One sttep be­yond

“Dub­step be­came the mu­si­cal equiv­a­lent to paint­ing by num­bers” – James But­tery tell Jim Car­roll about Dark­star’s move away from the elec­tronic un­der­ground and into self-im­posed iso­la­tion

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - MUSIC -

There is a new ad­di­tion to that list of bands who’ve em­braced the tra­di­tion of go­ing up coun­try to get their muse in or­der. When it came time to make their sec­ond al­bum, Dark­star de­cided to aban­don Lon­don and move to Slaith­waite, out­side Hud­der­s­field in west York­shire.

The Dark­star trio didn’t move to the vil­lage to sam­ple E Grange & Son’s pork pies or sup at the Silent Woman pub or check out the Slaith­waite Moon­rak­ing Fes­ti­val or even col­lab­o­rate with the Slaith­waite Brass Band. They went there to make a sec­ond al­bum which sounds very un­like their de­but.

You won’t find much ref­er­ence on News From Nowhere to the dub­step and bass that in­formed Dark­star’s de­but, North, or their fu­ture-garage Hyper­dub sin­gle, Aidy’s Girl Is a Com­puter.

What you’ll hear in­stead is the sound of a trio tak­ing chances by us­ing struc­tures, in­flu­ences and ideas from all over the shop (Ge­orge Har­ri­son, An­i­mal Col­lec­tive, Brian Eno, Van Dyke Parks, Ul­tra­ma­rine, vo­cal chants) to forge su­perbly lush, mem­o­rable and ef­fec­tive songs. The York­shire air ob­vi­ously suited them.

It is also the first al­bum that James But­tery was in­volved in from start to fin­ish. When the vo­cal­ist ini­tially joined Ai­den Whalley and James Young, they had the songs for North al­ready writ­ten.

“We were liv­ing close by each other in Lon­don and had be­come friends,” But­tery ex­plains. “They wanted some­one to do vo­cals on this Ra­dio­head cover they were do­ing for Mary-Anne Hobbs’s ra­dio show. I bumped into Ai­den in the shop when I was out get­ting milk and bread, and he asked me if I wanted to come around to do some singing. I didn’t ac­tu­ally com­pose any of North, I just lit­er­ally sang the tunes they wrote.”

But­tery al­ready had band form, hav­ing fronted an in­die act called Sun­burned, be­fore Dark­star came call­ing. He was also an ex­pe­ri­enced stu­dio hand, hav­ing stud­ied mu­sic tech­nol­ogy in univer­sity and then worked as a free­lance en­gi­neer in var­i­ous stu­dios.

“I ac­tu­ally worked in Trevor Horn’s stu­dio for a while af­ter I was sacked from the Royal Col­lege of Mu­sic. Peo­ple like Madonna, Justin Tim­ber­lake and Tim­ber­land were work­ing in the stu­dio when I was there, all that sort of pop stuff. I didn’t work on their ses­sions; I just brought in the tea.”

He’s re­spon­si­ble for a lot more than the tea with Dark­star. “This is my first full-time record with the band, so I was in­volved in it from start to fin­ish. North was a break-up al­bum and we were all look­ing to go some­where else, though I don’t how we phrased it when we dis­cussed it. We just felt that we’d done that sound al­ready and we didn’t want to re­peat our­selves.

“We wanted to try some­thing that was a lot more or­ganic and pos­i­tive. I think it’s kind of easy to write melan­cholic mu­sic, but it’s much more chal­leng­ing to do some­thing op­ti­mistic with­out it be­ing cheesy. We had to push our­selves to get that.”

The band also felt the chal­lenge and ex­pec­ta­tions which came with a new record deal. “We signed with Warp af­ter North came out and then it was ‘you have to do an­other record now, guys’ and we felt the weight of that task. I was very aware about how easy it is to sim­ply fade away to noth­ing th­ese days so we wanted to al­most shock peo­ple with what we did. It felt like we had to prove our­selves and find out what we were worth.”

Dark­star were also keen to get away from be­ing seen as just an­other un­der­ground act. “The em­pha­sis and goal was al­ways to move away from that elec­tronic un­der­ground. We’ve al­ways been in­ter­ested in the avant­garde and do­ing things dif­fer­ently than any­one else and be­ing quite pro­gres­sive. I think that’s why Ai­den and James latched onto dub­step in the first place – be­cause it was per­ceived as be­ing some­thing dif­fer­ent. As soon as dub­step be­came this new scene that ev­ery­one was try­ing to latch onto, it lost its at­trac­tion.”

But­tery feels dub­step lost its way when it moved into the main­stream. “I lived through the scene in Lon­don from 2003 to 2005 or 2006, and I re­mem­ber it go­ing main­stream. Dub­step was the sound­track to th­ese par­ties my friends threw in a ware­house in Hack­ney and then you’d be­gin to hear it on the ra­dio. It died at that stage.

“Dub­step be­came the mu­si­cal equiv­a­lent of paint­ing by num­bers. Loads of my mates started mak­ing tracks that sounded the same with the same drum-beat. What was all that about? Ev­ery­one’s so busy striv­ing for the next thing, for the new thing, that they be­gin to for­get what the point of mu­sic and art is. You want to grav­i­tate to­wards some­thing that’s orig­i­nal and wants to say some­thing in a dif­fer­ent way.”

The main rea­son Dark­star moved to west York­shire was fi­nan­cial, But­tery ex­plains. “We signed a deal with Warp, which was a good deal, but we couldn’t af­ford to quit our day jobs and stay in Lon­don. We de­cided to get out and con­cen­trate on what we were do­ing. I was work­ing and the oth­ers were do­ing bits and bobs but we gave it all up to im­merse our­selves in mak­ing this al­bum. Aside from the cheaper costs of liv­ing out­side of Lon­don, we really wanted to just con­cen­trate on the al­bum and noth­ing else.”

The move to York­shire, reck­ons But­tery, was the best thing that could have hap­pened to them as it meant they re­moved them­selves from any scene.

“Be­ing so iso­lated worked to our ad­van­tage in terms of the sounds on the al­bum,” he says. “When you live and go out in Lon­don, it’s so easy to get your head turned by sounds, so self­im­posed iso­la­tion is a good thing when you want to write some­thing new.

“Dark­star were def­i­nitely part of a scene in Lon­don but now we’re def­i­nitely not part of any scene any­more.

“We en­joyed be­ing part of a scene and it helped us get so much at­ten­tion, but that’s all in the past. We’ve gone out on our own lit­tle thread now.” ❙❙❙ News From Nowhere is out now on Warp. Dark­star play Dublin’s But­ton Fac­tory on Fe­bru­ary 22nd

Dark­star: ‘We wanted to try some­thing more or­ganic and

pos­i­tive’

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