Leeds duo Riley & Durrant have been on the electronic music scene for almost ten years. Initially as DJs at the hallowed Gatecrasher, then as producers, radio DJs across the Galaxy Network, label bosses and now also as promoters, they continue to send waves out across the scene.
The duo's new night (which is also their label) Electric Playground, is to take place at Nocturnal in Sheffield each month, and will showcase the pair themselves as well as headline slots from big DJs from across the world.
We caught up with them for their take on chasing the next big thing, the importance of their radio shows (forthcoming guests include Justice, Sneaky Sound System, Mark Knight, Funkagenda) and how they got into all this...
What music did you grow up around?
Nick: I really started getting into music in the 90s so I've sort of seen dance music evolve into different genres and styles. Growing up in London I listened to a lot of pirate radio and was into more hardcore and jungle, I also played the guitar so would learn to tracks by bands like Oasis, Smashing Pumpkins and Stone Roses.
Andi: I've been obsessed with all kinds of electronic music since I was a little kid. My dad was always playing stuff like Kraftwerk, the Pet Shop Boys, Georgio Moroder, Pink Floyd and the Human League when I was growing up, and so when the dance scene really kicked off in the early 90s I loved it straight away, even though I was too young to get into the clubs.
What scenes were you involved in Leeds and are you still?
Nick: Our first event we put in in Leeds was in 2003 when Mission first opened, it was a progresive house night called Distortion and we ran it for about 10 months until we decided to concentrate on studio based stuff.
Andi: We launched the Electrik Playground in Leeds at the start of 2008 and since then we've been lucky enough to take the night into different venues and cities around the UK, and now we have regular parties at Ministry of Sound in London, Nocturnal in Sheffield and Privilege Ibiza.
How did you get into this game?
Andi: I spent 2 weeks work experience in 1996 at the council in Huddersfield making weak tea and choosing the best fonts for new road signs.. which made me take a long hard look into ways of making a living out of my hobby and not getting a proper job. I used to make tapes of old hardcore, drum and bass and rave and sell them outside school for £2.60 - so I figured it was the way forward. I managed to blag my way into the studios of Kiss FM in Leeds and worked for free throughout college. I used to be the guy who sat in with all the specialist DJs making sure they weren't too stoned to work the desk, and inevitably sometimes they wouldn't turn up, or a pre recorded show would go wrong so I'd be ready and waiting with a bag of records.. I eventually got my own show and Kiss became part of the Galaxy network in 97.
Nick: I always wanted to get some decks, but it wasn't until I started Uni and my student loan came through I afford some. After a couple of months of learning how to mix in my bedroom I put on some events at the University union and then that led to some parties at a small 300 capacity club in Sheffield. Once I'd finished my course I took a year off to keep putting on events and seeing where I could get Djing - nearly 10 years on I've still not got a proper job!
Do you prefer radio or club DJing and why?
Andi: Impossible to choose! The adrenaline rush you get when you start a live radio show and the red light goes on is awesome.. it's a weird feeling knowing there's millions of people all around the country listening to what you're saying and playing, but of course you can't see any of them, and you don't get that instant feedback that you do in a club. You can experiment more on the radio though, as you don't need to keep people dancing - just interested. It's a privilege to be able to help break new artists and tracks to.
Nick: Both of them are wicked in different ways, but I don't come from a radio background, so for me you can never beat the buzz of playing to an up-for-it crowd in a rammed out club.
As radio DJs you always champion new stuff - always looking for the next big thing... ever think we should dwell on what we have a little longer?
Nick: That's a very good question, in this industry you can be the hottest new property and flavour of the month for a short while and then just disappear. I think in general you are always searching for the next big thing as you want to stay ahead of the crowd and bring some uniqueness to your sets. But at the end of the day if its good music we will play it regardless whether it's from an a-list superstar who has been around for years or a kid who has made it in his bedroom in Syberia on a 10 year old PC...
Andi: There's such a wealth of classic and interesting electronic music from the last 20 years that we also make sure we go back to some of the forgotten anthems and classics on the radio shows every week.
You impressed people with your 2007 artist album "Research & Development" - what inspired and influenced that?
Nick: We'd got bored of hearing the same sounding music and got into a bit of a rut musically ourselves. We had our own sound, and a formula to make tracks and remixes, and while it worked well for a couple of years it stopped being a challenge or particularly exciting. We thought it would be a good experiment to start again, move the studio out of the city and start writing different music, with proper instruments and incorporating the same cross section of styles we play on the radio.
Andi: We got back to basics, moved our studio into the middle of nowhere, unplugged the broadband and started working with musicians and singers from rock, folk, indie, hard dance, minimal and drum and bass - learnt different things from them all, and came up with a first draft of the album. Which was shit. So we went back and did it over and over until it was right.
Any plans for another?
Nick: At the moment the music we make and play crosses a lot of different genres so one track can be very different from the next.. keeping us on out toes. We're also enjoying doing lots of remixes for artists like Chicane, Robbie Rivera and Snow Patrol and are pushing our single releases through our Electrik Playground label. So in a nut shell, there is no album planned for the next 6 months or so.
Andi: We might take a couple of months out this winter to lock ourselves away and work on a new album though..
Do you ever have to look for new music or do you just use the ton you must get sent?
Andi: We're lucky enough to get sent between 250 and 300 new tracks every week - which pretty much covers all styles and sounds from all the record labels and direct from producers and artists themselves. It takes 2 full days to download and listen to each week so it's quite a job to listen to every track, but it's worth it for the gems you find in the pile.
What do you look for in a record before it gets played in your set?
Nick: Simple - is it going to work make you need to move.. We get sent loads of records that just do nothing, I sometimes wonder if the producer forgot to finish the track before sending it over or whether he's trying to be cool by keeping it super minimal...
Andi: If you're listening to around 300 tracks a week, and a certain record stands out a mile from the crowd, you know instantly it's got something special.
What makes a good DJ, great?
Nick: I think its all down to reading the crowd. It's so easy for anyone these days to go onto Beatport, download the top 20 tracks in a certain genre and turn up to a club with a pre-worked out set of bangers. Trouble is, if the crowd aren't into the 20 tracks the DJ has chosen and the dance floor clears, he's in toruble! I'm always shocked when I see big DJ's totally misread the crowd and not adapting their set accordingly. At the end of the day a DJ is there to entertain, not try and educate and be cool.
Andi: You also have to understand the progression of a night. Where has the art of the warm up DJ gone? We started our careers as residents at Gatecrasher in Sheffield, playing house, prog and techno to a trance crowd and warming up for people like Tiesto and Paul Van Dyk. You have to understand that to make a really AMAZING night, you have to ease a crowd into it, and (a massive cliché but still true) take them on a journey. If you've learned the basics, understand the dynamics of a dancefloor and know what the crowd wants a certain point in the night, you're probably set for when the big time calls.
How would you describe your style?
Nick: Interesting, different, eclectic house music.
What you working on in 2010?
Nick: It's going to be our busiest year on all fronts from DJing, producing, radio and promoting our Electrik Playground parties. The way things are it the moment, you have to work 5 times harder than you did maybe 3-4 years ago. We are aiming for at least 1 single and remix a month, getting a tour of Asia sorted for Electrik playground, pushing and growing our EP label with a mix compilation and some big radio projects...
Andi: We've also got some really big secret projects in the oven at the moment, so hopefully by the end of 2010 people will be shocked at what we're up to.