Berlin-via-Bay Area musician DÆMON bridges the gap between cryptic introspection and frenetic club energy through his genre-bending work. On the heels of his Cycles of the Night EP with CASSIUS SELECT, he’s now slated to perform at the legendary Berghain for Creamcake’s decade anniversary party on July 29. With this gig on the horizon, DÆMON dives into his practice of esoteric symbolism, the powers of modulation, and a quest for creative balance.
Why did you move to Berlin? How does the scene and production of art in the heart of European club culture feel in comparison to the Bay Area?
My main reason was just the chaos that was happening in the States as I left. I got here in autumn 2020, so it was a lot of shit going on at that time like the Black Lives Matter riots and just a lot of chaotic political atmosphere vibes. So I already came to go to Europe, then I kind of finessed my way in, initially through Switzerland and then to Berlin. Now I have an artist visa out here, got like a year left on it. So yeah, I just kind of knew that just from being in London in 2018, I would stay here for a bit. Also because I could essentially make more money for what I wanted to do without compromising on my vision. And I could generate a kind of like, more niche fanbase more efficiently and more well compensated basically out here. And it’s partially ‘cause there’s institutional art money, that’s like a big part of how the art institutions out here function, is kind of these grants or federal funds for artists and then that trickles down. So just a lot more opportunities.
The modulation of your vocals interspersed throughout your work is mesmerizing. What kind of possibilities do these sorts of effects offer you artistically?
They have different roles. I think that it kind of can do a lot for harmonizing, adding layers on top. And a lot of times, I frankly don’t have the whole vocal range I need to have to sing these advanced… I mean also, it’s not even about vocal range, sometimes it’s just about like, it’s physically impossible to sing it. Because we’re layering so much stuff and the timing is mad weird. I first remember hearing a high pitched vocal on a hip-hop track and I think it was this Quasimoto [and] Madlib project when I was super young. That always stuck with me because I was like, this is harder than MF DOOM, you feel me [laughs]? So, that always stuck with me.
And I’m glad I got to finally start experimenting with it and just getting more confident with actually trying to sing something, you know, ‘cause I really came from pure rapping and just getting more comfortable with my voice and finding little pockets that I can kind of catch a little nice range in. If I had to boil it down: it’s kind of like a polish, but also it adds this element of kind of neutrality to the voice. It kind of emasculates my voice in a way. You know, it can arguably be said that’s ironic in a sense, but I don’t really like to look at it like that. I think it’s more just sonically better. I’ve always just liked falsettos.
Your music merges experimental ambiance with distinct club undertones. Do you see these two territories as naturally opposed or synergistic?
I have trouble making emotional tracks. I mean, I don’t have trouble actually making them, it’s easy for me to kind of just freestyle anything and say some bullshit, but it’s hard for me to get comfortable enough to release the records when it’s like no real substance. I’m in a specific space where I’m trying to reach people. I want them to have access to these pieces that we’re putting together and I want it to be esoteric, but not obscured to the point to people where they can’t connect basically. So I’m trying to find this balance of presenting myself as I am, but with these kinds of deeper emotional subtexts, but also making it enjoyable to listen to, making it easy on the ear, and giving the turn up some context. I guess trying to achieve the balance is really my goal in life in general, really, but especially with the music as well.
Songs like »Honey Pt. 1 & 2« have intense lyrical imagery like »member my past life fo’ I came here« and »I brought a gift from a lifetime that I ain’t live.« Would you say you’re traditionally working with esoteric concepts in your songwriting?
Heavily, heavily. I mean I think that really my songwriting comes from visualization because I think I’m just a super visual person and I first interacted with art through painting and drawing. So when I’m basically making a song that’s super stream of consciousness, I try to basically deduce something that makes sense out of a situation that’s kind of more specific to me … I kind of just like using the vagueness of it to make it become more acceptable. So I won’t say, »I just got in an argument about this, that, and that with one of my best friends,« but I’ll say the feeling is familiar.
So it’s just kind of using more iconic or more familiar iconographies or phrases or colloquialisms, and all of the kind of media database of images and content and references that we have kind of shared in our shared consciousness. And then using that to explain what’s really specific to me, that’s kind of not really translatable in full detail, but the core of it is easily translatable. So it’s kind of like a reverse esotericism or something, you know what I’m saying? Where I’m taking something that’s so esoteric and boiling it down to something that’s more familiar, more accessible. But inevitably there’s still certain parts that remain untranslatable or kind of lost in translation. But that’s part of it that I like as well. Again, it’s all about the balance.
The »Honey Pt. I & II« music video has a fittingly dreamlike approach for its vivid lyricism and sound. What’s your creative vision for your visuals?
So for that video, [I] actually shot it and directed it myself with the help of my partner in our crib. My whole concept for that video was just trying to keep it as [a] no frills as possible type situation. Where I mean, there’s shots of me washing dishes and stuff like this, just trying to be super organic because I feel like the song is super vulnerable and tender and I wanted to represent that with the visuals. But also I had these ideas around using the symbolism of the Bible and the gun in combination. I don’t know, as soon as I got that idea, I was like okay that has to happen, ‘cause I think it’s so symbolic and [such] hypercharged imagery, that it’s almost so much shit that it almost means nothing. They almost diffuse each other. Again, back to that balance, it’s like trying to have this part of me that kind of has this super Black, super Baptist Christian heritage of America. But at the same time, I have this super dark, twisted kind of hood mentality tied into the way that I was raised in the environment that I grew up in. And then centering the song concept in between that or around that seemed proper to me, because it was just such a vulnerable and tender song. And I think it’s spiritual for me. And I think that these kinds of strong images … they almost work in tandem with the concept where they kind of set a tone or an environment for it in this kind of fantastic world.
Considering your work with the i8i collective, what’s your collaborative process like alongside other creatives?
I mean, it’s all about equal access, equal opportunity, a level leadership, a kind of co-op dynamic where it’s like everyone has an equal say in terms of the decisions that we make. And so what that does actually [is it] makes it very difficult to run. But at the same time, it allows us to make the most reflective work of ourselves and of each other and push ourselves to the maximum vision, the fullest of our collective vision. And we just feed off each other, learn a lot. And yeah, just trying to get on the same page in terms of where we wanna take it. And that’s always the hardest part, but once it gets going, then it just kinda snowballs. We did something at Trauma Bar last year. For that, nine people were flown out from the Bay, we’re all at the table, every meeting nitpicking and getting down to the nitty gritty, super precise about every aspect. And that’s definitely overwhelming — shouts out to the Trauma Bar for accommodating us because we’re super unwavering, you feel me?
But yeah, like just trying to basically meet each other halfway divided by whoever’s active in it because really there’s no set group of members or no roster or anything like that, it’s just kind of like an organism. As long as there’s people that understand what it is that are organizing it, then everyone that participates is in i8i. Until that event’s over then, so it’s just kind of like, it’s an organic thing and there’s events that are happening without my involvement at all, you know, but it’s just about having enough leadership in the space to execute and then having — as long as everyone else that’s not there approves how they’re being represented or if they’re being represented or not — then everything is good, you know?
You’re playing Berghain this week. How does it feel to play at such a storied club?
It’s wild, honestly. I feel super excited. I was kind of weary initially, because I wasn’t sure what the vibe was gonna be in terms of what other acts would perform or how they were gonna set up the stage. But Creamcake has just done so well with the lineup, and I feel super comfortable with the way that it’s being organized and the people at Creamcake. And they kind of convinced me like, do the whole thing, do the live. So I’m like all right, bet, I’m gonna try to come crazy. I have a lot of new music I’m gonna try to put in rotation and see how people respond. But yeah, it’s a little daunting, you know what I’m saying? But, just another day, another dolla’ [laughs].