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Dardust – Confounding Categorisation…

At the heart of Dardust is continuous contrast; myriad influences from around the world, through the ages and even across disciplines, interacting to create his unique musical identity. Ostensibly he creates neo-classical electronica, but this doesn’t go far enough to describe who or what Dardust is:

“I consider myself a performance artist… and my goal, every time I work is to contaminate and to mix a lot of different styles from different worlds, from different music categories…”

I caught up with Dario Faini, aka Dardust, to talk about his latest release – ‘WITHIN ME’ – a collaboration with EDM royalty Benny Benassi. Our conversation ranged from his studies in psychology, the influence of musical theatre on his work, of David Bowie and even of the Sturm and Drang proto-romantic movement in Germany… all in the pursuit of an understanding of his sound.

Those familiar with Dardust still might not be able to quite pin down his style – essentially it is euphoric electronica, performed with the achingly beautiful poise of a concert pianist. As a child of nine he entered the conservatory in his hometown of Ascoli Piceno, Italy, learning the fundamentals of classical piano. Despite this education, Dario’s musical awakening came from elsewhere:

“My musical imprinting was David Bowie. When I was a child I was listening to Low, Heroes, Lodger, Ziggy Stardust… I was totally in love with him and it was strange because I was a child and I was considered an alien…”

Consequently, in his teens he stopped his studies at the conservatory: “I felt I was missing out on electronic and popular music…”. Dario, like Bowie, wanted to experiment by colliding genres. Leaving his hometown, he eventually set up shop as a producer in Milan – a line of work in which he is still very active, most notably working with Italian sensation Mahmood. Yet he began embarking on adventures throughout Europe in pursuit of his own sound:

 “I really love the Icelandic scene …. At some point I fell in love with the Berlin scene, at the same time Spain, I’ve even flown to Brazil to explore the music there… I am totally open”

After years of cultural absorption, he released his first Album ‘7’ in 2015 as Dardust  – a contraction of Dario and Ziggy Stardust. Since then, Dardust’s multifariousness has earned him wide-ranging comparisons from across the genre spectrum. He’s kind of like Aphex Twin, he has elements of Max Richter, the Chemical Brothers and Keith Jarret – yet his music evades these comparisons:

“I’m compared to a lot of neoclassical artists… but I think that Dardust is very different to them and it’s very different from all the electronic artists… I don’t consider myself as part of any genre.”

None of these comparisons are helpful on their own, but together they give you an idea of his ability to draw together disparate elements. At his core Dardust harbours an ineffable ability as a composer:

“In Italy we dare to explore the harmony and the melody… I want to be considered an Italian artist but [one] that explores and mixes different worlds”

And although neo-classical could be described as the starting point of Dardust’s style, it is what is different about it that catches people’s attention:

 “When I studied psychology one of my passions was understanding where the element of surprise comes from…It is very important to me to do something unexpected at some point in the track”

In this vein of delightful deviation, he released ‘Birth’ in 2016 and ‘The New Loud’ in 2017. But it was his 2020 release of ‘S.A.D Storm and Drugs’, having signed for Sony Masterworks, that best represented his ability to absorb cultural influences and transform them into something totally new – totally Dardust. Again, contrast is a central theme Storm vs. Drugs – two opposites unifying:

“The acronym is S.A.D… in 2018 I was living in a very difficult period of my life because of the earthquake that hit my country, my home was totally destroyed… at the same time I was ending a relationship… I felt like I was naked in a storm.”

“[Whereas] drugs could mean the fact that I was addicted to another person and now I was feeling totally lonely… I put all these types of symbols in my records…”

 These two subjects merge seamlessly, and the album is permeated with heartbreakingly delicate piano themes which are often unexpectedly and exhilaratingly interrupted by surges of euphoric electronica, littered with samples and flourishes to keep you enraptured throughout. Significantly, he continued to be influenced by a plethora of external sources, the name ‘Storm and Drugs’ being inspired by the Sturm und Drang artistic movement that took place at the end of the 18th century in Germany. Whilst still alluding to his heroes musically: “Storm and drugs, the title track, you can find a lot of musical elements very similar to Underworld” – meanings proliferate.

Nowhere is the opposition, so intrinsic to the album, more evident than in his live show where ‘Storm’ and ‘Drugs’ are split into two distinct parts. And crucially, nowhere is Dardust more at home than on stage:  

‘live experience is the ultimate reason… the Fine Ultimo of the work that I do’

The live show is the purest concentration of Dardust’s years of experience: 

“It’s like being in a movie, a lot of different scenes, every song gives you different colours in terms of music, visuals… I was a performer in musicals 10 years ago, so this experience was very important to me.”

Sadly, like so many performers, Dardust has been kept from the stage by Covid-19, but he hopes to be back on it this summer.

WITHIN ME

2021 saw the release of Dardust and Benny Benassi’s collaboration ‘WITHIN ME’, which combines the incongruent talents of these two Italian musicians. The collaboration spawned from years of mutual respect as Dardust recalls:

‘He [Benny] wrote to me on Instagram two years ago… [and] told me he was in love with my music. I really love Benny for his electronic tricks, I think that he is a sort of magician… I listen to a track and I begin to think ‘how is it possible to make this kind of sound’…

 “We talk a lot about this kind of collaboration… I told him to work on ‘Without you’ – which is the saddest track of my last record. 

And the result? The heart-rending piano theme from ‘Without You’ is suffused with Benassi’s characteristic clubland sonics, creating a tune that is at once melancholic and uplifting. Dario described the origins of the theme:

“I was in London … and I was alone in this cottage…totally desperate because I ended this relationship… I felt like a survivor… but at the same time there was this beautiful snowstorm, and I came to write this theme on the piano…”

Although a touch of the melancholy of the original remains, it is transmuted:

 ‘In the Benny Benassi version… we have this groove that is totally different from the original… it is very curious to listen to ‘Without You’ in this new version…I love it”

If you want to see the contrast firsthand, head to YouTube and check Dardust’s performance of ‘Without You’ in the Museo del Novecento, Milan and then immediately check out the Dardust x Benny Benassi performance of ‘WITHIN ME’ at the Arena Di Verona – the same theme, two wildly different versions (plus two stunning Italian Locations). Asked what the artists had in common, Dario replied:

“I don’t know if we have elements in common, we mesh together for this reason…we come from different worlds… Benny came from the club… I never think about the dance floor…”

The performance at the Arena Di Verona also highlights the 2020ness of their collaboration:

“I was in a sort of tower in the arena, with the piano… we were very distant from each other.”

The collaboration was a product of lockdown – the artists combining from a distance. And yet, like a great many of us working from home, they still pulled it together.

Turning to the future, Dardust plans to continue his odyssey in search of influence; plotting a trip to Japan at the end of the year to expand his cultural repertoire. When asked if we could expect any other influences on his next album he replied:

“I cannot say because I need to begin. When I begin the creative process … it very often happens that I totally change the direction… I’m looking forward to seeing what it becomes.”

A characteristically enigmatic answer. Seemingly, there is plenty of room left for Dardust to develop further and we too are looking forward to the next musical storm he sends our way. 

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