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Huxley interview: Two steps forward

Marko Kutlesa got on the phone with Aus Records mainstay Huxley to talk about raving in Milton Keynes, Aldous Huxley, and entering a new era of production.

Mike Warburton

Last updated: 27th Apr 2016

Photo: Huxley Credit: Beth Crockatt

Huxley a.k.a. Michael Dodman grew up in the small town of Tring, Hertfordshire and first became interested in dance music as a very early teen, starting off with happy hardcore before moving into garage then house. He began his musical career as a bedroom producer of UK garage and its two step rhythms and audio aesthetics have followed him into his mature productions which now vary from house and tech house to techno.

Thanks to this link and progression of the garage sound he is credited as one of the acts responsible for a resurgence in UK garage music, alongside the likes of Disclosure. He began the mature phase of his career in 2009 collaborating with friend Ethyl and has since collaborated with fellow producer Sam Russo.

He has released music on Hypercolour, Tsuba and 20:20 Vision and his debut album Blurred in 2014 on Aus Music, which also released his most recent Widow EP.

Marko Kutlesa caught up with Huxley to talk about the latter's current transitional period in production, his history, Aldous Huxley and all things Tring. 

Hi Mike! How you doing? Where am I speaking to you?

Hi! I'm doing good. I'm just sat in my studio at the moment, just at home. I just finished a podcast for ID. I live in a place called Leighton Buzzard, which is kinda near Milton Keynes. It's about 30 minutes on the train to Euston in London. It's not too bad. I prefer the whole countryside living to city living these days, to be honest. 

Leighton Buzzard is pretty close to Tring, where you grew up. What was it like growing up there? It's not that far from London, where loads of music is happening, but it's too far to come back from a night out when you're a teenager.

Growing up there wasn't much of a music scene in Tring. When we were about 12, 13 we started to get into rave music. Because nobody else was doing it, and my friend's dad had a kind of hall that we could use, when we were 15 or 16 we started putting on parties, me and a couple of friends.

Everybody wanted to go out but there wasn't really anything happening. We were too young to go out to some places. I started going to raves in Milton Keynes when I was 16, 17 and then when I got to 18 it was straight into London. It's not too bad on the train, like I say, about half an hour and if you stay out all night you can get the first train back, which is what we used to do. We would go to places like The Key, Canvas and The Cross.

What were the raves in Milton Keynes like?

The raves in Milton Keynes were Helter Skelter (above) and Slammin Vinyl, so a mixture of happy hardcore and drum n' bass, a bit of old school. But when I was 17 I stopped going to those because my music taste had completely changed by that point. I just wasn't into those kinds of things anymore.

What was it like moving from a small place like Tring to going to Portsmouth for three years when you went to university?

Well Portsmouth, when you're a student, it also feels like quite a small place, to be honest. The students stick with students and the locals stick with locals, there's not much intermingling. Plus, when I was in Portsmouth the music scene wasn't that great. There was one thing, once every few months, called Breakneck and there was a house version of that too. So, it wasn't that much different.

The only difference was obviously being away from parents, so I spent the whole time drinking and going out meeting new people, which was kind of what university was all about, for me. I was still going into London pretty much every weekend, meeting up with friends and going out, so it didn't necessarily change that much.

What kind of nights were you going to in London at that time?

We used to go to Further, Formulate and we went to a few of the Cocoon nights, some others that escape me. It was when minimal went really big. We went to smaller nights where there was a bit more of a community vibe.

You were inspired by your older brother Andrew into beginning music production. Did he ever get anywhere with it? 

No, he kinda gave up on it. He's actually a computer programmer and he works for Steinberg now, so he's still in the sphere of music. He's happy what he's doing, he was always more on the programming side. He still writes a little bit and he's just moved to Leighton Buzzard from London so we're going to try and sit down and write some music together again, which we haven't done for a long time.

He's more into IDM and abstract music than I am, so potentially there could be some interesting stuff. It could be a nice mixture if we can meet in the middle somewhere.

Your debut album Blurred is two years old now. Music sounds different to you after you live with it for a while, so how do you feel you did with the album?

You know, for me that album was a full stop on a certain sound that I'd been working towards for a while, that vocally kinda bassline-y garage stuff. It was then time for me to move on and to make something else, which is still going to have elements of myself in it, like big basslines or whatever.

In terms of the actual music on there, I'm happy with it. It was a process that I really wanted to go through. I wanted to work on an album for a long time and that felt like the right time. I wouldn't rush back to do it because, as a process, by the end I didn't really enjoy it that much. But, never say never I suppose. 

You've described that as a full stop for yourself. How would you describe this new era you've embarked upon so far?

So far it's been a bit of a mixture, to be honest, from straight up house to tech house and techno. I think everything's got a little bit more serious. That's how I'd probably describe it. I'm not necessarily sticking to just one genre, one sound, which I had started to do, being honest, around that time of Blurred. Now it's more like experimenting with different sounds, different arrangements.

Tracks on the last EP 'Widow', like 'Hopeless' (below) kind of toyed with a more techno, electro-y sound, but still mixed with the kind of old school me, with the vocals. At the moment it's just about developing what I want to do next, a bit like I did before, I suppose. I mean, the whole garage-y house thing was reintroduced by a few guys and I was one of those guys, so I'm hoping to maybe start up and try and do a sound that other people are really going to enjoy again.

I really like the 'Real' track you did with Jack Wilby (below). How did you hook up with him and do you have any plans to do some more stuff?

We hooked up through someone I met, a guy called Ben. I think I might have put on Facebook that I was looking for singers and this guy just hit me up and said I know a guy. That guy turned out to be Jack. In terms of working together again, I'm sure we will do, but we haven't got any plans at the moment. He was sampled on 'Hopeless', it was his vocal on that track. He's just worked with Cedric Gervais on a new record, so I'm sure he's got a lot planned in the future. 

That track and some of the garage stuff you released, even going as far back as some of your stuff as Dezz Jones, has got a real pop music edge to it. And I mean that in a good way, I love pop music. Is that something you've ever aimed for, crossover appeal?

Yeah, I think so. I don't know if I was aiming for it, it just kinda happened. I mean I love pop music too, I'm not ashamed to say it. And at that time everything seemed to be heading in that direction, I was really enjoying making that sound. I think now, for my own music, I'm not going to steer as close to the commercial side as I was.

I'm starting now to write songs with a partner of mine so we're potentially going to start working with other singers as well. So I'm still gonna have a finger in the more commercial side but maybe in a bit more of a behind the scenes producer kind of way. 

Do you ever miss working with the breakbeat rhythms in garage?

I don't miss it because I still do it, it's just not necessarily those tracks that get put out. Although, again going back to 'Hopeless', I did have a bit of a breakbeat in one part of it. I've actually been making some electro music with breakbeats with another friend of mine, Sam Russo, so I'm still doing that sound, it's just at the moment the Huxley releases haven't been that way inclined.

But who knows, in the future? The thing is, at the moment I'm just enjoying lots of different things, so going back to the breakbeats is definitely something that might happen.

That kind of music, the two step stuff, seems to inherently lend itself to a certain level of musicality, chords and progressions, whereas techno and more minimal house, two areas you've moved into, doesn't necessarily. Would you agree?

In terms of tech house maybe I would agree, I guess it's a bit more straightforward. In terms of techno I really think it depends on the kind of techno you're listening to. You can listen to stuff from Clouds or even MFS Observatory and they all still have musical elements, they might not be as obvious and overblown, but they do have a lot of musicality to them. If you listen to old Carl Craig and Rob Hood bits, they all had nice stabs, chord progressions and stuff. 

I think in terms of garage the musicality is just a bit more soulful, in an R&B kinda way, whereas techno's maybe more soulful in its own kinda way, in a more industrial sense.

Obviously you've been making music for quite a while, but what kind of formal music education have you had?

I learned the guitar for a few years when I was about 7. Then I just taught myself, basically. I got decks when I was 12 then I started producing when I was 13, 14. It was just a process of teaching myself. My brother's a lot better at piano than I am, so watching him helped a lot. But then it was just trial and error basically. I'm still not an amazing musician now. 

You're best known alias comes from the author of Brave New World and The Doors Of Perception, Aldous Huxley. Another of your aliases is Mr Mushrooms. So would it be more accurate to say you were influenced by psychedelics or sci fi?

Mr Mushrooms wasn't actually me! I used to make music for it but it was actually my friend who was rapping on it, he was Mr Mushrooms, so you'd have to ask him where that came from. Although I'd guess it was a drug reference. 

The Doors Of Perception was the first one I read, then Brave New World really struck a chord with me. I would say I was influenced more by science fiction than by psychedelics to be honest.

Did you know the Huxley family is pretty famous and Aldous actually had an aunt called Ethel?

Oh, really? Hahahaha. That's hilarious, I never knew that. There you go, you learn something new every day.

We've had a bit of a garage revival, the same with deep house, now techno seems to be pretty popular again. Where's music going next?

Well, I think it's gonna be grime, isn't it? I think a lot of the kids are just listening to grime. In terms of house and techno, who knows. I think it might get more minimal. That old Ricardo sound seems to be getting a lot more popular again, people like Archie Hamilton and a few others are really starting to take off so I think it might go back to that kind of vibe. 

If that's where you think music might go next, where are you going to go next?

Well at the moment I'm working on a load of remixes and they're all coming out sounding quite different, so let's just see. I don't know at the moment. At the moment my DJ sets are probably on the more house, tech house and techno side. It's still quite a mixture, so I don't know, we'll see. 

Have you got any gigs coming up this summer that you're really looking forward to?

Yeah, there's a few. There's some I can't really talk about now because they haven't been announced, but I always look forward to Hideout and I'm back at Eastern Electrics again this year which is really fun. I love the summer because it's always busy, outdoor parties, which is what I love the most really. 

Why is it that you like outdoor parties so much?

It just feels a bit more free, you're out in the sunshine. We're just coming out of the end of winter and I'm looking forward to being out in the open. If you ask me at the end of summer I'd probably say I love playing a small, dark room. I suppose you get bored of one then you're ready to move onto the next.

Catch Huxley playing for 10 Years of Aus at mUmU here. Get tickets below.

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