"When I got money from cutting the lawn, I wasn't the normal kid who spent time with friends doing drugs. In my situation, I was buying records and dealing drugs to get money for records."
It's safe to say Alfred Weisberg-Roberts has seen a lot in 26 years. He's been a double-bass-dragging band geek; learned to score from the University of Southern California's top-rated film program (George Lucas, Robert Zemeckis and Ron Howard are alum); and, yes, he also dabbled in drum n' bass DJing/ petty drug peddling at the height of LA's rave scene.
"If you know the breakdown of a drum n' bass break, it gets tired real fast," he says of his brief flirtation with warehouse parties. "You can get one synthesizer, use all the presets, and it's like, 'Bam!"
When Weisberg-Roberts graduated from USC in 2000 with a degree in music, he did what most classically trained musicians do: drop the Philharmonic dreams and start writing jingles. At the time, the music industry's illusory "electronica" trend was finally cresting in the frat-friendly form of rock guitars and big-beat breaks. Since he idolized Haydn and Mingus, Weisberg-Roberts despised such diluted dance music.
"They wanted Fatboy Slim and Crystal Method when I first started producing," he says. "If you make one of those tracks, you're sad enough, but if you have to do that for a job, it's time to get out."
Before he could get out, though, Weisberg-Roberts accepted a high-profile Hollywood gig: remixing tracks for the college campus favorite 'Donnie Darko'. Newmarket Films felt his song treatments were too fringe and loopy, to say the least.
"They wanted edgy stuff, but when they got it, they thought it was too edgy," he says. "What they really wanted was middle-of-the-road easy listening."
By this time, Weisberg-Roberts had nearly 8,000 records in his collection, everything from ancient 78s to prime dib plates. So he decided to remove his cog from the Hollywood machine for the comfy confines of his bedroom studio. Citing his childhood fascination with inventions, he started producing tracks under the pseudonym Daedelus (a variation of Daedalus, the mythic character who is considered the ancestor of all Greek artists). In 2001, Phthalo released his first LP, 'Her's is >, a jungle-by-way-of-John-Cage experiment.
The debut hinted at his brash compositional skills, but Weisberg-Roberts' aesthetic (not having one) and image (mutton-chops and Victorian-era cover art) didn't truly come to fruition until his Plug Research debut, 'Invention'. It was informed by the big-band and epic soundtrack music of the '30s and '40s, as well as the pre-fusion jazz of the '70s and severed electronics of modern-day IDM. Using such everyday sounds and instruments as a toy piano and computer printer didn't hurt its fresh factor, either.
Many critics cited '20s records for the LP's crackly, dreamy, aged sound. Weisberg-Roberts laughs at the assertion, saying, "It must be because it sounded old." It turns out the music came mostly from old jazz records, a genre he lovingly refers to as an "old museum piece, a graveyard full of dead people." The claims were so overwhelming, though, he actually based his next Plug Research recordings (the sessions for 'Of Snowdonia') around the roaring sounds of the '20s.
Weisberg-Roberts is an extremely prolific producer, one who refuses to be pinned down to a specific sound or even a record label. In the last year, he's put out three LPs, a limited live album, an import only EP, and a collaborative 7-inch and album as Adventure Time with Internet radio station Dublab's Frosty. Before those, he produced the cartoonish, whimsical beats of 'The Weather' (Mush) for avant MCs Busdriver and Radioinactive. In a fit of perfectionism, he also re-envisioned each backing track on the 'Rethinking the Weather' instrumental LP. Outside of his Daedelus work, Weisberg-Roberts guested as a guitarist for Soul Jazz Records and a live accordion player for MF Doom's Madvillain project.
The latest Daedelus LP comes just months after the release of 'Of Snowdonia' (Plug Research). 'A Gent Agent' is touted as the flagship release for the new label Laboratory Instinct and follows on the heels of his 'MeanwhileÉEP for the imprint. Unlike local affairs for Mush and Plug Research, these records are not SoCal-based. Laboratory Instinct owners Miho and Ryo are from Japan, and founded the label in the cold techno capital of Germany. Weisberg-Roberts met them through Kozyndan, the popular underground duo that provided the artwork for Daedelus' 'Household EP (Eastern Developments) and Adventure Time's 'Dreams of Water Themes debut (Plug Research).
"Something felt right about their enthusiasm," Weisberg-Roberts says. "They talked about releasing energetic music, especially jungle-core. To this day, I'm not entirely sure what that is. All I know is I wanted a chance to dig into my influences and release an up-tempo album. I've had a blast putting on my secret agent disguises and liberally pouring on the melodramatics and breakbeats."
The change is a glaring one. Although he's always chosen samples without regards to genre, Weisberg-Roberts has become known for laidback, pillowing grooves. 'A Gent' reunites him with his drum n' bass roots by upping the noise level and BPMs, while still drawing quirky sounds from such disparate sources as the Beach Boys and early '90s UK garage. It's his most challenging and thrilling record yet, finding a gray area between your parents' dusty vinyl collection and the extremist sides of Warp's roster.
"The essence of real hip-hop production is the perpetual loop, a loop that sustains itself," he says. "Maybe it's the Squarepusher in me, but I can't stay still like that."
Rather than track drums, bass lines, and a few recognizable hooks, Weisberg-Roberts literally loads up his MPC with mounds of sound for every song. The task can be daunting at times.
"Maybe I have a break that's grimy and could do its thing on its own," he says. "But then there's this 1920s record with a beautiful piano line, so that's going to fuck it up already. And I have to flip the break again and again, until it's unrecognizable."
Even his clearest samples are often chopped into obscurity, like the Cure melody shimmering underneath "Touch of Spring", a bonus track on the 'Quiet Parties' EP.
"I don't think of it as a Cure song," he says. "I think of it as a series of tones that work well with a song I've constructed. If someone intends to use a song for its familiarity, it's tiresome, because you're not bringing something to it."
You could call Weisberg-Roberts a nostalgia nut, between his yellowed, feather-pen artwork and nods to the music that's more than a half a century old. It's not unlike rockabilly fans who obsess over hot rods and hate everything made after the '50s. The only difference is Weisberg-Roberts sees the humor in it all.
"I am a firm believer in the idea that every genre became a genre because of one good song everyone wanted to copy," he says. "So, out there somewhere, there's a good trance song. I haven't heard it yet, but there's probably something seminal that made people want to do this music."