It wasn’t at all shocking that Dan Snaith decided to try his hand at making music more explicitly designed for dance floors, but it did catch me slightly off guard that these productions have been so widely praised and played out. His earliest releases as Manitoba already made clear his distinctive sense for fusing together melodies and atmospheres that ranged from melancholic to maniacal. There was often something beautiful, but there was also something unhinged, beats that tumbled in and out of a steady pulse, punch drunk, sounds that sneak up on you, suddenly, pitched into a composition in places you never would have expected them. It’s these same traits that make me slightly and pleasantly surprised at the warm reception he has received as Daphni, but apparently it’s a good time for a producer well-versed in dance music history, but whose recording career has mostly skirted that territory, to go a bit wild with it.
Snaith’s sense of experimentation is definitely cut with a clear conception of functionality here, a sense of what a track will sound like in a club and what it may well make the people there do. In a recent interview with FACT magazine, he revealed that all of the material that has been released under his Daphni moniker was made specifically, and quickly, for his DJ sets. While he has been DJing since the time of his earliest recordings as Manitoba, he is more immersed in the dance scene at the moment than in the recent past, and has talked about falling back in love with moments in small clubs when a track blindsides you, a track that you neither know nor will know, but which holds you in its sway momentarily and unforgettably. Call it worlds colliding.
A lot of Daphni tracks try to inscribe that collision of worlds within themselves, like the mix of “Ne Noya,” originally a song by Cos-Ber-Zam, a Togolese band, which runs loops cut from the Afrobeat groove of the source material against a starry net of cosmic synth arpeggios. Originally released on the same twelve-inch — the first for Snaith’s label, also called Jialong — “Yes, I know” also plays off a making of unexpected bedfellows, introducing a throbbing, febrile synth-line and then adding samples that sound like they have been cut from a soul song from the ’60s or ’70s. The use of the sample seems like a nod to Theo Parrish, one of the DJs Snaith has talked about most enthusiastically, and his series of ugly edits. It also bears a resemblance to Omar-S’s “Day,” but the play here between savagery and soul clearly bears Snaith’s own colors.
Other tracks have also appeared previously: the gurgling killer that is “Ye-Ye,” released on kindred spirit Kieren Hebden’s Text imprint, the sleepier, heads down exotica house of “Ahora,” on Amazing Sounds, and “Jiao,” also on the first Jiaolong twelve. Collected, along with tracks that were apparently only previously heard in Snaith’s DJ sets, they feel like an arsenal of pieces to be inserted at the proper moment, during a party or simply at a time when you need to give your body a good shake. Which is to say that, while there’s more than enough rhythmic complexity and play between sound worlds to keep a listener occupied, I can’t see myself jumping into this thing from beginning to end too often. There’s not a dead spot to be found on this record, and maybe that’s the thing, that each track needs a collision with the proper piece, produced by someone other than Dan Snaith, to command the full attention and reaction it deserves.
Caribou – Swim
Four Tet – Pink
John Talabot – fIN
Stream: Daphni – “Ye Ye”