After years of remixing the likes of Lily Allen, Bat For Lashes, and Missy Elliott, Duke Dumont is going out on his own, and the results are explosive. Last year’s hit single “Need U (100%)” reached number one on the UK charts and catapulted Dumont, also known as Adam Dyment, into pop’s major league. “Need U,” a soulful slice of vocal house featuring rising British singer-songwriter A*M*E, couldn’t have come at a better time, as Disclosure and their many imitators were in the process of bringing ‘90s house back to the club and the radio. Fast forward twelve months and two singles later, and we find Dumont with a Grammy nomination and headline US tour under his belt. We chatted with the rising producer about his upcoming album, anonymous vocalists, and crossing over from the world of the remix.
You started your career as an underground DJ. Does that experience still influence you now you’re a bona fide chart topper?
Like anything, the definitions of underground and overground should be looked at a little more and definitely aren’t set in stone. You’ll get people who are perceived to be underground artists playing to 10,000 people; you’ll get acts who are considered to be overground but play for 500 people, so it’s all a little bit fake. It’s all merging into one. The way I see it, I’ve been DJing for a long time and making music for a long time and the music I do is now being appreciated by a larger audience. It’s a tough question to answer.
Along with other UK artists like Disclosure and Rudimental, it seems like you’re part of a ‘90s house revival scene.
I think in the UK it definitely feels like a scene. There are so many new acts coming through at the moment and there are more popping up every month. It’s almost a new rave revival in pop music. Whereas before you’d have the heavyweights like Rihanna and Lady Gaga, now you have the likes of myself and Disclosure selling as many singles as they do. It’s funny that we can sell the same amount of records when we’re probably making all our music out of our rooms. Then again, our music’s being released on major labels so maybe it’s the same. I just stick to making music and the label does what it needs to do.
You’ve remixed a lot of those heavyweight popstars along with rising acts such as Haim. How does remixing a song compare to collaborating directly with singer-songwriters like A*M*E and MNEK?
In a weird way my best education for producing music was making remixes. When I used to do a remix I’d listen to the original song and if there was one element within that song that I thought was really strong and I could build a song around then I’d take that one element out and do my own thing. With the Haim track, the guitars are really good and I think the vocals are really good so I kept them both. With producing artists like MNEK it’s about understanding what I feel the best he can do is and trying to bring it out on the track. MNEK’s a great singer so I gave him a lot of space to sing and set the tone of the song. Producing’s about bringing out the best of things and I learned that through remixing. People like Paul Epworth, who produces Adele, started off remixing and crossed over.
A lot of ‘90s house acts used anonymous vocalists, but you’re working with a lot of singer-songwriters.
I’m working with some vocalists who are artists in their own right, but you’d be surprised how a lot of vocalists don’t want to be famous. Usually it’s the older vocalists who’ve probably given it a try and it didn’t really work out for them but they’re happy paying the bills and just being session singers. I think it’s wrong if a producer takes people’s names off because it’s a 50-50 kind of relationship in making a record, but it’s fair if the singer doesn’t want to be in the limelight. In the ‘90s the famous one was Black Box who used Loleatta Holloway without her approval and they got someone to sing on the video instead of her. That shouldn’t happen.
You include many stylistic hallmarks of ‘90s house into your music. Do you find that there’s a tension between reinventing the sounds of the past and creating a new sound for yourself?
What’s quite funny is electronic music tends to take a bad rap for that. If you use a sound that’s been used 10 years ago you’re considered out of date or unviable, but bands like the Arctic Monkeys sound like guitar tracks from the ‘60s and get away with it. I think people need to relax a little bit and not put electronic music under so much scrutiny. For me, because of the historical context, using those ‘90s sounds can add a little emotion into electronic music. “Need U (100%)” has a ‘90s kind of chord sequence and a bassline that’s very reminiscent of ‘90s house music, but it’s pretty hypocritical that no one says to the Arctic Monkeys “hey, you use guitars and guitars have been around since the 1920s.” The most important thing is making good music.
“I Got U” interpolates Whitney Houston’s “My Love Is Your Love,” which makes me wonder which soul divas you think would go best with a Duke Dumont beat.
I’m very inspired by a lot of R&B and soul music. As for big names, the only thing I want for my album is to work with the best vocalists I can find. I don’t care if they work in a supermarket and are the best thing in the world and I don’t care if they sell a million records but are a mediocre singer. For me, I want to record the best music I can with the best performances. There will be female vocals in there but for big names, I’m not too sure.
What should we be expecting from the album?
It’s going to be a bit of a mix. For me, an album has to be a journey. It can’t just be the same thing throughout. When I release the next single it might translate onto radio, so I think some of the record will be club music orientated. The rest of the record will still be upbeat but have more musical context in it and will be made with a live show in mind. There might be a lot of music that adds more guitars and songwriting as opposed to songs like Need U. The album will come out in the autumn. I’m recording at the moment but it’s come quite far.