Culture

Darkish Dares to Disturb the Universe with their New EP

Image: Alessandro del Vigna and Matteo Pupa at work, in black and white. via Halycon Wax

Darkish is the creation of Italian duo Alessandro Del Vigna and Matteo Pupa. The alias is a platform for Del Vigna and Pupa’s ambient, synthy, film soundtrack-inspired music projects. First formed in a squat in Berlin during 2013, Darkish has had two physical releases to date: a 2015 debut 12” titled No Self featuring a remix by Detroit Techno legend Gari Romalis, and a 2016 collaborative 12” with Chicago House veterans Virgo Four entitled Perpetuate Landscapes. In January 2021, Darkish is releasing their third musical venture, an EP titled Dare I Disturb the Universe –a nod to T.S. Elliot’s first published poem, ‘The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock’ – this time on limited edition cassette tape. I chatted with Del Vigna about spinning records in Berlin, the decision to release on cassette, and how different urban environments affect music production. 

Del Vigna begins in the “smoky clubs and bars” of his early 2010s’ “Berlin Bubble” when tracing the evolution of the Darkish project. He moved from Italy to the German capital at the age of 18. There, he split his time waiting on movie stars at the Berlin Intranational Film Festival’s Kulinarisches Kino (Culinary Cinema) and arguing about bands like CAN DAF and Cabaret Voltaire in record shops “with strangers who”, Del Vigna remembers, “snubbed you if you mentioned Depeche Mode and didn’t know Alan Wilder’s solo project; Recoil.” 

When Del Vigna first started DJing he would secretly play MP3s with the sound turned down whilst spinning random vinyls: “I couldn’t afford a collection to hold up an entire evening, [but] day by day I was expanding my musical horizons a lot. I was so hungry for music.” In his spare moments he would work remotely with Pupa over Skype: “Every now and then [Pupa] would join me in Berlin, and we would lock ourselves in my room, in endless sessions. Then to refresh our minds we would go to Hardwax or Oye to listen to records.” The record shops Hardwax and Oye are sites of pilgrimage for all self-respecting German techno fans. 

Del Vigna admits that he was trying to manipulate Pupa’s style whenever he visited: “I was trying to frame him, making him hear only the rawest things because I insisted on a dirtier sound for our tracks. There were times when we got totally blocked by our different visions, others when the magic unfolded, and the tunes came out almost by themselves.” 

“There were times when we got totally blocked by our different visions, others when the magic unfolded, and the tunes came out almost by themselves.”

Although the new EPwas largely produced during those days in Germany, Del Vigna has since returned to Italy and is now working from Milan. I asked him if the city he lives in has any influence on the sort of music he produces. The short answer was: Yes. A lot. Del Vigna looks back on his time in Berlin as an “ongoing workshop”, no doubt due to the musical foundations he was laying for himself during his perpetual hunt through record shops across the city. He also points to the “dark, melancholic atmospheres of the city” as the inspiration behind the ‘Darkish’ moniker. 

Milan is a “totally different situation. Here glitter and fashion reigns, and it’s also in the music.” Consequently, there is a bigger appetite for the overproduced products of the commercial music industry, something Del Vigna finds discouraging, “to come across someone just to talk about Joy Division or New Order is a miracle here.” A world of polish can blind you from the raw and genuine; “you forget the myriad of beautiful things that still continue to come out in the underground scene.” 

I’m led to hypothesise that change of environment from the one that gave birth to Darkish may be an explanation for the duo’s lack of releases since 2016. “We got discouraged because we didn’t have any feedback, not even from our own circle, [who are] still largely unaware of our musical project today.” But Del Vigna points to the advice of his idols as a motivating force that kept the project alive, “we had the great luck to get in touch and work with international professionals who trusted us right from the beginning, such as Virgo Four, Gari Romalis, and Orlando Voorn [who provide] unexpected ‘niche’ feedback from abroad.” 

A world of polish can blind you from the raw and genuine; “you forget the myriad of beautiful things that still continue to come out in the underground scene.”

It is Orlando Voorn, another Detroit techno pioneer, that has provided a remix on the latest EP – though you’ll need to buy the cassette to hear it. Del Vigna had met him at an event back in Berlin and was “so impressed by his skills behind the decks. He could fade-in the upcoming track and match its tempo straight away, even without pre-listening on headphones.” Five years later Del Vigna reached out to ask if he’d like to collaborate on the new EP. 

The EP itself is a love letter to 80’s film scores, in particular, John Carpenter’s haunting soundtracks. Both Del Vigna and Pupa have experience working in film production. Del Vigna was named Executive Producer on one of Abel Ferrara’s latest projects: Siberia, starring Willem Defoe, was in competition for the Golden Bear at this year’s Berlin International Film Festival. Pupa has worked on the scores for the last two Gabriele Salvatores’ films.

Del Vigna recounted what seemed to be a typical story of being introduced to a film through first discovering its soundtrack. “I discovered William Friedkin’s Sorcerer in a dusty record shop in Berlin, where I came across and immediately fell in love with the soundtrack by Tangerine Dream. They seemed to me like self-sufficient and accomplished tracks, without having seen the movie. I later found out through the Director himself that the German Band had not previously seen the scenes on which to insert their music but started from the impressions generated by reading the script.” 

Do I Dare Disturb the Universe is a three-track offering (excluding the cassette only bonus track) and is a great homage to the decade that brought us Blade Runner and Miami Vice. The first track, Prelude to the Stars, is an ambient, swelling prelude that ends with a minute of fantastic bouncy synths. Del Vigna and Pupa hold off on the ‘darkness’ that is their namesake for a moment and the result is lively and optimistic. The second track, Do I Dare, evokes images of smoky streets tinted pink and blue by neon lights; a pure Synthwave pastiche. Disturb the Universe rounds the EP out with a driving beat and analogue chirps that Jan Hammer would be proud of. If anything, I found the project a little short and was left hungry for more after the quick 11-minute runtime. Listeners of the cassette, with its exclusive remix of Prelude to the Stars by Orlando Voorn, may find its extended length more satisfying. 

“[A physical cassette] somehow implies persistence, in this unromantic digital era, when everything gets lost in a sea of data.”

I asked Del Vigna why they had decided to go with a cassette release in 2020, assuming it had something to do with the 80s ‘Walkman’ aesthetic. He admitted that “the cassette is apparently a totally obsolete plastic object,” but that he also views the format as “so romantic compared to CDs and MP3.” This is because “it somehow implies persistence, in this unromantic digital era, when everything gets lost in a sea of data. Everyone can see the difference between preparing a playlist cassette for seducing someone, a common situation in the 80s or 90s… and a playlist on Spotify. Too easy!” Speaking from experience, collecting cassettes it a lot more exciting than experiencing music digitally. Owning physical copies of media will always be appealing to hardcore fans. Just look at the recent vinyl resurgence. 

Do I Disturb the Universe can be streamed for free on Darkish’s Soundcloud page right now. Pre-orders for the cassette are available on Darkish’s Bandcamp and will be shipping out on January 11th

Edited 20:22 09/01/21 to correct the duo’s involvement in music for film.

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