Darkside makes risks pay off

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Electronic composer Nicolas Jaar and jazz bassist Dave Harrington describe their collaboration in Darkside as an accident. And if the genre-warping music they created on their acclaimed 2013 debut album, "Psychic" (Matador), was surprising, the acclaim it received was even more so.

"I like and believe in weird music," Harrington says, "and what we did is secretly a bit strange. We made what we wanted to hear, with no regard to who else might like it. So the response has been kind of unexpected. But then nothing about this project has been expected."

Darkside yokes electronic music to guitar rock with an elastic sense of time and rhythm, informed as much by jazz, world beat and even classical music as it is various pop traditions.

Jaar, who lived with his family in his father's native Chile for a few years as a child, grew up in New York City in a household steeped in music from around the world. "The most important thing my parents gave me in terms of music is they made me realize there is a music world very centered around the U.K. and America, which is interesting and exciting and dominating, but it's not the only world, those are not the only rules, and this is not the only way music functions."

In his early teens, he became fascinated with electronic music and by the time he was 20 was already a celebrated DJ and electronic composer. "I really enjoyed the process of it, creating a virtual band out of all these electronic sounds," he says, which led to a brilliant 2011 debut album, "Space is Noize." But Jaar quickly tired of what he saw as electronic music's insularity.

"Little by little I got less excited by all the strange rules that electronic music gives itself," he says. "All these people obsessed with subgenres and talking to each other, but not really to anyone else. I wanted to bring in other musicians, create a more jazz-oriented electronic project that didn't sound like lounge music."

The concert performances that followed "Space is Noize" saw Jaar touring with a small band, blending electronics with more traditional instruments. It was here where he first met Harrington, an accomplished jazz bassist. But Jaar wanted him to play guitar instead.

"I'd only dabbled in electronic music until that point," Harrington says. "But part of the reason I was excited when I was first introduced to Nico was that it was not going to be more of the same. I hadn't played guitar in a band ever in my life, so it was like, 'Let's see how it goes.'"

It went well enough that the two began experimenting with a duo project, at first just as a way of killing time in a Berlin hotel room between gigs.

"Dave's approach to music is totally different than mine," Jaar says. "But he uses his guitar the way I use a computer. We like affected sounds, we like when a sound goes through a painful process. Here is something, now we break it, and then we try to bring it back together."

They ended up with three songs, released an EP, and impulsively booked a show in Brooklyn to introduce their new project.

"It's still one of my favorite shows I've ever played," Harrington says. "There is no reason it should have worked. We played this music, most of which no one had heard – early versions, or tiny pieces, that would become the album – and people were responding. We were working dance-music structures, but doing extended improvisation over it. We were doing something neither of us had done before."

The recording of "Psychic" followed in that exploratory vein. "Part of the fun of us working together is figuring out how to work together," Harrington says. "Neither of us are songwriters in the conventional sense. We come at this from odd angles. Nico likes to tape everything, so as soon as I plug in my guitar and I start tuning, he's recording."

The fragments and experiments evolved over several months into epic pieces of music such as the 11-minute "Golden Arrow." Jaar said he had only one goal with Darkside: "It's the culmination of me trying to see how far I can push this electronic thing." As the duo was winding up the recording sessions for "Psychic," they blew off steam by remixing Daft Punk's 2013 album "Random Access Memories."

"It was fun, and on top of that we knew it must've been a very expensive record to make, which is kind of the point," Jaar says. "It implied that 'all these bedroom producers can't do this, only we (Daft Punk) can do this.' But if someone tells me that, all I want to do is put it in a trash can and rattle it around and see how dirty it can get."

Darkside's live performances also have a certain aversion to keeping things clean and linear.

"The album is kind of a Janus," Harrington says. "It's an album, but it's also raw material to be played live. It's raw material we rip apart at will and piece together each night. A three-minute song might be 15 or 20 minutes. I love to see stuff that is going to be singular. I love seeing a band that is nothing like I expected. If a band is really great like that one night and falls flat on its face the next, I would totally go see them a third time."

Has Darkside ever fallen flat on its face in concert?

"If I answered that," Harrington says with a laugh, "I know that would be the pull quote. But I will just say that we luxuriate in taking risks."

Greg Kot cohosts "Sound Opinions" at 8 p.m. Friday and 11 a.m. Saturday on WBEZ-FM 91.5.

greg@gregkot.com

Twitter @chitribent

When: 9 p.m. Friday

Where: Metro, 3730 N. Clark St.,

Tickets: $19 and $21; metrochicago.com

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