The house/techno stalwart and prolific duo talk pirate radio, memorable nights out and EDM culture.
Paul Woolford is a house mainstay whose harder, rougher new alias Special Request made its debut last year wiht a string of self-released singles, and came to new dominance in 2013 with a no-holds-barred EP and album ('Soul Music') for new Fabric-affiliated label Houndstooth.
Meanwhile, London-based house/techno-bending duo Dusky - that's Nick Harriman and Alfie Granger-Howell - have been on a steady rise to dancefloor dominance since 2012 with a string of EP releases. This year they've been particularly prolific, releasing three EPs, their latest being the 'Careless' EP for Aus in September.
Both are playing at Fabric this month; Woolford's a regular behind the famous decks, but for Granger-Howell and Harriman it'll be their first time on the other side of the London club's dancefloor. We got them to sit down together ahead of the event to share hard-won wisdom and anecdotes on the differences between crowds, the infiltration of EDM culture and how pirate radio shaped their musical paths.
MEETINGS AND MIAMI
Paul Woolford: "The Bugged Out gig was one of my favourites this year. It's not the first time we've played on the same bill but it was the first time we played consecutively. XOYO is quite the sweatbox..."
Nick Harriman: "Yeah we had a great night at XOYO, Paul smashed it."
Woolford: "So did you!"
Harriman: "Thanks! We played together before at a roof party in Miami."
Woolford: "Oh dear. Memories... that was a messy afternoon/evening..."
Harriman: "Yes very, ha! I remember the Bicep lads unplugging the decks several times."
Woolford: "And various bits of ice being thrown. Why does that place bring out the worst/best in people?!"
Harriman: "Oh yeah! Totally forgot about that! The diner afterwards was quality too. They had to cordon us off from the rest of the restaurant..."
Woolford: "I was fully expecting police, but the staff seemed to be used to this kind of behaviour, almost as if it's compulsory. Miami is such a cartoon place. I always enjoy it, but it can be surreal."
Alfie Granger-Howell: "We were there the other day actually while on tour in the U.S. It was very different to what it's like in March at WMC time, still crazy though! The crowd was really good there this time round, it was one of the best shows of the tour."
Woolford: "Which venue was it?"
Woolford: "Excellent. I remember being in there when it was called Groovejet for the Tenaglia marathon years ago. 2000 maybe. Terry Farley in the corner, Carl Cox on the bar, that's showbiz. How was the rest of the tour? I really think the US has opened up to house music again."
"Dirt is a key component for me.. I really like things completely submerged in it, but they tend to sound appalling at loud volumes. Good if you want to clear a room though!" - Paul Woolford
Granger-Howell: "Wowzer! That sounds amazing. The rest of the tour was great, it surpassed our expectations in fact. Almost all the shows were busy and people seemed to have done their homework. It might be my imagination but it seemed like our kind of sound has gained a lot more fans out there from even six months ago when we were there last."
Woolford: "That's a definite - my first contact with your work was hearing Loefah play Calling Me on Rinse. Immediately I had to find out what it was, and it was Boddika that mentioned your name to me. I think there's few producers who make house records as well-engineered as yours are but without losing some grit. Your productions retain that. Is that intentional?"
Harriman: "Ah I remember it well, sound like a bit of a fanboy now but I was well excited when I saw the message come through from you on Twitter ha! We definitely maintain some grit in our productions intentionally as things which sound too polished aren't to our tastes. I think you must do the same on your productions right? Listening to the new Special Request album it has a very nice balance of grit and polish."
Woolford: "For sure, dirt is a key component for me.. I really like things completely submerged in it, but they tend to sound appalling at loud volumes. Good if you want to clear a room though!"
UK CROWDS vs US CROWDS
Granger-Howell: "For us, the UK crowds are the most clued-up in terms of knowing the latest tracks and trends, at least relating to our sound. And they tend to really go for it too in terms of crowd response. In our experience the rest of Europe can vary wildly. A lot of the time people are a lot more reserved in terms of crowd reaction, so it can be difficult to judge what tracks they're feeling. We love playing up north in the UK - Manchester, Liverpool, Leeds etc as well as Scotland, the crowds can get really wild there!"
Woolford: "UK crowds definitely seem to 'indulge' more than in other places, and this feeds into the atmosphere... I find Scotland and Ireland gigs are often berserk, maybe this is because the licensing laws mean the clubs shut earlier so they get their money's worth. I'm from Leeds and we have a history of particularly rowdy clubs so I sometimes find myself wanting some crowds to be more receptive, but different places move in different ways.
"I always think there's an odd kind of detachment with many booths, the best ones are when you are right on the same level as people which is what I love about Room 1 in Fabric, the Mint Club in Leeds, the Sub Club in Glasgow and Twitch in Belfast. They are excellent clubs."
"I dislike booths that are too high and put a big emphasis and focus on the DJ, something which is getting worse with the infiltration of big room 'EDM' culture. People at a rave should be dancing and interacting with each other, not just staring at someone DJing." - Nick Harriman, Dusky
Harriman: "Definitely, I think the way British people consume alcohol and other substances has a lot to do with the crowd reacting in such a rowdy way. Alfie and I have grown up going garage and drum 'n' bass raves where the crowd can get so hyped up it's just nuts, so we prefer it when people show their energy and we can feed off it as DJs. The booth at Sub Club is great for that. I dislike booths that are too high and put a big emphasis and focus on the DJ, something which is getting worse with the infiltration of big room 'EDM' culture in underground dance music.
"People at a rave should be dancing and interacting with each other, not just staring at someone DJing. It's not even very interesting to watch in my opinion. We've never played Room 1 at Fabric but have had many messy nights on the dancefloor so really looking forward to experiencing it from a different perspective."
Woolford: "I completely agree - it's fucking boring to watch! The best moments I have had on dancefloors over the years have never involved staring at a DJ. Another thing I've noticed is that there seems to be an infiltration of photographers of late, where are they all coming from?"
Granger-Howell: "True! Especially if you count the amateur iphone photographers and camera-persons in the crowds too, ha. What can we expect from your Fabric set by the way? Will you be playing a lot of the Special Request stuff? Or are you going to see what happens on the night?"
Woolford: "I'm booked as Paul Woolford so it will be more on the house/techno side with some of the lower tempo SR stuff. The full Special Request sets start at 155bpm or so, I'm not sure Room 1 is ready for that just yet....! I'm going to be playing for Metalheadz in Room 2 next week as Special Request so we'll see what emerges."
"I think [the internet has] made some people complacent instead of pushing them to listen to material outside their comfort zone, which is something which radio shows were and are really good at encouraging." - Alfie Granger-Howell, Dusky
Woolford: "For me, the stations I used to listen to were PCR, Dream FM, Energy FM and People's FM and they were all broadcast from Yorkshire. Occasionally I could pick up faint signals from Sheffield, I had a few afternoons hearing Asterix & Space broadcast from over there but that was it. PCR was the one that held my attention the most. Pirate radio exposed me to sounds that I would not have otherwise heard at that point in my life, I was too young to go to clubs. It was vital for me."
Granger-Howell: "Pirate radio was hugely influential for us too. Similarly it was the main way we discovered different kinds of dance music before we were old enough to go to clubs. We can remember listening to Kool FM, Rude FM, Origin FM, Eruption FM for drum 'n' bass and hardcore, and Raw FM, Mission FM, Freak FM, Passion FM for garage.
"I think the internet has changed people's listening habits for both better and worse. It's a lot easier to discover new music and information about clubbing and raving culture in general; there's an endless amount of music, videos and articles at your fingertips. But on the other hand I think it's made some people complacent instead of pushing them to listen to material outside their comfort zone, which is something which radio shows were and are really good at encouraging."
Dummy: "You mean like people don't search out new and challenging things for themselves?"
Granger-Howell: "Yeah, I think some people just resort to typing their favourite artist in the Spotify search bar or their iTunes library, and they stick with that rather than listening to stuff which is perhaps more challenging or unfamiliar, which radio can often encourage you to do. With the more limited choice of radio stations in the past compared to on-demand listening these days you were forced to sit through some of the more unusual bits which ultimately led to a richer experience. It's the same thing with albums, in the past you were more inclined to sit through a whole album even if you weren't so keen on some of the tracks, whereas now there's more of an impatient culture where people often cherry-pick the tracks they like."
Paul Woolford and Dusky will both play Room 1 at Fabric on the 22nd November - more information on that here.