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Daphni: Making the Most of It

Canadian-born, London-based producer Dan Snaith on his India connection and what it means to debut at Magnetic Fields festival this month

Anurag Tagat Dec 15, 2017

Producer Dan Snaith a.k.a. Daphni will make his India debut at Magnetic Fields Festival 2017. Photo: Courtesy of the artist

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For someone who grew up in Ontario, studied (and now resides) in London, and has performed all over the globe, Dan Snaith has been waiting to play in India for about a decade. Snaith, popular for creating psychedelic/ electronica tunes under the name Caribou and electronic music as Daphni, says he’s “never been as excited about playing anywhere for the first time.”

As Daphni, Snaith will make his India debut at the Red Bull Music Academy North Stage at Magnetic Fields Festival in Rajasthan, between December 15th and 17th. The reason for Snaith’s anticipation is because Indian culture has made its way into his life over several phases—he grew up with Indian friends in Canada, his wife is of Indian heritage and some of the best music he was introduced to was by Koushik Ghosh a fellow producer of Indian origin. Snaith says over email, “I’ve been part of an Indian family for almost 20 years now. My first trip to India with her was one of the most wonderful, memorable experiences of my life—meeting her family who live in New Delhi, traveling to Kerala and southern India.” A follow-up trip from his first visit in 2004 was long overdue, but it turns out the moment they began making plans, an offer from Magnetic Fields came his way and “worked out very fortuitously.”

Snaith, who is also close friends with U.K. producer and festival headliner Kieran Hebden aka Four Tet as well as Ben Thomson aka Ben UFO, says they’ve all heard about the festival from previous artists and friends such as Sam Shepherd aka Floating Points, who performed last year. Snaith says, “Kieran (Four Tet) and I have been talking about doing shows in India for at least 10 years. I’m so thrilled that it’s happening.” Ahead of his India debut, playing spiralling, hypnotic loops and sequences of electronic music as Daphni, Snaith spoke to Rolling Stone India about his process as a DJ and his just-released album Joli Mai.

Excerpts:

Are you nervous at all about playing music that’s sampled from Indian tunes to an Indian crowd? Or is it actually more exciting and interesting to do that?

I’m definitely more excited about it—aside from the connection to India through my wife, I’ve always had very close Indian friends growing up in Canada (as you know there’s a massive Indian diaspora in Canada). The friend who turned me on to pretty much all the music that I now love —electronic music, psychedelic music from the Sixties, hip-hop, etc—is a friend named Koushik who also turned me on to Ananda Shankar and lots of Indian film soundtracks like Shalimar, Dharmatma, The Burning Train, Hare Rama Hare Krishna, Lootmaar, Professor Pyarelal when I was a teenager.

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I’m still finding amazing India n soundtracks and also of course classical music all the time and I play it regularly in my DJ sets (both the originals and tracks built around samples) wherever I play in the world so it will be great to play them for an Indian audience.

You’ve said that as a DJ, you believe that music is for sharing. Has that experience of sharing music through your shows been hit or miss sometimes?

Definitely! But before I’d started releasing music when I lived in Toronto when I was in my early 20s I put on my own club nights. Sometimes it would be packed and it would be great but other times there’d be no one there or the people there wouldn’t want to hear what I was playing and I’d have to find a way of making it work. I love DJing for that—no matter what the situation or even if you’re the most well-known DJ in the world you have to adapt what you do according to the environment and choose what to play and how to play it based on the people who are there.

Snaith’s India connection extends beyond his Indian-origin wife, to growing up in Canada with Indian immigrants. Photo: Courtesy of the artist

What did you want to actively avoid doing on your new record ‘Joli Mai?’

With my Caribou albums, the idea of making an over-arching narrative throughout the album is something that’s very much important to me. I want them to be albums in the old fashioned or narrative sense of the word—with a beginning, middle and end, and a thread that runs through them. With Daphni, I’m much less concerned about that—I make Daphni music to be functional: to be my take on what dance music/club music can be. Or to try and make the music I’d like to dance to in a club. Compiling those songs into albums is always a bit like fitting a square peg in a round hole—this is a classic problem with dance music albums, not just mine I think! But with Joli Mai I put the tracks I had chosen in strictly increasing order of tempo to make the album (each song is faster than the one that precedes it) and I was surprised listening back to it how coherent that made it as an album.

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What, if anything, about India are you most inspired/influenced by?

India is a uniquely captivating country in the world I think and has a reputation as such around the world. But for me it’s through all the personal connections in my life—my wife and family and my friends —that I’ve seen Indian culture refracted through the lens of Indian immigrants in Canada and in the U.K. (where I now live). Since my first visit to India in 2004, I’ve always wanted to come back and I hope this trip will be one of many, as my daughters get to the age where they’re better able to travel and also to enjoy the experiences that they have. There’s an added personal dimension to my connection with India as a father of course—it’s important to me that my daughters maintain and understand their Indian cultural heritage as they grow up.

What is your overall sample collecting/ usage method like? Where do you look for stuff to sample?

I guess first and foremost I am a music fan with a love for music of all kinds and all cultural backgrounds. I’m always searching for music new and old that excites me, discussing it with friends (like Kieran and Ben for example who share the same wide-ranging passion for music) and being inspired by it to make new music of my own.

I talked above about how personal connections in my life led me to some of the Indian music I love and sample and generally that’s broadly true of the music from whatever cultural tradition I fall in love with—music has a wonderful ability to connect with us, intertwining our personal lives and memories with music made in a different time or place. That’s what I hope for my music too—that it spreads out into the world and finds its way into diverse peoples’ personal lives.

Listen to ‘Joli Mai’

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