We joined Nicolas Jaar and Dave Harrington from Darkside in the back yard of the Lloyd Hotel. The pair, who had a press day to promote their new record Psychic (out 8 October on Other People & Matador), spoke about killing darlings and how saying yes is key to their work dynamic
Do you think that in order to create you have to kill some darlings along the way?
N: For us it’s more about making darlings out of things that would never be darlings. One of the main structural concerns we had is that we wanted every sound to go through a process, either one that would break the sound or one that would hide the sound, similar to the idea of the dark side – the dark side being the place you don’t see, the side without light. So, how do you make a sound go through a place without light? How do you hear that?
That sounds like an interesting route you chose for the creating process.
D: Well, for us it’s more like you create and then kick the thing and then that thing goes on its own journey.
I’m now thinking of an anecdote about Michelangelo where he would have his apprentices hatch into a block of marble until an angel would appear out of it.
N: The question is: is the angel the one we’re left with or is the angel on the floor?
You could say it was hidden all along.
D: That sculptural piece analogy is not really how I think either of us ever thought about what we’re making.
N: It’s too nice.
D: For us it would be more like: you walk by and pick up the pieces and turn those pieces into something else.
N: Yeah, you keep the angel locked away. You don’t need the angel. The negative angel, the pieces on the floor, that’s interesting. I think the angel exists just as much in the pieces on the floor as the actual angel hatched out of marble. In that sense of killing our darlings; sure. But at the same time we’re maybe locking our darlings away and keeping everything else.
D: Also, when you’re two people working on something, you don’t have darlings. There’s no sense in that. We’ll know the darling once it’s done. You don’t say: “I gotta have this thing, we gotta keep it, I just need it.” It’s not constructive nor a starting point for us.
N: His darling might not be my darling and vice versa, you know?
What do you think is the key to your collaboration?
D: We just say yes. How we both grew up, how we first worked together, it’s all about improvisation. That’s not to say that when we made the record we were only jamming; we did make choices there. When you come from a background of improvisation you think about what’s important in the music you’re making and about the experience versus the object. What I’ve learned about improvising is that you can’t learn to improvise, it’s just something you develop. Best thing I ever was taught was to say yes.
N: Or to not say no.
Otherwise you’d be deprived of new possibly meaningful experiences?
N: An example. If we’re improvising and you say: ‘Would you like some salt on your chicken?’ I would answer: ‘Yes.’ Then: ‘Oh, it’s so salty, you put too much salt on my chicken.’ If I were to say no then there’s no development. You want to give me salt, so I say: ‘Okay, let’s make a story here.’
D: You say yes and then you’ve created a moment. Then after you’ve said yes, then you can say: ‘Fuck it! I hate salty chicken!’ But then you’ve created something that has a dynamic. That’s how we work.
‘But then in another scenario one of us says: “I wanna make an ’80s classical music jam.’ And then the other one’s like: “YES!” And then it turns out really bad. In that case we’re unlucky’
There’s also a lot of luck involved, then?
N: In everything.
Would you say you have to know what you want to achieve it?
N: Oh, we know what we want.
But for instance, when for some reason you’ve strayed too much from the path, what do you do?
N: We tell each other: ‘We’ve strayed too far from the path. This is bad, let’s try again.’ You’re right about luck though, ’cause it’s about me saying yes, him saying yes, me saying yes, him saying yes, and then maybe we’re like: ‘Oh, this is good!’ But then in another scenario one of us says: ‘I wanna make an ’80s classical music jam.’ And then the other one’s like: ‘YES!’ And then it turns out really bad. In that case we’re unlucky.
What happens then?
N: Then we go out for pizza. And then after that we make a really cool song.
Do you ever get so frustrated you end up breaking stuff?
D: A lot of the gear that we use is already broken. You know, you buy old and used equipment that sooner or later ends up broken. You could spend money and fix it, but broken gear can be like very, very magical.
N: There’s a lot of broken gear used on the record. We went to a studio to record guitar, ’cause we wanted a specific guitar sound. We used this big and fancy SSL board. The funniest thing about the board was that it was broken. It sounded like shit.
What can we expect from the live show?
N: You’re gonna see a funny one. It’s in a more classical music venue, so it’s not gonna be so intense. I don’t know, but it feels like it’s gonna be more of a sit-down thing.
But if I were to ask you to play really loud music you have to say yes, right?
D: If that’s where the vibe is, from the audience, we’ll say yes to that. And then see where we can take it. We improvise during live shows and on audience reactions, yes.
So, it all boils down to energy?
N: Yes. I mean, we can’t say no any more now.
Darkside are performing at Het Concertgebouw this Friday, 18 October, as part of TrouwAmsterdam’s programming at Amsterdam Dance Event. For more Concertgebouw events visit, Concertgebouw.nl