The fact that Darkside's Dave Harrington didn't spend his life crafting beats or sampling music in his parent's basement as a young child is a bit of a shocker, given the level of excellence he and Darkside's leader, Nicolas (Nico) Jarr have achieved in only a couple of years. What's more surprising, though, is that Harrington, who adds drums and guitars to Jaar's aural odyssey, waited until late in the game to dive into the music he now helps make as one of the biggest critical successes of the past six months.
"In a way, Nico is really responsible for turning me on to dance music," says Harrington from New Mexico earlier this week. "I had dabbled in electronic music, but before I was called to audition for his touring band, that wasn't a focus of mine. Nico really changed the way I make music."
Perhaps it's the combination of Jaar's long-employed expertise and Harrington's set of fresh ears that have led many to suggest that Darkside tends to break the so-called rules of dance music, or at the very least test the boundaries. Harrington understands why people say that. Darkside isn't exactly trying to make one lose their bodyweight in sweat, as they can expertly lower a tracks BPMs to levels where the tune takes on a form other than what might normally reside in house music.
Growing up in New York, where his family still lives, Harrington left for Brown University for college, where he met Jaar (He graduated in 2008). At that time, he had been into Jazz and even Metal, but after joining Jaar's crew, recording music became a new musical love that transcended styles and labels.
Darkside's latest album, the mind-bending Psychic (which garnered a coveted Best New Music nod from Pitchfork is best enjoyed when one slaps on a set of bulky headphones, where it can cancel out all other auditory distractions. Crappy computer speakers do not do the album justice. Harrington's previous musical tastes and Jaar's knack for successful experimentation are apparent when jazz-like flurries slink under the beat-trodden surface of a tune such as "Paper Trails."
"Nico and I have really eclectic tastes that transcend genre and time-period," Harrington says. "For us to make an electronic album that sounds current is a happy accident for us. There's not a lot of calculation involved."
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It's easy to see how some will feel the album has a futuristic new wave vibe, or even a retro, psychedelic feel. In fact, a German reporter told the duo recently, that the record reminded him of Coldplay. Maybe the German has it all wrong, maybe he doesn't, but the eight songs from the album create a colorful space for them to find their own meaning and feeling.
Over the course of the record, different textures are evident, and that isn't a happy mistake. The album was recorded in three different studios, ranging from a high-end Parisian studio with the finest gear available (the guys relocated to Paris for a short bit in 2012, due to a heavy amount European touring), to Harrington's childhood home, where they recorded in a barn. Though he had already laid down some tracks with top-notch equipment in Paris, he was ready to provide other parts of the record with a different vibe in the form of the drum-kit he received as a Christmas present when he was eight years old. While recording in multiple studios was a necessity due to a high demand for Darkside's live show, it worked out in an organic manner, none the less.
"The recording itself was born out of touring," he says. "So the album is the result of an experiment where we figured it all out as we went along. We wanted different sounds on the record, so one certain way to make different sounds is to record in different places with different instruments. Everything had its own vibe."
The record isn't the only thing boasting a distinctive feel. Harrington and Jaar have been on tour for a couple of weeks now, and one thing they've noticed from the fans at their shows is the surprise of not hearing the album as it's presented in its recorded form. Switching things up for their live-set is also not an accident, but it involves a great deal of improvisation from night to night. In fact, the guys decide on what kind of show they'll play on a given night and how their tunes will sound based upon factors as wide-ranging as what day of the week the show is, how large the room they're playing is, what city they're in and even how high their stage will be.
Harrington promises improvisational takes on their tunes every night, and he's not worried about much else beyond how they sound for the crowd in front of them on a given night.
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"As long as we like what we're doing, everything else is up to everyone else to worry about."