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Coming of Age: We meet Dusky & Lo Shea

“…We’ve got enough different people on the label to start putting on some really good line-ups…”

We’re a quarter of the way through 2018 and, quite fittingly, Dusky’s 17 Steps label is set to deliver its 18th release – arriving in the form of Lo Shea’s Iterations EP. The unstoppable duo of Alfie Granger-Howell and Nick Harriman are at the peak of their powers, bringing out a slew of killer tracks and becoming two of the most influential tastemakers in the UK. With two Essential Mixes, a major label album in the form of ‘Outer’ and last year’s huge live show tour under their belts, the time is ripe for Dusky to get back on the decks doing what they do best. 

Enter the ’17 Steps Tour’, a 17 date Europe-wide journey featuring all the label’s hottest producers and newest signee Liam O’Shea AKA Lo Shea. The Hope Works founder and curator joins Dusky on five dates of the tour, including a sold-out show at Gorilla just three days before this 3-way Skype interview took place and a huge date at Sheffield’s favourite warehouse on Friday March 23rd. We caught up from Lo Shea’s studio above Corporation, getting the lowdown on all things Dusky and how it feels to be coming of age with their latest release.

What’s up Dusky? Leo from Exposed speaking, I’m sat next to Liam in his studio.
LO: Ey up guys! We’ve got you both in different places, then?
NH: How’s it going? Yeah, I didn’t realise. I thought we were doing it up at our studio so I’m here and Alfie’s at home.

You’re both back in London, then? How did Saturday night go in Manchester? It was Liam’s first date on the tour, right?
AG: Yeah, it was really good and a great start to the tour.
LO: Reyt fun.So, the 17 Steps label tour is 17 dates across Europe with all the biggest stars on your label. What made you include Sheffield on the list?
LO: I did! *Laughs*
NH: Yeah, it was just to keep Liam happy really… no, obviously Hope Works is an amazing venue and they’re putting on really interesting music at the moment. And last time we played there it was a wicked party, so we had to visit again. Naturally, with Liam doing the latest release it also ties in nicely and makes sense.

And the Hope Works date is one of the biggest of the tour, with Paul Woolford and Bwana playing too.
AG: Yep, strong line-up!
LO: They’re all pretty strong though!

Leo: Is Paul a mate of yours? I see you did an interview together back in 2013.
NH: Yeah Paul’s great. He hasn’t released on our label but we’d like him to! We were supposed to do something before but it didn’t work out for various reasons, but he’s promised us something so it’s definitely on the cards.Cool, Liam, you’ve booked him a few times right. Under his Special Request alias though right?
LO: He’s played as both. I was thinking of locking him in the kitchen area at Hope Works before he plays and not letting him out until he agrees to do a 17 Steps release! *Laughs* Yeah it would make sense I would’ve thought, someone like Paul.

So Liam played before you guys on Saturday in Manchester, how’s it gonna go at Hope Works? Are you gonna play the closing slot again?
LO: I don’t think we’ve finalised it have we?
AG: I think it would probably make sense if it was Paul, then us, then Liam, musically anyway.
LO: I’m used to sweeping up at the end at Hope Works…

You going ’til 7 this time?
LO: Yep, to be honest I’m very happy doing the end slot, or warming up. I think all the artists on the bill are adept as artists, we could play anywhere. Certainly I know Paul could, but yeah I suppose I can rinse it hard at the end, I don’t mind doing that.
NH: Yeah Paul could do that too for sure.It’s not really what he’s doing with the Paul Woolford alias though right, Special Request is the heavier stuff right?
LO: Yeah I’m sure they two bleed into each though. He’s doing a lot of electro at the moment.

It’s not uncommon at the moment for labels to do their own shows, but a full tour with your roster is quite a statement. Is that something you’ve thought about doing since the live show of your album last year, trying to reconnect with your club/DJing roots? Or is it about wanting to regain some control over things like warm-up DJs, artwork, etc?
AH: I think it’s both. It’s definitely something we’ve always aimed towards from setting up the label. At the beginning it was a brand new thing with just us releasing on it, but the aim was always to work with other artists. We’ve got enough different people on the label to start putting on some really good line-ups. But yeah, as you say, last year we were focusing a lot on the live show, and coming out of the ‘Outer’ album tour we wanted to control what venues we were playing in. Last year we did a lot of festivals and not enough club DJ sets, so we’re making up for lost time in many ways.

And some of the venues on the tour are pretty small and intimate, like Sneaky Pete’s in Edinburgh. Are you looking forward to getting back into those kinds of places?
AG: Definitely. There are a lot of quite small, intimate places. The big places can be great, but you don’t always feel as connected to the crowd, you know?

I guess there are a few big clubs, too, like District 8 in Dublin, as well as warehouse-y spots like Motion in Bristol and Hope Works. Is that something you enjoy, getting into the grimier places?
AG: Yeah, I feel like it just works better, at least for our kind of music. I just get really turned off by, you know, flash clubs. You get a lot more in the States – not everywhere, but in a lot of places it’s just really bright and it feels more of a glorified bar than a proper rave, which we much prefer.

Liam, how did the EP for Dusky’s label come about?
LO: Well I just got asked to do a release, and obviously I jumped at the chance, being a fan of what the guys do. I really like what they’ve done with 17 Steps, and from my point it’s like connection to UK Club Culture.

They’re very much a UK label aren’t they?
LO: Yeah I mean obviously it’s outward looking, and it’s not written down anywhere that it’s directly a UK label, but it seems to be in the DNA of where Dusky come from, so it’s been born within that. And I’m also someone who as an artist wears my UK heritage in club music on my sleeve. I like going all over the shop and having a look in different places around the world, but I know where my roots are, and those roots have felt really aligned with working with Dusky and 17 steps. It just enables me to be who I am and fearlessly and just do that, they’ve been really encouraging and fantastic to work with. It’s been a pleasure!Lo Shea playing before Dusky at Gorilla in Manchester

What drew you to Liam’s productions?
NH: Well, we were playing a lot of his music before we even met him, that’s the thing. But we got properly in touch when a guy working on our live tour called Paul – who was a mutual friend between us and Liam – dropped out to go and work on another show, and then Liam jumped in last minute as a tech manager. So we got to know each other better through that.
LO: Yeah that was the time where we first got to hang out properly. Parklife and Field Day right?
NH: Yeah it was our first festival live show, so it was all a bit squeaky bum-bum time, stress levels on maximum but Liam saved the day stepping in! And then he started sending us music, we’re really happy with how it’s turned out!

Which of Liam’s tracks had you played in the past?
LO: I remember it was track off my Seagdha label, I think you did a DJmag or Mixmag session and played one off my third release as Lo Shea, so you were on it from the off!
NH: I’d have to open up iTunes – they’ve all got strange names! But I think ‘Boomin’ was the first one.
LO: Boomin’ was actually the first release I did as Lo Shea – ace!
NH: ‘Cos that was 2012, right? Not long after we started the Dusky project either.

“…I mean, down south it’s generally a bit more chin-strokey; by the time you get up to Scotland people are just full-on nuts…”

Yeah, cos ‘Careless’ is 2012 right?
NH: Yeah it was!

What about Liam’s work with Hope Works and No Bounds Festival, did that have any part in choosing him for the label?
AG: Well in a way it’s a separate thing really, had we not known Liam’s tunes and loved it then it might have led to something through that but it’s just come from the productions. Having said that though with Hope Works being part of the tour that’s been really important. We’re just so impressed with the line-ups, it’s really great to see. And I think that’s partly down to Sheffield having this really cool music history, with lots of heritage, with Warp and that.

Liam tell us about the EP, who’s NK the singer on the track ‘Higher’?
LO: Niamh Kavanagh, she’s a friend of mine, a wonderful singer from Sheffield. I sent the track over to the guys and they started playing it out, even the demo version! *Laughs* I like to work with my environment, and there’s talented people here, so it was nice to give her a platform like that. She’s a rockabilly singer with tons of live experience, so she can really sock it to ya!

And the Peder Mannerfelt remix, how did that come about?
LO: I booked him last year at Hope Works and he was brilliant in Mesters, and I thought he’d shine a very strange light on the track, and he did!

Do you think he could do a full EP for you guys one day?
AG: Yeah for sure, we don’t have a strict sound policy on the label, it’s more that it’s just high quality, and that we like it, so I don’t see why not.So what’s next for Dusky after this tour? Now you’ve done the album and a live tour you could go anywhere really.
NH: Well, we’re just focusing on a few more EPs and club stuff. Because the album was designed to be a listening experience, rather than just something for the club; whereas our straight-up EPs tend to be dancefloor focused. There are a few ideas that we’ve put on the back-burner which might be part of another album one day, but that’s still a way off I think. We’re just looking forward to touring the rest of the year.

Lots of festivals next summer?
AG: Yeah we’re doing a fair few, and heading back to the States, we play there quite a lot.

Do you prefer festivals or club sets?
NH: It’s nice to have both, there’s definitely something unique about clubs – the trouble at festivals, musically, can be that you’re fighting for people’s attention, sometimes you don’t feel like you can drop down the energy a bit like you would in a club, which can be restricting. But festivals can be a lot of fun, the energy and vibe can be great. Places like Parklife are really special, people have been looking forward to it for so long, and just go mental.

Me and Liam were just chatting about Houghton, are longer festival sets something you’d like to do?
NH: We did do an extended set at Dimensions a couple of summers ago, which was great, we did 4 or 5 hours. I just think it needs to be the right kind of festival, if you’re playing at somewhere like Creamfields the crowd can just want a quick hit of what you’re about and then onto the next thing.

Will the festival sets be live or DJ sets?
NH: They’ll be DJ sets, yeah. We’d like to bring back the live show for another album one day though.
LO: Is that so you can get there on the motorcycle, Nick?
NH: *Laughs* No, I never really drive to gigs as you tend to feel a bit frazzled by the time you get there, especially if you’re going from London to Manchester across loads of motorway. It’s a pleasure thing for my time off. Matt from Gorgon City and I cruise about in the week sometimes.

Do sets for you differ as you go further north?
NH: Yeah, I think up north the crowd tends to be more open and high energy than in London. I mean, down south it’s generally a bit more chin-strokey; by the time you get up to Scotland people are just full-on nuts.

Finally, if your house was burning down which three records would you grab? After you’ve got your bike out the garage first, of course…
NH: Yeah, the bike would definitely be first. Probably one I’d have to say is the first record I ever bought, the KRS-One album ‘I Got Next’. I was about 12-years-old when I got that. Then it’d be the Frank De Wulf remix of ‘Dominator’. Oh, and recently my Mum bought me a Gil Scott Heron album so I’d have to take that with me too – just in case she’s reading.

AG: I’ve got a load of old garage, jungle/drum‘n’bass stuff and maybe some early MJ Cole which I remember getting on my first few trips to the record store. I’ve got a few old proper hardcore records, like 180bpm stuff, so I’d probably have to take one of those.

LO: I’m gonna have to sit this one out, as we all seem to be going for our first records and mine was a 7” of ‘Stand and Deliver’ by Adam and the Ants – so I’m gonna leave it there!

Thanks a lot guys, see you all at Hope Works!

Dusky’s 17 Steps Tour with Paul Woolford, Bwana and Lo Shea hits Hope Works on Friday March 23rd. Tickets are available from Resident Advisor now. Lo Shea’s Iterations EP is out now on 17 Steps.

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