Duke Dumont was the man who pressed the button on the current boom in British dance. He scored the first number one single in UK house music for over a decade when he made Need U (100%) in 2013, then landed another number one and a number two the following year. By now you might have expected the man born Adam Dyment to have joined the likes of Rudimental and Disclosure in releasing acclaimed, big-selling albums of club anthems. Indeed he’s been talking about his album for some time. But now he’s changed his mind – there won’t be one.
“This is really sad to say as a music lover, but the electronic music album is almost dead,” he tells me. “For Adele or Katy Perry, it’s different, but for electronic music, the quick fix of the single has made albums almost obsolete.” He now thinks that an album isn’t the best way to sell the kind of music he makes – Nineties influenced house thudders with lovesick vocals and zinging pop melodies. He does seem sad about it, citing Daft Punk’s Discovery as one of his favourite albums ever, but he’s made his mind up. “I just want the songs to speak for themselves, and shine a light on those tracks that might have fallen by the wayside if they were among a dozen on an album.”
Instead we’re getting his new single, Ocean Drive, as part of a four-track EP on October 2, with more EPs to follow every few months. It’s a great song with more soul than his past work, and a chorus that sticks around in your head long after it’s finished playing. Despite his Eeyoreish talk about music and DJ culture in general, he’s not shy about bigging it up. “Someone referred to it as ‘deep pop’, as opposed to deep house. I’m more comfortable with that term. It might sound arrogant, but personally I think it’s one of the best sounding pop records of recent years. Pop doesn’t have to mean cheap music. I’m proud to be making what I see as some of the best pop music around.”
That’s about as far as he goes with the showing off. He ‘s free flowing with his chat but is a mumbler, often hard to catch, and aside from the shiny cross dangling from his left ear there’s little of the glamorous air you might expect from an internationally sought-after DJ and producer. We meet in his management office in Shoreditch, which is absolutely plastered with memorabilia related to their more charismatic Canadian charge, deadmau5. Duke Dumont promotional trainers or baseball caps are notable by their absence.
Brought up in Rayners Lane, he now lives in Tring, Hertfordshire, because it’s handy for Heathrow and Luton airports. He estimates he’s in the country for five days out of every 30. He’s renting. “I do not spend money. I’m scared to spend money. I genuinely have a fear that it’s all going to end tomorrow.” His people want him to move to LA, as he’s even bigger in the US than he is here, but he’s reluctant. “I’m apprehensive. I don’t need to move to America to be inspired. The thing with LA is it’s almost too nice. I’ve seen a lot of UK acts go there and stop making music. They’re having too much fun.”
Which is not to say he isn’t doing exciting things. He’s in demand as a producer with major pop singers now. He just won’t say who. “I’m not going to shout about who I’m working with,” he says. “Certain people will say, ‘I’m in the studio with so-and-so,’ and you never hear of it again. I’m the opposite. I’ve been in the studio with some of the biggest pop stars in the world, but I won’t talk about it unless it’s going to happen for real.”
The arrival of real success at a later stage in his career might account for his inability to be starstruck. Now 34, he’s been DJing since he was 15. At 18, he bought a laptop for making music in Dixons on a loan agreement, as he didn’t have any money. He says his parents almost kicked him out for such a foolhardy decision. “I’m probably still paying it off now.” Before he started learning to produce, he was playing semi-professional football for Uxbridge Town, and competing for Great Britain’s youth team at Judo. “I haven’t kicked a football since I was 22. I’ve literally given up my life to establish myself in music,” he says.
I thought it was a surprising career decision when I heard that he’d been born almost completely deaf, but around the age of six or so, his hearing problems resolved themselves as his skull grew. “I’m like the opposite of Beethoven,” he says. “My hearing’s probably only 90 per cent of what it should be these days, but that’s because of DJing, nothing else.”
After dropping out of a “pretentious” music course at Middlesex University, he joined the music business in one of its least alluring corners: turning dance hits into ringtones for a phone company. He was eventually sacked for spending too many working hours uploading his own music to MySpace, but at least the job forced him to listen closely to every classic club song in existence. “After two years of editing, God knows how many songs must have seeped in. I had that Karate Kid moment: everything that made a great dance song was ingrained in my head.”
It turned him into something of a trainspotter. He’s particularly proud of a song on his new EP called Robert Talking, on which veteran Chicago house vocalist Robert Owens speaks about his golden years over disco licks. “When he talks about the old drum machines, the 606, the 707 and the 808, you hear a 606, a 707 and an 808. Hardly anyone would notice that I’ve done that.”
It’s a long, ambitious track that proves he can do more than make hit singles. He wants to have a more impressive claim to fame than the one that makes him a pub quiz question at the moment: it was his song Need U (100%) that kept Ding Dong, The Witch is Dead from claiming the number one spot just after Margaret Thatcher died. “That was a really strange week. It’s a bit crass, a bit mean to celebrate someone’s death, no matter what. It’s still someone’s family.”
Now, even without an album, he’s got a strong enough catalogue to make for an exciting live show, which he brings to Camden later this month. He’ll be on keyboards, allowing guest singers to take the spotlight. He’s no star, but his songs shine bright. “Making a song that millions of people like isn’t easy. It’s no mean feat making a great pop record. I don’t want to be the biggest DJ or record producer in the world. I want to be one of the best.” Carving his own, awkward path is working.
Sept 30, Koko, NW1 (0870 432 5527, koko.uk.com)