Duke Dumont Discusses His Upcoming Album & The Current State Of House: Idolator Interview
It’s good to be Duke Dumont. The 32-year-old British producer just pulled off the hat track of having his last three singles chart at either #1 or #2 in the UK, and the first in that string, the deep house delight “Need U (100%)”, scored a Grammy nomination last year for Best Dance Recording. He’s also in the enviable position of heading up his own label, Blasé Boys Club. Yet despite all this, Duke isn’t one capitalize on his success by chasing down pop’s most recognizable faces to belt out his songs, as many of his contemporaries do.
“If I work with an artist, it’s because I rate them so highly, and for the soul they may have in their voice, as opposed to making a calculated record purely just to sell as many copies as possible,” he tells Idolator. It’s a philosophy that’s paid off handsomely so far.
“Need U (100%)”, “I Got U” and “Won’t Look Back” were collected for Dumont’s EP1 (grab it here), the release of which coincides with his current stateside tour. Head below to read the chat we had with him just before he hit the road.
How are you feeling now that you just wrapped your summer-long Blasé Boys Club residency in Ibiza?
DUKE DUMONT: Well it’s a mixture of feelings; everything is temporary. Hopefully next summer, it’ll start off again. But in a way, it’s also a good thing because I can fully concentrate on my live show and finishing the last few songs on my album. The chapter’s kind of closed on that. So now I’m switching my energies. In a way it’s sad, but it’s going to help my career.
You just put your EP1 out in the States, which gets us caught up on your post-“Need U (100%)” singles. How’s the progress with the album going?
DD: It’s going well. It just needs finishing touches on the last two or three songs, so I’m just trying to grab as much time as I can to wrap those up. It’s been a long time in the works, so it’s nice that it’s almost done.
Yolanda Quartey does the amazing powerhouse vocals on your most recent UK single, “Won’t Look Back.” How did you hook up with her for the collaboration?
DD: For that track, I had a particular style of vocal I wanted on there and there weren’t really many artists around who I thought could’ve really given that old-school, soulful performance. Yolanda mainly makes a living off of session singing and she’s sung with a lot of artists in the past, most recently with Massive Attack. The most important thing for me was the performance on the song, not necessarily aligning myself with an artist who might sell me more records. Hopefully in time I can look back at that song and be happy with the performance. So that’s how it happened. I heard how good of a singer she was and I reached out to her. That’s pretty much the bulk of my music — if I work with an artist, it’s because I rate them so highly, and for the soul they may have in their voice, as opposed to making a calculated record purely just to sell as many copies as possible. I have one goal for my music, and that’s five, ten years down the line, it still has a bit of soul to it. Hopefully it can stand the test of time. It’s not necessarily financial. Selling a lot of records is a great feeling, but it’s not at the top of my priorities.
When you performed “Won’t Look Back” for BBC Radio 1 Live Lounge, Moko provided the vocals. Will we see any recorded material from the two of you?
DD: I hope so, when I get a little more time on my hands. I’d like to choose songs for her album. I think she’s at the early stage of her career, and I’d love to be a part of that and be more well-known to her. She’s a great singer and she’s got a great image. She’s absolutely stunning. And she’s got soul. That’s the most important part. She’s trained for years, and she’s just a really good person. You never know. I think there’ll be a little bit of time when I finish the album [and] I might be able to quickly record a few songs that might end up being on [her] album. She’s definitely someone I want to work in the studio with and be inspired by.
“Won’t Look Back” plays like an homage to Black Box’s “Ride On Time.” Was that intentional?
DD: I think for me, there’s a particular era and a particular kind of style of dance music which I felt… Basically my niche in music is soul music and obviously dance music. But it’s not often where, in recent years, there’s been a lot of soulful vocals in upbeat music — like house music or EDM. My goal is to bring that back. I think [with “Won’t Look Back”] we brought it back on a subconscious level. I co-wrote it with Jax Jones. [The song] can definitely be seen that way, but when writing it, it wasn’t a conscious thing. We weren’t listening to that [Black Box] track. But “Ride On Time” is definitely registered in my psyche. I’m not claiming that I never heard the track; I think it’s a great song. It inspires the kind of vocal style that I work with. So I think in the subconscious of my mind when I was making it, that song was there.
There is definitely an evident, overall push currently to add vocals that elicit feeling from listeners of house music, especially coming out out the UK — the likes of which we haven’t heard in 20 years or so.
DD: I think there is a homage to those days, but I think what it is with dance music in recent years, it just hasn’t really had much vocals. I mean, we’ve had the pop stuff like Lady Gaga, but [it’s] kind of nightclub music. I definitely think it’s coming back into traditional dance music, as apposed to more electronic elements. One of them is “Latch” by Disclosure; it’s an incredible song. I think that’s going to be the kind of cultural shift that the UK is going to bring next year to American radio. I think in a strange way, a lot of us kids growing up in the UK were very inspired by the black culture in America. With us watching the TV, a lot of stuff coming out of the UK [has a] more soulful, old school Motown Records feel. That’s different from the Dutch music, where most of the dance music comes out. The average acts and artists like Zedd are a bit more euphoric. It’s definitely interesting how the UK is more on a soul level where the more European guys do more trance. I think with artists like Disclosure and myself, you can tell what style of music we listen to. And it’s very heavily inspired by a lot of great American artists from the past.
Let’s talk about your music videos, because you’ve had a string of three very memorable, almost cinematic ones in a row now. How involved are you with that visual aspect of your singles?
DD: I usually go through the treatment, and if the idea is not there I’ll do more treatments. With the “I Got U” video, we did more treatments than a Michael Jackson video — like 20 or 25 until I was happy with it. But I don’t mess with the directors too much. They’re great at what they do. One thing I do is I’ll step in the final edits and change a few bits here and there. I did it a little bit on “Need U” and I did it more on “I Got U.” With “Won’t Look Back,” I was literally in the editing room with the editor just to make it sync with the music and try to make it gel. I’m getting more and more hands on with the videos.
What were you doing last year when you found out “Need U” earned a Grammy nod?
DD: Well, I heard a rumor that it could potentially be nominated for a Grammy, so I was told to stay up and check the website and the webcast of the announcement. I think it was about 4 a.m. in the UK and I was sitting at my computer refreshing the page. I scrolled down to the category and it was there. What’s quite nice with the Grammys is being recognized when [the song] wasn’t on a major label in America. That’s kind of changed now; it’s signed to Astralwerks and Universal. But it just showed that music can be acknowledged even if it’s not signed to a major label. I think that was the most humbling thing. It’s also humbling that house music is represented in the dance category, which I think EDM had a strong hold over. It was just really pleasant. All the songs in the category were great songs and they deserved to be there. But it was nice to have a few British people in there.
Let’s get some Blasé Boys Club promo in here. What’s coming up next from your label?
DD: The next song coming up is a Jax Jones track called “Go Deep,” which is a little bit more radio-friendly song compared to the Kiwi release. That was more techno and more functional in the nightclubs and DJ sets. I’m in a really good position in the UK, and I’ve always wanted to start a label. My whole point of the label is to sign people who I really respect and people who aren’t really into it to make money, but to have a start in their careers — which I didn’t have 10 years ago. So I want to put them on the right track. With the label, my goal is to create a big family and for a group of us to tour the world so I can put Blasé Boys Club marks everywhere around the world. I’ve already done it in New York a couple weeks ago. I’ve done it in Ibiza for the entire summer. It’s always nice when you can work with friends, and that’s the goal — just to keep building blocks with the Boys Club family and have the best music around.