Hyponik

Darko Esser

Gestures: Darko Esser/Tripeo

Hyponik met Darko Esser before a gig at Machine, to discuss the making of his new Tripeo album ‘Anipintiros’, and corresponding live show.

Sat in the office of South-London venue Corsica Studios, with the muffled sound of Sandrien’s opening set coming from next door and a certain, legendary Techno DJ occasionally interrupting our conversation, Darko is about to begin his weekend. First a Tripeo live show in the main room, then a Darko Esser DJ set in room two. On Saturday, he heads back home for work, and on Sunday to Amsterdam, to play the Raad Van Elf carnival at Trouw.

After 14 years, Darko is still working as the booker for Doornroosje, in Nijmegen. His curatorial work in the industry is just as important as his own music, as it keeps him involved in dance music generally, as a fan and diverse listener. He puts together the Dubstep nights with a local crew, the Drum & Bass nights, the House and Techno ones, and until recently, Hip-Hop, R&B and Disco nights. Darko only books himself three or four times a year, and always plays for free.

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His music under his own name has, over the last decade, taken in a range of different styles. From big-room Tech-House to quirky Electronica, he has graced labels such as Ovum, Theory, Curle, and Perc Trax, as well as his own labels Balans and Wolfskuil. Darko Esser releases have been consistently imaginative. Light and dark sounds work together where they probably shouldn’t, all in search for balance, or what the Dutch call balans. His track titles are similarly playful, often made-up words or anagrams, either that or polar opposites like ‘Broken’ and ‘Fixed’.

Tripeo is a different beast entirely. Its sound palette is focused and decidedly purist, aimed at getting the most out of the fewest possible elements. It started just 18 months ago, and has so far issued five, vinyl-only Trips. Five 12″s of functional club music whose DJ support is too extensive to list. “When I go into the studio, I go with an open mind, but 80-90% of the tracks are turning out to be Tripeo ones. I just go with it.” Though the new album’s title is also an anagram, true to the project’s nature, all the individual tracks are untitled. Anipintiros #1- #8 are purpose-built for the club, ‘there’s no need for names’. Darko decided he wanted to write another album, and gave himself 3 months to do it: ‘I wanted to see how flexible the Tripeo sound could be without compromising the purist attitude. The only restriction is that it has to be Techno, my take on Techno. The 90s transformed to now’.

Darko has released a vast proportion of his music himself, including his debut album back in 2009, and this one. Sometimes he will just go on instinct, but more often, he plays tracks to close friends, that are music lovers but not DJs. ‘They give me an honest opinion, about my tracks as pieces of music, rather than just whether they’ll play them at the weekend’. The Tripeo album vinyl, like all Balans and Wolfskuil records, will be made available globally by Belgian distributor N.E.W.S, but they played no role in the writing process.

His two labels have themselves become credible outposts for underground dance music. Balans focuses on releasing techno, so far including records by Samuli Kemppi, Jeroen Search, ROD, and Cadans. But, for Wolfskuil, and its sub-label Wolfskuil Ltd., anything goes. Established names like Joris Voorn, Steve Rachmad, Tommy Four Seven, and Benny Rodrigues have featured, alongside new Dutch talents Doka, Frits Wentink, and Sandrien. The next release on Balans is Jordan Peak’s ‘Maslow Theory’ EP, then Nphonix. On Wolfskuil, next is Doka, then a Benny Rodrigues single and Rødhåd remix.

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‘Anipintiros’ is music to get lost in. The tracks are dense and hypnotic, often otherworldly. 303 lines, Detroit-esque, sci-fi synths, complex rhythms and beatless moments, are bound by expertly-engineered kick drums and nightclub know-how. The unconventional percussion patterns and kaleidoscopic breakdowns set it apart from the five Trips so far; it is more subtle and personal, and, in my mind, the best Tripeo material to date.

The corresponding live set, I’m shown during the Machine soundcheck, uses a flexible and travel-friendly setup: a laptop running Ableton, an Akai APC40 controller, a Korg Kaospad and a NI Audio 8 card. Darko is now more often booked for the live show than to DJ, usually for an hour, sometimes 90 minutes. ‘Ninety minutes is enough. It asks a lot from me concentration-wise. I have to watch the crowd and think a few minutes ahead, otherwise I get completely lost! It’s all short loops, so if I’m not working the mixer or using effects, nothing is happening’.

His live shows in relatively small spaces, like Corsica, differ greatly from the warehouse or festival gigs. ‘When I’m playing live to a big crowd in a big venue, I feel I have to include more – what I call – gestures. More breakdowns, more fucking around with effects etc. At Time Warp last year I played at 2am between Gary Beck and Dettmann, there were around 5000 people there and I was shitting myself! For those kind of gigs you can’t really try to build the set slowly, there isn’t the intimacy of a small club. You can’t see people’s expressions, just a sea of faces. As a matter of taste, I prefer the smaller gigs, but it’s a different kind of rush. The difference between the two is what makes me enjoy them both’.

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Following the album release there will be a tour, with dates so far confirmed across the Netherlands, Spain, Austria and France. Following that, there are ‘Anipintiros’ remixes confirmed from Ben Sims, Mike Parker, Cadans, and Exium. Oh and the anagram: Anipintiros = Inspiration.

‘Anipintiros’ will be available on 2×12″ and digitally from the Darko Esser Bandcamp page from April 13.

Richard Akingbehin