In a global scene that has tended to herald Berlin and Detroit as its capitals of techno production, London—and the rest of England for that matter—is sometimes overlooked as a torchbearer for the sound. Yet, the proudly British work of Daniel Avery and Casper “Volte-Face” Clark proves that there is techno life in the city yet.
Most will be familiar with Avery by now: Launched into the public eye with his 2013 debut album, Drone Logic, he has been on an upwards trajectory ever since, earning praise for releases like last year’s Sensation/Clear EP on Phantasy Sound and taking his Divided Love events from London’s Fabric to the world. Clark, a fellow Englishman and long-term friend of Avery’s, has been a key participant in many of those events. A relative newcomer to the production game, Clark has spent much of the last decade as a promoter and DJ before transforming his long-running BleeD night into a label to serve as a platform for his two well-received EPs, Charlatan and All Grown Up.
The two are now working together as Rote, a collaborative project that resulted in this past autumn's EP1; it's Avery’s first new material since Drone Logic, and was the second release on BleeD. Accompanied by remixes from DJ Nobu and Svreca, the Rote tunes that comprised EP1 were characterized by a healthy measure of techno facelessness; few knew who had made them, and the ambiguity of the track titles and artwork did little to reveal the minds behind those stripped-back sounds. It was a well thought-out recipe, and certainly bolstered interest in the music. We met with the pair on a wintry Brighton day to learn more about the project, as well as what’s happening in their individual spheres.
There was very little press or promotion around Rote. Was this always the intention?
Clark: Yes. The launch of the project was supposed to be vague. We didn’t want to overly push it—but we also didn’t deny the fact that it was Dan and I. We were pleased with our work, and didn’t feel the need to obfuscate it. You can generate a bit of hype, but we decided not to play that game. It just felt right to put Rote out the way that we did. We could have taken it further and not told people who we were, limited it to 30 hand-stamped copies, and all that. But this feels more honest to us.
Avery: We liked how no one could say that it was an Avery record, or a Volte-Face record—it’s something completely new.
That ambiguity also offers you a certain creative freedom too—especially for you, Dan, given that EP1 was your first release since 2013’s Drone Logic.
Avery: It certainly offered a free creative environment. It’s funny how most reviews attributed specific parts of the record to either of us. No one was even close. It’s interesting that people feel the need to even do that. That’s probably one of the reasons why we didn’t whack our names on the front cover. It’s a collaboration, but it’s not one plus the other—we're making something new that stands on its own.
Besides the ambiguity aspect, what is the story with the Rote name?
Clark: The material came first, and then we had to think of the name. We’d been navel-gazing for a while, until my mum used the word, and then instantly I knew it was right. What I take it to mean is something automatic, operating on instinct. I think there is something about working with another person, where things feel out of your control, like there is a third mind operating with you. It was almost staring us in the face! There are other meanings that are more to do with water symbolism, and we are both from the coast. We did have a funny name as a Plan B, and aren’t averse to humor, but I’m glad we plumped for Rote in the end.
When was the decision made to begin the project?
Clark: It came around pretty quickly once we’d decided to collaborate. All things considered, less than a year.
Avery: We’ve been friends for nearly ten years, and our tastes have been crossing that entire time. Making music together was always on the cards.
So why have you decided to start now now?
Avery: A catalyst was certainly when Casper started his BleeD label, as it gave us complete control in terms of remixes, artwork etc. I find it very difficult to give the reins to others with decision like this. I love what Casper has achieved with his BleeD nights so I felt more than confident about the label.
Clark: Also, as we have gotten older and spent more time on our own music, we have started to embrace the fact that we are outsiders. I mean, loosely speaking, we operate within the sphere of techno. We are two English guys bringing our English experience into that, and that’s what makes it exciting for us. We aren’t sending our records to Ostgut Ton or anybody else, we are just doing our own thing. Along the way, so-called mistakes happen that are unique to us, and that’s what makes it our own.
Avery: Additionally, from DJing and going out together, we have both felt the energy of something happening in our world of electronic music, this kind of hypnotic techno with a psychedelic edge. It’s music that you have to give time and attention to. It’s not full of quick fixes; it unfolds at its own pace. For us, a big moment in a set isn’t necessarily a "hands-in-the-air" one. If you look out and see everyone with their eyes closed, you know you’re onto something.
There is a certain introspective nature to your work. Do you think that your long term friendship lends itself to a successful collaboration?
Clark: Introspective is a very apt word. It happened very naturally in this case. There is another person that I’m collaborating with at the moment, but we haven’t finished an EP yet. I know them less well, but I’ve known them for the same amount of time. It’s a person that has the kind of studio that I can only dream of at this stage. It’s a different thing altogether—it’s better that it should see the light of day only when it’s totally ready. It’s not like I can only work with a very close friend. They both have their own benefits.
Avery: I think the fact we know each other so well is important, as it’s easy to say if something is shit. We don’t have to avoid hurting each other’s feelings. The honesty thing is extremely important in all of this. If you can make something, stand back and be confident that it is entirely your own expression, then people will feel it. It’s as simple as that.
"I think the tracks on the first EP are ones that neither of us would have made on our own. That’s really been the goal with the whole thing."
How does producing in a collaboration compare with solo production?
Clark: It was just useful to have another pair of ears. Especially if one of our attention spans starts to wane, then the other can take over. It just goes back and forth—sometimes I’ll sit on the floor just listening, and at other times Dan will be dancing around at the back of the room. I really like having someone else to bounce off. You can quite often take an idea further than you would.
Avery: It certainly pushes you in different directions. I think the tracks on the first EP are ones that neither of us would have made on our own. That’s really been the goal with the whole thing.
So the main aim of the project is to push yourselves artistically?
Clark: Exactly. There’s no point getting into the studio and trying to make a Daniel Avery–plus–Volte-Face record. It’s more about just seeing what happens from this tension and friendship. Also, we both have different setups. I’m not particularly interested in talking specifically about what we use, but they are very different set-ups. I like that. It doesn’t need to be a consistent sound. I like the way "Rote 1" and "Rote 2" work together, but that doesn’t mean the next record should necessarily sound like them.
Avery: I think every artistic project should push you, otherwise there’s little point in starting it. I’m certain that the effects of Rote will be seen on my new solo material. You’ll be able to see the fingerprints of others all over it.
Is the scope of the Rote sound actually quite broad?
Avery: Yes, absolutely and that’s my favorite thing about it.
Clark: But once we latch onto an idea, we are both pretty meticulous in pushing and exploring it. We would never go into a session with a predetermined idea of what was going to happen. That wouldn’t be very exciting.
How do you see the project growing relative to your own personal projects?
Avery: I can see it running parallel.
Clark: I think that we are both at a stage in our careers when we could both descend into overthinking. I’m just beginning to put myself out there, and Dan’s coming off the back a lauded and cherished album. I think that Rote is just a good way of relaxing, and not overthinking stuff.
Avery: It’s true that when there is no expectation, it makes a big difference to how you think in the studio. The track “Rote 2,” in particular, has a sense of abandon to it, in the most positive way. A sense of freedom. This is really appealing.
Dan—you took quite a break after the album. Was recording for Rote an inspiration for getting back into the studio to work on your solo stuff?
Avery: It certainly inspired some new ideas. I’ve been in the studio since Drone Logic came out, but Rote has helped to free up my mind and thoughts a little.
How much material do you have that could be released as Rote?
Clark: There’s quite a lot of ideas there. I think that we know what the next EP is, and it’s going to be quite a different sound. We both have got stuff our own to get out first. For better or for worse, we have to be patient. I think that one day down the line, we haven’t really spoken about it, but we might try something on a longer format. Right now we have to just get our own houses in order, though.
Let’s talk about the specific production of EP1. Why did you choose to release “Rote 1” and “Rote 2” specifically?
Avery: We knew early on that those two tracks felt the most true to us. The best music always seems to flow out of you. Again, as long as you are true to yourself, then it just happens. The best tracks come about the easiest, every time.
Clark: The whole EP came out in just four sessions.
What’s the story behind the artwork? It’s very ambiguous.
Clark: Yeah, I’m glad you noticed that. I think that we have worked with images that aren’t meaningless; there is definitely information there, but we then obscure them. I work one designer for BleeD, a guy called Jack Featherstone. I felt like if I gave him free rein, but with direction, then something exciting could come out of it. You could look back on them and see some kind of narrative.
What were your instructions?
Clark: In the case of Rote, it was definitely the idea of automation and repetition. Some people probably don’t like to be given all the answers, but if you look at the record, that was a scene of factory workers. It could be misconstrued as a dancefloor scene though—it’s just a congregation of people. There’s something pretty effective about that particular image though; it’s quite haunting.
Would you say that when you get into the studio together now, the ideas do really flow?
Clark: Not everyday, no.
Avery: But that’s alright. What I’ve learned is that if you have nothing on paper at the end of the day, but you have at least experimented—even if you have thrown everything in the bin—then that’s never a day wasted.
Casper, you’ve only just started producing recently. Was it Dan’s success that encouraged you to get in the studio?
Clark: It was certainly a motivator. The help and encouragement of a very talented techno producer, Manni Dee, was also immeasurably important. He’s always been on hand to help me technically when I’ve got stuck. The main thing, though, is simply that I finally found the kind of time and dedicated required to do it. I felt too caught up with my promoting day job throughout my 20s. In hindsight, I wouldn’t exchange that experience for anything.
Your first EP came out in May. Had you produced a lot of tracks before that?
Clark: Yes, but a lot of material went in the bin before that. When I was finding my feet, I would send stuff to people for feedback. I was probably a bit eager to send stuff to people outside of my immediate circle too. Over time, I stopped that—and with the Charlatan EP, I sort of knew roughly what I wanted to say by that point.
What was the inspiration to turn BleeD into a label?
Clark: Quite simply, BleeD has only ever been an outlet for my taste at the time. I had music that I wanted to put out, and I didn’t want to rely on someone else to communicate my message. I’ve got a bit of recognition with the BleeD name, and I think that people who came to the nights trusted in that taste. I didn’t put it out myself because I was in a hurry; I just put it out by myself because I felt that I was in a good position to do so.
Are you actively looking for new artists to release via the imprint?
Clark: I’ll listen to every demo, but I’ve never asked anyone to send them. I’d love to find someone in the U.K. Even though you can see other international influences, I do like to think that what I am doing is inherently English. There is definitely a sense of identity, and a slight bit of humor here and there which is a specifically English thing. The thing that would excite me the most is if I could find a new English producer to join the family, although the fourth release will be from an American artist, DJ Spider.
Do you think that you will begin releasing on other imprints as your profile grows?
Clark: I’ve got something coming out on another label shortly. If I think that another label could get my message across better than me, then I wouldn’t be against it. Svreca, who runs Semantica, was very encouraging from the start. Before my music was fully developed, he saw what I was trying to achieve, and asked whether I would send a track for his next Nonnative compilation. If you look at the artists who have featured on those compilations, they are people that I admire greatly, and I wasn’t going to say no to that. I gave him something quite weird, actually—a bit more conceptual than the other stuff that I’ve put out so far. It found a better home on Semantica than it would have on BleeD. I’m not sending my demos to anyone with a view to being released, but if the right label wanted to put something out, I wouldn’t necessarily say no.
How did the remix of Dan’s “Platform Zero” track come about?
Clark: The first time I heard it, Dan’s record was something that I knew had something going for it. I liked the idea of reworking one of the ambient numbers, and cheekily asked Dan if he fancied letting me have a crack.
Avery: When Casper sent me the first draft, I loved it instantly. I knew that we would have a connection in the studio.
What are the plans for your solo material this year?
Clark: I want to keep it to twelves and occasional remixes right now. I’ve done one for the DJ Spider EP, and we spoke about Semantica already. BleeD005 looks likely to be another Volte-Face EP too. It’s hard to say at this stage, but I’d love to put the next Rote EP out after that.
Dan—you’ve spent the last two years on the road. How do your reflect on them?
Avery: The past two years have been relentless, but in the best possible way. What I’m most pleased about is how Drone Logic hasn’t really stopped, especially considering the fact I’ve never done a live show. It really seems to have taken on a life of its own. I’m proud that people are just discovering it now. I’d always hoped that it would be a record that would last, rather than just an initial burst burning out quickly.
Did you also feel like you need a break from production following the completion of Drone Logic?
Avery: In retrospect, I probably did need a break. The stuff that happened immediately after sounds pretty tired to me now, in more ways than one. I’m glad that I’ve waited so long to release anything. I don’t feel in any rush, but there’s a new album in the works. I’ve probably got three albums worth of stuff already, but only half an LP’s worth that I’m fully satisfied with. Many of the psychedelic elements of Drone Logic will be pushed much harder on the new one. The Sensation record is a good indicator of where my head is at right now.
Is this a natural evolution of your sound?
Avery: It does feel natural, yes. I finished Drone Logic nearly three years ago now and, in that time, so many things have affected my head both as a producer and a DJ, particularly traveling. I certainly feel inspired.
Do you now intend to reduce that traveling to allow yourself more studio time?
Avery: Well, it’s the oldest cliché in the DJ handbook: You can’t do it all. Time is valuable. The first half of next year I’ll do fewer Divided Loves, and traveling will slow down a little. Up until this point I’ve always thought of myself as a DJ first; it’s something that I’ve been doing for twelve years and it feels natural to me. But now it’s reached a point where I feel like I have something to offer—something to say as a producer. I’m deep in the heart of this new record right now and I’m excited about where it could go. I intend on spending as much time on it as possible.
What has Rote got in store for 2016?
Clark: I think that we will release at least one EP, and we kind of know what we want to do with that. There’s no rules, really. If we find a few weeks in the studio, and it flows, then the beauty of running your own label is that I can just put it straight out.