Caribou's Dan Snaith branches out again with new dance project Daphni

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TORONTO - When Caribou's Dan Snaith first started frequenting dance clubs as a teenager in Toronto, he already couldn't resist the lure of the DJ booth.

Any time a piece of visionary vinyl started spinning, he remembers being "that guy" peering over the DJ's shoulder, trying to catch a glimpse of the label.

"The most exciting moments in DJ sets for me, in the past, have all been: 'Oh my God, I can't believe this record exists. It's so good, what is it?'" said the London-based musician in a recent telephone interview.

In recent years — just as Snaith found himself exhausted by the "rituals and cliches" of traditional live pop music — he found himself returning to clubs, energized and inspired by the DJs whirling through London and those moments of dance floor discovery that are hard to come by anywhere else.

That's what inspired his latest disc, "Jiaolong," which the electronic composer — who previously recorded as Manitoba — will release Tuesday under the moniker Daphni.

As opposed to his typically meticulous work with Caribou, Snaith breathed life into these nine tracks quickly, out of necessity — most of the compositions here had to be finished immediately as he worked to conjure new music for his set.

And given that he worked with an analog modular synthesizer — a notoriously fussy machine with which it can be difficult or even impossible to reproduce sounds created moments before — he didn't have the option of fiddling endlessly with his spontaneously crafted tunes.

"The whole point of this music is for it to sound like something unexpected and genuinely live and improvised is happening, so when I was DJing it in a club, people would get that feeling that like: 'What on earth is going to happen next? We don't know where this music's going,'" he said.

Yet fans who followed Caribou's progression from the bedroom psychedelia of 2007's Polaris Prize-winning "Andorra" to 2010's glittering dance-pop collection "Swim" will actually find "Jiaolong" a logical next step from a cerebral artist who usually favours more dramatic creative left turns. (The Daphni record, however, does not feature his gentle vocals, one of the key differences between this project and Caribou).

On "Jiaolong," Snaith again and again finds a groove then threads in layers of surprising colours — the whimsical digital flute floating through the bubbling "Light," for instance, or the foreboding synth squibbles furiously ricocheting off one another in "Jiao."

Aside from the work of fellow DJs — in particular, Detroit's Theo Parrish — Snaith found inspiration in a mix of obscure music from around the world. (He hesitates to use the term "world music," since it "conjures up people in the 1980s with questionable leather hats, like old retired guys from Vermont playing with guys from Africa.")

But while venturing into somewhat unfamiliar territory, Snaith was thankful for the ability to test his latest tunes quickly in front of discerning crowds.

"My most common experience is making a track that I'm really excited about and coming back the next day and listening to it and thinking that it's terrible. That has always happened to me — always," said Snaith, who has a PhD in mathematics from Imperial College London.

"But even if I just make a track and invite a friend around to listen to it, before they say anything, just the experience of listening with someone else in the room ... (makes) it sound totally different than it did five minutes ago when they weren't here.

"Imagine that magnified by playing it to 200 to 500 people in a club, that were all a couple minutes ago having a great time, and then you put on a track that either ... lifts the energy of the room, or it's a total disaster."

When the project was first announced, Snaith briefly captured the attention of the indie blogosphere with a press-release quote denouncing the "EDM barfsplosion currently gripping the corporate ravesters," an apparent shot at the chart-climbing titans of mainstream electronic dance music.

While the quote was soon excised from the release, Snaith stands by it — he just doesn't want to be misinterpreted.

"I'm not interested in Steve Aoki in Skrillex — it's like another world. It doesn't have any relation to the music I like," Snaith said by way of clarification. "But I hope people don't take that quote to mean that I'm some grumpy old man, (saying) 'these kind of musicians have gotta be kicked out of here.'

"I'm happy for them to be insanely popular and for people to go to those parties and have a great time, that's wonderful, but it doesn't have any relation to what I'm interested in about dance music."

That said, he wasn't even sure how much value his own compositions had, and whether he should continue to release certain Daphni tracks as limited-run 12-inches or if there was broader appeal.

Until he actually listened to the album altogether.

"I thought this actually seemed quite coherent, almost by accident," said Snaith, who has cleared his schedule to begin work on the next Caribou album once his European tour with Radiohead wraps on Oct. 18.

"It seemed like as valid a body of work as anything that I've done — I'm as proud of (it) as other things I've done. So why not? It seems like an album, why not have it be an album and get it out there and have more people hear it?"

But Snaith still isn't sure whether fans of Caribou will take to Daphni or not.

He has a simple way of distinguishing the projects: Caribou is focused on melody and composition, Daphni on simply making people dance.

And his curiosity over how much overlap there was between the two audiences is part of what spurred the ever-experimenting Snaith to widely release "Jiaolong."

"I wanted to see whether people who would read about Caribou ... would this music appeal to them or not?" he said.

"I really thought about this as being a lower-case side project, whereas the focus was all on Caribou. I've been surprised how much of a response there's been to it ... which to me is really encouraging.

"I'm always most interested in music that kind of crosses over and kicks down boundary lines between different genres. It doesn't have to be the case that if you like Caribou because you're more coming from the world of indie rock that you wouldn't be able to get into this.

"I'd like to think it can cross those lines."

Organizations: Imperial College London, Radiohead

Geographic location: TORONTO, Manitoba, Detroit Vermont Africa Skrillex

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