This month, Future Sounds team member, Rob, sat down with a solid stalwart of the retrowave scene, London UK based, Duett. With releases reaching back a decade, and over a dozen long players and EPs in his catalogue, Duett’s place in the annals of synthwave is secured.
His (for Duett is a really a singular) particular brand of electronic music is steeped in the aesthetic of 80s and 90s sophisti-pop, nostalgic indents, and commercial scores; soaked in mellow pastels, and pulsing synths. And as we learn, the look, feel, and texture of Duett’s output is just as important as the sound.
Kick back and enjoy this deep dive into Duett’s origins, influences, collabs, and a tease of what’s coming next.
Hello Duett! Firstly, thank you for sitting down for an interview with Future Sounds. How’s your 2024 looking, and how was your 2023 reflecting back?
I think 2023 was great creatively, in hindsight. It’s only after the event that I actually look back and try and make sense of what I was working on, and what we were looking to achieve. With some of my favourite vinyl releases, plus the album with Yatte, and working on Outlines 2 in November, I’m happy with how it went, and how things are shaping up for 2024.
I think I first came across Duett around the ‘Cycles’ album  – which was actually your third long player. I’ve since gone back and listened to (and purchased) ‘Borderline’, and ‘Horizons’. I can definitely hear a progression in your sound – especially from ‘Horizons’ onwards. Tell me what your aim was for the Duett project at that time – and what your thematic influences were then.
The idea for Duett came together pretty quickly, really. I’d been working on other projects for years, but my passion was 80s/synthwave, I just never thought there was an outlet for it. In early 2014 I discovered Bandcamp – and that’s where things really changed. I could see that artists like Mitch Murder were self-releasing music that I loved, and I could see other people were so into it. Aside from that, I wanted to set out a framework for how my project should be, and how I would work on it. I decided that I would make a 3-track EP, in one day, and post it on Soundcloud and Bandcamp at the end of that day – including artwork/titles…and whatever happened, happened.
I think because I’d been building up to working on it for so long in my head, it just all flowed (ish!) as soon as I sat down to do it. I worked from 6am-6pm, and I limited myself to only a few (VTS) synths which included (for the hardware nerds): an FM8, a Korg Polysix, a Korg M1, a Roland 808).
One aspect of making music based in this era – now – is the ability to access just about every sound, ever. So, I chose to work on the basis that if I was making music back in the 80s, then I would only have access to a few bits and pieces. The last big decision for me was the name. I can’t remember exactly why I thought of ‘Duett’, but I remember trying a few names (which had either been taken. or were too “synthwave”). I didn’t want the name to reflect anything about me, and a ‘duet’ could imply two people, rather than just me. The themes I was influenced by then were the same as they are now. I just feel I can reflect them better after 10 years of this project.
The aesthetic of Duett is on point, and very much part of the brand and experience. If I’m right you and Forces Creative have a long running collaboration there (but maybe not since ‘Movement’, ‘Leisure’, and ‘The Minute’)? Did you normally approach them with a concept, or do they respond to hearing the music – or neither?
When I’m working on an album, I often have the artwork in mind before I even start. Sometimes I can see a piece of cover art – whether it be an existing cover or something random – and it can inform the whole sound of what I’m working on. When I was starting on ‘Borderline’ (released 2015) I think I saw Forces Creative on Instagram, and could almost hear what an album would sound like with their cover art. I think the same applies to them too. Once I’d nearly finished the album I contacted them and we went from there. Since then, we’ve met often and become friends. We obviously have so many common reference points when it comes to 80’s style and aesthetic. We speak often and I’m sure we’ll collaborate again.
As well as Duett, you have a slightly darker alter ego project, Alpiine – which kind of borrows from the same 80s palette of sounds, but inverts them into more moody and melancholic tones. Do you plan to carry on with this side project, and what was the impetus behind it?
Alpiine was the result of wanting a slightly more processed/darker sound, but I felt it wasn’t quite right to release as Duett. The process with Alpiine is more in keeping with ‘Horizons’ (2014) and ‘Outlines’ (2020) – in that I limited myself to a few synths, and gave myself time restrictions. I think during lockdown when I had some time to work on music at home, it was a way of giving myself different creative outlets for whatever I was working on. Having said that, I think you can clearly hear Duett running through the Alpiine sound, and vice versa!
We have to talk about your collabs with (yacht-rock retrowave artist) Yatte, culminating in 2023’s album, ‘The Minute’. Your sounds blend impeccably. How did that relationship start, how did you write and produce it, and will we see another set of releases from you together?
First of all, I’m just a massive fan of Yatte. We were first made aware of each other through (retro artist and designer) Mizucat in 2020. I remember hearing his track ‘Good Enough’ on one of her videos, and genuinely thinking it was an 80’s tracks I had never heard!
From there we started to talk about music and found we have an insane amount of favourite artists and influences in common, and share the same passion for 80’s production techniques. On the first track we worked on, Yatte sent me a skeleton track outline and I added my synth parts, and we went from there – although sometimes I’ll start a track and send it to him and then we just go back and forth adding and editing until we’re happy.
Even though so much work went into ‘The Minute’, I loved working on it, and that’s probably because he is such an incredible musician and vocalist to begin with. A little teaser here: the vinyl and cassette releases of ‘The Minute’ are coming soon, via Timeslave recordings!
You’ve branched out into merch – which a lot of artists do – albeit not in the obvious t-shirt-bearing-the-logo way. You’ve used album aesthetics, fabrics, colours and designs to put out some really cool and understated hoodies, tees, and sweaters. You clearly think in a way that makes Duett work as a clothing line, and the artwork you use lends itself to that. We’re perhaps of a similar age – were you influenced by those United Colours of Benetton 90s trends (and similar European brands)?
Any music or merch that I release has to be something I would buy myself. Most of the clothing merch features cover art in some way, as I think that works well, but I have done a couple of releases on Everpress which were more in line with the brands you mention. I’m a fan of the aesthetic of brands like Benetton, Esprit and even the 80’s output of BHS, Debenhams, M&S. They’re as much part of my influence on Duett as any musical artists.
Speaking of merch, we recently put out an article on the Future Sounds’ site about the trials and tribulations of vinyl production. We notice this is still a prime format for you – with your releasing of new and limited re-prints of your albums. You clearly have a good supplier! How do you find physicals in terms of supply, demand, and do you intend to keep putting your work out on records and tapes (please do!)?
I think there was a time a couple of years ago when the backlog was so massive with vinyl suppliers that it was almost impossible for many artists to release anything at all. Thinking six to eight months ahead about what you want to do isn’t ideal; but recently the wait time has become shorter.
Again, when it comes to vinyl and cassettes it’s important that it’s something I would buy. The considerations with vinyl (cost/timescale/postage costs/damage) can be a bit daunting, but I enjoy putting the releases together, and I ship everything myself. The main reasons that I love cassettes are: they look great, they cost less, and you can get a few pressed quickly.
I love your two ‘Outlines’ records, which are derived from – literally that – outlines and sketches and musical challenges you set yourself; posting them across a week on Instagram. Other artists have similar experiments (for example, Sunglasses Kid, and the live experimentations of Brothertiger – which have become his ‘Fundamentals’ collections). How have these ‘Outlines’ tracks landed, and how much do you love doing them – both as a creative exercise and also as a way of engaging and interacting with fans on social?
Thanks! When I’m working on anything I need to be creatively interested in it, and have a fresh idea, but I also have to have some kind of peril involved to drive me on! With the first ‘Outlines’ album (released 2020) I had no intention on day one of actually releasing anything, I thought they would just be vignettes on instagram. I’d seen visual artists on insta take part in daily challenges to create something and that inspired me.
The idea was to ask my followers for themes the night before, and then to work on that for a few hours the following morning and whatever happened had to be published. The jeopardy of knowing you have to make your ideas public, regardless of whether you are completely satisfied with them, inspired me! It focused me on what I needed to do, but it also gave me a caveat if it turned out to be terrible (these were quick sketches)! During the process of the first few days, people began asking me if they could download the tracks, so that’s when I decided to release [them]. The process was exactly the same for ‘Outlines 2’ (released January 2024), although I knew from the start I would release these.
[Both] ‘Outlines’ also bring me back full circle to the first Duett tracks, which were made in similar restricted circumstances, albeit without the interaction with people. I really enjoy working in that way.
Prior to ‘The Minute’, and ‘Outlines 2’, ‘Leisure’ was your last full album – and was also a concept album of sorts. Do you think you’ll do another concept album, or will you return to making tunes with guest vocalists including (regular collaborators) Hayley Roscoe, Stewart Lockwood (amongst others including Emma Brammer)?
I think all the albums have a concept of some sort, whether it’s using a limited and specific variety of synths/drum machines for each album, or if it’s driven by the cover art…I need some kind of concept before I start, even if the completed album sounds similar in style to something else I’ve done. I guess ‘Leisure’ (2021) and both ‘Outlines’ releases are the albums with a very clear concept. Along with the ‘Palm Bay Ep’ (2022) which I made using only synths from 1990. The EP definitely has its own style compared to everything else.
I’m always interested in working with anyone if I think we can make something cool, and Stewart and I have been talking just this week!
Exciting stuff! Okay, so, finally then – you have done a few gigs, including via friends of ours like Space Jams. Is there a new album in the making, and will you be doing some dates in 2024 to preview the new material?
I’ll be working on some new music over the next few months, but we’ll have to see if there are any dates to go with that. I am really enjoying playing live and meeting everyone in real life [when I do].
Duett – it’s been so great to chew the fat with you today, and we can’t wait to hear what comes next, and to get our grubby hands on those ‘The Minute’ physicals.
Thank you for asking me, always my pleasure.
‘Outlines 2’ is out now, and available – alongside Duett’s entire catalogue – at his Bandcamp page.
You can also check out Duett’s clothing and merch line HERE
Finally, Forces Creative’s apparel, posters, music and more can be found HERE
The post One to one with Duett: How sticking to an aesthetic palette (and peril!) drives creativity. appeared first on future-sounds.co.uk.