IT’S been a long road for Galway-based producer and DJ John Daly — from his roots in ‘90s pirate radio, and releases on a wide swathe of prestigious independent labels, to creating sweeping electronic majesty with his The Smoke Clears project, and producing deeply personal, grief-driven and break-laden dance music in third solo album We Will Live Again, Daly’s body of work has quietly gained him a certain distinction in the Irish genre canon.
But he’s often been restless creatively, straddling the worlds of house, hip-hop, techno and ambience, and while the onset of Covid-19 and its restrictions brought everyone’s plans to a halt, for Daly it was a rare chance at a hard reset.
With time and perspective on his side, his time in lockdown has culminated in Unity Surrender, the latest in a string of pseudonymous projects. Daly discusses the impetus for the project’s creation.
“I would have hit a wall there about a year ago, creatively, because of that international DJ treadmill. My goal was always to produce, but when you’re in the dance music business, you’re DJing for a living.
“You’ve always got the club in mind when making music, which puts a bit of a filter on your creativity.
“That became frustrating, because I suppose my tastes were also coming back around to what I liked as a much younger man. Dance, which I love, can be quite conservative … not a lot of scope for musicality without it turning novelty. I wanted to get into melody, and I couldn’t do it within that spectrum, techno, house or whatever. So I went back to the studio with no agenda other than to create and express myself.”
The project itself is something of a departure from the life-induced earnestness of Daly’s recent work, heading toward sunnier sonic climes on the project’s debut extended-play release, Freedom.
Speaking about the creative process behind the record, Daly discusses a reversion to exploring sound.
“The project itself has evolved. The idea was … when I first get that idea into my head, that’s when it’s at its best, when you’re in that flow. The more you work on it, the more that fades. The initial way was to hammer out the tunes, capture it while it’s fresh and not overwork it, polish it into the ground.
“It was very satisfying, but then, this coincided with me getting back into hip-hop, which I would have drifted away from… just loving all the vocal effects and processing. One day, after working with various effects, I just pickedc up the mic, and said ‘fuck it’.”
Freedom is also set apart by that profound milestone for Daly - inspired as mentioned by technological advances and current sounds, his own vocals feature for the first time on the EP, playing a central role in carrying melody and contributing to its nearly idyllic feel.
After decades of production and working with others, Daly speaks on the risk that comes with using one’s own voice.
“You’re totally and utterly vulnerable, when you open your mouth and start to sing. But!
“The rewards are immense, because there’s nothing more expressive than the human voice. Even the most virtuosic playing of any instrument can’t compare to the human voice. It’s the most basic and primal. Before we had drums and chanting, before we had language… it’s the immediacy of it.
“I don’t have lyrics, most of the time I fire it up and start singing, and some tracks actually start with vocals. I’ll have a little synth going to figure out what key I’m in, and I’ll just go.”
Daly has had a long and fruitful creative body of work, as mentioned earlier, and on a personal basis, Unity Surrender represents that latest step forth into the uncertain.
“It’s caused something of a self-examination — looking at a piece of work, or a project, and concluding that that’s finished before considering the next creative venture.
“The workflow hasn’t really changed. Music is my favourite thing in the world to do — go home, put on the computer and start making tunes. It’s something that I’ve always done since I was very young.
“I’ve always completed projects relatively fast, it’s only when other people enter the equation that it starts to take time. And in one way, this is a reboot, but it’s not the end of anything either, it’s not like I’ll never make a techno tune again, for example.
“It’s so annoying when bands ‘break up’. It’s just like… ‘take a break!’. Y’know? Not everything has to be so cut-and-dried.”
The knock on of the creation of Freedom is that it finds its way into the world at a trying time for any creative output.
Inasmuch as any of us can make the call at the moment, Daly tries to predict what’s next for himself and his music, and the conversation turns to how Unity Surrender makes itself manifest in the future, whether in further releases or on a live basis.
“There’s an album… what is an album these days? Seven or eight tunes, I’m happy to call that an album. I’ve got another release, an appendix to an album of mine that came out in June.
“I’ve got four super-strong tunes there. I’m going to keep making tunes every day, expressing myself authentically, because ultimately, when you’re in the studio, that’s as good as it gets, y’know?
“Hopefully there’d be a bit of interest there, enough to put a bit of a band together, and tour it a little bit, it’d be superb.”
‘Freedom’, Unity Surrender’s debut extended-player, releases this Monday via the project’s Soundcloud: https://soundcloud.com/unitysurrender