In-depth with Dark Sky

Features

Matt Benyayer and Tom Edwards together make up the London based production duo Dark Sky. Having met at secondary school, Dark Sky formed in 2009 out of a mutual love for the ever evolving London electronic music scene, a love that the duo have always reflected through not only their DJ sets but also their productions.

Fast forward a few years and the London based pair have repeatedly toured the globe, remixed the likes of The xx and Maya Jane Coles via Bombay Bicycle Club and Kelis and have released music with Mister Saturday Night, 50WEAPONS, Black Acre, Tectonic,
Pictures Music and Monkeytown records. August 2014 saw the release of Dark Sky’s long awaited debut album, the soul laced debut album ‘imagin.’  this developed in to the hybrid live show and over the following eighteen months Dark Sky performed live throughout Europe with notable appearances at Glastonbury, The Warehouse Project, Sub Club, Melt, DGTL, Robot Festival and countless others.

After some down time spent in the studio, 2017 will see the return of Dark Sky to Monkeytown as they ready the release of their sophomore album entitled ‘Othona’ due for release in April. Across nine tracks, Othona is a return to the deeper darker realms of dance music from which Dark Sky emerged.  The LP will in turn yield a new live show – trading in the live percussion of ‘imagin’ in favour of a more hardware lead set up primed for the dance floor. To sample the breadth of their tastes, tune into their monthly radio show on NTS.

We sent Joseph Dent to chat to they guys about the album, influences, touring, and all things music, pizza and more..

So tonight we’ve got Matthew Benyayer and Thomas Edwardsone aka Dark Sky with us. So where you guys calling from tonight?
T: My flat is in Crystal Palace, South London.

You both live there?
M: We spend a lot of time together but we don’t live together haha. I’m in Peckham, South London. You in London?

I was up in Manchester for 4 years for university. Moved back to London 2.5 years ago for work. As much as I love the North I was always going to move back eventually. Did you guys meet at university?
M: It was earlier than that. We met at school so 2001.

Where did you go to school?
T: Pretty much the same area we’re living in now. In South East London. We went to a school in Catford called St Dunstan’s.

Was the common ground between you both always music or were you mates first and delved into music further down the line?
T: Mates first. Can’t really remember how interested I was in music at the time. I mean I was interested but nothing in comparison to now. Whereas Matt you were probably playing instruments and learning music?

M: I was playing bits and bobs. I remember Tom was the first one to get one of those old school chunky iPods. We were listening to music sharing 1 headphone each in the playground. Early Ninja Tune stuff, early Bonobo, bits of hip hop, stuff like that.

I’m quite a big fan of Ninja Tune. Once in a while I’ll tune into their podcast Solid Steel. There’s just so many podcasts and artists to keep up with now.
T: Some of the old Solid Steel mixes are legendary. They were a massive source of brand new interesting music for me growing up. I love them.

I used to see Illum Sphere who’s on the Ninja Tune roster in Manchester. He used to play quite regularly at The Roundhouse as part of the Hoya:Hoya crew. There was a couple of them. Krystal Klear, Eclair Fifi, Jon K, Jonny Dub. I always looked forward to that one. Great night and great artists who are all doing amazingly now. So you guys did an 18 month world tour of your live show following from the release of your first LP imagin in 2014. What was that like and what did you learn from the process?
T: We learnt so much from that first tour. Each show we were learning and refining the show in the studio. We have taken so much on board into the new album and the new live show.

What were some stand out moments for you on the first tour?
T/M: Glastonbury was definitely a highlight. That was towards the end so finished on a high. We got to play at some amazing places. Melt Festival was sick. Prague was beautiful. Berghain. The Warehouse Project was pretty cool.

5 years of Warehouse Project will forever be burnt into my memory that’s for sure.
M: We were learning a lot. We had vocalist, a tour manager and sound guy during the first tour. We’ve kinda got rid of that, gutted everything and gone back to basics. We’ve taken the same approach with the music. We wrote a lot of instrumental music this time round.

One thing I noticed is that it’s not straight dance floor music. It’s very much ethereal in nature. I can completely imagine the album working in a live set up for sure.

T: The last live tour was what worked and what didn’t work when we were performing. And so with that knowledge we definitely tried to put that into practice when writing this new album. Obviously we wanted stuff that would translate to the dance floor and a club crowd but we were very conscious that we didn’t want to make a LP of club tracks.

M: Functionally not so functional in a way.

One of the interesting things about releasing an album is to see other DJs playing your music out and how other people fit your music into their own context. Quite an eye-opening thing. Because you never know how people are going to react. You guys have just released Othona on Monkeytown Records which is a 9 track LP, your second to date. 2 years in the making. Are there any standouts on the album for you?

T: I was thinking about this the other day if I have a favourite track. One thing for example. In The Walker. That probably took the least amount of time to create out of every other track on the album. There was a lot of energy and the pace at which we got it all down and finished was just really quick in comparison to usual. That’s what makes it a standout track for me on the album.

What are you guys using to create your music. This album is a lot more analogue/hardware orientated as opposed to your earlier computer/VST stuff. What are the biggest changes which have resulted in the sound you have now.
M: We started with VSTs and slowly over the years built up bits and bobs. We invested after the last album and touring. Picked up a few bits. With the knowledge of working from the computer we just kind of got this set up where we were running everything in sync with a clock coming out of the computer. And then syncing that with all the other step-sequencers. We were also using an iPad a lot to sequence our hardware synths. Just because the touchscreen was very tactile. A lot of randomised functions. We were trying out a loads of different approaches really. There’s some amazing apps out there to help spark something that you would never come up with. Then when you have that little concept you can start building up the track. Set up wise we’ve always used the Tetra and Tom had a Mofo. We got the Elektron Analogue Keys which is a fucking insane piece of gear. The sounds you make with that are just mad. We were using MPCs for drums. We usually start with those and then re-write them afterwards. It’s great to have them to get a groove started.

T: Helps the whole jamming process really. There’s no set routine though really. Sometimes we’ll just be concentrating on one of the sequencing maps. Trying to find the right sound and then the right sequence then we might throw some drums in. Matt has got a Nord drum so we might experiment with the different drum sounds we can get out of that. It really varies.

M: Every track is totally unique. There’s no set rule. We take each one as its own thing.

What things influenced you in the creation of this album?

T: I guess one of the major differences in the creation of this album is that we were using images, pictures we’d taken on our travels, and tried to create a narrative to those pictures with the music we were writing. There was this one location in Essex close to where my dad lives that we ended up really focusing on. Me and Matt went down there together exploring the area. Also taking the guy who did the artwork for the album Harry taking him with us so he could get inspired from the area as well.

M: We tried to try a new approach. We’d never done something like this before. At the beginning of the album phase we were talking a lot about how we wanted to approach this one. Not just aimless jamming in the studio and trying to gel all the tracks together. We thought why don’t we have something that ties everything together from the beginning. There was this one photo that Tom brought one day to the studio that grabbed our attention. Had a really nice, ominous feeling to it. Just felt right to write a track to that. Tom had taken a photo of this tower in Berlin called Teufelsberg towers which the track Domes is based around. They’re old spy towers built during the Cold War. We found some field recordings of sounds that had been recorded inside these towers which we then brought into the track. Then there was the track Angels. I was in Morocco gathering field recordings and brought them into the track.

For me. I really like Domes. My favourite out of the 9. I really like the drums in it. It has a real funk. A real groove to it that I imagine people responding to really well. So you brought the echoes and sounds within the silos into it?

M: A guy recorded some like dropping objects inside this dome. Which has this amazing natural reverb. I would have loved to have gone there physically and recorded some sounds in there. This guy Richard Devine. Check him out. He’s got a soundcloud. He goes around recording sounds in amazing spaces.

I really like the way people do that. There’s this artist I really like called Lapalux. He’s really big on the field recording thing. He just goes out into mountains and shit with the full set up and gear on. Another friend of mine up North she took the sound of something bumping against her watch and modified and looped it into a drum beat.

T: It’s a very interesting approach. We did something similar for one of our tracks called Acacia which isn’t on Othona. We just walked around the area our studio is in with Matt’s recorder banging anything we could find and creating any sound we could. That’s a whole other dynamic.

M: Everyone has the same sample packs, with the same kicks and snares. Trying to bring and layer in these other sounds makes it more appealing and interesting.

Definitely. The way you can modulate sound now as well. The opportunities are endless really. Have you always been photographers or something you got into more recently?

T: It’s something I’ve developed an interest in over the last few years. Thanks to touring the last album and going to loads of amazing countries and cities it’s the perfect opportunity to take pictures I think.

Absolutely. It’s important in terms of aesthetic and it gives a context to your music which is really great guys. So you’ve released both your albums on Monkeytown Records owned by Modeselektor. How did that relationship develop and build?

M: They’ve always been really supportive of everything we do creatively. We have full reign and control which is a rare blessing. They trust us that we’re going to deliver which means we take it upon ourselves to do the best job that we can.

T: The relationship started when we released on their other label 50 Weapons. Pulled out a couple of EPs. We were introduced to Gernot from Modeselektor by SBTRKT I think over email or twitter. And we just started sending them tracks. When it came to us working on an album we just thought we’d love to work with them.

Monkeytown is great. Moderat is definitely one of my favourites in terms of production. And seeing him live was fucking amazing. Is there anyone you’ve seen that blew you away?

M: Someone I saw that smashed the live show was Picasso Mosay. The way he operates it is just sick.

What have you got in store for the new show?

M: The live show for us is we’re going down the route with no laptops this time. The Elektron Octotrack is the back burner of the show now. Getting our brains around that because it’s just a monster basically, a lot to learn. It seems to be working for us. The plan is to start off with maybe 10 tracks. Once we get to know them inside out, we’ll cut a few, and then extend tracks out where we start improvising, making new tracks on the fly. That kind of stuff. It’s about getting on one with all the gear, knowing shit inside out, and everyone being on the same level. That’s the dream. We’re practising heavily at the moment so we will get there.

T: With the last show we all had more defined roles. Matt would be playing drums on every track, I was doing basslines for every track and Carlo the ex-member was running all the top lines. But now it’s just completely. We’re both sharing responsibilities on every element. So on one track I might be triggering drums in and Matt might be playing the bassline then it will flip on the next track. So on and so forth. It makes it more interesting for both of us and has brought a lot more energy to our performance. We get to jump between different pieces of gear instead of just standing in one place playing one thing the whole time.

From a live perspective it’s definitely more interesting to see the artist jamming on stage on different pieces of gear. It adds to the whole experience for the consumer. When are you launching the tour? Have you got any dates set yet or is it all in the works at the moment so to speak?

T: It’s mainly in the works. We’ve got a few dates. We have a live show this week in Hamburg. Then one at the end of the month in London which we’re looking forward to. The tour is still all in development.

I’ll be there for your London show. I always like meeting the artists I chat to in person and maintaining those relationships over time. Nice seeing artists develop and progress especially when they’re good mates. Is there anything else you want to talk about on the album?

M: There was one track that was written at the very beginning of the whole process which ended up getting cut from the final running order. That was early on before we had a clear concept with the images. It was in our minds. The sound we wanted to create. We found it had to be cut because it didn’t sit with all the others. It’s kinda weird thinking that we put all that time and effort into that track and the whole album started from that point. I feel that the 9 tracks that we chose have flow. That was something we were very conscious about. Not dragging on too long. Everything having its purpose.

I’ve listened to it a couple times through now. As a listener. It’s that journey. Getting into the mind of the artist. What they were experiencing, feeling. All of those influences comes together on an album which is the pinnacle of the creative process. I really enjoyed it and I’m sure everyone out there is going to be the same. You must be looking forward to the tour…out of the studio.

M: It’s good to get feedback. You spend so much time in the studio. Like you were saying. I love seeing other people playing our music. Or hearing about DJs playing out stuff. Because you never know what’s happening really. Domes took forever to make in comparison to The Walker. Good God.

Domes for me is my favourite. It brought me back to one of the first tracks I heard of yours. This was at university back in 2011 called Something To Lose. That song has got the breaks heavy driving force drums. It was funny when I was asked to do the interview with you guys by Grahame the editor of Data Transmission I couldn’t actually remember the name of that track to begin with. But what I did remember was the image associated with that song which was a girl reaching for a red balloon with a blue sky in the background. A complete contrast to the stuff on your current album.

M: I don’t think we knew who we were as artists back then. We made some great tracks but we were just emulating our heroes or what we were hearing at the time. We weren’t consciously trying to do something new and push things forward. We’re heading in that direction now.

I have some friends called Toyboy and Robin who you may have heard of and they said something similar that the hardest thing to do as an artist is to take those influences which you may have had for years and turn it into your own original work.

M: One thing we were conscious of during the process was to not listen to anything that was coming out at the time. I made sure I did not listen to anything that was coming out in the months that we were writing the album I was avoiding. Not even clicking play. I didn’t want to be subconsciously influenced by anything.

It must have been very difficult.

M: There are so many other ways to be inspired though. Different kinds of music that isn’t electronic.

One of my favourite things is and I could do this forever. Finding samples from hip hop tracks using Who Sampled. God knows how many hours I’ve spent on that website/app. Finding an old disco record from the 70’s. The bass in a jazz track from the 40’s.

T: Definitely. This question reminded me of a tweet I saw posted yesterday by Daedelus. He said music producers study comedy for timing, film for perspective, read for narrative and poetry for brevity, study everything but not other producers. I thought that was an interesting thing to say and shows there are so many other forms of art that you can take inspiration from. That’s what we made a conscious decision to do with this album and will continue to do in the future.

In terms of art. You mentioned that you’d got into photographer recently. Are there any photographers you’re particular fans of?

T: One that comes to mind is Saul Leita, a really early colour photographer from NY. His stuff is really interesting.

Yeah you just stumble across random ones I find. One that really does it for me is this French fashion designer/artist called Jean Charles De Castlebajac (JC/DC). He used to do stuff for Moschino in the early 90s. The resounding theme behind all his work is returning to youth and he’s still going even today. I love that. I definitely have a strong affinity towards it. So are there any places you guys would love to travel to?

M: We’d love to play in Japan. Tom has been. I haven’t. And South America would be amazing. Never been there.
T: India would be great to play there.
Matt: Africa as well would be mad.
T: There’s so many places we’d love to go.

I think for me South America for sure. Rio de Janeiro, Buenos Aires, Costa Rica, Mexico. I’d love to do it for a couple months. Just back pack it out and go with the flow kind of thing.

T: Also Northern Europe like Iceland and Norway. Canada. The cold places haha.

I’d definitely like to go to Montreal in Canada. There’s this festival there called Mutek. They do it in Japan and a few other places. Everything I’ve seen about it looks amazing for electronic music. You’ll get Gods like Stephen Bodzin and Matthew Johnson performing there.

T: Matthew Johnson is someone I really rate in terms of live. I saw him one time. He killed it.

He blew my fucking mind apart when I was 18. At that time I was super fresh even just to the club circuit. I remember seeing him at Scala. On stage with all the gear. The sounds he was creating. That is one that I will never forget in terms of the live thing. Do you guys have any stand out memories like that?

M: I remember seeing Madlib at Dance Tunnel which was insane.

T: DJ Shadow’s In Tune And On Time tour he did a few years ago. They put out a DVD of his performance at Brixton Academy. I’ve lost count of the amount of times I’ve watched that. That was just him DJn. But what inspired me so much was the journey he created through that performance, just incredible. The first time I saw Moderat perform as well. That was pretty special. That was around the same time we were touring our last album. Watching them perform showed us the possibilities of how amazing a live show could be.

M: One of my favourite experiences was seeing Head High at Corsica Studios 3 years ago. I just love his beat and productions. He just played that for like 5 hours straight haha.

The number of times I’ve ended up at Jaded on a Sunday. And you’re there at 6 in the morning looking around thinking am I really here. It’s a good spot.

T: We’ve done the same thing haha.

Standout recent Corsica memory was some guy playing early Detroit techno all night long. Stuff from Metroplex and Saturate records non-stop.

T: I’d love to see Drexciya perform. I think only one of them is alive.

What are some of your favourite record labels at the moment?
T: Stones Throw Records is always a great one. They always put out such a great variety of music.

Big fan of Sweatson Klank on that one. That whole hip hop scene in LA is amazing.

M: Move D’s label Workshop and Theo Parrish’s label Sound Signature are amazing. Definitely go check those out.

I saw Theo Parrish at Found Festival last year. He plays really Jazzy, Deep, Detroit stuff.

T: He’s one of our favourites. Numero Group in Chicago is one of my favourite labels. They specialise in re-issues. Generally records from the 70’s that got shelved and never saw the light of day.

M: Mr Bongo does Brazilian re-issues. Also Honest Jon’s Records is a great label.

I can vouch for that one for sure. They’re based just on Portobello Road near where I live in Shepherds Bush. Also really like Vinyl Cafe down that way. The guy who owns it has the entire BBE catalogue from the last 20 years on vinyl. Is one of them mad hip hop heads. Bought J Dilla’s Welcome To Detroit from his store recently.

T: BBE have got their own shop at the moment in London Fields. Small thing mainly selling their catalogue.

M: Another great label is Music From Memory. Really feeling their ambient stuff. Different to the usual.

It’s always good to know these things. People who are fans of yours always want to know who you’re influenced by.

M: We started doing Spotify playlists featuring our influences. I think that’s the future.

Everyone is on Spotify now. I’m one of those people who’ve been on straight Soundcloud for like 8 years. It’s heartbreaking to think that I may have to switch over. I understand why people are switching over but still. I sad to think that such a global app/website like Soundcloud can’t fund itself. Kinda shocking to me.

T: It will come back. They’ve started monetising everything with ads and stuff.

Everyone always complains like why are there adverts. Well at the end of the day if people aren’t going to pay £10 a month which is like half an hours pay for an app they use almost every day. I just think it’s crazy. Can you imagine if they shutdown Soundcloud tomorrow. 100,000s of people would be up in arms on the streets. We’ll see that day if it comes haha.

T: Well at least we have our vinyl.

The human population will just regress back to CD Walkmans and cassette players haha. Right I think we covered all the music stuff. Influences, the tour, the tracks and how they came together, you’re relationship with Monkeytown, stuff you’ve seen in the past that motivated and inspired you to become the artists you are today, I think we touched base with quite a lot of stuff really. I always end with a few silly ones. So who’s the better DJ?

T: I dunno.
M: I’d probably say Tom.
T: I’d probably say Matt.

Who’s the bigger vinyl head?
M: Tom
T: I’d say both of us.

Who’s the better cook?
T: Well I had dinner round Matt’s on Friday night so I’d say he’s a pretty good cook.

What’s cooking in the kitchen after a long day in the studio?

T: You made enchiladas didn’t you.

So we’re on a Mexican hype at the moment then yeah haha.

M: We’re both pretty good cooks yeah.

What about take out. You’re feeling lazy. You’ve just woken up from a gig hungover as shit. What are you going to be ordering?

M: I’ve been getting into Dominoes recently man. It’s terrible. It just seems to solve your hangover haha.

I’ve got my own pizza at Dominoes. I always go for ground beef, pepperoni, roquito peppers, jalepeno peppers and black olives. That for me every fucking time man. If you weren’t DJs and producers what would you be doing with your life right now?

M: Something to do with the environment. Or just trying to help the world in some way. Recycling or getting into eco stuff. Getting hands on with it. Doing something like that.

T: Something to do with nature. Working outside. I’d like to think I would still be doing something within the arts world. Maybe a gardener. Yeah I’d do that.

Who’s the better lady killer out of you both?

T: What does that mean?

Who slays the best.

T: We’ve both got gfs and settled down. Mission accomplished.

We’ll end of the sensible finish there. Thanks for your time. Great talking to you both having been a fan for years. Just remembered that I have The Click which you did with Breach on vinyl. Safe guys and hope to see you in London soon!