In a gray wharf in London, just outside the heart of the city, Daniel Avery has set up his studio inside of an old shipping container. It’s an unconventional space to work in, yet then again, Avery has never been one for conventions.
Since making his break in 2013 with his critically acclaimed debut album Drone Logic, the U.K. producer has proceeded to turn heads with his avant-garde approach to electronic music. With a penchant for the transcendent, Avery masterfully blends minimal techno arrangements with lush, ambient soundscapes. It’s a style which has earned Avery a legion of loyal fans, placing him in a rarified, left-field electronic space occupied by artists like Jon Hopkins and Four Tet.
For the last five years, this shipping container has been a laboratory for Avery’s otherworldly concoctions. “It’s very peaceful and serene,” Avery says on a Skype call from London. “It’s somewhere where I feel like I’m able to take a breath.”
While much of Avery’s time is spent here in the studio, the other half is dominated by a rigorous international touring schedule. “The weekends are very busy and full of this intense kinetic energy,” he says. “The only way to really deal with them is to throw yourself into them fully. As a complete balance to that, the studio space I’ve created for myself is quiet. It’s somewhere where I’m happy to be on my own.”
The duality between frenetic social interaction and self-imposed isolation is a theme that Avery explores on his new album, Song for Alpha. The cerebral 14-track electronic album, released on Mute and Phantasy in April, portrays this concept through the intersecting worlds of techno and drone music. “The sound of the new record has been informed by the balance between the two things and me trying to find my space between those two polar opposite worlds,” Avery says.
Such is evident in the diversity of productions, from the album’s brief ambient opener, “First Light,” to the myriad of acid and industrial-laced creations that make up its tracklist. Even when the album dips into Avery’s most familiar territory, techno, it is frequently accompanied by “washes of ambient noise and distortion,” as Avery puts it.
If there’s one pervading theme to the album (as well as Avery’s aesthetic in general), it’s a distinct sense of escapism: an underlying desire to transcend the present reality.
“For me, music has always acted as a form of escape,” Avery says. “By that, I don’t mean running away from life. Just that idea where you can find space and take a breath and be able to look at life from a totally different perspective.” Anyone who has seen Avery live can attest to that sensation. Avery is notorious for building multi-hour sets that are just as spell-binding as they are pummeling.
2018 has seen Avery embark on a series of open-to-close performances, giving him the opportunity to truly showcase his craft over extended set lengths. Throughout these all-night sets, Avery is often liable to serenade a room with an 8-minute ambient track, only to be heaving hypnotic, 135 BPM techno on the crowd three hours later. “It requires a certain level of dedication and patience from everyone in the room,” he says. “If you are in a club, and you have the trust of the crowd, and similarly if the club trusts the DJ and the general atmosphere of the room, that’s when those magic moments can occur. It’s those things when you look around and you know everyone in the room is kind of traveling together.”
Now Avery has been invited to serve as a special guest on a North American tour by one of his esteemed peers, Jon Hopkins. “I’ve always been a fan of Jon’s music,” Avery says. “He’s created his own unique world, and is still making interesting records now and he’s been doing this a long time. Him inviting me on this tour, it felt very natural and organic.”
Avery will also hit the road with another long-time favorite of his: Nine Inch Nails. A couple years ago, Avery heard the band had been playing some of his music before coming out on stage. Around the same time, he began communicating with the group’s synth player, Alessandro Cortini. “We started just talking online,” he says. As it happens, the two were mutual fans of each other’s work and began writing some music together. “I believe all of this has fed into the tour dates together,” Avery says.
With both tours approaching, Avery aims to provide two distinct experiences. With Hopkins, he will play to his strengths, performing extended DJ sets. “All the gigs I play with him, I’m going to be playing from when doors open, to right up to when he starts. That could be quite a long stretch of time, but I’m a big believer in the power of taking a room and building it from the ground up.” In contrast, he explains, “Nine Inch Nails is going to be a short, sharp burst of something. It’s going to feel entirely different.”
Ultimately, Daniel Avery has found himself in a special place in his career. Five years on from Drone Logic, he’s come to occupy a singular niche in the electronic world, emphasized by his paralleling tour dates with Jon Hopkins and Nine Inch Nails. While it may be some time before we can expect a third album from him, it’s a comforting picture to think of Avery, working on new material, lost in the quiet reverie of his shipping container.
Find all of Daniel Avery’s upcoming tour dates here.