Truancy Volume 89: Avalon Emerson

Our 89th Truancy Volume comes from San Fransisco native Avalon Emerson, who’s just put out her debut release on Icee Hot. Pressure/Quoi! is a full-on assault, combining tough beats and frivolous samples. Her mix for us, meanwhile, throws together classic rave anthems and more recent house jaunts, all in the name of the party. We spoke to Avalon (who’s also a software developer by trade) about rocking that party, how she got in with the Icee Hot guys, and where to find the best cookie in America…

Hi! How are you? “Doing well Aidan! It’s 10:30pm and I’m enjoying a 2005 Napa Chardonnay.” What have you been up to recently? “Things have been great, fielding reactions from my first record [laughing] that only happens once! I’m finishing up the mixing for a new record. Also still finding new ways to be in love with my new (to me) 1980 Vespa P200. Seriously, it’s changed my life.”

The mix you’ve done for us is decidedly retro in feel – how much inspiration do you draw from the early days of house and rave? It struck me that tracks like ‘The Human Bond’ (1997) and ‘Nightbird’ (1991) sound just as fresh now, while tracks like ‘Songs To Elevate Pure Hearts’ and ‘Ride’, without sounding dated, pay great homage to earlier styles. Does this element of timelessness appeal to you? “Kevin Saunderson does have plenty of modern copy cats, but to me actually ‘Nightbird’ sounds super dated! Like it’s the music for some fast-motion montage of some English kids riding in a van through a field during the 2nd summer of love with acid smiley face T-shirts and cargo pants. Some music is woven using threads of objective quality, no matter the decade. Music is not a linear progression, and there are only so many really great tracks that came out in 2013. When digging for new tunes, increase the search scope to increase the yield.”

You recorded the mix using a Urei 1620LE and E&S X3004 isolator – can you tell us a bit about that? How did you first come across that piece of kit? “It’s what’s set up in the living room with the turntables, it’s my preferred method of mixing and listening. Nothing else even comes close to a broadcast quality rotary and a nice isolator as far as sound reproduction, with nothing in the way for distraction. I think it enforces an attention to timing and blending with the room, not with split ears or EQ bass ducking. The best times I’ve had dancing at parties are with isolator-friendly DJs like the Dope Jams Celebrate LIFE parties and Body & SOUL. Simply, I want to accentuate the frequencies in music that I resonate with. That’s my golden ideal. I feel like my DJ sets are running at 60-70% when I play without an isolator, and the crowd seems to enjoy the performance aspect of it as well. You can’t always make riders happen when you’re asking for a rig that costs twice your fee, so I just recently actually bought a really shitty Vestax FDG-1 non-rack iso to run through the sends of whatever crap line fader the club has. The depressing Pioneer peak limiters still suck out most of the dynamics, but with a few big knobs at least I can be expressive!”

How representative of your sets would this mix be? Would you often pull it up and shift moods as you do here, going from Jackie Moore into Special Request? “I loved being able to use a mix as a snapshot for what I was into and playing for a particular time. Especially when I practise it and record it live like I did with this one. As far as the omnivorous vibe switch up thing, for me, all my favorite DJs will traverse disparate mood/energy/genre continents in a night. I don’t want someone listening in to the first four tracks of my set and thinking there’s another two hours of the same ahead. The night changes with the crowd and the space and the circumstances, so should the music.”

Many people keep their day job, which is solely to make ends meet, separate from their musical identity, but Avalon Emerson the producer/DJ, developer and photographer are all one and the same. Does this lack of demarcation make life easier for you? “Well I don’t do photography professionally any more, and it’s sure not as sexy to say you write software for a living, but I feel very lucky to be doing something career-wise that I can grow with, that challenges me, and that sharpens me in other aspects of my life.”

You’ve just put out your first record, with Icee Hot. How does it feel? “It feels pretty great! I finished the songs almost a year ago, so the pace of physical media was definitely something to get used to, but just the difference of having something exist in the real world, and to be able to work with other talented hustlers like the Icee Hot guys and Christopher Willits (my sound engineer) to get this thing done, has been really exciting.” How did you first get in touch with the label? “Well I actually interned at XLR8R when I was 20 and had just moved to SF after college in Arizona. That’s when I met Shawn (and Willits actually). I’ve been going to Shawn’s Icee Hot parties since their inception.”

“Pressure” is pretty full on, while “Quoi”‘ is very much tongue in cheek. Is this split important to you, making sure people know you’ve got range? “I put together “Quoi!” because the guys wanted to hear if I had anything else to accompany “Pressure”, a track I’d given to Ryan (Ghosts on Tape) in hopes that he’d give me the masters to his recently test-pressed “No Guestlist”. He didn’t give me the promo until later, but we ended up putting out a record! I think the two tracks compliment each other well, but it seems like a lot of people, especially those less inherently in-love with techno, seem to gravitate more to “Quoi!”.” You got a pair of contrasting remixes from Tuff City Kids. Whose choice was this? It’s an interesting approach, which for me harks back to the time when the likes of Andrew Weatherall or David Morales would do varying styles of remix across one package. “Gerd and Philip’s involvement was such a pleasure and a privilege. They turned the first track around in a couple weeks, then another a couple weeks after that, without even asking! The range between the two reworks still really impresses me and I think it’s what really makes the record a full statement.”

I read an interesting interview with you where you talk about the transition from traditional songwriting to producing. You said that: “The huge difference between the two kinds of songwriting/producing to me is the somewhat objective lens you can put over a dance track. It either works on a dance floor or it doesn’t.” Do you ever find it difficult to keep tracks personal while also ensuring they work on the floor? “I make production decisions with my gut first, polish it off using my ears, and decidedly keep my self-conscious, and scene-aware mind out of it. I think what I meant to get across is that you get to play with the element of instant social proof with dance music. You can use a crowd as a big agar petri dish to spill stuff on and see what grows. Both dance and non-dance can be terrible and genius, weighed down with genre codifications and transcendent, but I think the whole ‘club/warehouse DJ paradigm’ is actually an environment that allows an artist to be more creative and interesting than the traditional rock-show way of experiencing music.” What other material have you been working on? Do you have any plans to make non-club electronic music? “Actually yes, my next record is an EP on this brand new San Francisco/Paris label I’m working with called Spring Theory, which actually is three songs of deeper and more listenable-in-a-non-club-environment stuff.”

To round things up, what’s your favourite kind of cookie? “Definitely the Momofuku Corn cookie out of NYC. Those who know…”

And when was the last time you danced?Even if you’re not dancing physically, you can dance internally and spiritually.

The Future Sound of London – Papua New Guinea (Andrew Weatherall mix)
Neville Watson – Songs To Elevate Pure Hearts (Kink & Rachel mix)
Meat Beat Manifesto – Radio Babylon
Avalon Emerson – Quoi! (What Beats?)
E-Dancer – Human Bond
Gesloten Cirkel – Gesloten Cirkel
Archigram – Carnival
Stacy Kidd – You
Sheila E. – The Glamorous Life Part II
Jackie Moore – This Time Baby (Special Disco Version)
Lana Del Rey – Ride / Blue Jeans (Special Request mix)
Shed – Fluid 67
Auto Repeat – Auto Disco (Soundhack’s Krachapella)
Fokus Group – Mucky Crack Funk
Convert – Nightbird
Scan 7 – Unusual Channel
DJ Sprinkles – Glorimar’s Whore House
Math-U-Matix – Higher (Symphony mix)
Raw Junkies – Roomba (Feelin Horny)
Benjamin Damage – Delirium Tremens (Robert Hood mix)
The Knife – Silent Shout
Boogie Nite – Feel Me (Boogie Nite Unplugged mix)

Aidan Hanratty

Dublin ...

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