Some days you wake up and just have a blinder — for Dusky that blinder has been pretty much every day for the last year. It’s fair to say that the London duo have — in technical parlance — well-and-truly smashed it. Number #1 iTunes Dance Single of 2012? In the bag with the beyond-ubiquitous 'Flo Jam'. Radio 1 Essential Mix? Done, knocked off with style, and shortlisted for mix of the year. They’ve helped shift the paradigms for dubstep and house, had productions rinsed by everyone from Loefah to Calvin Harris, and killed it in Ibiza at DC-10. Ebullient and still humble, is it any surprise that Dusky producers Alfie Granger-Howell and Nick Harriman are loving life right now?
“Last year it just all seemed to come together for us, it’s been amazing,” Alfie starts, chatting in their studio. “Getting asked to do the Essential Mix was a big highlight, because it’s such an institution. It was funny because it was quite last minute, we only had a week or so to do it which was probably a good thing because it stopped us thinking too much, and we just had to get stuck in straight away. And it turned out to be a great opportunity because we had a load of tracks we’d just finished up.”
Naturally the nocturnal genius of 'Flo Jam' made the mix. A skippy new garage direction for the duo, it was the track that put them firmly on the map in 2012. In the Essential Mix it was showcased alongside the ‘new things’ Alfie’s talking about, deep warehouse techno bombs that are pushing them down a moodier path, turning away from the hordes of 'Flo Jam' imitators. Nick disputes that they’ve gone particularly dark, though.
“We made 'Flo Jam' a long time ago, and by the time it came out, everyone was jumping on this garage-y thing. Now the promos we get sent just sound so much alike, kind of garage-influenced stuff that’s a little bit cheeky, and annoying — well it sounds annoying to me. So recently we’ve been doing stuff that’s turning against that a little bit, but staying true to what we’ve done before. The current EP is the result of that. I wouldn’t say it’s a conscious decision to turn ‘darker’ because when people describe their music as dark I always find it a little bit strange. It’s definitely a conscious decision to go against that playful garage sound which is a bit played out at the moment.”
DJ Mag suggests that rather than going against the grain, they’re part of a general movement, that has seen the dubstep producers turning distinctly housey, and the house beat makers embracing the rougher edges of bass tracks — the question is, what is it about the Dusky vibe that has attracted so many heads from so many scenes?
“A lot of it is luck really,” Alfie considers. “Last year was such an interesting year for dubstep because the scene was changing so quickly, it was almost as if it was splitting into different threads, and so I think it just happened to be timing. People were looking back into the roots of dubstep and garage stuff, and that kinda sound had a connection to us and our tracks. It’s great for us; when it started happening it was quite unexpected really, because we hoped a lot of our house heroes would play our tracks but we didn’t necessarily think that the dubstep heads would have that much affinity with the music — but they did.
From that we’ve ended up playing at a lot of different sorts of parties, we’ve played loads of straight up house gigs, but also a lot of more bass-oriented nights. There are times we’ve been a bit worried before we’ve come on, because the person before is playing, well, dubstep, 140bpm trap stuff, and we’re not sure how it’s gonna go down, but we’ve always been pleasantly surprised. The people from the bass scene are really feeling the house sound now.”
“What was telling,” Nick chimes in, “was when we were playing in a student town, and it was like a Wednesday night, and we were playing full-on techno to a room full of students just going with it. A year ago that wouldn’t have happened, so it’s pretty crazy how quickly people’s tastes change. There are still differences in our gigs, though. The more bassy crowd like our 'Don’t Go' remix, or the Shadow Child bootleg of 'Deep Inside', whereas a house crowd won’t want something that’s so in-your-face, they’ll want things a bit more linear and subtle.”
Fortunately this across-the-board appeal hasn’t led to any disastrous, inappropriate bookings, and so far the duo have been embraced wherever they play — although Harriman tells me they’ve had to pull a few floors apart and start afresh.
“We were playing a place in Birmingham last week, and the guy before us was playing quite fast, in-your-face bouncy garage,” he explains. “And we had to reset the dancefloor cos we had nowhere else to go at that point. It was 12 at night and he was already really banging it out hard. So we reset and lost a few people, then steadily won them back, rather than stay on that plane and bang it out for two hours solid.”
It’s tempting to see this as a metaphor for Dusky’s rapid ascent — they’re resetting the nation’s dancefloor, slowing tempos, bringing back the art of set building, and taking things to a far deeper place. The next 12 months will see them consolidate their position with a slew of highly anticipated releases — with one special track in particular.
“We’ve got a remix — which I dunno if we’re allowed to talk about yet (they Skype back after the interview to say that yeah, they can…) – it’s of FCL’s 'It’s You', which is getting reissued by Defective,” Alfie beams. “It’s us, MK and Larry Heard remixing it. We just finished a new version of that like, yesterday.”
The prospect of the so-desired-it’s-£200-on-Discogs cut 'It’s You' getting the Dusky re-rub should already work a terabyte's worth of forum botherers into a meltdown of excitement. However it’s merely the tip of an ever-growing iceberg, says Alfie. “We’ve got the four-track EP on Aus coming up next, then an EP on Ben Westbeech’s Naked Naked label, which is two tunes — 'Vanishing Point', which is in our Essential Mix, and another one called 'Truth Capital T' which Loefah’s been playing a lot. Then we’re gonna just keep working on tracks up to the end of the year when we’ve got another release on School [Loefah's new house-oriented label]. At the moment we just wanna follow the tracks themselves and see where they take us.”
And that doesn’t account for their hectic gigging schedule. Dusky are off on their first Stateside tour in March, and they’re already hyped for the DJ Mag party in Miami.
“We’ve never been to Miami, but we’ve heard so much about it, so we’re really looking forward to it, it’s gonna be wicked. We’ve heard that it’s a really epic party at the Delano. There are so many things we’re looking forward to playing; festivals, Miami, going back to Ibiza in the summer — I think just visiting all these places and partying with all these people, that’s what we want to enjoy this year.” He leaves the last words to his studio partner.
“I want to maintain our productivity…” Nick says, happy in his certainty. “I want to see a lot of places, play a lot of great gigs and still put out loads of good music. That’ll be an achievement.”
Catch Dusky Sunday 17th March on the Bayfront Stage at Ultra, and at the DJ Mag Miami party at Delano on 20th March.
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