Darkstar photographed in 2009, before the addition of singer James Buttery.
Despite their debut album ‘North’ receiving praise all over the place when released last year, it’s easy to forget about Darkstar. Listen back to ‘North’, and you realize this is because it doesn’t fit with anything. There’s no other band or artist around at the moment you can link it to, the influence of android ‘80s pop, the melancholy restraint of it, the un-DJ friendly rhythms, bass pressure but without any nod towards house, garage or any of that, the unwillingness to engage with the whole internet game (as Hype Williams, for example, do). They slowed down The Human League (Gold) when everyone else was slowing down R&B. ‘North’ is a strange record considering its timing, something of an anomaly in retrospect.
It’s magnetic though, live particularly, wave after wave of bleak, wilting pop blanketed in electrifying static charge. Deadness is tragic, singer James Buttery crooning “I don’t understand”, his voice cracking while drums crackle and stutter and strings melt. Live, Darkstar are intensely physical in a very literal way, chasms of body-quaking bass opening up in every track, North’s rhythms jerking necks. They cover Radiohead’s Videotape, drawing out every ounce of understated feeling there and amplifying. Gold is a cantering piece heart-jolting loveliness, haunting piano, alien synths, and singer James Buttery’s soft croon all coming together and drawing you under. It’s movements particularly hypnotic when compared to the mountainous stillness of their other tracks.
They don’t play Aidy’s Girl Is A Computer live, which is a shame because its still one of the most brilliant and trickily unique pieces of dance music Hyperdub has ever put out. But there and again, it wouldn’t really fit with the addition of singer James to the line up during the recording of ‘North’. Live I’ve seen them three times in three very different settings. Once at XOYO, playing what was only their third live show, a second time supporting These New Puritans at The Barbican, which showed the expanse of space their sound was capable of taking over. The third time was a warehouse in South London. They came on after midnight, following an upbeat crowd pleasing DJ set from Actress and held the packed rooms gaze unflinchingly. They’re a brave band, and being unable to fit them into any particular context only adds to that tense magnetism. Darkstar are a powerful anomaly you should definitely see take centre stage.