realise it at the time, but this track defined a big turning point in my life. I’d been working at Pure Groove records for a number of years and whilst I’d continued DJing, its lustre had faded hugely for me. Then the shop closed, as a lot of them did at the time, and I was faced with a chasm in front of me.
“Around the same period, I reconnected with some old friends who were really into the underground live scene, especially the new wave of guitar, psyche bands doing the rounds. HTRK are a great example, but also bands like Wooden Shjips and Moon Duo, A Place to Bury Strangers, Crocodiles, Von Haze… They all shared a psychedelic characteristic making loopy, trippy music that instantly hit the techno-loving side of my brain. It spoke to me.
“Of course I loved guitar music growing up, but this really reawakened something in me. It inspired me so much that I decided ‘If I’m going to make music of my own then now is the time.’ That’s when I started borrowing every bit of equipment and studio time I could.
“I adore HTRK. I love Jonnine Standish’s voice, it’s music that feels like a trip the whole time you’re listening to it. Again, they’re another band who do things on their own terms at their own pace. I look back at that time in my life as being full of inspiring characters and changes. I was forced to look at myself and say ‘You can go to another shop and keep selling other people’s music or you can make your own’, and that was that.”
“When I was 11 or 12, a friend of my Dad’s had made him a cassette tape of Nirvana, a homemade ‘best of’. This guy must have been a super fan, because I came to learn much later that it had a lot of B-sides and interesting stuff on it.
“I’d listen to that tape over and over again and from there I got massively into bands like Smashing Pumpkins, Nine Inch Nails, Queens Of The Stone Age and Tool. I still love all of those bands, but there’s something about Deftones that I return to all the time.
“There’s an ethereal quality to their sound, it exists in a dream-like state. When you read interviews with them they want to talk about Kode9 or Kevin Shields rather than guitar music. Their musical world is so much bigger than it might appear on first impression. They never broke up and, more importantly, they never stopped being good.”
“Much like Scott Walker or Mica Levi, Björk’s a singular artist with a unique voice in every sense of the word.
“I remember first hearing Vespertine and being spellbound. It’s the most delicately beautiful sound. The whole time you listen to it you feel like you’re inside a glacial palace of her creation. To me, that is an ultimate goal of an album, to create a world that people can dive into. You can close your eyes and only be woken by the sound of the needle leaving the record. That’s what I aim to create and that’s what I’m drawn to within music.
“Personally I love playing really long DJ sets, because you can create an atmosphere that is entirely on your own terms. I love playing 8, 9, 10 hours and seeing people lay on the floor to drone music only to be crawling crawling the walls to nosebleed techno a few hours later. A night out is not as permanent as an album, but for me that is always the goal when playing.”
“This one is probably the most obvious choice on this list in relation to my own stuff. All that early Warp stuff was alien sounding computer music with a human heart and Aphex is the master of it, and always has been.
“He is someone else who creates his own universe on his own terms. His world is particularly expansive, as he can make the most subtle, meditative pieces alongside intense glitch-acid-techno-whatever-mindfuck music and have it all works because it comes from the same place. I love techno but it’s only one part of who I am, and so to be able to create a much wider world and for it all to make sense, that’s my ultimate goal.
“A lot of people, when they think of Aphex, they think of schizophrenic tracks but it should never be forgotten that he has made some of the most beautiful electronic music ever and with this track… well, he found perfection.”
“I felt I should include something that’s directly linked to what I do in a club. It was something of a reluctant decision though because, as much as I adore techno and it’s a huge part of who I am, I feel as if these other influences struck early for me, so I hold on to them dearly. But this track came at the last big turning point in my life, when my first album came out.
“Something about Drone Logic connected. It took a long time, but I believe it was a record that people passed amongst their friends organically, so it caught fire over a long period and I eventually found myself playing most weekends. That leap of faith I’d taken after Pure Groove had paid off and it was an exhilarating time.
“Djing became a joy again in the way it hadn’t been since I first started, largely thanks to this track and the swathe of entrancing techno being made at that time. It shares characteristics with all the other songs in this list; the hypnotism of it, the unapologetic repetition, the psychedelic nature at its core.
“It came out in 2012 but I still play it now. It meant so much to me and will remain a reminder of a time in my life where I witnessed the sparks in front of me start to smoke.”