Jeff Pearson, October 23, 2010
Originally published by Life’s Sweet Breath
Eliot Lipp and Leo123 have been tearing across the country spreading the word of electronic music to more and more fans for the better part of a decade. With a rooted friendship and mutual love for music, they came together to form Dark Party. Drawing from their hip-hop oriented roots and new-found passions for house and disco, the duo laid down a full-length record, entitled Light Years, set for a November 2nd release. On the road to the big release, Dark Party will play high profile sets with Bassnectar and close out Moogfest for many attendees on Halloween. I got a chance to speak with them about Light Years, the process of creating music in a live element, and where they see electronic music fitting into the cultural landscape over the coming years.
Tactile Tracks: How did the two of you start this collaboration?
Eliot Lipp: We went to the same art school, at the San Francisco Art Institute, and we were both doing music, and so we started working together on different stuff back then. That was in 2000. Mostly just working on solo stuff and trading ideas and things. We didn’t start the project together until maybe four years or so.
Leo 123:We lived together for a while, we were roommates, and the Dark Party thing got a name and got started when I was in L.A. and he had moved to Brooklyn. I think the first thing we did was a remix for Sound Tribe, and I think that’s how the project got started.
Tactile Tracks: You’ve got your debut full-length, Light Years, coming out the beginning of November. How did the pieces of music come together for the album?
EL: Well, the first song, or one of the songs on it, we actually started it in L.A. around ’05 or ’06. It’s a song called “Easy”, and that was probably the first one we’d written. I guess the idea was to get away from sampling and get more into trying to synthesize the whole track. For that specific track, we wanted to try something that didn’t have as many samples as what we were usually doing, and something a little more upbeat. That was kind of the first one for this project; that was kind of the first track where we were like, “Yeah, let’s make a whole album like this.”
L123: All of those songs got started, like I said, when I was in L.A. and Eliot moved to Brooklyn, and we weren’t living together anymore, and we finally started working on music together. Initially, when we started working on music in San Francisco, we weren’t roommates either. So, in L.A., about four or five years ago, he would come down and we started making songs, I think, with the definite idea of making stuff that was a little bit more up-tempo, and we had just moved from Chicago at that time, so we had gotten exposed to a lot of techno, house and disco kind of stuff. So we started doing stuff together that was more along those lines than the stuff we had been doing on our own. There are a lot of songs on the album that actually are from three or four years ago and got started in L.A.
Tactile Tracks: Can you describe the recording process?
L123: We’ve tried e-mailing each other stuff, and it never really works out, so we’ve found out that we have to be in the same room together, in the same place. The songs sort of start with different things, for example, in the beginning it was a lot of disco records I had, and a lot of R&B. I was working at Amoeba Records in Hollywood at the time, so I had access to a lot of music. I think initially when he came down to L.A., I was playing him a lot of that stuff, and we started making music together based on some of those samples, or based on some of those ideas and some of the songs we were hearing. We work with a lot of hardware too, so that’s another sort of throwback thing. Typically we just write the song; he usually works on some of the drums or some of things that are more detail-oriented, and then I’ll usually just play on a synth or the Wurlitzer electric piano, and just play a lot of stuff until we start agreeing on things. Sometimes we’re playing at the same time, but we’re not even playing the same thing. Once somebody hears something they like, then we just start building on top of that, whether it’s a rhythm, or certain drums or melody, or certain chord progression. That’s usually how the songs get written.
EL: We did a lot of different types of recording. Some of it was done in Reason, but for most of it, we record everything in Ableton Live. The MPC-2000, we’ll use that as the main drum machine and sampler on most of the songs. We would just go through a lot of records and look for samples and a capellas to chop up and use some of the voices from. The drum programming was a big part of it too, just trying to make disco beats without live drums.
“As much as electronic music wants to take over in certain scenes, the crowd is still responding to the element of performance, and I respect that. I think that’s something really cool about live music.”
Tactile Tracks: Stylistically, the album covers a wide range of electronica and dance over the span of twelve songs. What styles of music most influence the music you yourselves make?
EL: I’d say when we’re working together, we’re mostly drawing from early ‘80s electro, some Chicago house, and acid house. ‘80s and ‘90s dance music is a big inspiration to us, on that record especially. Our background is making real gritty hip-hop, kind of like El-P and Company Flow used to make. That, and Alchemist, or Just Blaze; we were really doing hip-hop for a long time, so switching up a doing a dance record was so different for us. At the same time, we were able to incorporate the way we were using samples in our hip-hop beats, just doing more up-tempo, dancier versions of it.
L123: I think the music we make together is really influenced by disco and eighties hip-hop. I think those are the records we were listening to, and that was sort of the jumping off point for both of us, because we’re both really interested in hip-hop, and have been for a long time. Disco was something that we were both getting into at the time that proved to be an influence on the way we wrote, and we approached them more as writing songs than making tracks. So disco is a really good combination of something that sounds like a track, but has all the movements of a song, all the chord progressions and the breakdowns, and things like that. So I would say those are the two main influences or the two main starting points for us.
Tactile Tracks: Is there anything in particular you might have been listening to at the time that directly influenced the direction of the album?
EL: We listened to a lot of Metro Area. When we were making that record, we were listening to a lot of Metro Area, some of the playhouse stuff. Mostly minimal techno some disco, and some boogie, and funk. I listen to a lot funk, Leo’s not so much into it, but that’s one thing I’m really influenced by. You know, Ray Parker Jr. and Zapp And Roger. I really like a lot of the ‘80s funk.
Tactile Tracks: Sharing the stage with the likes of Sound Tribe Sector 9, Bassnectar and Pretty Lights has surely exposed your music to many people over the past year. How has the response been to the sets you’ve played so far?
L123: The response is usually really cool, especially because Eliot has played on his own a lot in a lot of these places we’ve been playing, and I’ve gotten a chance to play as a solo artist too in a lot of those same cities and those same places. I think the things we make as Dark Party are a little bit more upbeat, and a little bit more on the typical dance sort of thing. So it’s outside of the music that I hear a lot from other people when we’re playing, and the response has been really positive. I think since it’s a little bit more upbeat, it’s a bit of a change from the music that’s going on all night, and we try to really have fun when we play live too. A lot of the upbeat feeling in the music, we try to recreate some of that onstage when we play live. So the crowds have been really good, and everybody has been really positive about it, and it’s cool exposing people to new styles and things that they might have heard a little bit here and there.
Tactile Tracks: With so many concert and festival-goers really finding themselves a home in the electronic scene, how do you see the live music scene as a whole playing out over the next few years?
EL: In the last ten years or so, I’ve noticed a few things that have happened. One thing is that fans of electronic music, as much as they get into electronic music, there is still a need for a live element to the show, you know? So I think groups that have that, and I’m necessarily saying that they have a drummer, or they play some instruments along with their set, but just an element to the show, where you feel like there’s a performance happening. I could even say that about Nosaj Thing, and his visual show where he’s got an interactive video element going on with him and his visuals. Even Diplo. He’s just up there djing on Serato, but he’s got that energy and he keeps jumping on the mic, and he’s just wildin’ out, and you feel like you’re really at a show. It’s not somebody djing. I think a lot of people are realizing that you’ve still got to perform. You can’t just get up on a laptop and play tracks. I think that’s always going to be around. As much as electronic music wants to take over in certain scenes, the crowd is still responding to the element of performance, and I respect that. I think that’s something really cool about live music.
L123: I think it’s good, it’s gotten a lot easier for electronic musicians to play, especially in the U.S. in the last two or three years. A lot of venues are more prepared for you. It used to be, when we did shows three or four years ago, it was either in a club, where it was more of a DJ type of setup, or it was more of a venue that typically handles rock bands. I think now, and especially in the coming years, venues and the crowds are just going to be more aware, more prepared for what a live electronic PA sort of entails. I’ve noticed in the clubs now, it’s not as a big of a shock going in somewhere with a laptop or a table full of synths and hardware, and I think that’s just going to keep going. There’s some places now, like Low End Theory in L.A., or here in Chicago where I live, there’s the Moment Sound guys throwing a lot of weeklies, It’s catering specifically to the type of music that we make, which is something new. Usually you have to, when you play live, cater what you do to the venue or to the setup they have, and now it’s kind of switching around to where those venues are catering more to you, and know exactly what to expect from you. I think that’s just going to keep getting more and more refined; I think in the future, there’s going to be a lot more venues for artists like us to play, that are excited about it and pushing this type of music more and more.
Tactile Tracks: Yeah, you see venues popping up all the time now with more and more electronic acts coming in.
L123: Yeah, and certain nights too, you know? There’s certain things dedicated specifically to it. Like here in Chicago, there’s this place, Empty Bottle, that’s usually an indie rock place, and that’s where a lot of the electronic shows were happening. So it’s kind of one night out of twenty, or one night out of ten, and now there seem to be more and more specific nights built around the idea of listening to this type of music or going out and seeing people perform it, which is pretty awesome.
“It’s nice to have those elements of improvisation in the set, because it gives us more to do, and gives us that vibe of taking risks.”
Tactile Tracks: When playing a live set, is there a certain level of improvisation involved?
L123: Mostly because I’m not that good at playing, but yeah. (Laughs) I mean, on Eliot’s side, we rarely have a setlist, as far as a song-by-song type of thing; we have a general idea of which songs we’ll be choosing from. There’s a certain amount of improvising where, the way he mixes the songs is different every night, and the effects he uses, and the order of the songs is different. On my side, I’ll play the bass line live every time, or the chords, and I’ll play it the same, but there’s a lot of things, depending on how the night is, or how much fun I’m having that night. I think it gets changed up slightly night by night, and the way I play is different depending on how the show is going, and things like that.
EL: Oh yeah, definitely. We’re always communicating on stage too. Our manager, the other day, was talking about having us on two separate tables on risers, on different sides of the stage to sort of make it a bigger show, but I like being on one table where we’re standing right next to each other while we’re playing. We’re always yelling at each other and shit, and just cracking up or talking about what to do next. There’s an improv element but we don’t do like bands do where we have signs to throw to each other, or try to give each other a look before we switch up to the next part. I just straight up yell at him, “Hey I’m going to switch to the hook now!” (Laughs) But the crowd can’t hear us because the music is so loud, but we’re out there talking the whole time. There are certain songs that we play through a little more stiff, and then there are some songs that we break up into little pieces where we can totally change the whole track, however we want when we play it live. It’s nice to have those elements of improvisation in the set, because it gives us more to do, and gives us that vibe of taking risks. Also, just being able to hear the response of the crowd. If there’s a certain part that you can tell they’re into, then we can extend it and make it even harder.
Tactile Tracks: What can we expect from your Moogfest set?
EL: We’re both going to be bringing out synthesizers. Leo’s bringing out his Moog Prodigy, and it’s definitely because of Moogfest. He wants to have his Moog onstage because of the festival. We’ll doing a lot of live synths, and we’re going to play just about everything on the Light Years album, but we’ll be doing live versions of it all. We’ll definitely have some jams; one thing we do a lot is when we have a song or two that we’re in the middle of, that we’re not finished with, we’ll create a live version of the songs to test out on crowds. There’s a couple songs that we’ve been playing out lately that aren’t necessarily finished yet, but they’re fun to work with live, and I know we’ll be dropping some of those.
L123: I think for the Moogfest set, for most of our sets, we really put an emphasis on the live element, which is something that was really important to me. We both play on our own a lot, so to me, if we were going to play together, I didn’t want it to be two guys with two laptops and two controllers. So, lately, and for the Moog set, we’ve been trying to build on something where there are still some of those elements going on, and that’s mostly being handled on Eliot’s side, which is a lot of the mixing and effects, and a lot of the things you would sort of hear from his solo set or my solo set. Then on my part, I’m not bringing a laptop at all, so I’m just bringing all hardware on my side, and I do a lot of the playing live on a synthesizer and on a drum machine. So, hopefully you can expect a good mix of live music and performance combined with some of what you usually get with an electronic act. There’s a lot of mixing, the software, and a lot of the effects, and sort of re-doing all the tracks on the spot with the computer, but on my side I’m trying to add sort of a live element to it, which is playing the keyboard live and playing a lot of the hardware live, and making the songs a little bit different every time we play.
Tactile Tracks: How has Moog been as far as reaching out to you guys and bringing Dark Party into the lineup?
EL: It’s been awesome, we were added on just a couple of months ago, and we got really stoked when we got the invitation. The lineup was already blowing my mind when they asked us.
L123: We’ve both been really, for this project particularly, involved in that. We’ve always collected older synthesizers and drum machines and equipment. I’ve had a Moog, I think for about six or seven years now. Hardware, and companies like Moog are always something we have around, and something we’re always checking in on, so it was awesome to get invited to play this festival. I really felt like it fit us, as a group, especially with the emphasis on hardware and synthesizers.
Tactile Tracks: Have you ever been to Asheville?
EL: Oh yeah, I’ve played Asheville a bunch of times. I’ve played Orange Peel a few times, and played at the University there. There was a Tron-A-Thon festival I played once before. I love Asheville; it’s one of my favorite towns.
Tactile Tracks: Can you recommend any good restaurants or other spots of interest in Asheville to the Moogfest attendees?
EL: Yeah, Tupelo Honey.
Tactile Tracks: Yeah, I heard about that place, with the sweet potato pancakes?
EL: I was going to say, that’s a great breakfast spot.
L123: Asheville is always a place we sort of look forward to because you know the food is going to be really good, compared to some of the other places we’ve been, and there’s a lot of really good vegetarian things to eat, and more of a variety than some of the other cities in that area.
Tactile Tracks: Are you going to be able to catch any sets during your time in Asheville?
L123: We both play the 29th with Bassnectar in Milwaukee, and Eliot has a show the 30th, and I have something in Chicago the 30th, so we’ll be able to see some of the shows that night, but none from the previous nights.
EL: We’re playing right after El-P, and he’s someone I’ve been wanting to see, but I definitely have to look over the lineup again and pick out exactly who we’re going to check out over there.
Tactile Tracks: What are the plans for the future?
L123: Light Years is coming out November 2nd, and we’ve had a couple of singles come out, songs from the album, with remixes and stuff that have been out for a couple of months now. After the full-length comes out, we’re doing some shows in December, which is with the group named Boombox. So we’ll be hopefully on the road with them for a couple of weeks in December. Then in January, we’re getting something ready to mix and master another EP, which is all new stuff. This album has been in the works for quite a few years, so we have a lot of music that’s new and that’s ready to go out.
EL: Next year we’re going to do a full nationwide tour as Dark Party, and hit all the major cities, and a few in between.