Join the Darkside: Nicolas Jaar with rock’n’roll guitar
The electronic musician has teamed up with guitarist Dave Harrington for a dark and mesmerising album
Nicolas Jaar and Dave Harrington: met at Brown University
Some collaborations are born equal and some have equality thrust upon them. In the case of Darkside, most folks with an interest in electronic music will have already come across Nicolas Jaar. He’s the New York-born musician whose Space Is Only Noise debut album is a masterpiece in spine-tingling ambience and lush electronic textures.
The inventive Jaar has also been involved with labels (Clown & Sunset), interesting remixes (including Grizzly Bear and Nina Simone) and new musiclistening formats (the Prism was a tiny aluminum cube with two headphone sockets that played a compilation of his label’s music).
While Jaar is the known quantity in Darkside, Dave Harrington might require an introduction. The pair were students at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, and they met when Jaar was putting together a band to tour his debut album.
Harrington started out in his musical career as “a very focused – unusually focused – jazz player” who played acoustic bass in jazz and free jazz combos.
“Between the time I stopped being a jazz player and met Nico, I did a bunch of different things, because I said yes to everything that came around. I played keyboards in an indie rock band, bass in a band trying to sound like Spacemen 3 and synth in a metal band.”
Jaar, though, wanted Harrington to play guitar. “Weirdly when I met Nico and started making music with him, it was more in my comfort zone,” says Harrington.
“I knew nothing about electronic music and was playing guitar in a band for the first time, but the way we found to use the guitar in the context of the music was much more bass-like. The way I play guitar is not idiomatic to a lot of things you associate with rock guitar. I don’t strum or play power chords, and [I] use a lot of electronics and loops to modulate the sound.”
For Jaar, Harrington’s arrival allowed him to make a rock’n’roll record. “I remember I was very excited the first time I started looping Dave’s guitar parts,” says Jaar. “I’d been waiting for that moment and for the prospect to do whatever I wanted to do with this new sound. It’s pretty interesting when you try to get an instrument to do something it’s not supposed to do. Like put a 909 [Roland drum machine] and a guitar together; it’s not obvious that they should be talking to each other.
“The guitar is the one instrument that you have to play, because sampling it doesn’t work. If you don’t have a Wurlitzer, you can get a nice Wurlitzer sound and put it in a sampler, and you can do a bunch of stuff with it. But with guitar, you can’t do that so, in the back of my mind, I wanted to make some rock’n’roll and that’s what Darkside is, I suppose.”
Darkside’s music is quite removed from the subtle, pristine art sounds of Jaar’s previous releases. Their debut album, Psychic, is full of heady psych grooves and thumping Krautrock lines making for an album that is dark and mesmerising.
Harrington feels the Darkside sound owes much to the fact that both musicians are still developing a musical lingua franca. “There are huge spheres of music on either side that we just haven’t exposed each other to and we have little or no background in. We’re very lucky that we have just enough overlap where we have common ground.
“Some people start a band with a buddy they’ve known 25 years. With us, we’re already identifiable musicians with histories and backgrounds and interests. Part of the fun of working together is discovering our overlap and trying out these new things.”
‘It’s a big reveal’
A few months ago, the pair released a remix of the new Daft Punk album Random Access Memories. Jaar says that experiment allowed them to play with the idea of the reveal.
“I’m really excited by the idea of the song that is something for five minutes and then turns back on you. Or a song that gives you enough so you can trust it and then it completely turns around.
“It’s harder to do that with no context. If you know it’s a house tune and it slows down in the middle, which house tunes normally don’t, then it’s a big reveal.
“But with a remix like the Daft Punk album, which is completely ingrained in the pop vocabulary, we end up being able to do a reveal in a much larger sense. There was a level of perversion involved, but it was also about playing with these ideals which we felt the Daft Punk album was about.”
Sometimes this involved using the original material in unexpected ways. “One of the songs starts off completely distorted and the big reveal is us putting the actually high glossy sound of the Daft Punk record in the middle of the track,” says Jaar. “It’s like this movement towards this clean, beautiful, pristine recording that they did and then you go back to the noise of the rest of the song.”
Darkside will feature heavily in both musicians’ schedules for the foreseeable future. Harrington talks about live shows to come where he hopes “each one will be radically different from the previous one”.
For Jaar, the live shows will allow the duo to indulge in more improvisation. “Improvisation is very important for us in terms of writing, recording and playing live. It’s very exciting to be risky and to take the music apart which we spent two years putting together. If it’s not natural, it’s hard to fake what we do.”
Psychic is out now on Other People/Matador Records