Already with close to a stunning 30 electroacoustic albums and EPs to his name, L.A. DJ and electronic artist Daedelus’ latest, Bespoke (Ninja Tune), is composed of somber études, kaleidoscopic nocturnes and clusters of wanton rapture. Thematically, it follows its own name: “bespoke,” couture, or, like the record’s first single, “Tailor-Made.”
“For a lack of a silly term, I really tried to sew in as much detail as possible,” Daedelus, known more colloquially as Alfred Darlington, says with a touch of cheek. And rightfully so. As if Bespoke were its thesis, the album is home to tracks called “Penny Loafers,” “Suit Yourself” and “Sew, Darn, Mend.” A charming touch, really, especially for an artist just as well known for donning Victorian and Edwardian swallow-tail coats as he is for his enchanting mixes. Yet this fashion-friendly tracklist is more than a candid lookbook for a modern-day dandy DJ; it’s a microcosm of Darlington’s music ethos. “These things just aren’t made to measure, they aren’t made to suit people,” he says. “They’re made for a general swath of people so they’re never quite right.
“If I’m going to ask for your attention I’m going to try to give you something for it, try to be there, try to be forceful. The record really is about things being made; I’m not making this record in the vacuum of my lonely studio. It really is being made to highlight one full act of creation that is so rare nowadays.”
With music coursing through his days since childhood, Darlington is no stranger to inventive sounds. His first famous encounter: George Clinton, who was in some way associated with Darlington’s neighbor. “It might have been the neighbor’s brother who was the manager. Maybe it was the dealer. All I know is that when I was very young, I had all of those records. I was the world’s funkiest five-year-old.” And just imagining a pee-wee Daedelus, decked in a miniature period jacket, breaking it down to “We Want The Funk” is endearing enough, but young Alfred met the Atomic Dog himself. “I got a chance to sit on his lap when he had that purple mohawk. It was a striking moment in my childhood,” he laughs.
With that starting point, Deadelus’ limitless care took off. In addition to being a skilled manipulator of electronic sound, the monome (a device that allows the user to trigger samples) whiz is also trained on the clarinet and upright bass. He “badly, but wonderfully badly” studied jazz at the University Of Southern California, where, after poring over the standards and great American songbook, Darlington became a disgruntled young jazz musician. “Being a young person—[I was] 20 or so at the time—playing music of the people that have been dead for 80 years can be a little dispiriting. I was thinking, ‘Is this what it’s going to be?’ Am I going to be playing ‘A Night In Tunisia’ and ‘Girl From Ipanema’ for the rest of my life?”
Certainly not. Deadelus would go on to master the blippy-beepy monome and release quite a number of electronic albums. His current genre-hopping collab roster could fill a novella—Baths, Bilal and Busdriver are a few that appear on Bespoke alone—and having played accordion with and been sampled by the late J Dilla are alone enviable feats.
While many a funk, hip-hop or beats aficionado would pull a Faustian deal to have even spoken to such innovative artists, Darlington lists meeting much lesser-known jazz bassist Ray Brown and vibraphonist Milt Jackson as his most humbling experiences. “These are people that the normal kid wouldn’t be geeking out over,” he says. “They were older gentlemen that played some amazing music, so I got a chance to shake their hand and thank them. I was very lucky to have that moment.” It was artists like Brown, Jackson and, although they were never able to meet before his passing, Academy Award-winning film composer John Barry (most famous for scoring several James Bond films, Out Of Africa and Dances With Wolves) that shaped much of Darlington’s musical world.
But no one needs to serve Daedelus (who, if he chose, could drop names faster than Weezy drops mixtapes) a steaming slice of humble pie. He’s so gracious about being able to work with artists who see music in the same, fresh scope as he. “Music,” Darlington says, “is pretty limitless.”
“I certainly worked with a lot of talented people on this, but it all spouted from the same place of being hand-carried and detailed for the person listening.” But, he explains, the soul of an album isn’t an impressive roster but rather the astuteness of the listener. “The arts are the only medium or creative act that needs to be made by one person all the way through the process,” he says, detailing the finer points of the nuanced Bespoke.
There is a time and place for remixing and reworking, he explains, but the driving force is always to create something new; something to be discovered. “A lot of times, borrowing other people’s work and twisting it to my own devices is really the only thing that makes this music work,” he says, noting that his work is a combination of samples and original beats. “We live in an age where revisionism is very popular.” And everyone knows gross popularity is shiny like a new plastic toy. Lovely to behold, cheaply manufactured and, “simply regurgitated ad nauseam,” referring not so delicately to the over-saturated wave of Madonna “inspired” pop artists.
“The process of discovery is incredible,” he, a self-identifying crate-digger, former college radio DJ and early Dublab collaborator, says of the many alternatives to the mass-manufactured Top 40. “If you shout at people too much, they will become immune to the act of it. People [have to] come to it on their own, especially with weird music.
“You imagine that every record would be out there; that someone out there would have categorized it all,” he continues. “But there’re an infinite number of possibilities, and it’s the same thing with clothes. There’re only so many powder blue tailcoats. Once you try it on it is what it is … but that’s not the case.”
Darlington’s ever-active quests for fashion, like music, are just a lot of fruitless searching. “You find the most awesome thing, but then it will be made for a child or child size,” he explains. “But you know, with a little bit of tailoring, a lot of things that would have been inappropriate at first turn out to be very cool. Just a little bit of gumption and a little DIY effort can make a lot of things work.”