Igor Tchkouta met Dan Duncan on a flight. They've no doubt told the story countless times by this point, nearly two decades on from that chance encounter. But it does bear repeating, because from that initial meeting they've since formed a partnership as Pig&Dan that has borne some delicious fruit. As they say, from little acorns do mighty oaks grow. I fear I'm getting far too bogged down in tree metaphors, you get the point.
Recently, the pair started a monthly residency at iconic London club fabric, which sees the duo bring their Odyssey concept to the first Sunday of every month. At the first in the series, they trod new ground in their careers with a debut live performance.
So what better time to speak to Igor (aka Pig) and Dan (aka Dan) about their drive to explore new ideas, their creative process, and their ever-so-slightly world-weary but broadly optimistic views on the state of modern dance music.
You’ve had a couple of your monthly Odyssey nights at fabric now, how has that been?
Dan: The beginning of this whole thing has been amazing. The energy has been incredible – especially when we did the live gig. First of all it’s been a real learning curve, because of course doing your own event you kind of see a new side to the whole thing. But it's been incredible to see the response in London, especially on a Sunday night, you just can't believe that people are willing to get their dancing shoes on – it's quite mad.
Do you feel like you approach a Sunday night differently from how you would, say, a Friday or Saturday, or is it much the same?
Igor: It’s pretty much the same yeah. I mean what we are trying to do is bring some proper artists, so we have a strong lineup for a Sunday. Because there aren’t many parties on Sunday that have this sort of lineup.
I know that first show was a live debut for you guys – were you nervous?
Igor: For sure, yeah.
Dan: [laughing] It was fucking intense man, we were shitting ourselves to be honest.
Why did you decide to do the live show?
Igor: Well one thing is we have a lot of music, we have a lot of productions out there and you know Pig&Dan has is always been about differentiating ourselves. In the beginning we differentiated ourselves by making music; making a lot of music and DJing our own music. And now we think that there's so many DJs out there now, DJing is so saturated.
Anybody can be a DJ now. Even a three year-old, just look at what happened with South Africa’s Got Talent and that little kid – come on, are you serious? Is that what people think DJing is now? People think it’s just about mixing two tracks and it’s not.
Dan: Yeah you’ve got the psychology behind it, it’s years and years of working towards learning how to work with crowds. People just don't get that anymore because of the whole saturation of DJ culture.
So playing live was a natural progression for us because it's a way of people knowing that actually the music we’re playing is ours. When you play DJ sets they don't know, they don’t recognise that you’re playing your own music, obviously, unless they really know your music back to front.
For us it also was a real natural progression to move into a situation where we’re singing live, we're playing live keyboards, and we’re able to manipulate our music live in front of a crowd. It's so much more exciting for a crowd these days, and it's a completely different dynamic.
Is it something you can see yourself doing more of?
Dan: Absolutely, absolutely. I mean we love DJing, I'm not gonna deny it, but the challenge of playing live and the crowd interaction is so different.
You mentioned that idea of saturation in DJing – like you say, people don't seem to understand how much actually goes into it, that it isn’t just as simple as pressing buttons – but you’d have thought that increased interest and popularity might lead to better understanding, but that doesn’t seem to be the case.
Dan: Well how could it be if people are seeing DJs throw cakes and ride blow-up boats? There’s been a whole new factor to the entertainment side of of DJing which means there are a lot of people playing pre-recorded sets, they don't even put on their headphones. I think EDM has really brought a much more saturated look to the DJ world. Plus now you hear dance music in the foyer of a hotel – it’s brought the underground up, which is a good thing, but it definitely has diluted the look of a DJ.
Someone put it quite nicely that looking through the DJ Mag Top 100 is almost like looking at figures from the world of WWE – everyone has their mask or their gimmick and it becomes all about this larger than life character rather than the music they play or whatever
Dan: Yeah I totally agree man, totally agree. But anyway the live thing was about pushing that boundary back and saying “OK we’re electronic but where we're gonna show you that we really do what we do”. I mean we've got headphones on but we DJ and we produce our own records and with a lot of people these days it's a different story.
I mean you guys have been prolific throughout your career, if you look back over the releases.
Igor: And the thing is we have a sound, and very few producers have that nowadays, I'm sorry. There’s very few producers that you say "OK that's that guy, and that's that guy" – you know, people like Kollektive Turmstrasse, or HOSH, or Maceo Plex. I mean you can name them with your hands, the rest is like everybody’s got their own engineer or they're paying someone or whatever.
Dan: It's hard to have that identity these days.
Igor: Well I think it was always hard. I think it's always happened anyway, the whole ghost thing is in the music industry. The problem is, it was much more the pop industry that had writers and stuff. I mean normal people don't know that, but half the pop hits out there aren't written by the stars, they’re interpreted by stars but they're written by writers and other people.
Dan: It’s still very much like that yeah.
Igor: And ghost producing is the same thing. But now what has happened in the last 10 years is that the pop execs decided to take over the electronic music industry, and they’re running it like the pop industry.
Do you think that the difficulty in having a obvious identity comes from people feeling like they have to make what's hot at the moment and adapt to shifting trends, rather than trying to establish themselves with a distinct sound?
Igor: The thing is everybody wants everything now. It’s kind of like the warm-up set is dead, which is what Odyssey is about. I know I'm changing subject, but I'm going back to why we’re doing our own night. We get to a lot of clubs there's no warm-up set, the guy warming up for us is playing at 130; hasn’t even studied the music we play and is playing much harder than us, which doesn't make any sense.
With our lineup at Odyssey we have a structure. I’ve been a resident in a club the whole night and I started playing ambient music without any beats at 100BPM. Then the first hour I'll play a couple kick drums at about 110 when people start coming in. Then at 2 in the morning you’re at 120 playing deep house. Then 3 in the morning things get a bit harder, a bit faster. And at 4 in the morning you’re between tech house and techno. And then say 5-6 you’re playing your harder techno, if you want to go up there.
Dan: It’s a progression.
Igor: Come 7 or 8 you're back in the daytime, so unless you're in a factory like Berghain or whatever where there's no light and you can keep playing techno. But if you've got the sunlight coming here then you’re going back you're going into progressive, into melodic, into minimal or whatever. Everything has its moment in the night, and there’s a structure.
Nowadays people don't even have that psychology. I mean look at the EDM lineups, you go to an EDM concert and they're all playing the same tracks. It’s all the same thing beginning to end, all playing the top 100.
You guys release a lot of records – do you think there's something to be said for having those productions that aren't out there in the world, that aren't released, having something that grows and grows and people get to know the track without knowing exactly what it is?
Dan: That's really hard to do these days though.
Igor: The crowds have very little memory anyways.
Dan: They’re all mashup. [laughing]
Igor: You go to Cocoon or you go to someone like Maceo Plex and they basically play the same set the whole summer, and that’s how you get to know those tracks I guess. I mean the second or third time I can identify it’s the same set, but I’m a DJ so imagine it’s just a clubber that goes out once in a while, it’s a different story.
Dan: It's also nice when you go out and you recognise a track too isn’t it?
Igor: Yeah it is, maybe it's just a balance of having new things to surprise the crowd and playing a classic here or there.
Dan: Which is exactly what we try to do.
Igor: Another cool thing about the live show, with the night we did at fabric, basically there was one or two tracks which an avid Pig&Dan fan would recognise but the rest was all new music. But they knew it was live, they knew it was us so we were still kind of getting that recognition which is kind of cool.
How many more of those monthly Sunday nights at fabric are the going to be, do you know?
Dan: Yeah we’re going to do it for six months, basically up until the start of summer and then see how it goes from there.
You mentioned creating new things to play live that people wouldn't have heard before, and in the past I’ve heard you say that you wouldn’t sit down with the intention of writing an album. Do you ever see that changing, particularly if the live shows become a bigger part of what you do?
Igor: Not really because that’s our creative process.
Dan: Yeah exactly.
Igor: It’s kind of like we do music in batches. We’ll write like 10 or 15 ideas which we’ll then develop, but those main ideas we’ll write in the space of 2-3 weeks or a month, while our inspiration lasts. And then we’ve got those ideas which we’ll develop into tracks. It kind of goes in batches for us though, like baking cakes or something.
Dan: Lovely shortcrust croissants.
Igor: More like space cakes [laughing]. But yeah we’ll get really inspired, write a load of music and then we kind of lose our inspiration for a little, so we take a two or three month break and then get on it again. We do make a lot of music though that’s the thing.
Dan: We’ve got 11 tracks that we’re working on at the moment.
Igor: So when those tracks are finished we'll probably take a break and then write another 11. So we're doing around 30 tracks a year, but there’s no way we're gonna release them all, we’ll probably release six tracks out of those 30.
So on average you reckon only one in five tracks you make will see a release?
Igor: Yeah, and nowadays we’ve become a lot more selective, we don’t finish an idea unless it’s worth doing. The way we kind of evaluate our music is whether we play it or not, if we play it then it’s worth releasing and it's good enough. If we don't play it then it's not good enough.
Igor: If we play it once and it’s not good enough, usually what we do is we’ll change what we need to change to make it good enough. Whereas before we used to make a lot more music, but we used to make a lot of crap. Now we're much more selective, we don't have that time to waste.
Dan: We just move on from bad ideas.
Is that easy to do? Can it be difficult to just get rid of something that you’ve spent a while working on?
Igor: Well we get rid of the elements that aren’t good, that we aren’t into, and we’ll change it. We don't throw everything away, there's always something we can keep – maybe the beats, maybe there's a vocal, maybe there's a stab – there's something that we like there that we can still keep and work around it.
So it’s fair to say that you very much create with the club in mind – whether a song works when you play it out is a test of whether it’s a good enough record to release.
Igor: Absolutely – it’s about making people dance.
Dan: 100%. We’ve always made what we want to play in our set, that's exactly how we've always made our music.
Igor: Right now for example, we've been making some more melodic stuff and and now we’re realising our sets are lacking that hardness so the next batch of tracks we're gonna make will be much more on that side of things. The last batch are really melodic and fluffy, and probably really good for next summer.
I think now with the live set it's gonna be even more interesting because we’re gonna write music also for the live set. We've just started and already after the first live set we've had some ideas of how we can make that better, how we can change it. So I think every time we do a live set it's gonna be kind of like making new music, you always have ideas of how you can improve or evolve so it's really a very interesting process.
And is it exciting at this stage to have that new focus, something else to work towards?
Igor: It is exciting, it’s super exciting. DJing is great and it's fun, but for me making music and playing live is another level.
Dan: Oh totally, totally.
Igor: Nothing against DJing, it's an art form. But I think in this day and age producers are undervalued. If they stopped making music, there’s no new music for DJs to play.
Dan, I’ve heard you tell the story of how you saw Paul Oakenfold and Andrew Weatherhall at an illegal rave when you were quite young. Do you think there are still opportunities for that kind of epiphanic experience in dance music today?
Dan: Yeah I think there’s a huge revival, especially in the UK, of the whole illegal [rave] thing. And this comes down to the fact that, as we were saying, the market’s kind of saturated now by branding and there are people putting on these raves again without name DJs. Oakenfold and Weatherhall were not big-name DJs when I saw them play, they were just two guys standing in kilts playing, mixing really badly because I think the pills they took were far too strong. [laughs]
But the truth is I think there's a lot of room for that to come back round again, because as you see there’s always a cycle in this scene and it always kind of reinvents itself. You even see a lot of the EDM fans are now getting into the more underground scene because they're like “Well what's the next step? I’ve seen everybody throwing the cakes, I’ve seen the firework displays but now I want to get into where it's all sort of come from."
I think there's definitely a lot of illegal raves going on at the moment, especially in the UK, and people are excited by that again. I was speaking to people in fabric about it and they were talking to us about the fact they’d been to an illegal rave and there was that buzz all over again. That sort of sneaky, naughty, get a text to go to a petrol station and pick up an invitation so it looks like you’re going to an invite-only private party.
I’ve seen all of that is coming back and it’s really exciting because it’s not about the brand, it’s just “there’s a rave in a warehouse down the road this weekend and I'm gonna go to it." It’s not about it being some super famous DJ who's charging 200 grand to play there.
I think even within the club sphere there's more of that, you see certain promoters won’t announce lineups before the night. I mean it’s still sort of a branding thing but it’s more that you respect and recognise that these people are going to put on a good night, so you go regardless of who's playing.
Dan: Exactly. There are these nights called Blackout, have you heard of them?
I don’t think so, there are a few different ones but that’s not a name I recognise.
Dan: Well yeah it’s called Blackout and you know nothing at all. And you can't even see the DJ when they play, it’s a really dark room. And you just have to trust the promoter to come up with the goods. That's that's a really good way of doing it, I like it a lot.
Do you think that the scene faces challenges when there isn't anyone left from those early days? Because although dance music has been around a while, a lot of the pioneers and creators are still quite active in the scene – people like Jeff Mills or Derrick May – how do you think the scene will react when that generation moves on in say 20 or 30 years?
Dan: Well there will just be a new generation of those ‘old-school’ DJs, I think.
And do you think there’ll always be that and kind of nostalgia then, even if it’s for the time that we’re in now?
Dan: I do think so, I do. Because there’s always going to be purists involved in this particular scene I think. You'll find followers, there are these real proper hardcore followers in this industry and one of the beauties of techno is you have that kind of fanbase that are spanning from 17 up to 60 years old. It’s such a huge span of age, and I think you'll find followers – the real proper followers – will definitely follow new DJs that in 30 years will be old DJs, so it's a cycle.
I think even sonically that breakbeat sound that's making its way into certain people’s productions is a tribute to those classics, and I know it's something that you’ve said you've done and that you’ll continue to do.
Dan: Yeah we’re actually working on a project at the moment with MC Conrad who’s from the old drum and bass days, and it's very much based on where Igor and I both came from in the early 90s. Like the beginning of drum and bass again.
You started out making that sort of stuff as part of Intense right?
Dan: Yeah, yeah.
I'm of an age where that wasn't my experience of getting into electronic music, it wasn’t a scene that I knew a great deal about and I’ve sort of gone back to revisit those sounds, so for me to hear that side of things is really interesting.
Dan: Oh cool, well yeah there’s a huge history behind all of these phases of dance music and it’s fascinating. I also heard from MC Conrad the other day that there's a huge revival of that whole scene at the moment, and that new people are going back to listen to the old records and getting into them. Even to the extent that the last fabric album that came out had one of Intense’s first tracks on it, so you know there must be a revival if it’s featuring on that – I think it was the 100th edition?
Yeah Burial and Kode9 did the 100th in the FabricLive series.
Dan: Exactly yeah, Burial put one of our first records on that compilation. When I got that request I thought it was so odd – “why would you put a really old school drum and bass track out?” And the answer is, because that’s what’s coming back.
Yeah I can see people looking back to that breakbeat and that jungle sound.
Igor: Same with house also; a lot of people are going back to the old-school deep house and stuff. In the end it all repeats itself, it’s a cycle. I guess the only differences between the techno now and the techno 10-15 years ago is that it sounds much better; it's got fatter baselines, it’s got subs, and the kicks are particularly massive compared to the kicks before. But as Ricardo Villalobos said, in the end everything is a remix, of a remix, of a remix.
Beyond that MC Conrad project, what can we expect from you guys in the coming months and beyond?
Igor: Well we want to do the Odyssey thing internationally, we’ve already had a couple of options there so we might be doing America, maybe Denmark, so that would be really cool.
Dan: Also we’re doing a release on fryhide, HOSH’s label. It’s going to be a one-off track, which he likes to do sometimes, a one-track release. That’s going to be quite melodic and euphoric, not as full-on banging.
Igor: But mainly we’re going to focus on the live stuff next year and really take that to the next level.
Pig&Dan host Odyssey at fabric on the first Sunday of every month