Huddersfield (UK) dance duo Darkstar are very much a vibe act. James Young and Aiden Whalley operate in the soft, synthy underbelly of dubstep, producing mood-led, slow-building tracks that ebb and flow, their sum greater than their gently-fused parts.
There’s a melancholy to that sound, personified in hit single ‘Aidy’s Girl Is A Computer’ and third album ‘Foam Island’. It’s vibe that the DJ pair have riffed off in recent years as they’ve pulled back on the live shows, becoming a club dancefloor mainstay, and taken the time to drop it all in favour of projects that take a deep dive into the pair’s tonally beautiful disaffection.
“We were approached about putting together a project on migrant communities in inner-city Liverpool,” Whalley says of their latest project away from the decks, Trackbed. “We liked the idea of it, and spent a few months working on it. It’s been our main focus. I think it’s hard at times to just crack on making tunes.”
“At times it gets too cyclical, and we just wanted to try something else. We liked the idea of scoring things, putting installations together. It makes us think about things rather than sit in a studio. Obviously politically it resonates, too [the pair are noted for their left-leaning approach to social issues].”
“In Trackbed they kind of had a concept in mind for us, but we’ve also done work about young people in Huddersfield.” The duo have named a number of releases after Huddersfield postcodes, in fact, in tributes to their origins. “I think the idea, though we didn’t want to explicitly say it, was to look at how little they care about politics, how disaffected they are.”
The Liverpudlian production saw Darkstar taking a break from the new album in order to soundtrack an electronic exhibition in the city that focuses critically on the UK and India’s shared history, zooming in on heritage and migration. It was the product of a long-standing residency at Harthill Youth Centre in the city, and went on to be aired at London’s Barbican Centre.
The band’s sound has subtly evolved in the meantime, presenting new challenges to Young in particular, who appears vocally on tracks for the first time. The band traditionally shy away from personal focus, preferring dingy atmospherics, and to let their sound do the talking, so this is quite a change.