The Infinite Potential Of Poolside’s Daytime Disco

I’m in Tijuana and I want to be dancing, but I’m thinking about New York. Onstage, Poolside are playing their cover of “Harvest Moon,” a song so immediately precious that I remember interrupting myself, falling in love with you in a bar in Greenpoint, to ask the bartender who it was. I would fall madly for this song, driven by it, perhaps, to take you home and have absurd sex that seems less painful now than foolish, selfish, empty.

Covered in sweat, spilled beer and cigarette ash, that memory appears unbidden, superimposed over this moment like a film negative. It’s not really you that I miss (is it, ever?), but the version of myself that assumed falling in love with you would always be effortless, like a slipping into a pool. The me that believed another heart held answers to the parts of mine I refused to think worthy of excavating on my own. In Mexico I am safely three time zones and a border away, and this is music for the moments before all the heavy stuff. These songs are the color of light; they’re weightless.

Poolside is meant to soundtrack moments of happiness so big they register as empty, like a banquet room decorated and waiting to be filled. Each track is about a moment that doesn’t quite exist; beats skitter like rocks down invisible precipices, synths are sinuous and always out of reach, a brook in the distance. Their songs skim the surface of desire with purposeful tension, a flirtation never meant to be consummated. This isn’t swimming; in the thick of it, it’s Poolside — lounge music for the inevitable, glorious splash to come.

The music of Filip Nikolic and Jeffrey Paradise argues that potential be celebrated with the same fervor as completion, and the case is strong. This is the central tenet of their debut and only album, Pacific Standard Time, a record that de-centers the austere, gritty calculations of EST for a timezone tied to the ocean. Everything is water here, somehow, a blue, slippery no man’s land that’s all horizon and no shore. The vocals are slight when they’re there, registering as afterthoughts, just another layer in the mix. Plot need not always be center, the tracks let setting take precedence, as the band name suggests. This album is their sole full-length and it came out in 2012, which means if we’re lucky, we’ll get another one soon.

Poolside’s version of Neil Young’s “Harvest Moon” was the last song I listened to in New York, hopeful funk spilling through my headphones before my redeye took off. Listening to it is part of my deepest ritual-world, like crying or coming. It has become the duo’s signature track in a way, partially because James Murphy took a liking to it and began including it in his own DJ sets (However you feel about Murphy, he must get credit for his prodigious taste), and partially because it is a magnificent totem of their ability to see things where no one else can. The duo’s own taste, on mixtapes and elsewhere, has made splashes far beyond Murphy, their influence expands uncredited like a ripple. But we’ll leave those secrets to the depths, tonight we’re looking at the moon.
Some covers get to the heart of a song better than the original, and even if it’s impossible to get closer to any heartsong than Young can, Nikolic and Paradise bring it into the new millennium, sheathed in a funk beat and purring, oxygen-bubble synths. It’s a folk song remix for the 3 AM dancefloor crowd, and the perfect sentiment for leaving behind something really good for the chance at something great. Because I’m still in love with you / I wanna see you dance again. This time, I am singing it to myself.

Marko Disco Social Club was built in the late ’70s and remains pretty much intact from that era. Once considered a gem and the hottest night club in town, the gleaming old tiles and constellations of disco balls hint at its former decadence. The space fell mostly into disuse in the ’80s but has been resurrected for tonight’s show. It’s a time capsule not only from another era but from another culture. Endless mirroring on the walls and ceiling means that even in the middle of the night we are covered in an unexpected, shifting light. If I can shake the city anywhere, it should be here.

Living in New York is like falling in love with someone you know you’ll miss for the rest of your life. Even if you are a lifer, New York is mostly about potential; it runs on what there’s still left to grasp, knowing that’s how to keep everyone sucked in. Poolside runs quite opposite: Be here before you’re not, their songs seem to hum, eyes toward the open space of the blue now instead of the inevitable black. Each song is like an infinity pool; it even sounds like they drop off into nothing; that’s only the angling. There’s an entire structure here specifically designed to make everything seem so easy, empty, and sudden. What else is the edge for but jumping?

Both of Poolside’s members have long resumes that preceded the project. Nikolic is a Danish DJ and producer who ended up in LA almost on a fluke after touring with Junior Senior as their bassist. Paradise was tied to the San Francisco dance party scene from the early ‘90s, and involved with hardcore act The Calculators and dance-punkers The Rapture. After meeting at a San Francisco dance party, the two eventually made some no-strings-attached tracks together when holed up in an LA poolhouse one week, insisting the project wasn’t anything serious. As though serious music could do more for my heart than Pacific Standard Time has.

When Poolside began, they called themselves “daytime disco,” a combination of light and freedom. Critics often misinterpret what seems effortless as that which is trivial. But physical instincts are not lesser than their intellectual counterparts, and ease is not emptiness but just that — a physical instinct. Who decides which moments are deep and which are not? Who decides how the deep ones sound? Poolside’s music is not serious in that it is not necessarily intellectual, nor does it need to be. Dance floors are also sanctuaries and schools; movement in the dark is the only light some people see at the end of their tunnels.

On this night, it is not a stretch to call Marko Disco a place of worship. Here, I’m in deep: Pacific Standard Time. No headphones for protection. Instead, I’m coated in a cocoon of communal sweat, pressed among strangers, trying to fall in. I say my writing is my dancing, which is a copout. I am writing this sentence down, but I should be moving. I’m more comfortable once removed, documenting the experience of others.

I can’t get inside my own body enough to move with the freedom the music asks for. It’s 2 a.m., exactly one month since I took the flight, left Brooklyn, and queued up the song that’s playing now in front of me, while dozens of people dance. It’s a song like the taste of salt, or the sight of a body of water after a long, winding drive. It’s a song about coming home and second chances. It’s a song like a hymn, and finally, in the dark, I forgive myself for leaving. And I begin to dance.