Psychedelic music is a very amorphous genre due to what it is trying to achieve. Because of it’s amorphous character musicians can use many different types of genres as their jumping off point and end up with psychedelic music; whether it’s rock, rap, pop, electronic, or whatever. Psychedelic music, to put it simply, is aimed not at entertaining in the usual sense but at creating a mind-altering experience through creating musical atmospheres in which one can loose themselves, one that encourages the listener to think and feel differently, while also motivating it’s audience into close listening (as opposed to other musical ends like dancing or being swooned). You may end up dancing, or with a well sung hook lyric stuck in your head, or enjoying a catchy guitar solo – but usually that isn’t the overarching goal of those who create psych, it’s a pleasant side effect. Of course, these are not steadfast rules, as there are no rules for psychedelic music – that’s kind of the whole point.
In pursuit of this hard to describe, and even harder to create, goal many artists turn to complexity & intricacy as well as unorthodox & uncommon musical styles/instruments/arrangements. This makes sense, as these are definitely ways to challenge and catch the listener off guard. However, it can also lead artists into believing that complication and surprise are their best friends while attempting to attain the almost inexpressible goal of psychedelic music. DARKSIDE is a band that challenges this conception in a beautiful way, and they recently came into the winter wonder-city known as Chicago for their first ever concert in the city of big shoulders (at least this author is pretty darn sure it was their first ever concert here).
On a night filled with wind whipped snow and considerably below freezing temperatures DARKSIDE was playing at The Metro, one of the best (and most historic) midsized venues in the entire Midwest, a truly amazing place to make your first Chicago appearance. And to boot it was completely sold out, with tickets easily going for 2-3 times face value in the secondary markets. One hopes that the band mates, electro musician Nicolas Jaar and Brooklyn multi-instrumentalist Dave Harrington, realized how special this was. But as their debut album ‘Psychic’ has been getting continual rave reviews from around the western world, it seems that sold out shows will continue to be the norm for these guys for some time to come.
DARKSIDE’s Paper Trails
How does DARKSIDE approach their difficult genre differently? Their beauty lies in deceptive simplicity. For one thing, while they incorporate the help of drum machines, loops, and electronic sounds, they are a two person group that does organically create all their sounds/music. Meaning that while there is usually more than two audible instruments at any time present to the ear, there are clearly only two people creating them, meaning there are only two musical intentions behind the song writing. Instruments do not bleed into each other as they do with most pysch rock groups, each instrument’s personality is allowed to shine through and be heard completely. And while they do incorporate a wide variety of sounds and instruments into each song, their complexity lies within the song progression, writing, and sound engineering – and not in what’s happening simultaneously at any given moment. Consequently each instrument and vocal line truly breathes within each song, as they make sure each song advancement is clearly noted. Reverb and effects are well used throughout their songs, but never in an over bearing way. Nothing is moving quickly, maybe deliberately, but never quickly. Yet, the ears never find themselves bored, as the atmospheres they know how to create, build, and then sit in are first rate and created for arguably the best psychedelic album of any kind in 2013.
But how would these traits translate to a live show? This was a valid question. There are many loops in their songs, and the engineering on their album is so precise, and they don’t bring on any extra musicians for live shows – would it be possible to live up to their album? Well, to be blunt, yes, yes they were able to translate their music to a live setting well.
DARKSIDE’s Golden Arrow
As ‘Psychic’ only has 8 tracks, one could expect they would play pretty much every song they had at this show. And clocking in at over 90 min, they certainly did that. You will notice their album isn’t that long. This is because they dragged out many of their tracks, expanding upon certain parts and jamming at other times. It wasn’t always easy to catch when then were expanding upon a song in a pre-planned manner, or were jamming, which is a high compliment to a band of this genre!
Their tracks Heart and The Only Shrine I’ve Ever Seen were especially fun on this night. Not only because they were given an interestingly wonderful & unique live feeling, but also because each of those have a stronger snare and bass drum to grab onto. And there is nothing like a fun beat in the midst of a sold out crowd that has been eagerly anticipating their first sight of the musicians on stage.
Of course Paper Trails was also a crowd pleaser, with it’s foot-tapping hand clap beat and fun guitar licks and rhythm changes. This song is a good example of the deceptive simplicity of DARKSIDE. The song has a muted but constant bass line, upon with they throw claps, and some fun electro-influenced double-time beats as well as the aforementioned guitar. The guitar lines are bluesy, emotional, with just as much emphasis on how each note is stopped as to how it plays out. You know the guitarist could play something much more involved and complicated – but instead the focus is clearly on creating these waxy smooth & leisurely movements that make your ear diligently follow along the designated path. And while this description applies to their album as a whole, it is even more poignant in their live show. This reserved, humble, and well thought out approach to toe-tapping psychedelic electro-rock music is not common, and not easy to pull off, but these guys accomplished it in superb fashion on this night.
Another positive of their live show, which also reflects their musical character, was the visuals they used on stage. They had simple lights around their feet on the stage that could shine brightly in any color. They also had a nice projector which could splash across the whole stage easily, often projecting horizontal or vertical lines of light. Then there was the huge circular mirror, which they hung in the center back of the stage and would rotate, it’s speed dependent upon the energy of the music at the moment. Upon the mirror they would cast a spotlight, which was often hollow (just a circle ring of light), meaning there would be a fixed light and a moving one that moved and reflected upon the audience. And of course, in the mirror itself, the audience got an usual and every changing view of the band. It was simple, it was classy, it was old school but also original – it was very DARKSIDE.
Ending the show with an encore of an unreleased song (at least to this writer’s knowledge) in which they seemed to jam out considerably, they gave us a hint at what might be in store for their next album. It’s clear their talent & potential is larger than one good album, and crosses over into the live show realm quite nicely. For fans of psychedelic music it’s not always easy to be caught off guard, because the nature of the genre suggest one dropping their preconceived conceptions. This author loves the genre very much so, but still was caught off guard by this two piece band that decided to fluidly and steadily mold many genres and time periods together – while anchoring the songs with a simplicity any listener can grab onto. Of course, that’s only simplicity to the naked eye…
Written by Sean Brna
OurVinyl | Contributor
To see some more photos from this show click here.