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LIVE REPORT: Darkside
Damien Morris , April 23rd, 2014 05:37

"The strangest, loudest silent disco in the world" – Damien Morris reports back from Elephant & Castle's The Coronet Theatre where Nicolas Jaar takes to stage alongside guitarist Dave Harrington. Photo by Rashid Akrim

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Our backs to the music, we miss them coming on, but at some point on the shortest clubbing night of the year, an hour sacrificed to summer time, Darkside's Nicolas Jaar and Dave Harrington sidle onstage and ease into 90 minutes of their entertainingly weird, spring-heeled, moonbooted electronic blues. The occasional heavily-treated Jaar vocal surfaces out of Harrington's improvised guitar work, but there are much longer beatless passages. In unskilled paws, recreating and extending the bleeding-radiator longueurs of the Darkside album wouldn't satisfy a Saturday night South London dancefloor. Too clinical, too antiseptic.

Yet, with a surgeon's steady hand, Jaar and Harrington revivify the vinyl's cool-blooded symphony of tension and release. It could be six or seven songs they play in tonight's main set. Or just one. It barely matters, the crowd's reaction is instinctively ecstatic everytime anything happens. Maybe it's the euphoria of shared insanity - one girl ahead of us is clawing at the air during 'Paper Trails' as if the music was trying to escape through her, like she's giving birth through her fingers. There isn't much dancing in the conventional sense. Some twitching, perhaps. It seems we've assembled in a darkened room on the far side of midnight to listen to what would be, in any sensible world, headphone music, a silent disco set.

Untethered from the tyranny of the hi-hat, this is disembodied dance music, hovering between menace and a foggy displacement, ghosting on the outskirts of the euphoric minimalism of the Neptunes, J Dilla and early Daft Punk. Much like Jaar's solo work, but driven in the direction of Pink Floyd or Radiohead by Harrington's interrogative, wandering guitar. It's an oddly emotional performance, though, despite the familiar and unpromising elements of two guys on stage in t-shirts anchored to computers (what is a guitar if not a computer with strings?) underscored by the superb lighting. It begins ultra-minimal, a darkened stage lit by laptop light, so underlit that when it effloresces with beams stronger than the noonday sun, it's as powerful a moment as when they finally go full techno at the close.

The whole production has structure and rigour, but it also has enough slippery unpredictability to often feel completely unrehearsed. The encore is the only misjudged moment, as it breaks the mysterious spell of the show, and too many stagger disoriented to the doors. Those that turn back from the exits are eventually rewarded with that stunning, punishing maximalist finale, a suitable end to the strangest, loudest silent disco in the world.

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