How Darkside made one of the year’s best albums
Overnight, Pitchfork unveiled their verdict of Nicolas Jaar and Dave Harrington’s debut album together as Darkside. Psychic – the first LP to come out of years of the pair playing and touring alongside each other – didn’t underwhelm. Slapped with a round 9.0 and the site’s “best new music tag”, the record had certainly won the ever-discerning website over.
To anyone who’s followed Nicolas Jaar’s career, the high appraisal won’t come as any surprise. From his early EPs to his 2011 solo album Space Is Only Noise and, more recently, his “bold, brave and timeless” year-topping Essential Mix, the 23-year-old Brown graduate’s output has been consistently excellent. Darkside’s debut LP, on the now-defunct Clown & Sunset, was equally as assured. Then there’s Jaar and co’s left-of-centre pursuits: the five hour MoMA performance inside a geodesic dome, the music playing prism and the launch of subscription-based imprint Other People in July (“just like a magazine, we deliver new content each week,” the website explains).
The Other People site is where you can, as of Friday, get your hands on Psychic – if you can successfully navigate the maze-like website and sign up as a subscriber. So, yes: it might not be music aimed at the masses, but just as Pitchfork called it, Darkside’s record is easily one of the year’s best. In the days leading up to Psychic’s release, inthemix got both Dave and Nicolas (or Nico, as his collaborator calls him) on the phone. Unsurprisingly, it wasn’t a base-level chat.
In the press release info about Psychic, it says: “I thought I was making a dance record. I thought I was making a rock record. We both failed”. What kind of record is it, then?
Dave: Well I think it’s a psychedelic record. It is like an open door to walk through.
Nico: I think it’s whatever you want it to be, honestly. That might be a boring answer, but it’s truly – we don’t see the music that we make as a very concrete statement. We see it as an open statement.
Do you hate it when journalists ask you to label your sound?
Dave: I don’t hate it, it’s just hard. It’s just not somewhere I come from. I didn’t get into music to do this specific thing over there. You absorb a lot of music, you absorb every genre and then something comes out that’s honest and that’s you and that is whatever it is. In a way, it’s not our job to tell people what is. It’s like, that’s where the fun is. They get to decide.
So were there any specific themes you explored themes you explored with this record?
Nico: Beyond theme what’s more important is the fact that this is the first time Dave and I were in an actual studio making music. That was very new for us. We were really felt like we were a band, we were a band in a studio making an album. That’s not something either of us had experienced before.
Yes because I was going to ask – did you deliberately set out to make this record together or did it come about somewhat unintentionally after years of working together?
Nico: About a year ago, it felt very right. It felt it was in the air that we had to write this thing. It became very obvious to both of us. I don’t know why, but it became very obvious.
I saw your set at Sydney Festival earlier this year which you might remember was delayed due to sound issues. So I wanted to ask – how important is having the sound perfect to what you do with your live shows?
Dave: I mean, we care about sound. For us, putting on a good show is about the sound. There are some bands where there are lots of elements that go into a good show, but for us, it’s all about sound. So unfortunately, we hope people will be patient, but sometimes that happens. Sometimes you’ll get somewhere and think you’ll have an hour to plug everything in and sometimes it takes five hours. There’s a few things we’re very perfectionist about, but this and one of them and that’s because we want to give people our best.
Nico: But beyond that, I remember the specifics of that show was that there was a circus show right before in that same venue and we had to strike everything and put up our own stuff and there were a lot of miscommunications – we got there thirty minutes before we were due to start and nothing was set up. So that wasn’t really a sound issue, that was more of a logistical thing that no one should really know about. It was just logistical.
Fair enough. Because I was looking at your upcoming tour dates and I saw you have shows booked at Berghain and Fabric, both clubs which are renowned for having really excellent sound systems. Do the venues you’ll be able to play at influence your decision to tour at all? Do you only want to play at venues that can deliver the right sound?
Nico: Yeah, after touring for a long time you start knowing what you want and the type of experience you want to give to people. So we know that Berghain and Fabric will be able to give people what we are working very hard to achieve. We know that we can have a chance – whether we’ll be able to do it is another question. But we’ll have the best chance we can, because they are a blank canvas where the sound you’re putting out through them is exactly the sound that’s being made.
So are you planning to tour the Darkside record in Australia? Are there any venues here that you’re interested in playing at?
Nico: Yeah we will be playing in Australia, we can’t say where yet.
Dave: For the record, we have had some of our best shows and some amazing times playing in Australia. In a very sincere way, it’s always been good vibes for us playing there.
So you mentioned sound being one of the things you’re perfectionists about. Is there anything else you’re inflexible on, anywhere in the music making process?
Dave: Not really. The flipside of us being perfectionist about some things, like making sure the bass is just right and the highs are nice and sparkly, is that we also like the extreme opposite which is chaos, accident, mistake. These kind of things – whether you’re making a record or playing live – are just as important. That’s a bit of an extreme point of view to take, but accidents, thing happening in the moment and being wrong and running with it, that’s important to us.