Dan Snaith Shifts From Indie-Rock Mainstay to Dance Provocateur

[caption id="attachment_56057" align="aligncenter" width="640"]Daphni Photo: Nitasha Kapoor[/caption]

Every week or thereabouts, Mutant Dance Moves takes you to the shadowy corners of the dancefloor and the fringes of contemporary electronic music, where new strains and dance moves are evolving.

In the summer of 2009, American folk singer-songwriter Cortney Tidwell released the second single from her album, Boys. While Tidwell hails from Nashville, both the album and single only saw release via the German imprint City Slang. And while she often works with Lambchop’s Kurt Wagner, the single for “Watusii” featured two dance remixes, one from Simon Baker (the well-regarded British tech-house producer) and one from a new remixer known only as Daphni. “Her” remix of the song was an expansive, mesmeric ten minutes.

Soon after, that lady Daphni turned out to be none other than Caribou main man, Dan Snaith, who, after solidifying his band’s status as one of indie-rock’s most adventurous acts (both live and on album) began to explore electronic music more intently under this new alias. A silk-screened 12” sleeve released by Holland’s Resista imprint revealed Daphni venturing not just onto the dancefloor, but to the deepest, weirdest end of it. On one side was a disco edit of a dark electronic, percussive monster from an obscure British new wave band of the early '80s, while on the flip was an extended, buoyant track from Thomas Mapfumo, the Zimbabwean guitar master. Needless to say, these were two things that rarely become dancefloor staples, yet Daphni struck again with another Resista 12” featuring a psychedelic rager on one side (from New Zealand’s Orchestra of Spheres) and another charming African track.

These singles set the table for Snaith’s own vinyl-only imprint, Jiaolong, where in addition to releasing his own electronic dance tracks, he also released a caustic Emeralds remix and dance productions from the Junior Boys’ Jeremy Greenspan and Toro y Moi (under his Les Sins name). Jiaolong (translation: dragon) fittingly is also the name of Daphni’s first full album, released this week. It completes Snaith’s transformation from indie-rock mainstay to dance music provocateur in a manner distinct from, say, R&B stars adding dubstep drops to their productions so as to remain relevant on the radio or commercials deploying EDM so as to beckon to youth. So while Caribou is off touring the world with Radiohead, Snaith uses his off-days to DJ, much like he did recently when Radiohead was selling out arenas in New Jersey, and Snaith dipped over to DJ an underground dance party in Brooklyn.

Jioalong starts off with a bang, “Yes I Know” being the type of woozy soul number that would appeal to fans of Theo Parrish’s grubby and sweaty series of Ugly Edits. Built upon a two-minute Buddy Miles album cut, Snaith takes this gritty soul shout, adds a nasty snare hit and intestine-tickling acid bass, and makes it into a monstrous track, its horns and piano sending it into a frenzy.

From there, Snaith’s love of obscure African music rises to the fore again. Cos-Ber-Zam’s “Ne Noya” was originally a ridiculously rare and wholly unknown seven-inch single dug up by the Analog Africa label for their Afro-Beat Airways comp. For this Daphni remix, the well-deep raucous vocal chant gets looped while a starburst of electronics shimmer all around it. A gurgling bass pad throbs, the snares pop, and all sorts of electric squiggles snake through the speakers. And on the sumptuous tech-house monster “Ye Ye” (originally a split single with Four Tet), Snaith digs out another hen’s tooth-rare African track, William Onyeabor’s “When the Going is Smooth and Good” (last time I saw that album, it had a $175 price sticker on it) to use as its foundation. Onyeabor’s giddy, galloping synth and vinyl crackle underpins glissades of harp and a pistoning beat, the glowering acid bass making it surge towards ecstatic release.

When Daphni’s not lacing the productions with priceless African samples, he uses his other secret weapon, homemade modular synth components, to add unfettered analog electronic noises to the mix. So phasers and neon bubbles pop up on “Light,” laser FX blast through “Springs,” and white noise washes over “Long.” It’s not as heady a thrill as the first half of the album, but Jiaolong makes me more excited for more Daphni’s playful and loose-limbed productions in the future.

Daphni's Jiaolong is out now via Merge.

VMAs 2017