What is Darkside? The most obvious answer is the collaboration of DJ / producer Nicolas Jaar and guitarist Dave Harrington. Another answer you might get is that it is a Jaar side project. It’s certainly darker than a lot of the tunes he releases under his solo moniker, but it definitely rides along the same lines. Darkside is definitely different, and that is what you can expect from their live show: something different.
So let’s set the stage here. We’re in Miami during Art Basel, which is an incredible weekend of art, music and dope weather for a crowd that is otherwise seriously cold in the first week of December. We walk in to a massive warehouse in Wynwood, which is Miami’s hipster / art district. Gramatik is blasting through a set of PA speakers right next to a table serving up free liquor drinks. It’s clearly going to be an awesome night as we walk through and check out sick artwork like this:
I have no problem admitting to the fact that we were clearly taking FULL advantage of free liquor drinks before the show. Clearly these people wanted us to be absolutely shit-housed, because sweet art + free vodka OJ’s is about as enjoyable as it gets. So we downed about 6 or 7 of them before heading in to the music area at Mana.
While Pete Tong is playing to the bottle-service crowd over at club Liv, we are listening to Miles Davis’ “Bitches Brew” and looking at this giant round mirror dangling behind the stage, which would trip out any Wall St. suite, much less a bunch of drunken Baselers.
As they hit the stage around 1am and begin with some guitar noodling and the track “Freak, Go Home,” it became clear that Darkside’s live set, much like their music, was going to be unique and interesting. There were no gimmicky “EDM” lights here, just rays of light hitting a rotating round mirror. I’ll tell you though, that mirror was more effective than any major light rig out there. It sped up, slowed down, reflected rays, spheres and at the very end, a big ol’ rainbow, like this:
Everything that was done on that stage was tasteful, the opposite of the super indulgent build-up/drop/build-up/drop rubbish that has made a mockery of electronic music in the past few years. The tunes were slow and ambient, building up cleverly just to give you a few seconds of body-thumping bass. As the set progressed, the duo played a few selections from their newest masterpiece Psychic, which was just released back in October.
Musically the group lies somewhere in between Nicolas Jaar’s solo productions, Boombox, Joy Divison and Pink Floyd, or at least that’s what came to mind when I saw it. The 4×4, straight, house beat was there almost the entire time, but the psychadelic guitar improv and indie nature of their production certainly sets them apart from anything that you would call “house music.”
Let one thing be clear, this is mood music. This isn’t designed for you to dance uncontrollably for hours, or to rage face with your friends. It is designed to create an atmosphere, provoke your mind and let think about music, especially electronic music, in a different way. Despite only playing for about an hour, Darkside definitely delivered what they set out to. They ended with an improvisational encore, dedicated to the late Nelson Mandela, who sadly passed earlier that day.