Dusky talk new album ‘Outer’ and dig deep into their creative process [Interview]
5 years ago, Alfie Granger-Howell and Nick Harriman formally united their classical and electronic sensibilities under the moniker of Dusky. In the time since, the pair have evolved into one of the most foremost duos in the underground dance community. They first entered the scene with their debut album Stick By This on their former home of Anjunadeep, drawing the world into their raw, melodic vision of house and techno.
Since then, their growth has been immense to say the least. In 2013, British duo shocked underground and mainstream electronic fans alike by climbing to the top of Beatport with “Careless.” Demand for Dusky consequently spiked, with their success culminating in the creation of their very own imprint 17 Steps, which launched in 2014.
Now, they’ve celebrated the release of their second studio album Outer, a brilliant 11-track offering essentially securing the pair’s longevity in the world of dance music.
We sat down with Dusky to discuss their new album as well as their rigorous, at times brutal, creative process.
What was the inspiration behind the album Outer? Is there a narrative you wanted to evoke?
It came about ‘cause we were really focusing on club EPs and stuff that was working well for us in our DJ sets, but we hadn’t done anything since our first album in 2011. Over the last couple of years, we’ve been setting aside tracks that work in our DJ sets, but also are just as good for home listening. Within the last 18 months before the album was out we were kind of focusing on filling in the gaps as much as possible. We’d already come up with quite a few tracks that worked, but there was still some stuff we had to figure out.
In terms of a narrative, there’s no real conceptual story behind it; we guess we just wanted to express what kind of tastes we were into because we’ve got really eclectic tastes, and wanted to explore different ideas and styles and cover all the bases. So it’s really just a summary of what we’ve been about over the past couple years.
When you came out with “Ingrid Is A Hybrid,” which contains a lot of breakbeat-type sounds, you said that the track really defined the Dusky sound. Why this type of sound, as opposed to the usual 4/4 club-oriented stuff you’re known for?
Well, breakbeat is really club-oriented as well. But for sure — when we first broke through into electronic, a lot of people who played our music were actually playing a lot of broken-beat sounds and other similar styles; it was sort of like a melting pot of house and dubstep that gave way to new sounds that mixed four-to-the-floor and broken-beat stuff, so that’s always been with us and influenced what we’re into. Naturally, we had to put that sound in the album. Even some of our older tracks, like “Nobody Else,” have sections in them that feature that broken-beat sound. We suppose in a way that “Ingrid Is A Hybrid” was an extension of that, but also represents some of the light sounds that liberate us.
How many songs did you go through to come up with the final tracklist?
Quite a lot! Not necessarily finished tracks, either. We’d work through a lot ideas we’d started on the go – on our laptops, on tour, in hotels, places like that. We don’t tend to develop them much; some of them come as a short loop, or a three-minute skeleton of sorts. Oftentimes it was a case of coming back into the studio and deciding which ones to develop. Some of those we developed and finished, but then put them back in the pile of things to recycle or use later. We’re quite brutal with our ideas as well, but at the same time we do come up with a lot. I’m not sure what the ratio is, but there are probably a lot more ideas that stay as ideas – around a 1 in 20 ratio – than there are that get turned into a finished tune.
As creatives, do you guys ever get a nagging feeling that the work you put out is subpar, and you have to work extra hard to make sure it’s presentable?
Totally! That’s the thing.When you first start making music, you can be really into an idea and think “Oh, this is great!” but then the next day think “Ahh, what the hell was I thinking?!” We personally thought that whole process would disappear in our experience, but ultimately, it’s still the same thing. It takes a long time to trust your own opinion. That’s what’s great about working in a duo. Sometimes you do start something and the other person will think it’s crap. But if they get excited about it, then you know there’s got to be something there.
Sometimes you read about people saying “oh yeah if you listen to it and you’re proud of it and start dancing around the studio, then it works.” In our opinion, sometimes you’re really into something and you think “this is going to be wicked” and you spend time on it, leave it for a couple days, then come back to it and it just doesn’t work at all — even though it might be good and some people might enjoy it, you have to draw the line and wait for those things to come through. Normally the ideas that are the strongest tend to come through to the top of the release list.
Would you say this trait ties into your success? For example, would you say that both of you being able to critique each others’ ideas is advantageous toward creating tracks that do so well on the dancefloor?
For sure. It’s hard to have that ultimate confidence in what you’re doing. Even between us, if we feel we really believe in a tune, and we play it out in public and the reaction just isn’t what we expected, we can go back and start rearranging it, test it out in in new DJ sets, and try to kind of build it into something more effective for the audience. There are a lot of things, really – -for example, sometimes you’ll make a 10-minute, 12-minute long tune, and for us we’re quite happy to listen to to something that long, but our target audience might not be very open to that at the moment (thought in specific places they are).
Do you think that that kind of impatient mentality might subside soon?
Maybe — people are becoming open but we think the kind of impatience in that sense is just more of where people are culturally at the moment. There’s a culture of instant gratification through any means — music, photos, Instagram, food, it’s all instant. We don’t really see that changing anytime soon unless there’s an actual shift in our culture. But who knows! There will still be pockets of people that will appreciate that and will have the patience, though.
Let’s talk about your transition from Solarity to Dusky — what drew you to your current darker sound, and was the change in name a play on words?
No, not really. But yeah, we just follow what we’re interested in at the time. Some of it is taste, some of it is already what we’re interested in in the studio just geeking out — what really, for lack of a better word, “turns us on” in terms of what really inspires us and what sounds we hear from others that make us wonder “how the hell did they make that?”
You started your label 17 Steps as an outlet for your own music and representation of your sound. Since creating it, have you honed in on a specific type of sound?
Not really; we’ve always wanted to keep a very open sense of style with 17 Steps, so anything can happen stylistically in terms of what we put out. Obviously, we’re following our own tastes but we’re also following the trends that are out there in the world. We’ve got a few different things coming up – some more housey, some are more broken-beat. It’s quite varied, and we like it like that. We like to play with various styles within our sets. Obviously there are limits — we’re not about to put out a country record, for example, but ultimately, we want to keep it open between house, techno, and other electronic music.
The label is so young, so at this point we feel the music will define the label rather than us having an idea of what we want and enforcing it that way. You just have to take the music you like, and slowly over time develop the soundscape of the label, and the music will dictate it overtime. We’ll see where it goes!
Was there a defining moment in your career when you were inspired to make the leap into label ownership?
We were waiting until we had enough of a profile to where people knew what we were actually doing first before starting the label. Also, it was a natural progression — when you’re touring all the time, you kind of want to tie your touring around the times you release stuff. And when you release stuff on other peoples’ labels, sometimes it’s difficult to fit around your own schedule as they have their own releases and others to look after. So it was really a combination of both factors that led us to create 17 Steps. Our new album, for example, was something we wanted to put out on our own terms. We’re not only going to release on our label from now on, however; we’re always open to releasing on other labels, especially ones we’ve worked with in the past.
Listen to Dusky’s new album ‘Outer’ below:
Photos via Dan Wilton