DARKSTAR & JAMES MCVINNIE
James Young, one half of the London-based electronics duo “Darkstar”, talks with Liquid Music blog contributor Nick Lanser about their new work Collapse, a collaborative effort with world renowned organist James McVinnie commissioned by Liquid Music and premiering at Northrop on May 4.
Nick Lanser: How did you and Aiden come to start making music together? Did you have earlier music projects before delving into the electronic music world?
James Young: Aiden and I started passing ideas back and forth around 2005, I’d been going to a nightclub called fwd in London and we started making sounds that would sit in on the periphery there. Darkstar was our first thing we tried to be honest. We lived in West London and started making tracks that were being played on Pirate Radio. Once we forged a sound that was our own I think people started to take note that we were trying something a little different for that context and it worked for us.
NL: What was your earliest memory of electronic music? What inspired you to start creating independently?
JY: Earliest memory probably Thriller, the Linn drum used in that, the way it was so rigid but worked so well. What got me making music was probably tape packs and just scraps of paraphernalia from clubs in the North West of England, flyers, posters, radio, the odd cross over tune, I started wondering what if at that point and began dj’ing, then bought a sampler and went from there.
NL: Walk me through your creative process. When you are creating new music, what comes first? Do you start with a concept? Or improvisation?
JY: Both really, there is no set way ever. Not one piece of music ever starts the same – in my eyes anyway. I always think it just happens or we dig and dig until there’s something there to move forward with but each time there are differences. We’re not precious about what we use or where we make music we just try and get time together and look for something we both like without over thinking what we’re doing, the overthinking comes much later when we have seven or so tracks then we’ll try and look at it conceptually or explore how it all fits together.
NL: How did you start working with James McVinnie? How did you know he’d be a good collaborative match for Darkstar?
JY: We began working with James on a piece called “Dance Unity” performed at the Southbank Centre. It was part of the PRS New Music Biennial. We had an idea in mind to delve into archives of old 90’s records we liked and somehow re-contextualize them with the organ. James was really open to our ideas and it worked perfectly. I think from a musical stand point, because we have a certain type of part that is common in a lot of our work, looped intricate melodies, James could grab onto this and evolve it through performance. So not only was our work identifiable through the piece, James was also progressing our ideas through nuances in how he manipulates the organ.
NL: What have you set out to say or to achieve with Collapse? Is there a planned evolution for the work post-premiere?
JY: We wanted to try and delve more musically knowing what the organ and James are capable of. We wanted something quintessentially Darkstar yet expansive. To try layered loops that build and develop into often explorative compositions. Something that would swell and evolve, fall back and rest, like a cycle of harmonic layers constantly shifting.
I think there will be an evolution with this work but what yet I have no idea, it’s always hard to think ahead after just finishing it. But we will I’m sure look to progress it or use again.
NL: Where do you find inspiration outside of the music world?
JY: We have been doing a lot of youth work recently and that has been inspiring. To see so much talent and enthusiasm for music was energizing and I think probably changed our approach to recording slightly. How? I’m not sure just yet but after working in different settings with people that don’t have the means to make music everyday like we do… it left a lasting impression on how we use our time and how we develop Darkstar from this point. It feels like a crossroads but one we’re happy to be at.
Liquid Music presents the world premiere of Collapse by James McVinnie and Darkstar Saturday, May 4 at Northrop. BUY TICKETS HERE.
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