Bottling a moment or space in time takes more than just skimming through Twitter's trending topics.You only need to listen to Damon Albarn singing about "everyday robots on their phones" or Jay-Z's Magna Carta references to Instagram and Miley Cyrus, to get a flavor for how topical references don't necessarily equal the zeitgeist; more often than not, they just sound clumsy. With third LP, Foam Island, however, British electronic duo Darkstar manage to conquer this challenge.
Perhaps best described as an electronic-pop-documentary of sorts, the album is part glitchy synthetic landscapes and part tight vocal melody, all wound together with audio samples of interviews conducted with early-twenty-somethings living in Huddersfield. The band's founding duo, Aiden Whalley and James Young, are both from the same region and were inspired to incorporate the town into their music after a visit there alerted them to distinct shifts in its atmosphere. In then talking to young people in the area, and capturing their wants, ambitions, hopes and fears, the resultant record is a nuanced reflection of existing in the North of England in 2015, and looking at an uncertain future with optimism. Stream the album in full below, and read an interview with Darkstar below.
THUMP: Foam Island marks your third album. When you look back at your first LP in 2010, how dramatically do you think you have changed as artists?
Darkstar: Massively, to be honest. When we started making 12"s for Hyperdub it was very much a case of being as clinical as possible and spending countless hours honing the track. As we developed and started to broaden our output we let go of that and were more inclined to catch a particular mood with the music rather than adjusting every detail. We were completely sick then and we're a different kind of sick now, a more mature sick.
Your work rests on a fine line somewhere between club music and the more instrumental, alternative end of the spectrum. Do you feel your music is more influenced by one atmosphere or do you enjoy spreading your sound across both?
I think both of those examples you mention play a part in keeping our interest and enthusiasm when making music. We could never just knock out 12"s for clubs. To be completely frank it's one of the most boring jobs you can do if that's your thing. It's like a test of will, that's why people that act like plumbers do it. It's a mundane existence of high hat tweaking and getting daft label tee's made. It's good to dip your toe in every now and again to make sure everything is still in tact and you can count in 16 bar cycles. What can you say about the alternative end of the spectrum? It's probably where we're most comfortable, tuning percussion and making left field classics out of it all. We've released about three seminal 12"s at this point but our albums are basically us exploring themes you can't really justify on a 12 inch. As this current record shows.
You've spoken about wanting this record to feel reflective of 2015 — how challenging is it to define or realize something contemporary?
Well I think you have to be neutral when exploring and documenting a particular period of time in a balanced fashion and this is a record that observes a number of people doing what they do in life and their own take on it. We haven't manipulated their opinion in any way so it comes from a genuine place. I think if it's authentic enough it'll stand up as a body of work.
Are there are other artists or musicians you feel have quintessentially captured or reflected our era?
I think Burial did a great job of capturing London a few years back. Earlier than that you had Mike Skinner and Dizzee Rascal. It's interesting that the most authentic attempts basically came from garage, it's difficult to fathom that so much champagne and Prada gave birth to a narrative that the three above followed and articulated into something so detailed and relevant.
Part of the project involved you speaking to late teens, and early twenty-somethings, in Huddersfield. How did their voices influence the music?
They became what informed the lyrics and sequencing of the record. The broader theme's were implemented by the people we spoke to. We merely filled in the gaps. We were able to see people in their daily habitat and capture their concerns and thoughts from their viewpoint of the world.
Did their voices and experiences feel very different to what you remember of your youths in the area?
No, I remember being in a bubble. A lot of these kids are still in a bubble. It's the security of a small town and all of what that involves. There's an ambivalence to it that is kind of hazy and beautiful, it's a very subtle difference from being caught up in a wider context at that age, you just float through life for a bit and enjoy it but feel the decisions around the corner will be of great importance. We were lucky enough to capture this feeling in a general election year when the media had almost penetrated this bubble and a political conversation was in the air.
Did that timing mean there is a sense of political disillusionment present on the record?
Yeah most definitely people literally couldn't have given a fuck about the election or who they were voting on the most part. It was a complete non event for certain people we spoke to. There was nothing to relate to, no empathy for the problems people were having on a day to day basis just different shades of grey.
Foam Island will be released on Warp on the 25th of September.