Darkside an unlikely collaboration where electronica meets psychedelic blues
Music producer Nicolas Jaar didn't feel the need to collaborate until he met multi-instrumentalist Dave Harrington. The happy result of their union was a trippy electronic blues-rock opus, writes Oliver Clasper
A FEW YEARS AGO, while studying comparative literature at Brown University on Rhode Island, the American-Chilean electronic music producer Nicolas Jaar befriended a guitarist and multi-instrumentalist named Dave Harrington.
Jaar, who had just released his debut album, Space is the Only Noise, to wide critical acclaim, was looking for band members to tour with, and Harrington was an obvious choice. Before long they began working on new music together, and the Darkside project was born.
"Dave and I developed this vocabulary while playing my music that was exciting new territory for the both of us," Jaar says from Europe ahead of the Darkside show in Hong Kong on April 8. "We had these new ideas that we couldn't have formed by ourselves. It was a combination of his music, his inspirations, and his vibe. We decided to combine these things in the studio, not just the live environment. We felt that playing it on stage was one thing, but if we did it from scratch we knew it could be really interesting. Two years later we ended up putting out [their 2013 debut album] Psychic."
Anyone who has tried to collaborate knows it isn't easy. As Jaar maintains, it involves a lot more than just music: "It's also a human thing. The person has to be a friend, as well as a good co-worker. They have to work as hard as you do."
He goes on to praise the influence and input of Harrington, whom he describes as "the only person" he would go on this journey with. Read the liner notes of Psychic and it's clear they share musical responsibilities. And while there was a concern that many would see Jaar as the driving force, considering his greater fame, he points out that once people see Darkside live they'll understand the union better.
"Darkside is very collaborative by nature. It's something performed between two people, and not on our own. It only exists because of two people working together. That's the beauty of it."
As for Psychic itself, it's a hybrid of electronica and psychedelic blues, with the guitar elements and vocals more present than in any previous record Jaar has released. It's a slow burner and difficult to navigate at times, which is in keeping with the way the project was gestated.
Jaar explains: "A couple of months ago I realised that for the two years I was writing the Darkside EP I was also writing my thesis, which was on [American novelist] William Faulkner. In a sense, it was very influenced by that. Who knows what part of Faulkner is inside Darkside, but for me he's always been a very big presence and I'm very interested in his depictions of America."
Wind the clock back 10 years and the teenage Jaar was a regular New Yorker riding the subway to and from school. Amid the cacophony of the city, he would listen to the likes of influential techno producers Ricardo Villalobos and Trentemøller. Call it precocious, but even at that age Jaar was figuring out how to alter these sounds to fit better with his world view.
During those early years, it was clear to Jaar that collaborating wasn't an option, which is what makes Darkside such an intriguing prospect. "I started when I was 14 or 15, in 2004. Some people were in bands, and I just didn't want to collaborate. I was fascinated by the idea that I could make all the elements: the bass line, the drums, the vocals - everything. That's almost the whole point of electronic music. It's all inside this one thing, this one entity.
"Five years later, I got disinterested in making it all myself. I felt there was room for other ideas, better ideas, and other people adding to what I do. It's been a new phase in my life where I'm collaborating and branching out and trying to evolve in terms of taking more risks and experimenting a bit more. I want to try and do things that shouldn't work, and see what I come up with."
Early insecurities surrounding the recording and playing of music have all but subsided. And while he's still only 24, Jaar now sees his path in much more contemplative and spiritual terms.
"One thing I've learnt is that it's really a matter of luck whether people understand or like what you do. You just have to work hard and do your best, but in the end it's up to the heavens."
Darkside, Kitec Music Zone Live House, 1 Trademart Drive, Kowloon Bay, HK$390 (advance), HK$440 (door). Inquiries: darkside.ticketflap.com