The electronic duo shimmer in moments big and small at the House of Blues
If the current EDM scene is characterized by rattling bass, chaotic drops and marathon sets, Darkside might be the anti-EDM. It's understandable that the duo, composed of Nicolas Jaar and Dave Harrington, often falls under the EDM umbrella, but Darkside's show Sunday night at the House of Blues wasn't the run of the mill electronic set. It was odd, inconsistent and jarring, but starkly original, grand and inimitable.
Jaar and Harrington occupy a strange corner of the dance music scene, where it's okay to break down a song into its most shapeless, danceless form in lieu of back-to-back big moments. That may not sit so well with some fans of the genre, and Darkside's show was a little divisive in the packed club. It was a few minutes into the show until anything resembling a traditional dance beat came in, and throughout, those beats disappeared without notice — as if your heart stopped beating — to give way to experimental ambience. It's not a total curveball from someone like Jaar, who's always walked a line between dance and ambient that they blurred radically on Darkside's debut album Psychic. That style takes the archetypical EDM structure of build up, drop, repeat, and scrambles it.
The amalgamation may work better live than in studio. Darkside's performance routinely reached jaw-dropping levels of awe, with a tremendous version of the album single "Paper Trails." It's one of Darkside's most accessible tunes — making it that much more impressive to hear the song transform from soulful and slow-burning to gigantic and engulfing.
A moment like that could seem tarnished or cheapened by the rhythmless meditation that often followed, but it became apparent those moments were integral to the standout counterparts. Hearing songs fall apart before they hit an intense stride is like seeing a painter's messy studio apartment before beholding the masterpiece. The art means something more when you see the work put into it, the torment behind the brush strokes.
Darkside was masterful at creating mood, accompanied by an entrancing, one-of-kind light show. A giant mirror slowly rotated behind the duo at times, with a circle of light reflecting as some kind of vortex where the most cacophonous moments sounded closer to pure expression than the up-tempo bouts of bliss. Harrington has toured and collaborated with Jaar for years, and Sunday's show made it clear why the two have made the marriage official. The sublime juxtaposition only worked because of Jaar and Harrington's back and forth, further asserting the duo as an innovative force clearing space for itself in a loud, crowded genre that should take a hint.