Interview: Dusky

Since releasing their debut album “Stick by This” on Anjunadeep almost a year ago, the London-based duo of Alfie Granger-Howell and Nick Harriman, also known as Dusky, have no doubt been racking up some frequent flier miles. The duo spent 2012 playing all over Europe, did an Essential Mix for BBC in October and found the time to release excellent EPs on Dogmatik, Simple Records and Anjunadeep. The breadth of their catalogue is no doubt a testament to their adept production techniques and after nearly a year of being championed on the Swamp81 radio show at Rinse FM, Dusky will bring their distinct blend of deep house and 2-step to Loefah’s new label, School Records, for its first release, “Calling Me/Muriel”. We sat down with the pair in advance to talk about a number of subjects spanning from film scores and their upcoming US tour to living the life in Ibiza and their R&B backgrounds.

Stream: Dusky – Numerical (Dogmatic Records)

Hey, how are you guys doing? You two had a pretty good year, didn’t you?

Alfie Granger-Howell: “Yeah, it’s been really good and we’ve been really enjoying it. It’s been really busy, especially the last few months. Next year is looking similar; it’s going to be great!”

You guys just played The Warehouse Project in Manchester recently, what was that like?

Nick Harriman: “Yeah, that was the first time we played it and it was wicked. It was a proper sweat box in our room. It was amazing, the crowd was going crazy. We’d never played WHP before this but when we’ve played Manchester in the past the crowd has always been really good. It was a fun gig.”

How does The Warehouse Project compare to the nights you’ve been doing at Corsica Studios like Staunch, or something bigger like Ibiza? You played the latter last spring, right?

Nick: “Corsica Studios is like a staple of London clubbing. Being from London, it’s a venue we go to regularly. I guess the familiarity of it is what stands out for me when I think about it. I have a lot of good memories from that club and it’s fun to play there, whereas The Warehouse Project was a completely new experience and we’ve never played anywhere quite like it. Obviously, Ibiza is very different to Manchester and very different to Corsica Studios too. The people there are lot more into straight up house-y side of things rather than in Manchester where you can get away with playing more bass-oriented stuff and heavier techno.”

Alfie: “What’s been cool is playing to quite different crowds and I think we’ve been lucky in the sense our music seems to kind of appeal to different people across the spectrum. Other DJs on some of the bills we’re playing at could be playing dubstep or they can go right through to on the sort of deep side of house and techno. It’s been really nice to play to different crowds, most of the time people seem to really enjoy our sets and really get it.”

Nick: “There are certain things that you know from trying them out around different places that work well and certain things that don’t work so well. For example, that new Joy Orbison track, “Big Room Tech House DJ Tool – Tip,” gets an amazing reaction in the UK but when I played it in Amsterdam and other European cities people don’t really get it as much, so I’ve stopped playing that. You get a feel for it like you do when you’re DJing, anyway. You get a sense of what the crowd is into and what they’re reacting to, and you adjust your set accordingly.”

Stream: Dusky feat. Janai – Lost In You (Anjunadeep)

From the way you two talked about it, Ibiza sounded like fun. You guys mentioned you were going to be DJing on a sailboat? How’d that go over?

Alfie: “That was really fun. That was our first time in Ibiza ever, we had quite a busy weekend. We flew straight in from a gig in Birmingham to Ibiza and almost straight onto a boat party. It was really intimate and there were really good people, good vibes. We played again in Ibiza at DC10 and that was a real highlight for us. We loved it aesthetically, and everything else about the club was nice too; the sound system and the people were really cool, something we had heard so much about. That was a highlight of the summer as far as gigs go. We both stayed on the boat after the DC10 gig and just chilled out. It’s a really nice place because there is that party side of it but there’s also the relaxed and laid back side. You need to recover from the partying and the long hours where you stay up and not get much sleep, get some sunshine. We’re in our studio now, it doesn’t have any windows so especially now in the winter we get no sunshine at all.”

Nick: “It’s like a fish tank in our studio! We’ve got these lights that you put in tanks to stop fish going crazy by getting seasonal affective disorder or whatever. That stops us from going insane…just about.”

Can you walk us through your fish tank, what does it look like in there?

Nick: “It’s a dark room with just a sofa with a table that has our Technics and mixer on it.”

Alfie: “ We’ve got loads of records in here.”

Nick: “We have a set of speakers and two computers and a little interface and that’s it, really. We pretty much do everything in the box. It’s pretty messy, if people come around we give it a little spring cleaning but we don’t have that many people coming around, so.. It’s not too bad, we’re not rolling around in our dirt or anything – we’ve got a bin.”

The two of you met each other approximately ten years ago; have you guys noticed any changes in your relationship or the way you work together, if any at all?

Nick: (laughs) “We don’t normally talk to each other anymore, this interview is an exception. We just leave our ideas in the computer for the other person to work with. But no, it hasn’t really changed to be honest, we’re just mates and we’ve got the same interests.”

Alfie: “I think if anything it gets easier, because we know as time goes on how we work even better. Overcoming creative differences has been better because we know when one person is like “It really should be like this!” you know when to trust them.”

Nick: “When we’re starting on new ideas, sometimes you lose sight of what you’re doing. When you are working on an idea for ages you can’t be quite sure which ones to pursue and which ones not to. Now it’s not an issue, we can play music to each other and just say “don’t bother” or “do bother” and move on with it. We’re not going to be like “My feelings are really hurt because he doesn’t like this idea.” It’s always quite open. We can cut each other down without being too offended.”

Stream: Dusky – Henry 85 (Simple Records)

Regarding your collective creative process, is it still one of you will come up with an idea and then trade it off where you guys mix it all together or something completely different?

Alfie: “It tends to be like that. Over the last few months we’ve been getting busier and busier with gigs so we spend a lot of our time on the road. We’ve been making use of our time by starting ideas on our laptops. It’ll just generally be something quite short, nothing longer than thirty seconds where we focus on a loop or several different ones. Then we pass it to the other person and they’ll take it in another direction, at the end of the process we try and finish the track and extend it out, develop the ideas a bit. Sometimes we start ideas from scratch together when we’re both in the studio and can both be there from start to finish. But yeah, in general we tend to be each working on it on separately.”

Is it more hectic to have to produce on the road like that? Do you have any preference?

Nick: “I think definitely in terms of mixing a tune or arranging it, I need to be in the studio. Some people can do it but I can’t make a tune sound right with a pair of headphones, especially the bass. That’s a big factor in our music so we need to be in the studio for that. Sketching ideas out on laptop is fine for me, I’m just as cool doing that on a laptop with headphones on as I am in the studio.”

Alfie: “Making music on the road can be quite inspiring sometimes. I think I actually quite like laying down ideas on a train journey. You’ve got the countryside going by.. the night time is quite romantic, too.”

When it comes to listening to music, you mentioned before that Justin Martin’s “The Sad Piano” is a track that really brings people of all backgrounds together. Is that something you’re conscious about doing in your own music?

Alfie: “That track was a quite a big influence really, I think it’s ten years old now. I don’t think we actually heard it when it very first came out, it was a couple of years later. It’s a mixture of different worlds. It’s house with soulful and acoustic instruments, it has a live organic feel to it. I think in all of our tracks, we try to have to a similar approach.”

Nick: “Having a general interest in music, you listen to a lot of different stuff. It’s going to work its way into what you do, whether it’s consciously or unconsciously. It’s unavoidable. I haven’t met any producers who don’t listen to a wide range of music, to be honest. There are some people that are more focused on Italo Disco and Kraftwerk whereas for us it’s quite different. It feeds into our music in different ways and that’s what forms part of our sound.”

Stream: Dusky – Calling Me (School Records)

We’re big fans of the 112 sample on “Calling Me,” it brings back all these middle school dance memories where they’d play that. “Flo Jam” samples Aaliyah too, what is your relationship with R&B like?

Alfie: “R&B was massive during our formative years in the ‘90s when we first started buying music. There was a big connection to that when we listened to garage and played it out. R&B has always been linked to garage; R&B singles would often have the original track on the A-side and would come with a garage remix as well. We’d get into that and the famous R&B a capellas that were used in garage tunes. There was just so much great stuff around! Really soulful music, I used to listen to a lot of Erykah Badu at the time. R&B was quite a big and a really important aspect of the London musical scene at that point in time. There was no escaping it, really!”

Nick: “In a way, it’s probably easier to get your hands on a capellas from the ‘90s because all the tunes that came out on vinyl had a capellas versions on them. In terms of R&B singers we’d probably draw from Aretha Franklin, Motown records and a lot of soul. For me personally, if I’m listening to stuff at home, I don’t put on the records I would play out when DJing necessarily. I listen to a lot of old soul and Motown myself.”

You guys worked with Janai on two tracks on your “Stick By This” LP that came out on Anjunadeep. Do you have any further plans to work with vocalists in the near future?

Alfie: “Yes, we went to school with her. We met her around the same time we met each other, during our last two years of college. There’s another track with Janai that we’re working on at the moment, it’s something that we’ve been working on for quite a while. We’ve been going back and tweaking things and we’re potentially going to release that sometime soon. We definitely want to some more work with vocalists, we haven’t made any kind of formal plans but it’s definitely on the cards.”

Are there any vocalists in particular you’d like to work with when the time comes?

Nick: “I think it would be cool to work with some interesting male vocalists in a similar vein to people like Frank Ocean, the new R&B school where they’ve got a darker side to their lyrics rather than anything that’s too sweet. You get to experiment with stuff that’s a little more edgy, vocal-wise and lyrics-wise.”

Stream: Justin Martin – Don’t Go (Dusky Remix) (Dirtybird)

How do you guys go about accepting and doing certain remixes?

Nick: “It depends on who the artist is, if we’re into their music and we think it’s suited to what we’re doing. If we listen to the music and it kind of jumps to us in terms of having some good ideas we’ll consider it, that’s pretty much it.”

Alfie: “Sometimes there are tracks you get asked to remix and it’s a track you really like but we tend to need to have an idea that presents itself quite quickly in order to say okay, we have to know what we’re going to do with it before we take it on.”

Nick: “Or there’s a track you really like but there’s no way you can see it transforming into our sound, us actually being able to work with it, no matter how much you like it there might be certain things about it that don’t work with our style of production.”

We heard Alfie has been involved in making music for TV and film. Are there any film scores you two enjoyed in particular this year?

Alfie: “I haven’t really been to the cinema much this year. It’s kind of funny because even though I studied film music, when I watch films you get too distracted if you focus on listening to the score. It’s usually on the second listen that I really focus in on what the score is doing. You can’t get really into the film if you’re analyzing it too much.”

Nick: “I haven’t been to the cinema much either. I’ve been too busy for it but something that stood out to me was the new Batman movie, The Dark Knight Rises.. the sound design was  really quite impressive and a novel use of sounds that you would never expect to be associated with guns being fired. Really crazy ideas and hyper produced, I find that quite interesting. That’s the only thing that stood out this year to me really, I haven’t heard anything equally great.”

Are there any awful, hilarious or tear jerking moments from your travels you’d like to share with us?

Nick: “We were playing with Disclosure in Edinburgh a few months ago. One of the guys in Disclosure’s holiday romance came to meet him at the club and was completely torn up on the rider, backing off getting really, really drunk. We just put her on this fridge and gave her a bucket because you could see she was about throw up all over the place. As soon as she did so she twisted her head to the side and was sick all over my coat, all over my bag, all over everything so I had to fly back to London with all my clothes in a bin liner. It was so cold in Scotland as well!”

What are you guys looking forward to in 2013? Do  you have any NYE plans?

Alfie: “We’re playing in Brighton on NYE. We’ve spent a lot of time in Brighton, that’s where Nick went to college. In the new year we’ve got lots of dates we’re really looking forward to. In fact we’re just sorting out a US tour, potentially in March. Nothing’s finalized yet but it’s looking like it’s going to be really fun. We’ll be visiting a few places we’ve never been. It’s wicked. We’re starting to get festivals as well booked for the summer.”

Nick: “I think it will probably be the standard places but maybe we’ll go to Miami as well.”

Alfie: “I’ve heard mixed reports about Miami so it will be interesting to see it.”

When was the last time you guys danced?

Nick: “We danced during our set last week at the Warehouse Project, we were getting into the tunes. We normally have a little rave when we’re DJing actually so this applies to pretty much every weekend at the moment. We went and watched George FitzGerald, Levon Vincent and Marcel Dettman at WHP and partied to those guys’ sets.”

Tim Willis
Tim Willis

In a Beautiful Place Out in the Country, twitter @timwill_is, personal: timwill.is

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