One step beyond
Darkstar: 'We wanted to try something more organic and positive'
“Dubstep became the musical equivalent to painting by numbers” – James Buttery tell JIM CARROLLabout Darkstar’s move away from the electronic underground and into self-imposed isolation
There is a new addition to that list of bands who’ve embraced the tradition of going up country to get their muse in order. When it came time to make their second album, Darkstar decided to abandon London and move to Slaithwaite, outside Huddersfield in west Yorkshire.
The Darkstar trio didn’t move to the village to sample E Grange Son’s pork pies or sup at the Silent Woman pub or check out the Slaithwaite Moonraking Festival or even collaborate with the Slaithwaite Brass Band. They went there to make a second album which sounds very unlike their debut.
You won’t find much reference on News From Nowhere to the dubstep and bass that informed Darkstar’s debut, North, or their future-garage Hyperdub single, Aidy’s Girl Is a Computer.
What you’ll hear instead is the sound of a trio taking chances by using structures, influences and ideas from all over the shop (George Harrison, Animal Collective, Brian Eno, Van Dyke Parks, Ultramarine, vocal chants) to forge superbly lush, memorable and effective songs. The Yorkshire air obviously suited them.
It is also the first album that James Buttery was involved in from start to finish. When the vocalist initially joined Aiden Whalley and James Young, they had the songs for North already written.
“We were living close by each other in London and had become friends,” Buttery explains. “They wanted someone to do vocals on this Radiohead cover they were doing for Mary-Anne Hobbs’s radio show. I bumped into Aiden in the shop when I was out getting milk and bread, and he asked me if I wanted to come around to do some singing. I didn’t actually compose any of North, I just literally sang the tunes they wrote.”
Buttery already had band form, having fronted an indie act called Sunburned, before Darkstar came calling. He was also an experienced studio hand, having studied music technology in university and then worked as a freelance engineer in various studios.
“I actually worked in Trevor Horn’s studio for a while after I was sacked from the Royal College of Music. People like Madonna, Justin Timberlake and Timberland were working in the studio when I was there, all that sort of pop stuff. I didn’t work on their sessions; I just brought in the tea.”
He’s responsible for a lot more than the tea with Darkstar. “This is my first full-time record with the band, so I was involved in it from start to finish. North was a break-up album and we were all looking to go somewhere else, though I don’t how we phrased it when we discussed it. We just felt that we’d done that sound already and we didn’t want to repeat ourselves.
“We wanted to try something that was a lot more organic and positive. I think it’s kind of easy to write melancholic music, but it’s much more challenging to do something optimistic without it being cheesy. We had to push ourselves to get that.”
The band also felt the challenge and expectations which came with a new record deal. “We signed with Warp after North came out and then it was ‘you have to do another record now, guys’ and we felt the weight of that task. I was very aware about how easy it is to simply fade away to nothing these days so we wanted to almost shock people with what we did. It felt like we had to prove ourselves and find out what we were worth.”