Billboard caught up with the decorated duo in Los Angeles to discuss their commercial breakthrough and creative process in the studio.
How did you two meet and begin working together as Dusky?
Nick: We met in college in the U.K. when we were 16. We'd both been DJing and experimenting with production before we met, and we just became friends in school and started working together. We had another project called Solarity before, more progressive house stuff before it became EDM, along the lines of Sasha + Digweed. We were working on an album for Anjunadeep, and the stuff sounded so different from what we did before, so we were like, "Why not use a new name?" Since then, we've just been working on that kind of sound.
How did the project build steam and take off?
Nick: Pete Tong picked up our 2012 album, Stick By This, so it got some good support. He had a good relationship with Anjunadeep because he supports Above & Beyond's stuff. We had another tune after called "Flo Jam" on Dogmatic, a small U.K. label, that wasn't a massive tune but was quite big in the underground. A lot of people were playing it, and that was followed by another track on Dogmatic. It slowly built up like that. We had a run of a few tunes that kept the momentum going and it kept growing and growing. And I think the timing was right, because other people coming through at the same time like Disclosure, Huxley, George FitzGerald and Midland had almost a similar kind of vibe, so it just developed from there. I don't think there's one tune that was a turning point.
Did you expect the reception that your first Beatport No. 1 "Careless" received?
Nick: Not at all. We almost didn't put "Careless" out! We thought, "Oh, it's too simple." But Will Saul from Aus was like, "No, this is really strong, you should put it out."
What about it seemed too simple?
Nick: It just felt too straightforward. It's just like a functional club track, but there's nothing wrong with that. I do like the tune, but I guess at the time we felt we had other music that was stronger. All the tunes that we like never do as well as the ones we're not so fond of, but I think that's the same for many artists.
What are some of your favorite tunes you've released?
Nick: I really like "Words Later On" off the Careless EP. It kind of went under the radar. Also "Inta" off the new Love Taking Over EP. Both are much more clubby tracks that haven't crossed over as much.
What was the inspiration behind "Yoohoo," your latest Beatport No. 1? How did it come together?
Alfie: "Yoohoo" came about in a different way to most of our tracks in that we had a clear conceptual idea from the get-go. Usually we try to not to have too many preconceptions when we start a new idea so we can write as freely as possible, but in this case the idea was a very concrete one, albeit extremely simple: We wanted to create a full-blown piano house track. We wanted to reference the piano house classics of the '80s and '90s, whilst updating the concept for a current audience. As such, the piano riff came first, it took a lot of improvising on the keyboard until the final result was reached, but it's essentially untouched since then. The bass line is just the bottom notes of the chords emphasized. We took the vocal samples from another idea that we had since abandoned, and they slotted together perfectly. It took us a while to get the beats right, there were a few permutations that we weren't really happy with until we finally reached the current version which is what you hear today.
How do you feel your Beatport success has helped your career?
Alfie: It certainly seems to have helped our music reach to a bigger audience. As mentioned, it's managed to spread the tracks to far-flung corners of the globe, and it's a great feeling getting to play to those audiences when we tour around the world.
Nick: It takes a bit of time for those things to really filter through. Even if you have a Beatport No. 1, you don't really feel the effect of it, in terms of your profile, for like another six months or so. It wasn't like a sea change -- it felt rather gradual. It was a nice thing to happen, but it's also like... what's next? In 2012, it got busier and busier and I quit my other job in 2013.
What was that job?
Nick: I started a business when I left university with my friend. Strangely, we were importing animal costumes from Japan. All in one pajamas -- like onesies. [Laughs] My business partner carried it on because I didn't really have time to commit to it.
Is there a big market for Japanese animal onesies in the U.K.?
Nick: Oh a massive market! [Laughs] From a financial point of view, I had more success from that than music, but obviously music is my passion.
Talk a bit about your friendship and creative partnership in the studio.
Nick: We're just friends. We don't feel like we have to hold each other's hands everywhere we go. We know each other well enough that we can go sit by ourselves on the plane in headphones if we don't want to talk to anyone then. But equally if we do want someone to be there, Alfie will be there and I'll be there for him. We're more like brothers now. We spend a lot of time together, if we were gonna fall out, we probably would have ten years ago. Little minor things don't worry us.
Alfie: In the studio, we tend to sketch ideas on our own and pass them on to the other once we've reached a certain point with them, or when we've hit a creative wall with that particular idea. We usually have maybe 20 or so tracks on the go at any one time, and we come back to them regularly to see if we have any fresh new angles or new musical elements from other sketches that can be incorporated. Our areas of musical and production expertise mostly overlap but there are certain elements that one of us has more experience with.
Nick: I definitely approach more from a DJ/engineer side of things, while Alfie went to Royal Academy to study composition for media, so he's credible in music theory. But that's not to say it's been mutually exclusive, we both start ideas. But for example, I can make his track sound better and he can tweak my chords to make sure they're more interesting than otherwise, so it works out well.
Alfie: The process varies from track to track - sometimes I start an idea, or sometimes Nick does. Usually we spend a lot of time going back and reworking certain elements from a track, or reworking the entire thing apart from something quite small - a vocal sample for example. Sometimes it might be years before we see an idea through from start to finish, though there are obviously huge gaps in the process while we sit on the idea. Other times things come together from scratch over the course of a couple of days.
Your busy touring schedule must sometimes necessitate long-distance collaboration. Has that been a challenge to adapt to?
Nick: I don't see it as a challenge, it's just being able to adapt to your situation. That's why you practice. That's why since age 14, I've been sitting in front of the computer making tunes. If you put in all that practice and work, when the situation arises that you're not able to be in studio at same time, we both have the skills we need to finish a tune and send it off to mastering engineer. It hasn't been a hurdle so far; in fact, it's felt quite natural.
Have you felt the rising popularity of underground dance music in America firsthand?
Nick: We've been touring here since early 2013, and since then the parties have definitely gotten busier and people seem more clued up. At Escape from Wonderland, they asked us to play the main stage early on. Last year, that'd never happen. There's a definite shift. The promoters of the big parties are making an effort to try and accommodate it.
People think those big festivals are always really shit, but the crowd is so young and so open to what you're playing that it's actually really refreshing. Rather than going to play in London or Berlin, where everyone's really clued up and can go see loads of amazing DJs every weekend, for some of these kids that come to US festivals, that's their blowout opportunity to see some music they can't see every weekend and they really embrace it. I appreciate that.