If thinking that the UK house revolution washing up on America's EDM shores starts with Disclosure and ends with Duke Dumont, there's a third, extremely gifted D-named production duo you're leaving off the list. Dusky are Alfie Granger-Howell and Nick Harriman, and between Beatport chart-topping singles, new 17 Steps label, Pete Tong co-signs, Ultra and Electric Daisy Carnival gigs, they're taking it all in stride. Joining the duo in Washington, DC prior to an evening set at the Nu Androids event at Flash Nightclub, the tech-house kingpins are calm, excited and clearly intrigued by (but not overwhelmingly pressing for) American pop success. However, with a New Year's Eve booking supporting Disclosure in New York City on the horizon, this may be one of the last times that the duo sits in a crowded restaurant without being overwhelmed by onlookers, too. Covering everything from happy hardcore to rhythm and blues (with some notes on production in-between), this is a fairly all-encompassing look at one of U.K.-to-U.S. house's most intriguing acts to follow. Enjoy!
Insofar as the records you were listening to when you decided you wanted to become producers, are they similar to, or different to what you're listening to now?
Alfie: I think there's a mixture. We both [always] had really eclectic tastes. Growing up in London, there was a lot of dance music on both regular and pirate radio. Obviously, dance styles have changed with time, but drum & bass, hardcore, breakbeat, garage, and house [were influential]. We listened to other stuff, too, like soul and hip-hop, classical, and jazz. It's similar to now, but I find that it's hard sometimes now to have the time to listen to stuff outside of dance music. We get sent so much music and it takes a long time to go through the promos and stuff so, these days I mostly listen to dance music. It's similar. We still listen to a lot of those same styles [when we do listen to music] that I listened to as a kid, 20 years ago.
Nick: What he said!
Thoughts on America "awakening" to a funkier, house-driven dance music? There's a "post-EDM" movement happening, of which I feel that you're a part, (that people in the UK are certainly more accustomed to) so what's it's like playing to crowds now becoming more comfortable with your sound?
Alfie: It's definitely changing. From the first tour we did two years ago, people seem more aware now. People know our music more, some of the more underground tracks a lot more. The parties are getting a bit bigger. We used to be quite underground in America, but the response [to us] is now getting steadily stronger. Also, I guess the whole "EDM" thing is so big that people are getting bored with that and moving over to the deep house, tech house, and techno side of things.
American top-40 radio is playing sounds now that share a lot in common with deep house, garage, and UK funky. Given that this aligns with where your sound is, have you put any thoughts into possibly trying to make tracks that will make that crossover happen for you too? If that's the case, what are the sacrifices you have to make in your sound for that to happen? Or are you even considering this?
Alfie: We're not even thinking about crossing over. First and foremost we do what we're interested in, mostly following our passions. A lot of it is what we think is good music as well. We don't try to compromise. We experiment with a lot of styles and genres, but we don't want to compromise to sell records. It's interesting because there are tracks that throughout the history of dance music have started out on the underground that people just make [that become successful in the mainstream]. If you believe in what you're doing and with luck connect with people, then it works and crosses over. Every underground DJ hopes that what they're doing will cross over, Obviously we want to, but we don't want to compromise our sound [in the process].
Gorgon City's working with Jennifer Hudson, Disclosure's working with Mary J. Blige. Soul vocalists are clearly interested in house again, so I must ask, which one/ones would you love to hear on your tracks?
Alfie: We've been thinking about it a lot because we're trying to find vocalists for the album. We've been going through loads of names like, "if we could get anyone, who would it be?" Most of them are dead. However, we were thinking about Charles Bradley. As a teenager in the '90s, Erykah Badu would be great. Jill Scott would be amazing also. We like Gil Scott-Heron, too. There's people from the indie/alternative scene like Thom Yorke from Radiohead that would be cool. Old Chemical Brothers albums would have like, Noel Gallagher from Oasis. There's so many people.
I wanted to ask about your recent productions. You're steadily releasing material, and I wanted to ask what do you feel are the evolutions in your production style that you're showcasing in your current work?
Nick: On the last EP, we had a lot of influence from drum & bass that we listened to when we started raving. I think that our previous work was influenced by garage. I used to collect garage records initially, then when I went out and started partying, drum and bass was popular. So, [as producers] we started out with garage as an influence, with the Love Taking Over EP being more drum & bass-inspired. The atmospheres, vibes and sounds on that EP are more drum and bass. On "Yoohoo," it's different again, taking that classic piano house thing and going back to classic house, Sasha and Digweed style. It's also got some classic rave feel as well. Basically, we're taking old things and using new inspirations.
Alfie: There's a balance between what we want to hear and what connects with audiences. We are DJs, too, so it doesn't help us to make a bunch of pop tracks that make people stop dancing. These days it's a lot easier for us with the popularity and awareness to our music, because at first it was a lot more difficult to judge if it was working because we weren't playing out all of the time. We always had small gigs in bars, and a big gig every couple of months. It was harder to play a track, see the response, and then come back to a bigger room every couple of months.
Nick: Gigging a lot helps in the production process, fine tuning tracks and such. We're playing out a lot of 90% finished tracks. Essentially, we're just changing arrangements, as all of the elements of the tune are there. Maybe we'll think, "this drags a bit," or "oh, we can shorten this." Some tracks are also finished, but then we decide not to release them, but just hold them for a rainy day.
If you could remix any one classic track that influenced you into getting into production, what would that track be, and why?
Alfie: Maybe an old rave/hardcore track by Omni Trio called "Feel Good," or their track "Mystic Stepper (Feel Better)." We tried to do an edit [of "Mystic Stepper"], but we needed to get the original parts and vocals. That's a track that was very special to us.
Nick: It's hard, because I feel like some of those tunes shouldn't be touched. All of those tunes–to me–are perfect as they are. A remix would be nowhere near as good as the original.
So, here's a simple question regarding Dusky's rise in popularity. Why you? Why now?
Alfie: Your guess is as good as ours! We still have this thing where we make a tune and think, "oh this is wicked! This will be our next biggest tune, and everyone will look at us like, 'what is this?'" Then, sometimes you'll make a tune in five minutes and people say, "oh, this is a banger!" We still don't know what works. We just do what we believe in. Some things hit, some things miss. As far as our popularity, there's something happening with the whole house revival thing, and people are much more open to it here, like they already were in the UK and Europe. It's part of a major trend towards electronic music.