Duskus Looks Back at Touring With San Holo and the Progression of his Sound [Interview]

Known for his releases on bitbird, we talked to Duskus about touring across North America with San Holo and how his music continues to evolve.

Duskus is one of the most iconic artists in the bitbird music family. After meeting San Holo on SoundCloud around 2014, Duskus was the first artist featured on San Holo’s bitbird imprint and has remained close friends with him ever since. In 2021, San brought Duskus as support for over twenty shows on the ‘bb u ok?’ North America tour.

First breaking into the music industry with his unique brand of future bass, Duskus’ music now focuses on more organic songwriting and live instrumentation. His 2020 Rising EP blends future bass elements with guitars, pianos, and memorable vocal performances. Now that tour life is over (for now), Duskus is back home in the UK and getting ready to write more new music in 2022.

We talked with Duskus about his plans for the upcoming year, his favorite music that he’s been listening to, his opinions on the music industry, and his best advice for up and coming artists.

Let’s start by talking about your recent tour with San Holo. Now that you’re back home after spending several weeks on the road, what do you miss most about being on tour?

I think I just miss how crazy and how random everything is. I became pretty good friends with Kasbo, and we were kinda being mischievous the whole time…going to different cities, playing shows, meeting the fans, and partying. It was chaotic! I really enjoyed it.

I’ve known San for like 6-7 years now. When I first started, I was making melodic dubstep. From there, I basically started replacing the drums with trap drums, and I met San through SoundCloud when he found one of my WIPs. I think it was just a 30-second demo, too.

Since then, we’ve sent music back and forth for the last seven years. I was the first release on bitbird, and we’ve wrote some songs and toured together. We’re really good mates and we enjoy sharing music and writing stuff with each other.

Take us through how your production has changed throughout the years, starting with melodic dubstep to what you make now.

Before future bass really blew up, I was making melodic dubstep like Blackmill and Seven Lions. Then, I was looking for something new, and trap was popping off at the time. I tried to combine those two elements: saw wave chords and trap drums. I ended up making future bass accidentally, and pretty soon that whole genre started to explode.

San Holo was making similar music, and a lot of others on SoundCloud were doing their thing, too. I kinda rode that EDM future bass wave for a long time while trying to evolve it slowly. I’m always trying to do something that hasn’t been done before, and eventually, future bass started to get stale to me as well. I started doing stuff like the Rising EP – the drop sounds in that one were a bit more experimental. I got into the 4-on-the-floor kicks and put some house music elements into my music.

Now, I suppose I’m going a bit more into the pop music realm. I’m more focused on writing songs as opposed to trying to discover the next big sound. I like including UK garage elements and more of my own vocals. In general, I focus more on organic songs instead of big buildups and big drops.

So you would say the Rising EP was a step in a new direction for you?

In a way, it was an evolution of the future bass thing. But at the same time, it was kinda the last of that style, too. I’m just interested in more chilled-out music…guitars, pianos, and stuff like that. A lot more vocals, but still that same Duskus feel. I don’t really listen to super “droppy” stuff like I used to. I’m listening to all sorts of weird stuff nowadays.

Hard Times”, your first single after ‘Rising’, came out last July. What were some of the inspirations behind this track? Was this written during the pandemic?

Yeah – I was listening to stuff like Fred Again, who samples a lot of voice clips. I have this software called Soulseek, where you can download all kinds of samples, and I found the vocal for “Hard Times” in a random acapella Soulseek sample pack. I ended up writing the whole track around it and realized it also relates to COVID. Everyone was going through hard times, and I felt it was a nice gesture to release something like that.

Your other recent singles include “Holding U” and “Call Me”. Do you write the lyrics and produce these tracks on your own? What is your production process like?

For “Hard Times”, I did most of all of that, and my mate hundaes helped me finish it later. We jumped on Zoom and worked on it together. I got the initial idea, and he helped me structure it out a bit and finish it. For “Holding U“, I actually wrote most of that one in a day.

With “Call Me”, I started that one with my housemate, Fin. I made a beat, and he helped write the lyrics with me. I’m not the best lyric writer, so we smashed that one out together. A lot of times, I get an initial idea and have friends help me out later.

Your 2019 EP ‘In Retrospect’ was released on ODESZA’s Foreign Family Collective. Looking towards the future, are there any specific labels or artists that you’d like to work with one day?

I’m not too sure. I’m still in this weird phase of discovering my sound. There’s a label called Dirty Hit that I really like, specifically an artist named Leo Bhanji. I’ve got a session with him in a few weeks, actually. I think diving more into the UK stuff is what I’m most interested in right now.

What are some of your goals for the next few years? What do you want to achieve?

Recently, I’ve just been playing a DJ set. I kinda want to figure out how I can go from only DJing to having more of a live set….or even stripping it down to just a microphone to interact with the crowd more.

I love DJing, but during the tour, I was playing songs like “Holding U”, and it’s kinda hard to DJ that. It’d be better to perform it. So if I continue with this style of music, I want to learn how to perform it live. We’re planning a mini headlining tour, and a few festivals as well. I want to play as many shows as possible this year.

Really, I just want to keep establishing my sound. I think the last three singles – especially the last two – have cohesiveness. I want to keep going in that direction, and maybe finish an EP.

What is some advice you have for up-and-coming artists that want to get their tracks noticed by bitbird or other major labels?

That’s a difficult one. I see a lot of producers sending demos on Instagram or doing a lot of submissions. I’m not really sure if that helps you as an artist. I think a lot of the time, it’s better to focus purely on your sound rather than promoting your sound all of the time. If you’re making the right music, the labels will come to you in the end.

I think that’s what happened to me. When I first started, I was sending stuff to Monstercat and all of these labels. Eventually, I gave up on that, and people came to me. I also think it’s important to build your own community. Even if it’s just your friends supporting you on Discord, labels are attracted to stuff like that.

What communities do you have for your fans?

I have a Facebook group and a Discord server. I’m hoping to get more involved in both and maybe do some Twitch streams

Are there any notable new artists that you’ve found recently? What have you been listening to?

There’s a girl named yuele that just released “Don’t Be So Hard on Your Body”. It’s basically an out-of-tune guitar in the background for the whole track. It’s really well written and really cool. That’s kinda what I’m aiming for. Rather than focusing so much on production and these crazy things you can do, I’m stripping things back to the basics and seeing how well I can do that.

I like Vegyn. R.Y.C. by Mura Masa…that album’s really cool. I like The 1975’s recent album – there’s a few garage beats on there. There’s also No Rome, beabadoobee, A.G. Cook, and Jim-E Stack. I also listen to some really chill, ambient techno by a guy named DJ Healer, or Traumprinz.

What can fans expect next from Duskus? The San Holo tour just ended, but will you be releasing more new music soon?

We’re trying to lock in some stuff and have some releases soon. I’m also writing an EP and figuring out where to release that. We’re still trying to decide the best direction to go in.

After tour, I haven’t made too much music, but I’m slowly getting back into it now. Sometimes, even taking a few months off from music gives you a fresh perspective and allows you to jump back in completely fresh.

Do you see the electronic music industry moving towards the more diverse style of music that you’re making? Where do you see the industry going in the next couple of years?

Electronic music is always gonna be a thing. Same with pop music. There’s electronic music, and that “EDM” bubble kind of style. And in EDM, I think everyone’s a bit confused at what’s next right now. Back when SoundCloud was big, we all had an idea of what was next. But with TikTok and so many tracks coming out now, it’s so hard to navigate the music industry these days.

Do you have any thoughts on the industry in general? What do you mean by hard to navigate?

It’s just a weird place in the music industry. There was COVID, and now TikTok is big, and a lot of artists are struggling to convert over to that platform. They don’t want to be an influencer…they just want to make music.

People’s attention spans aren’t as long as they used to be. And there’s so much information coming out on social media all of the time. A lot of the good music gets buried in that noise. Sometimes, it seems like it’s more about entertainment rather than art…but maybe that’s a pessimistic way to look at it.

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