After lurking in the shadows for years, a project called DARKER emerges, bringing on the weather their debut EP ‘Rainy Days’. On this EP, we find a mix of darkwave, synth-pop, electro and overall a melancholic, dark but still hopeful atmosphere. DARKER comes out of the shadows, to invite you to get in and start exploring your own.
The trio got inspired by Nine Inch Nails, Depeche Mode, Nick Cave and overall thrilling electronic beats. During this interview, we discuss the rise of darkwave music, the concept of music being four-dimensional, the tragedy of being an artist, and more with artistic mind Jeps Salfischberger and the vocalist of irony Valerio Recenti. Let’s explore the dark side and maybe we get lucky finding something like a grand plan!
‘Welcome to the DARKER site’. It’s the first phrase one finds when exploring your dark platform. Funny, and it also makes me curious as to what’s that about.
Jeps: “Obviously, it’s a funny reference to Star Wars. There’s a phrase in there that says: Join the Dark side. Our project DARKER is even darker than the dark side! And, why DARKER as our band name? It sounds good and, somehow, it feels good.”
Valerio: “It reflects where a lot of inspiration comes from. It’s funny how when times are the darkest, people like you and me find each other often by using irony.”
Jeps: “We use a lot of connections to pop art or popular culture. When DARKER started it was only a one-man band with me. Although the band name was already DARKER, my artist name was Donnie Darker, which is a reference to the movie Donnie Darko. It’s one of my other favourite movies. Later on, we became a duo, and when we asked Valerio we became a trio.”
When did you start the project as DARKER?
Jeps: “I think the moment when we felt like the direction of the project is where we want to have it, was in August 2020. Back then, Evelien had already joined and I put an advertisement on Facebook saying; ‘a Depeche Mode/ Nine Inch Nails kind of band is looking for a singer’. This man, who I have known for a long time from his previous band, My Propane, reacted.”
Valerio: “Yeah, we are suckers for this scene.”
Jeps: “He sent me two demo’s. One as an assignment and one free-style on an instrumental and we felt instant love.”
DARKER is inspired by bands like Depeche Mode and Nine Inch Nails?
Jeps: “It’s a long list but we’re basically inspired by 80’s and 90’s industrial.”
Valerio: “Let’s say 80’s darkwave and 90’s industrial. The nicer parts of Electro Pop. Within these genres, there are works of art and crimes against humanity alike. It’s one of the genres that when you know exactly where to find and make a good part of it, everybody with a wink of good recognition would know exactly where you’re coming from musically. Whilst other people instead will sort of frown, thinking [wrongly] about the very cheesy 80’s music with the big hair people that had not that many ideas.”
So darkwave and industrial music filter the ‘good people’ out?
Valerio: “Absolutely! All music does that. When you listen to good music, you’re generally a good person and vice versa. Oh yeah, I’m that terrible!”
Jeps: “I’m still a big sucker for the TV show Top Pop which has specials like The 80s. When I’m watching that show I’ll be going like; ‘don’t like this one, don’t like this one, don’t like this one… Ah! The Cure!.. Don’t like this one… Ah! Depeche Mode!’, Yes like that!, and so on.”
Valerio: “I see how you filter through things…”
Jeps: “Man, in the early days you had to look through an entire evening of MTV to filter out the good stuff! The BBC also had a version called Top of the Pops. There I saw the development from Disco, Funk and Reggae into Electronic Music. I remember one of the episodes being about Gary Numan, who caused a demonstration by the BBC orchestra. Before him, every performing band had the orchestra playing along from the side. But Gary Numan didn’t need one, so the people from the orchestra were demonstrating as they were scared of losing their jobs. And, of course, eventually, they did!”
Valerio: “All because of Gary Newman!”
Jeps: “Afterwards came a whole generation of synthesizer artists and most of them were really dark. This is basically the start of where our love for that kind of music starts.”
What inspires you about dark synth music?
Jeps: “The melancholic sounds and the lyrics, which are most of the time really deep, but in a way positive as well. There’s irony in some of the lyrics. For example: ‘love will tear us apart’. That’s already said, and then it adds: ‘AGAIN’. That’s what I love! It goes deep.”
Valerio: “The coolest bands almost always add an ironic part, like Depeche Mode. If you’re a fan then you know it’s a pretty dark group of people that go really deep but at the same time, they have this ironic image. They know how to do it and it makes you feel closer as a fan because one feels closer to people that don’t take themselves too seriously. And the thing is, the music can be very elegant in that genre as well.”
Do you think the music of DARKER is elegant?
Valerio: “Saying yes always sounds presumptuous, but we do care about details in the music. Especially when it comes to Jeps’ work who does most of the writing. You can tell there’s an aesthetic about it… He has a wealth of, first of all, speed and creativity that is pretty killing and then a wealth of material as well. Of course, that’s where we started developing from.”
Jeps: “We are not lazy musicians. If that cliche still exists then we do not want to be part of it. We think about everything! The name DARKER, the font, how it looks, what images fit the name and music… For example, all the artwork of our releases so far represent something and connect to each other. Each artwork shows a different flower and each flower represents the season that the release is in.
The release then again is connected to that season. There are these little details in our work that if you don’t know about it, you might see a nice cover and you hear a nice song and EP, but when you dive deeper there’s always something bigger. That’s the artist in all of us that wants to bring a deeper message. There’s a big plan behind it and there’s a lot of thought. But, don’t ask me about the big plan yet, that’s developing.”
Valerio: “The big plan is in the unknown…”
What’s your vision of music as art?
Jeps: “Music is four-dimensional, which might sound weird because music basically is two-dimensional. But music can bring me back in time and bring me forward in time. When it brings me back in time it reminds me not only of where I was or what I thought but of the smells as well. It might remind me of terrible teenage sweat in a small room somewhere. And music is… It flies around in space. So we basically give everything thought. What’s the grand plan? We try to become good in everything we do and get appreciated for that.
Hopefully, people will love it. And I think music is the best way! Looking at movies, even the big Star Wars fan in me has to agree. I watched it maybe a hundred times, which is no lie, but to certain Depeche Mode or Nine Inch Nails tracks, I’ve listened over 6000 times! I never get bored of music. Because, with music other than movies and series, you can close your eyes and make up your own images. That’s why I think it’s four-dimensional. That’s why I choose music. I did art school, and even back then my teacher said: ‘you need to go into the music and forget about the whole art thing because music is your art’..”
Is there something from art school that you now take with you in your music?
Jeps: “There is this one-liner from our teacher in art history which I’ll always remember. He pointed at us students and said: ‘you guys make something out of nothing and nobody’s waiting for it’. It hit me in the face, but that’s what art is all about. We make music for ourselves and hopefully, other people will fall in love with it as well. If they don’t, too bad for us, we’ll stay underground.”
How, as an artist, do you make music for yourself? What does the music do for you?
Jeps: “To me, it was very therapeutic. Especially, because DARKER was stored on a shelf from time to time, but always stayed in my head. I knew the direction I wanted it to go, but I didn’t want to sing anymore. Then the lockdown came and instead of going to four concerts a week, I locked myself up in my home studio and I started writing songs.”
Valerio: “I think music might be the fastest way you have to communicate something because, in the end, it responds to a need.
To me, music started as a big passion but it has been a profession since I was 17. You start with a big passion that starts with strong emotions, and then it becomes your way of communicating something that in daily life you can’t express. That’s why in the end, every artist and musician hopes to find a big audience. Somehow, you feel that if music resonates with a lot of people, your message is appreciated. When one person, or a hundred, a thousand or more feel something with it then its mission accomplished! But, sometimes I really don’t know anymore.”
Do you want to bring DARKER to a bigger public?
Valerio: “One of my goals is experiencing the adrenaline of having big concerts again. Imagine we’re there, waiting for two hours in this big palace hall. You’re having a drink, and there’s cigarette smoke everywhere. All of the sudden, there’s this moment when the lights go off and this huge amount of adrenaline is released from the crowd. Almost like an explosion! As a music fan, how wouldn’t you dream to be part of that?”
Jeps: “If you can have dreams, then bringing DARKER to the bigger public is one of them. Who wouldn’t? Every band pretending to be underground, actually wants to be big.”
So how would a band like DARKER reach a bigger audience? Because personally, I don’t see that many darkwave bands around, at least in The Netherlands.
Jeps: “We just need one hit single! But, yeah, it’s a good question and I’m not sure. If I’d go the easy way I would probably write different music, and I’ve tried but it didn’t feel like me. I always get back to this genre. I call it the hard way to get to the top. It’s one of my talents, to always pick the toughest way!”
Valerio: “In the end, one stays true to inspiration. Of course, we’re speaking of general musician dreams. Who would say no? But I’m not sure if there is a fast lane. It needs to be a combination of the right track, the talent and the touch by whatever god… And if there was a fast lane, we probably wouldn’t do it anyway.”
You recently released your first EP ‘Rainy Days’. How is it going?
Valerio: “The singles are being regularly picked up by Spotify for their playlists, which is always nice because it, of course, exposes you to a higher number of listeners. Feedback is also nice! It’s the beginning, and I’m very happy and proud of it. It feels good.”
Jeps: “For me, the true art is in making the music. Afterwards, we’re just dropping it. Even though the newskool way is more about: it all starts now.”
Valerio: “Yeah, the work begins the moment you release music. It’s terrible.”
Jeps: “And it’s pretty scary. Because your music is a big part of you as an artist. It’s like releasing a baby into the world. The baby can get rejected, people might hate it. That’s the thing with art. You put yourself in a very vulnerable position by releasing it. And once you do, people might either criticize it or love it. Many artists can’t handle that kind of criticism.”
Valerio: “You have to push your music nowadays, shove it down everyone’s throats chanting ‘Love me, love me!’. It’s just another way of how all societies work right now. But, what we want is exactly that. We’re hoping that people notice and enjoy what we do. But, the way we’re all doing is honestly terrible.”
How do you handle the vulnerability of releasing stuff?
Jeps: “I hate it. Rainy Days was released on the 27th of August. I started to watch Spotify at 11 o’clock the night before. Making everything ready on Bandcamp and stuff and then finally pushing the publish button. Same for all the other channels we’re on. It felt a lot like working. And when it turned 12 o’clock, we got into the Spotify release Friday playlist! So I woke up everybody to share my enthusiasm, and then slept like an angel.”
What’s the message of the album?
Jeps: “That’s a good one because there are multiple messages. However down you are feeling, or however big the problems are you are facing in life, there’s always a solution. And the solution is outside of yourself. There are other people that can help you out, you just need to ask for it. Our songs Hope, Love is gonna save us and Rainy Days are all about that.”
Valerio: “Most definitely.”
Jeps: “Life can be really cloudy, but one day the clouds will fly away and then there is the sun again. However, if you keep focusing on the clouds, your life will be darker than other people’s lives. “
What is your own darker side?
Jeps: “Well, I have the greatest job in the world, because next to this I also promote music meaning that I’m a booker of bands. I love the part of the show when the lights go down and the band gets on stage. That moment of adrenaline Valerio described earlier. The band is doing well and I only see happy faces. Then I’m like, pfieuw, now I wanna go home and make music myself. But, the darker side is the work before that. It’s very stressful, it turns my hair grey, and it makes me sleep terribly at night sometimes. This darker side makes me start having doubts. Something I think, maybe I have to stop. That’s the easy way, but somehow I can’t.”
Valerio: “It’s a curse Jeps! You should have gotten a job at the bank Jeps!”
Jeps: “Normal people have lives that have little bumpy roads. Sometimes they fall down because their fridge broke, then they get married and get kids. My life has always been a rollercoaster. I feel emotions very intensely and I’m always looking for the extremes. Thank god drugs didn’t work for me because otherwise, I would already be dead. Alcohol did a good job for me, but luckily I stopped drinking on time. But then, women, sex, music, stealing stuff. I always needed the adrenaline shot, and then playing music on stage gave me that. Some people say it’s better than sex, and I don’t want to go that far but it feels pretty good.”
Valerio: “Everyone has a dark side, but what he’s doing, and what we are doing with DARKER as an extension is trying to preach hope. We want to communicate that.”
Preaching hope is the main message on this album.
Jeps: “Definitely. However deep you go, in whatever thing, there’s always a way out, but you have to look for it. Even during these times. Imagine this image of a huge vessel. When corona started, the vessel was full of hope. After every press conference, it drained out a bit. In the end, it was almost empty. I felt like I was going into a depression because I couldn’t handle it anymore. Then I decided to take a little shot glass and I tore all the leftovers of hope from the vessel into the glass. Next, the glass was flooding with hope again. I saw the light! The clouds went away. Then I wrote a song called Depression. It’s not finished yet, but it’s about a guy that wants to be depressed because it’s the only way he really feels alive.”
Valerio: “It’s a weird thing, but it is a real thing. It’s a dependency. The misery… It’s a very strong emotion.”
Jeps: “I wrote the darkest lyrics when I was down, lying on the floor.”
Would you say that’s the tragedy of making art?
Jeps: “I think so, but I discovered I don’t have to feel the pain anymore to write about it. I have experienced so much sadness in life that I can listen back to old songs and the music that’s related to those times. That’s what I also meant with four-dimensional. I can listen to music and get the feeling back without feeling like I’m lying on the floor again. I can write a song about it without being in the gutter.”
Let’s get back to talking about less deep stuff. What’s next for you?
Jeps: “Two things. We are working on a new EP. The music is basically written and the mixes are being recorded. It will again have a lot of synthesizers, beats, passion, sexy vocals, and a lot of ideas. The second thing is going live. Of course, this wasn’t the best time to start a band and drop our music, but in a way, it feels good as well. Focusing on releasing stuff as we are putting DARKER on the map. And then focussing on getting it on stage. 2022 will be the year to take that step!”
Well, that’s all of my questions. Do you want to add something to it?
Valerio: “I’d like to speak to my lawyer first.”
Want to get to know more about DARKER? Check out their music through this link. They have two releases coming up: the video clip for ‘Rainy Days’ in October, and a whole new EP by the end of November. We can’t wait!