DARKSIDE. @ Manchester RITZ
Darkside, a progressive rock infused techno project consisting of Nicolas Jaar and his guitarist and good friend Dave Harrington, played a live set on March 27th. Having seen their youtube performance for Resident Advisor and after finding some real interest in their bootleg remix album of Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories, I decided to buy a ticket.
Calling their re-work of Daft Punk’s RAM Daftside, the duo ingeniously swapped the dark and light of Guy-Manuel and Thomas’ helmets for Yoda and Darth Vader on the cover and the pure chaos on the record combines both the pop brilliance of RAM, with Darkside’s unique progressive sound. Having not heard any of their solo releases and only RA’s video I was hesitant at first, yet optimistic about the show. I had a look on the Facebook event page and found someone posting some set times, so I went about researching the support that they had claimed was playing before Darkside, and for the most part what I found was quite pleasing indeed.
Whether what I’d found however was the same artist that opened up for the evening was irrelevant because whoever did open fell far short of the mark and left a big whole for Darkside to fill. It was a one man show using saxophone, live vocals and various loops and synths running through Ableton live and completely lacked any atmosphere. It was almost like the dying remnants of a concert far, far away rather than what was needed for a warm up for a techno duo. With too much reverb with not enough beats to bop a head to and quite frankly awful singing, it wasn’t the best of support. His only redeeming quality was that when he was playing the sax I was feeling ready for a night of musical electronic music, that break from the norm that Darkside do so well to achieve.
The lights went out and the crowd was left in almost absolute darkness, cheers roared as Jaar and Harrington crept out of the cloisters, all the while long, evasive sounds and samples slowly started to fill the room. We were given only glimpses of melodies and riffs for a good few minutes and it was clear that Darkside wanted to make us wait. Building gradually with the occasional guitar loop and the introduction of a steady background rhythm of claps, the crowd could feel something coming and they were about to be awarded for their patience. At the same time the room was both consumed with the ground shaking boom of kick drum bass and with light shone from behind the two band members filling the stage with their silhouettes. The crowd exploded into dance. Anyone and everyone was pulling whatever shapes they could, in whatever space they had, within the packed out room. Having made the crowd wait so long for a beat to dance to the band were quick to take it away, as they reverted back into the progressive breakdowns and build ups that separated these moments of dancing madness.
During these stages I was impressed with Harrington’s expressive and distant style, as he, at least in my mind, did well not to appear as an extra to the Nicholas Jaar show and actually helped to create most of the music in these stages. He did at one point, come across the stage, somehow convinced that he was Jimmy Page, wielding his axe like the guitar heroes of old, attempting to revive some classic rock history, but I didn’t mind because his dream didn’t last too long (I didn’t see anyone waving lighters).
I was disappointed with how little Jaar provided in both atmosphere and depth from his synthesisers, nor did I think that he was mixed up correctly and that he didn’t sing enough in the first place. But this somehow meant the two worked better together as a stage performance, playing off each other’s best points and held together by awesome techno bass. The band did well to bring the basslines in and out keeping the tempo going and also granting and taking away the chance to dance. It was hot, it was sweaty and there was much more movement than I had anticipated. At one point the combination between their light show device, a giant curved mirror (a simple yet elegant performance idea), the spotlight upon it and a cloud of perspiration above the crowd turned into a giant sweaty tornado across the room. For their final track everyone in the room was moving, they had waited till the end of the show to blast out the light from all the lamps and bulbs across the stage and for about a minute and a half, for that final drop, everybody was on a high.
The issue with a band who record spectacularly well in the studio is that they have so much to live up to on stage. This was the issue with Darkside; despite a performance that to the uninitiated, would have been brilliant, I was left jaded and slightly bitter. It was a shame not to hear even one sample from Random Access Memories and that Jaar’s special voice wasn’t at his best, however, I walked away buzzing off a stellar performance and with a smile on my face. Yes, they weren’t perfect but it was a hell of a lot of fun. If Darkside play near you or at a festival you’re going to this summer, just go.
Words by Roland Kaye