“My objective was always to make cooler records than the sh*t you hear on daytime radio…” 909originals meets Duke Dumont, part two

Following on from part one of our chat with Duke Dumont, in part two we discuss the path that led to creation of his debut long player earlier this year, the importance of remaining true to your musical heritage and whether One Direction could have done with a Radiohead-style overhaul.

Dumont’s latest release, Duality Remixed, was unveiled last month, and features reworkings of tracks such as Ocean Drive, Obey, Love Song and Let Me Go by a cornucopia of dance music’s finest. You can download/buy the album here.

Over to you, Mr Dumont…

You’ve been making music for more than a decade now, and so it’s surprising that Duality is your first album. You had a few massive hits about six or seven years ago, but you didn’t ‘feed the dragon’, you bided your time. Would that be fair to say?

There’s not one direct answer I can give you. The first is that at the time, I was doing too many shows. I remember between Need U (100%) and I Got U there was a year wait, and there was a lot of pressure on me to make a record.

I’m not one of those people that can go from touring to working hard in the studio – it’s two different parts of your brain. When you have four hours on a Wednesday and five hours on a Thursday, that’s not a good way to work.

The second thing was there actually was an album, but it never got released. I’m happy it didn’t come out to be honest, as it wouldn’t have been as good as what Disclosure did with Settle, which would have come out at the same time. I think people don’t give enough credit to Disclosure actually, they paved the way for modern house music that could both have integrity and huge chart potential.

One thing I wanted with Duality was to make every track on there able to play live. When I play live I can take elements of the tracks and mutate it into one grand piece of music and experience, in the same way that someone like Todd Terje does.

The album spans various musical styles, you’ve got pop music on there, four-to-the-floor house music, there’s even a classical piano track, Overture. If you had released an album around the time of Need U (100%) and I Got U, do you think it would have been a lot more formulaic? Now you have an opportunity to express your different musical personalities?

I wouldn’t have a career if it wasn’t for those two records. But two years before that, I was speaking to Stones Throw about putting something out on that label, and speaking to Warp Records about putting a record out on Warp. Nobody sees that side – I’m genuinely obsessed with all types of music.

In terms of the more commercial aspects, the goal with a track like Ocean Drive was to try to make one of the best pop songs possible. Arrogantly or accurately – I’m not sure which – I think I did that. It’s stood the test of time.

It’s a shame that UK radio didn’t really back it, but then again, it enabled me to find my career path in a way, because the rest of the world embraced it. It enabled me to play arena shows in Australia, and to have a presence in America.

It made me realise that a lot of things in your life are kind of on a knife edge, where there are certain people that might pick up on your work, or they don’t.

One of the reasons why I’m so happy about making an album now – and working on a second one – is that I was able to put some time into it, and I wasn’t distracted by the flashing lights of commercial success.

I don’t mind the records I’ve made, my objective was always to make cooler records than the sh*t you hear on daytime radio, and to have a positive effect on people listening to them.

My advice to any act, whether you are a band or make electronic music – if you don’t have commercial tastes, don’t make commercial music. It will send you into a psychosis. Don’t go out simply to make money.

If you want to make money, work on a catalogue of music and play the long game – think of it in terms of a ten or 12 year project, like what Four Tet does, or Bicep, or Bonobo.

If your taste is for commercial music, sign to a label, release a single, and another, and another.

At the moment, with COVID, I can see some acts getting a lot more commercial, but they’re doing it in a really bad way. That sort of approach will leave you in the middle ground of neither being cool or overground. You don’t want to get stuck in the middle.

At the same time, a lot of artists get pigeonholed into making one type
of music, and any deviation from that is rejected. Maybe a younger Duke Dumont could have got comfortable and stuck to one sound, but by takin a step back you’ve had the opportunity to redefine yourself?

I’m in a fortunate position. Fair play to EMI – they’ve never really blocked any music I’ve made – so when the label says ‘we want to put emphasis on Love Song, or Let Me Go, with RY X’, they get behind it and have full confidence in me. They know it’s going to work out. That’s a very rare situation to be in.

So it’s a bit like The Beatles in the second half of their career?

The Beatles became The Beatles because they stopped touring. They were like One Direction before that, like Bill Haley with Rock Around The Clock.

Can you imagine One Direction doing what they did, and going off to work with Radiohead or something like that? It’s mind-blowing when you think about it.

I think the general consciousness pigeonholes artists so badly that people aren’t willing to accept when acts go slightly askew, or even more into sub-genres. If you’re in the Tech House category on Beatport, but you make a melodic techno track, the response can be severe.

On Duality Remixed you’ve worked with a huge amount of artists, such as Cerrone, Luttrell, Mano Le Tough and Purple Disco Machine – when you released Duality back in April, was the idea always to do a remix album?

There have been a couple of remix albums that I’ve been really fond of. I remember Caribou had a remix album, and it really complimented his other work. From a selfish point of view, I wanted to do a remix album so that I could take the tracks and put them into my show and mash them up – turn them into something bigger than they already were.

Quite a few of the artists that remixed the album are friends of mine, and people I would know personally, so it’s always nice to work with them.

Obviously it’s a shame they can’t be heard played out on proper speakers at the moment, but I appreciate those that stepped up and made such a good job of it.

The way dance music has evolved in the past decade or two, it’s not just to be listened to in a club though, is it? It’s for everyday life, whether dancing the kitchen or through headphones. Especially these days…

I don’t think there’s any other form of music that creates a communal experience en masse than dance music, whether that’s hip hop, or trap, or any other genre. No other music enables you to put 20,000 or 30,000 people on the same level.

Duality was made with that mindset of bringing everyone together, and the next album will be the same.

When is the next album due?

Whenever it will be done, it will be done. I’m taking my time with it. I’m working at it like a regular job, and it’s coming along nicely.

[Thanks to Duke Dumont for talking to us. You can buy/download Duality Remixed by clicking here]

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