In conversation with Dark Sky

It’s been a busy year for south Londoners Matt Benyayer and Tom Edwards, aka Dark Sky. Since releasing their captivating, atmospheric album Othona on Monkeytown Records back in April, the duo have been performing all around the UK and Europe, practicing and perfecting their live show.

Othona may only be their second LP, but it’s part of an expansive body of work that stretches all the way back to 2009 and features releases on labels including 50WEAPONS (RIP), Mister Saturday Night, Naked Naked, as well as remixes for Bombay Bicycle club, The xx, Kelis, Tim Sweeney and Maya Jane Coles.

Combining wide-ranging influences from UK bass to contemporary techno–and some serious hardware–their music just seems to have a distinctive feel to it: a shifting arrangement of eclectic, scattered rhythms, analogue curiosities, and questing synths with an often brooding undertone.

Ahead of their next performance–a live set at boutique electronic music and arts festival Deep South–we caught up with the twosome to find out more about their process, influences, and what’s going down in south London’s music scene these days.

There’s so much talk about London’s nightlife dying and the impact that has on the homegrown music industry, but in south London, especially around Peckham, it always seems like people are getting out there, making and doing stuff; you have places like Bussey Building, Rye Wax, parties and labels like Rhythm Section, and all these independent radio stations springing up. How would you describe the state of the scene there at the moment?

Very vibrant actually, there’s a new generation of upcoming artists wanting to express themselves, which is really helping push things forward. Alongside the recent addition of the 24-hour night tube, there’s also a host of new venues starting to spring up, which is very positive news. Places like Printworks, The Nines, Brilliant Corners, to name but a few, are fab places worth checking out. It’s also great to see live music making such a strong comeback, especially in the jazz world.

It feels like there’s a really strong sense of musical community there (as well as the arts in general), do you think that makes it easier for new artists to emerge and get their stuff heard? Is there anyone you’ve got your eyes (or ears) on at the moment?

Definitely, it feels like the explosion of internet radio has contributed quite a bit towards breaking new talent. We get sent demos regularly for our NTS show which we always make an effort to sift through. Some artists and DJs that we’ve been keeping tabs on of late are Sapphire Slows, Alleged Witches, Nathan Melja, Felix Leifur, Ruffien, Half Nelson, Cain, Mculo, Swarthy Korwar, Saiorse, Jess Farley, and Krywald & Farrer.

It’s well known as the birthplace of dubstep, would you say there’s a particular vibe or sound to the music that you’ve heard coming out of south London right now?

It’s changed for sure, there isn’t one dominant sound like there was back when dubstep was at the fore; it’s kind of splintered and morphed into a whole wave of new artists and sounds, which is exciting.

Do you think the nightlife there has its own character– as opposed to, say, east London?

That’s a tough one; both have their strengths and weaknesses and both cross over in lots of areas, but generally south London nightlife feels a bit more relaxed for us personally.

You’re both south London boys born and bred – do you think growing up and living there has influenced your sound? Musical influences aside, do you think the visual and more general sensory experience of living there has an impact? (Burial and night buses springs to mind…)

For sure, there’s no escaping the environment in which you grow up in and how it shapes your sound subconsciously, even if it’s the little things like hearing jungle blaring out of a car whilst en route to the studio. We’re currently based in south Bermondsey, which has quite a sparse feeling to it that can inadvertently create an atmosphere that’s hard to escape. The interesting bit for us is trying to channel this energy into creating something new, no matter the sound or emotion you’re trying to convey.

I read recently that you’re big into field recordings, which you’ve used a lot on Othona. What kind of sounds did you record? Do you have a favourite? What was the weirdest?

All sorts of sounds really! One that made it on to the album was a recording of drum circles jamming in the main square of Jemaa el-Fnaa in Marrakech, which you can hear on our track Angels. A bit closer to home, we recorded the sounds of air conditioning units whilst walking around the block of our studio¬ and these ended up on the track Acacia.

You’re known for your live performances and are playing live at Deep South. Talk us through your current setup and what we can expect? Has the format of your shows changed a lot over the years?

The current setup has evolved quite a bit since our first live show tour back in 2014. The drum kit has now been replaced with two Pioneer SP-16s that feed into a Midas mixing desk helping, us to transition between tracks. We also use an Octatrack, Novation Bass station, Pioneer AS-1, Korg Volca Bass, Elektron Analog Keys, ERM midi clock, RE-20 space echo and a Boss RV-6 reverb pedal. There are no set roles, which is quite liberating, and there’s a lot of movement onstage, where each of us can be operating any one piece of gear at a time.

Does playing live impact the way you produce in the studio – and vice versa?

For sure: first of all we’ve found that we’re standing up way more in the studio of late! We’re also making an effort trying to write new material using this live show setup so that when we come to perform it live it feels much more natural and it means we’re in a better place to start improvising on the track from the get go. Our latest single The Passenger actually evolved out of a rehearsal session for The Walker.

Dark Sky

Do you think it’s important for electronic artists to be able to play live, or is it just a matter of preference? How would you say it compares to DJing as an experience – both for you guys, and for the audience?

Not necessarily: it’s not essential to play live if you don’t feel like you want to. It really depends on how you want to express yourself as an artist. One of the advantages of playing live is the way it forces you to dissect your own material and experiment with reimagining it; this makes it exciting for us every time and hopefully for the listener too.

Early on we had confidence issues with how the show might sound out front…we’re always striving to improve on this through trial and error. The key to progressing for us was letting go of the notion that the show needed to be totally ‘polished’, but instead embracing the fact that it was more a about creating a vibe and taking the listener on a journey featuring all the gear that we used to make the actual record.

2017 has been a busy year so far: you’ve released a whole new album, and have been touring all over the place. Do you have any highlights from the tour? I see you played Fabric’s legendary Room 1 for the first time recently–how was that?

Highlights would have to be playing Glastonbury, and playing on the island of Obonjan in an old amphitheatre was very special. Getting to play fabric was a dream come true for us!

Who are you looking forward to seeing at Deep South?

Too many to mention! Let’s see…Andrew Ashong, Alex Nut, Throwing Snow, Afriquoi, Carmody, Little Cub, Alyusha, The Reflex, Medlar, the list goes on!

Deep South

Dark Sky perform live at Deep South Festival on on September 8-10. More info and tickets here

Words: Sonia Williams

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