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Q&A: Dusky Talk EDM’s Future & Whether DJs Should Get Political

Brit overground bass house DJ/producers Dusky are big news in Australia. Last November Nick Harriman and Alfie Granger-Howell sold out a Melbourne Music Week gig (alongside now persona non grata Ten Walls) in just 48 hours. They actually ventured down to Tasmania. On their upcoming fourth tour, Dusky will lead Listen Out together with ODESZA and Alison Wonderland.

Dusky premiered in 2011 – but the duo were already active as Solarity, cutting nu-prog for Anjunadeep, a province of Above & Beyond’s trance empire Anjunabeats. Their new handle signalled a fresh direction as they embraced deep, techy and bassy house on the album Stick By This.

The high school pals, both teen DJs, had grown up on pirate radio sounds – breakbeat, drum ‘n’ bass and UK garage. However, Dusky stood out because of their musicality – Granger-Howell, a piano pupil, studied composition at the prestigious Royal Academy of Music.

Soon, Radio 1’s Pete Tong was championing them. In 2012 Dusky enjoyed their biggest club hit to date in Flo Jam (on Dogmatik Records). Even Calvin Harris played the track. It was the ‘iTunes Dance Single of the Year’. In mid-2014 Dusky launched their own label, 17 Step, with the Love Taking Over EP. Lately, they’ve unleashed the Ordinary World EP, entailing Skin Deep – a classic garage banger haunted by ’90s ambi-house. The London lads have signed such acts as Christian Piers (half of Laszlo Dancehall) and Velvit (aka Darren White, the guy behind the jungle dBridge and brother of the Sydney-based Steve Spacek).

Watch: Dusky – Skin Deep

Music Feeds: You’re returning to Australia for Listen Out. Have you had a chance to suss out the festival line-up? Is there anyone you’re especially hoping to see, or even bond with, on tour?

Nick Harriman: Yeah, the line-up looks cool. Ryan Hemsworth is a name that stood out for me as his productions feel quite forward-thinking – it’ll be interesting to see how he builds his DJ sets.

MF: What have been 2015’s highlights for Dusky so far?

Alfie Granger-Howell: There have been so many great shows so far this year, but the highlight would have to be our first all-night party in London where we played for eight hours. It was such a great experience to be able to play a wide variety of music and know everyone there was willing to go with you on the journey. We’re doing another one in October at Oval Space in London.

MF: You recently issued the Ordinary World EP, which represents the many facets of your careers as producers and DJs. What has the support been like among the DJ ranks – since in the past Bloc Party’s Kele and Calvin Harris have played your music?

Nick Harriman: The support has been great, especially on the specialist radio shows at The BBC, which was a very satisfying and unexpected development. Many of the more underground DJs who we respect have picked up on the EP, too, so that’s great. There’s a fair bit of variety on there, so there’s something for everyone, so to speak – though by ‘everyone’ I mean a relatively niche group of house and techno DJs!

MF: The EP shares its title with a Duran Duran hit from the ’90s (subsequently covered, trance-style, by Aurora). Coincidence?

Alfie Granger-Howell: Yes, definitely a coincidence. We actually took the name from one of the stages of the literary monomyth theory on which we loosely based the name of our label 17 Steps.

Listen: Dusky – Jilted

MF: Ordinary World came out on 17 Steps as you marked the label’s first anniversary. But you’ve also released music by Christian Piers and Velvit. What can you tell us about them?

Nick Harriman: They’re both very talented musicians, producers and DJs, so it was an honour to have them release on our label. Hopefully we’ll have some more material from them soon, so keep a look out for that.

MF: Surprisingly for an outfit of your status you haven’t remixed a huge pop act yet – Rudimental and Hot Chip aside. Have you had offers? Is it something you’re even open to?

Alfie Granger-Howell: We’ve had offers but we pretty much stopped doing remixes after the Justin Martin one [Don’t Go] on dirtybird. After the success of that one, everyone just wanted another remix that sounded the same and we didn’t want to go down that route. We also find it easier to write originals than remixes – so, unless something really special comes up, then we don’t bother.

Listen: Rudimental – Feel The Love (Dusky Remix)

MF: Last year you guys said you were about halfway through another album – with more vocals. How is work progressing? Might we hear any new or unreleased material at Listen Out?

Nick Harriman: It’s coming along slowly but surely. You may hear some album material, but a lot of the tracks are less dancefloor-focussed than our single releases, so we may not have the opportunity to play them in a festival set. For us, an album needs to be a listening experience, otherwise we may as well just keep releasing EPs of club tracks.

MF: What is most exciting you in dance music right now?

Alfie Granger-Howell: The current trend of dance music shifting away from the EDM sound in America is exciting. It’ll be interesting to see where it ends up.

MF: Indeed, in the last year even in the US there has been a swing away from ‘EDM’ back to more grassroots, underground music – so much so that the Hollywood EDM DJ movie We Are Your Friends spectacularly flopped. Where do you see the scene going globally from here?

Alfie Granger-Howell: As I said, it’s an exciting time and it’ll be fascinating to see where it goes. I’m hoping there will at least be some feed down into the underground that helps grow the scene from the grassroots but, most likely, this trend of pop ‘deep house’ will become more and more popular until it becomes over-saturated and then everyone will move on to the next thing – probably hip-hop or more guitar-based music.

MF: Dance music is generally apolitical beyond fostering a communal, inclusive vibe at parties, etc. Do you think DJs should use their profiles for social change – or is it best left to politicians and activists?

Nick Harriman: I think it’s best left to people who work or have trained in the field professionally or [who] have dedicated their life to politics and social change through writing and philosophy. Just because you have a platform to share your opinions doesn’t mean that you should – chances are nobody wants to hear it.

Listen Out kicks off its national tour this month, get all the deets and ticket links here. Dusky are also appearing at Brown Alley in Melbourne Thursday October 1st, deets here.

Listen: Velvit – No Excuses Feat Steve Spacek

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