Q&A: Idjut Boys' Dan Tyler and Conrad McDonnell

More than 20 years into a storied career, the British duo keeps the dubbed-out vibrations coming.
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For more than twenty years, the U.K.'s Dan Tyler and Conrad McDonnell—together known as Idjut Boys—have been bringing an elegant live-mix sound, dubbed-out vibrations, and a fluid party intelligence to their original compositions, edits, remixes and DJ sets. Always conversational in its approach, their output has always been sophisticated, lacking in pretense and full of playful urgency—and the duo, which met in Cambridge and built up the U-Star and Noid labels, just keeps on trucking. In 2012, they finally released their first full LP, the composition-driven Cellar Door, a record full of songs designed for home or earbud listening. The record—which featured collaborators like Andy Hopkins, Bugge Wesseltoft, and Sally Rogers and Steve Jones of A Man Called Adam—is built around lovely piano and guitar work, and also gives the duo’s live-mix approach a different realm to work in. The LP has a depth that most offerings termed balearic lack; there's a roots quality to the production, a subtle and dynamic palette, and an easy avoidance of standard loops. The LP holds up under repeated listening, offering new perspectives over time. On August 28, new versions of that LP’s songs, skewed more for the dancefloor, will be coming out via an album named Versions; there's a great 45 already out in Japan; and some new U-Star twelves are on the way. There is also rumor of a US tour in the fall.

XLR8R got together with Tyler and McDonnell for two long, late-evening chats—what follows are some of the conversation's more sentient and cogent moments.

What’s been going on in the realm of the Idjuts lately?
McDonnell: Well, just life really—we’re just keeping after it. Dan is now in Oslo and I’m here in London, so we have adjusted to not having a shared daily studio. We are working out a process—we exchange files and ideas online, then we work together in concentrated periods, we are making some progress.

Tyler: We are also plotting to come to the States—visa action permitting. Along with Japan, America has always been such a great inspiration. We have this dark version of Cellar Door coming out on Smalltown, and some new remixes for Bryan Ferry—and we have these U-Star releases.

McDonnell: The U-Star material was supposed to be for our 20th anniversary…but we are a little late to the party. The idea was to get some people we liked to do some versions of original U-Star records, then some new business came along with that.

Tyler: We are sorting the commute-work process and coming out of hibernation—at least we’re aspiring to.

Let’s talk about your studio process. How do you build the songs? Do you find over time and circumstance it changes significantly?
McDonnell: It varies based on the project; we tend to do versions and passes. We use the mixing board and do live mixes—then we listen and perhaps edit from those versions, reassemble parts and relisten, and if needed add new elements, or start over from scratch. Something takes form from that approach.

Tyler: Plus, in moving things back and forth now, some internal editing takes place. When we were in the studio together daily there was a certain ritual: lots of coffee, musings on the universe and then starting. Now we have things going when we get together and there is some real enthusiasm. There’s a lot to be said about being in the moment and riding that feeling and electricity. With us working together at the mixing board, you get something one of us wouldn’t produce, nor would two people sitting staring at a screen.

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McDonnell: Sometimes you know right off you have something, and when you do its good not to overwork it. You want to keep the freshness.

Tyler: Part of it is getting to that point where you are hearing what’s actually coming out, and not the idea or concept of it.

McDonnell: Hopefully we pick the best version of what we put together. (laughs)

How’s the DJing been going? I think you just played in London, right?
Tyler: Yeah. Last Saturday we did a gig in London and the crowd was very young, but a really great crowd—young and up for a good time. The only request I got was for some dub sounds, and I thought, yeah I might get to that—the guy who asked had a shaved head and a ginger beard, and he told me he was a Rastafari. I showed him the Countryman soundtrack, which I had with me. (laughs) It was fun being in this non-club space doing a one-off with a real vibe.

McDonnell: We got into this being fans of music and the excitement of a good party, and the fact that we have been able to travel the world and have such a good time performing has been truly amazing. What I find as I keep going is that the range of music that interests me keeps expanding, and getting it all into a set is riotous fun. We played recently in Oslo and the crowd was up for it all.

Tyler: More than some forensic appreciation of our selections, having that enthusiasm and vibrancy from the crowd, making our stuff feel relevant to the room, bringing it off…that’s a great thing.

The Idjuts have kept it funky and have always gone their own way. It shows in their broad discography, where tune after tune (either done by them, or with some of their great collaborators) resonates and still sound amazingly fresh. Below, Dennis Kane pick five favorites from the Idjut trove.

1. Idjut Boys & LAJ "Twakting" (U Star)
Done in collaboration with the great Ray Mang, "Twakting" gets you in a Zulu Afro groove, has a nice quiet spot—and then launches off with a great bassline and nicely picked West African guitar. Afro-Space disco action.. Afro-Space disco action.

2. Idjut Boys "Girth Soup" (Noid)
On Noid's first release, there is this great jam…swamp gypsy-funk parts get launched into the atmosphere, with some extra sleaze on the side. Nasty and classy. (Bonus: Nice edit of “Keep on Trying” by Harvey on the other side.)

3. Lighthouse Family "Question of Faith" (Idjut Boys remix) (Wildcard)
Nice, easy Jamaican dub touches and an appreciation for quiet moments gives the original track even more weight. Takes its time and gets someplace rich—folk dub for early Ibiza mornings.

Atmosfear "Deep Bass Nine" (Idjut Boys mix) (Disorient)
Dancing in deep outer space, British future funk gets flanged to an easy skank with wine-soaked élan. I’ll see you on Mars, miss—we can two-step on the red planet till the sun slowly rises. An all-time favorite remix, I’ve worn two copies of this record out. Timeless.

5. Idjut Boys "Love Hunter" (Smalltown Supersound)
From the Cellar Door album. Great playing on this—stellar guitar work with nice psyche echo-chamber moments, it's deep in some '70s water, with some rich acid and disco sprinkles on top. A great jam to hear when the club just opens——so much space—or when you are blasting down the road in your Challenger.