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All aboard! Holy Ship—HARD’s idyllic Caribbean cruise, which features some of the best banging beats available on planet earth—sets sail again real soon. And to mark another unforgettable voyage, rising star Steve Darko—one of the artists who’ll be making an appearance on 2019’s Ship—has been tapped to deliver us a wonky warmup mix of fidgety tech house goodness to get in the seafaring spirit of things.

Darko is having a monster of a year. The up-and-comer beatsmith from Boston is fresh off a tour supporting Dirtybird don Claude VonStroke, a DJ and producer who thinks very highly of the rising star. VonStroke has a knack for spotting talent. He’s put on so many folks you likely know, like Justin Martin, J.Phlip, and more. VonStroke not only just selected Darko to open for him on his 2018 world tour, but he also signed him to an extensive record deal—fairly rare these days—because he’s that confident in the artist’s future.

And why is that? Around the Insomniac offices, we have an inkling that Mr. Darko is someone who will be blowing up in the next year. It probably has something to do with his unique—and almost humorous—relationship to music and sound, which you can hear in his funky tech bangers, as well as in his DJ sets.

He got his start making music and sounds like many of his generation: banging around with some instruments and gear, arranging it in easily available software like Fruity Loops (a gateway music production program for so many of the producers you probably listen to today), and having some fun. For much of his musical development, he was sticking to lower BPM—stuff in the hip-hop, dubstep, and downtempo side. He has jokingly referred to this early stage of his development as his “shitty instrumental mixtape” phase (who among us hasn’t been there, though?).

“Hip-hop artists like Biggie, Cypress Hill, J5, Dre, and Snoop influenced me to start making instrumental beats in Fruity Loops when I was 12 years old or so. I didn’t know what I was doing but was able to crank out awful-sounding beats pretty quickly. At the time, I thought they sounded pretty cool.”

Growing up, Darko consumed a lot of old-school hip-hop and hardcore. “Hip-hop artists like Biggie, Cypress Hill, J5, Dre, and Snoop influenced me to start making instrumental beats in Fruity Loops when I was 12 years old or so. I didn’t know what I was doing but was able to crank out awful-sounding beats pretty quickly. At the time, I thought they sounded pretty cool.”

He took a break from producing for a few years, picking it back up when he started college. Taking it more seriously now, Darko began his deep-dive into the infinite complexities of electronic gear and music.

Since then, he’s become somewhat of a gearhead, drawn toward analog gear and writing tunes driven by “chunky, bass-centric” sounds, finding himself producing predominantly trap and bass music as recently as a few years ago.

Then came a revelation at the disco—or festival, rather—a transformative experience where uptempo tech house grabbed him by the throat. He saw Claude VonStroke play a set at the Canadian Shambhala Festival in 2014 and “decided I needed to start producing Dirtybird-style tech house.” It must have been a helluva convincing set, converting downtempo-centric Darko on the spot. He started to make a dramatic change-up to his whole sound.

“Before that, I was making trap and bass music… and playing both in my sets, but I eventually decided to go all-in on house and techno. I still love both styles, but I think focusing on one really helped me refine my sound.”

Darko spends his days exploring both the creative sides of his aesthetic and the deeply technical side of his sound. As a music production software developer at audio technology company iZotope, he’s helped create tools not just for himself, but for thousands of other producers around the world. Described by his peers as a mad scientist of wacky-but-accessible tech house, he has an innate ear for weird and wild maching sounds.

Darko’s Fried or Fertilized EP—his debut on Dirtybird this past May—was one of the label’s most vital releases in a minute, and he followed it with stone-cold cuts like “Switch It Up.” He’s been producing loads of new material and looks to have a large spate of releases on the horizon. We imagine he’s probably sitting on a small mountain of unreleased tunes in his synth-filled studio.

If Darko’s sound seems like an unlikely one to come out of Boston, you’re not alone. The Boston dance scene is, apparently, a work in progress. Sure, you’ve got folks like Soul Clap and others straddling the line between underground and mainroom to emerge from Beantown in the past decade.

“I’d say [the Boston scene] is not the best the US has to offer, but we have a pretty solid scene here that has become significantly better over the past year or two. Promoters are bringing in lots of cool tech house and techno acts, which is great to see. The eel house scene [whatever that is], is certainly beginning to thrive.”

For his Holy Ship! promo mix, Darko has stuffed an hourlong set of his signature left-of-center sounds with a grip of his own productions, many of them unreleased (an ID, “DSF” and opener “Robot Love”). He’s also made space for artists he thinks deserve more shine—producers like fellow “synth nerd” Wyatt Marshall, Sven Lochenhoer, Sammy Legs, Fritz Carlton, Westend, and VNSSA, “just to name a few.”

The resulting hour of bangers is as good an introduction to Steve Darko as any. It’s bouncy, juicy music for those who like their techno a little fun and funky and those who like their house weird and not super self-serious.

Catch Darko at his first-ever Holy Ship! in 2019. Grab your tickets now if you haven’t already. Until then, think sunny thoughts and boogie down to one of our favorite DJs.

Steve Darko’s Holy Ship! 2019 Mix Track List

Steve Darko “Robot Love”
Chambray “Where You At”
Lux Groove “Transpose”
Riva Starr “The Hole (Release Your Soul)”
Steve Darko “Whistle Work”
Flashmob “Misspoken”
Joeski “The Sound Like This”
Wyatt Marshall “Da Ding”
Boats “So Rite”
Steve Darko & Westend “Girls”
Steve Darko “DSF”
Steve Darko – ID
Sven Lochenhoer “Nails”
Joe Red & Paul Darey “Jano”
Steve Darko & Uncle Kev “My Hood”

Steve Darko is playing at Holy Ship! 2019, which takes place Saturday, January 5, through Wednesday, January 9, 2019, for sailing 12.0, and Wednesday, January 9, through Saturday, January 12, 2019, for sailing 13.0. Both sailings depart from Port Canaveral in Florida. Cabins for 12.0 are sold out; Cabins for 13.0 are available now. For more information, visit the official website.

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