Growlers: The Dance World According to Pig&Dan
It’s Sunday afternoon at CRSSD Festival in San Diego. Pig&Dan are DJing atop a large, wood-paneled stage, dancing jovially to a delightful remix of The Doors. The pair are dressed in dark, shadowy clothing: the kind of chic, monochromatic attire common among European techno elite.
Behind them, San Diego’s downtown cityscape rises above the horizon, glistening in the afternoon sun. To their left, a handful of pirate-like ships float silently on the bay, sails swaying in the wind. It’s an intoxicating sight, and not an uncommon one at CRSSD Fest, Southern California’s burgeoning electronic event which attracts thousands of dance music fans to San Diego’s Waterfront Park twice a year.
It’s an earlier set time than Pig&Dan are used to, having made a name for themselves DJing peak-hour slots at many of Europe’s largest clubbing institutions, yet they handle it well. Swapping slamming techno for more hypnotic, melody-driven cuts, they provide an entrancing afternoon performance befitting of the serene outdoor setting.
Off stage now, set finished, Pig&Dan are devouring some local tacos. They’re quick to confess they haven’t slept much in the past 48 hours. This is their third gig in just as many days. You wouldn’t be able to tell it from their energy however. As we walk through the crowd to find a quiet spot for our interview, the pair are buzzing with enthusiasm, interacting with nearly every stranger they pass.
Artist tent located, Pig&Dan settle in among friends. Within minutes, the pair are joyfully recounting the hedonistic days of their early career: tales of all-night parties in Spain, illegal raves, and an abundance of substances.
“It was like the typical club kids movie,” Pig says. “I was basically a vampire. My house was the afterparty.” This was fifteen years prior, in rural Mallorca.
“I would come in the morning, all civilized,” Dan says. “There’d be people lying over the sofas. I would lock myself in the studio and they’d still be partying. People would walk in, sometimes in underpants, and be like ‘oh shit, you’re working!’”
Nowadays, Pig (real name Igor Tchkotoua) is 10-years sober. Dan rarely drinks. The pair approach their career with the kind of lean, regimented discipline required to be a globally-trotting techno act.
It’s a mindshift which has served them well. Over the past decade, Pig&Dan have traced a remarkable trajectory in the underground. From releasing analog techno albums like 2016’s Modular Baptism, to chilled-out ambient LPs for Bedrock, the pair have consistently proven their knack for polished production. In more recent time, they’ve become a tremendous force on Adam Beyer’s Drumcode imprint, the Swedish powerhouse label responsible for much of the world’s fascination with arena-sized techno.
Back in their artist tent, Pig&Dan are musing over their Mallorca days when a familiar face walks by: “Oh my god it’s Diggers!,” the pair exclaim in uncanny unison at the sudden appearance of John Digweed.
As the two get up to embrace the legendary British DJ, their affection for their old friend spills out immediately. “You look like you’re 20 years old,” Pig says. “How the f-ck do you do it?”
John, beaming to see the pair, remarks how he was planning to play some of their music in his set. A few more words are exchanged and then Digweed is off to deliver his own performance at the festival. (For Diggers, by the way, it’s been three days without sleep).
Smiling post-Digweed appearance, Dan recalls an old conversation with the dance veteran. “John pointed this out to us years ago,” he says. “When he started DJing, he used to be the guy in the corner with no lights on him. People didn’t even really acknowledge that he was there. EDM very much changed that to the focus of the DJ.”
There’s a palpable nostalgia to Dan’s words: a yearning for a time when the music trumped the persona of the DJ. For their own part, Pig&Dan do their best to recapture this feeling when they play.
“We turn the lights off,” Pig says. “We want it as dark as possible. What the darkness does to people is it un-inhibits them. You don’t care about anything. It makes a huge difference.”
In some ways, it’s a reaction to the kind of DJ-centrism which Digweed speaks of: the era of the superstar DJ, which in recent time, is just as prevalent in underground culture as it is in mainstream. “The competition out there has become about branding more than music,” Dan says. “People just look at names.”
Perhaps exemplifying this trend best is the rise of Instagram culture and the pressure for DJs to enact an active online presence. For artists like Pig&Dan, self-described “cave creatures,” the constant requirement to share their lives online doesn’t come easily. “We struggle with that,” Pig says. “If we don’t do it, we struggle.”
Much of the pair’s frustration stems from the disproportionate career trajectory which social media can foster: “To get to this point with our music, our production, our DJ sets, it’s taken us 22 years of hard work,” Pig says. “And now someone can do that in six months.”
It’s not hard to find evidence of Pig’s words. Even in the underground, a culture which has traditionally been upheld as a more purist pursuit, trends like viral videos clips and recycled memes still abound. And while these kinds of marketing tactics do yield career results for some, Pig believes there is no true substitution for putting in the hard work. “The quality of that music, of the set, and the way they read that room is not going to be the same,” he says. “And in the long run, we will see the distance.”
It’s the kind of staunch dedication to craftsmanship on which the underground was built: an undying belief that talent will always trump hype. While it’s a notion that has increasingly come into question by many of house and techno’s latest superstars, it’s ultimately the kind of gritty idealism that will see Pig&Dan continue to remain a force in the underground for years to come.
When all else fails, at least, the pair know they can turn to their accomplished body of work. “Hopefully we’ve made a few tracks that will persevere through time,” Pig says. “Even if tomorrow there’s a zombie apocalypse and everything goes down, you’ll still have a record player and you’ll be able to play a Pig&Dan track on vinyl.”
Pig&Dan’s new EP, ‘Reset Your Bassline,’ is due out on Sven Väth’s Cocoon imprint on Nov. 16. Catch them performing at fabric London for their ‘Odyssey’ event series this Sunday, Nov. 4.