Dan Snaith interview

The man behind Caribou and Daphni goes deep

While Canada-born, London-living genius Dan Snaith has been touring arenas all year – supporting Radiohead with his psychedelic disco-rock band Caribou – he's also had one eye focused on London’s more progressive clubs, a fraction of the size.

Increased DJ activity has led him to write harder-edged tunes specifically for his sets under his Daphni alias – which are collected on the new and very excellent ‘Jiaolong’ album. We talk to Snaith about going the distance in London’s clubs, staying original in dance music and why fruit bowls always have a place in the DJ booth.

First of all, how long has London been your home?

‘Since 2001, when I started my PhD here. I’ve never used maths in any way since I passed the exam. Once you’ve spent any amount of time with me, you’ll start to wonder if I didn’t just buy the PhD online.’

Your back-to-back shows with Kieran Hebden (aka Four Tet) went down a storm at festivals this summer. What made you two buddy up and hit the tents?

‘Part of the reason we wanted to do them was because headline DJ’s at festivals tend to play it pretty safe. We wanted to see what we could get away with playing – to see if we could make tracks that we love playing in smaller clubs work in that environment. You can play things that would seem over-the-top in a small club so it was a lot of fun.’

So you’re not above getting an ego boost from a massive festival crowd then?

‘Oh no, definitely not, but that can happen in a small room with about 200-300 people too. That’s still the most special experience about DJing for me because at a festival, you’re quite a long way from the crowd. But in a small room – when everybody is literally around you, reaching out and tapping you on the shoulder – you really share the experience when a track goes down. That’s why I like going to clubs that size myself I guess.’

Which clubs in London do you go to as a punter?

Plastic People is one that I’ve talked about a lot in the past, but actually the Bussey Warehouse where I’m doing the Daphni release party is really great too. I played there with James Holden back-to-back last year and there’s an amazing sound system in there. Otherwise, it’s just a small, rectangular room. We just had such a good time. It’s so unpretentious and a little bit out of the way, so nobody’s there unless they really want to hear the music. Nobody’s there because they couldn’t get in next door!’

The Daphni album ‘Jiaolong’ is an intriguing development after Caribou. Where did you get the inspiration for it?

‘All the tracks on the album were made with the purpose of playing them in my DJ sets. None of them were made to be on an album. They were made on a Friday afternoon, getting ready to go on an EasyJet flight and go DJ somewhere, and thinking that they would sit next to a Joy Orbison track or something like that.’

Have you ever gone so far as to write a track specifically to be mixed in or out of a staple of your DJ sets?

‘The only times that happened was with two of the tracks on the record – ‘Ye Ye’ and ‘Yes I Know’. They were written for a Resident Advisor podcast that I did. I was putting it together, and I thought “I’ve been on tour with Caribou and don’t have that many new records that I’m excited about so I’m going to have to make some.” I had bought some old records that I had sampled and made those two tracks out of them – literally in the same file that the previous track in the DJ mix was ending.’

It’s sparkling how original ‘Jiaolong’ sounds. Is it hard to avoid four decade’s worth of dance music cliché’s when you’re writing?

‘Sure, there is a lot of culture to tip toe around. It happens sometimes that I play out a track that I’m really excited about and then think it borrows too much. I made plenty of other Daphni tracks that won’t see the light of day, but the best ones work because they don’t rely too heavily on the clichés.’

It must be hard as well to work in broadly the same field as cheesy EDM producers like Steve Aoki or Swedish House Mafia?

‘I maybe courted controversy with the quote in the press release for the album about “the EDM barf explosion” which got deleted! In any genre of music, there’s plenty of stuff that has no relation to anything that I am interested in and that’s my relationship with this kind of huge, stadium filling stuff. I’m just not interested in it. I have no malice or ill feelings towards the people – they’re just doing something completely different, they’re like the Coldplay or the U2 of this genre.’

You’re launching the album by playing for eight straight hours at the Bussey Building. How do you approach playing for that long?

‘If you play for an hour, you’re just building it up the whole time, and then you’re like “Ok, bye” and that’s it. But you can’t do that for eight hours – people become exhausted. You have to be prepared to tear everything apart and play a really chilled out record right at the peak, in the middle of the night, and then kind of build it up again.

I love those moments when a DJ plays a really slow soul ballad right in the middle of the night and people just go crazy because it’s a change. You can’t just play anything that’s a change – it somehow has to convey a kind of new excitement but without just being faster and harder.’

And what about the actual practicalities of doing an 8 hour set, do you take any breaks at all?

‘Well after I played for nine hours at Horst in Berlin once, the guy who runs the club came up to me and said “I’ve never had somebody play that long and not need to go to the toilet” and all of a sudden, I needed to go to the toilet more than I’ve ever needed to go in my whole life. I was just enjoying myself so much, I kept thinking ‘Aww, I’ll wait another 20 minutes…’

How about food?

‘Snacks are key. I like seeing DJs who eat a lot during their sets, it’s not something you see a lot. You usually see people drinking, but never somebody with a roast dinner or a cake. It’s good to have a bowl of fruit actually, I’ve had that in the DJ booth before. People would just come up and point at an apple or banana and give me a nod at me like “Can I take it?” and I’m like “Yeah, go for it”.