To say the North London Idjut Boys are icons of the dance music scene and legends in their own right is an understatement. For nearly 20 years, Conrad McDonnell and Dan Tyler have been doing everything together, from DJ’ing to producing to partying. The self-taught Brits met in the late 80s at clubs that the likes of DJ Harvey spun, and shortly thereafter, hooked on the lifestyle, decided to switch from being mere observers to participants and auteurs. Over the course of their tenure, they’ve founded three record labels (U-Star, Noid, and Droid); released copious amounts of edits, 12″s, and albums by themselves and their peers; and traveled the world countless times around. Somehow, though, save for the Meanderthals album they crafted with Rune Lindbæk, they never managed to make an original long-player. That is no longer the case! On July 23, the Idjuts dropped Cellar Door through Oslo’s Smalltown Supersound. The full-length may not be what anyone expected―it’s decidedly a “listening” album as opposed to a “club” one―but, if there’s one thing that’s remained consistent with the duo, it’s that one can never foretell what they’ll pump out next. We caught up with McDonnell and Tyler a few weeks back to discuss their past, present, and future, and it’s with great pride that we present you with the full conversation.
How did you two meet?
Conrad McDonnell: Through the same parties, I think. In Cambridge and London… maybe Manchester, too.
Dan Tyler: Yeah, yeah.
C.M.: I’m scared to say the dates. Like, late 80s.
What brought you from one city to the other?
C.M.: Music jobs and college, really. Being a lot younger, you’re up for the adventure.
D.T.: That was a happy combination of cities to be in at that time; they were all pretty interesting… socially, musically, whatever.
What kind of stuff were you getting up to? I plead total ignorance here.
C.M.: There’d be parties going on in farmland and in farm buildings and warehouses in and around London. After a while, you kind of work out which ones you like, and we kept going to one called Tonka quite a lot. DJ Harvey used to play there. In some kind of strange way, not ones to let the party go, we wound up doing what we do, I guess.
You just started DJ’ing together?
D.T.: There always used to be a party after the party, so we saw that as an opportunity [for us]. We started doing a few parties that honed our very special business skills [Laughs]. We had some fun, learning how to lose money. [Laughs]
So when did you actually become the Idjut Boys?
C.M.: Uh, we got an opportunity for a bit of studio time because we were annoying a neighbor. We ended up with a weekend in the studio―a good studio called East Court in West London. We worked with a really nice engineer guy, and he managed to translate our mumblings and random synth noise actions into the Idjut Boys EP. We were very, very lucky in that the record caught on with a few people we were into… like, we heard that François [Kevorkian] played two copies of our record at the Ministry. When you hear that sort of thing, the first thing out of your mouth is, like, Right we need to make another one.
What are your backgrounds in music?
C.M.: Just really liking music―listening to it, dancing to it. Our relationship with music is obsessive, to say the least. It’s in a relationship with us. [Laughs]
To say the least. So it sounds like this is the only job you can have!
C.M.: Yeah, for better or worse, but probably for better, since we’re still doing it, in one way or another. We’ve employed zero strategy all the way. We’d make a record, get the money back from the record―enough to make another record. If those records were reaching exotic, far-off places, you might be lucky enough to go to them and play.
You guys have put out a lot of records. I wouldn’t be surprised if I’ve only listened to half of them. What has compelled you to be so prolific? It seems like you two live and breathe in the studio!
C.M.: You know what? There was a time, in the late 90s and the beginning of this century where we were DJ’ing so much that the studio kind of took second place. That has good and bad sides. Your wallet’s always full and you’re seeing a lot of the world, but… living life as a DJ… it’s almost like solitary confinement; you’re locked in this world of needing new records and going out to play them. With zero recovery time. It becomes a bit weird. We were just not in the studio―we were too knackered. I can’t remember when it was, but it was about 10 years ago, when we moved into this studio. And we decided to change it around a bit, make some more music.
Eventually, I can imagine it catches up with you. There’s only so many years you can tour before having to make music again!
C.M.: Oh, absolutely. It’s been an absolute pleasure and a total privilege to be a guest DJ all over the planet―absolute magic. It’s a great thing. But making music and being part of that and having that as your legacy (rather than a mixtape)…
Things are so different now. The way the record industry is now, it’s very, very, very different. I don’t want to have to get on a plane to pay my rent; I want to sit in the studio and have some fun. We work with some great people and… we’re a bit older, so it’s also just a little easier.
D.T.: Without one, you can’t do the other. That definitely applies. Like Connie said, we’ve been totally blessed and are so grateful for the opportunities we’ve had to get around and meet great people, see different cultures, but we’d like to be able to do music whilst doing that. And to be relevant to music now, too.
It’s a balancing act… or a yin and yang thing. You need to take the DJ’ing thing in equal measure with the studio stuff.
Anyway… one of the things I’ve always been curious about is how you’ve perceived yourselves. From my perspective, you’ve always been very unusual… outsiders… the odd men out. Whether it’s with your DJ sets or your records or your labels. Was that something you were cognizant of? Like, how did you feel like you fit into the scene when you were coming up?
D.T.: That’s for you to say. No, but… I think we’d rather be odd men out than the same as everyone else…
C.M.: Yeah, we’ve always just done what we’ve wanted to do. Possibly to our decrement in some instances. You make a record that’s really successful and, basically, you get 50 remix requests. Some people have made fantastic careers by doing that, but that’s not really what we’ve wanted to do. Also, we’ve just evolved musically, from then until now. We DJ around so we kind of hear what music’s out there and we like to fill the gap. Why make a record that’s the same as somebody else’s? Use your skills and your talent to make something else―someone’s already made that great record; don’t fuckin’ copy it.
I totally see and admire that… I’m just saying that, when I think of the early 90s UK scene, I think of, like, happy hardcore and progressive house and that kind of stuff. Not the shit that you guys have done.
D.T.: I totally hear you, man.
C.M.: But the thing is that… I know that was going on here, and I know that was massive, and we had those jokers on Radio 1 for years that basically destroyed dance music in this country with their cheesy bollocks, and they’re all rich, rich men now, but they fucked it up. We weren’t involved in that. We didn’t want to take part in that whatsoever. The parties we went to were nothing like that; the DJs we listened to were nothing like that. We were just kind of going with our people, really. We were going to parties with people who loved the same things.
D.T.: We brought our thing to America and Japan and lots of other place, but those places in particular. For people that dig it the same way we do. Who don’t change with the direction of the wind, to fit the marketplace.
When did you guys decide to make Noid? What was the genesis of that?
D.T.: Noid… man… fuck… we were doing U-Star―
C.M.: I think it started at Harvey’s house.
D.T.: Yeah, Harvey played us his edit and some things and we were like, Oh, yeah―we’ll put them out. Noid is born. We did some ourselves. Then, there were loads and loads of edits out. Now, it’s become, like, a genre. It’s like people do edits before thinking of doing original music. They think that edits are their original material―that’s sort of a good one. [Laughs] Noid was kind of sporadic. We put some records out by Harvey… Dimitri [from Paris]… Ray Mang… and some by us, yeah.
It sounds like both Noid and U-Star were just vehicles for you to do your own thing, without someone else in charge.
How was that experience? Today, the vinyl market is wacky. The number of pressings people do and the production and distribution deals… the market is super small, compared to what it once was. How was running Noid and U-Star in the 90s? Was it a chore or a success?
C.M.: We couldn’t make them as fast as we could sell them―that seemed to be the case, at least for a while. We were so into it. We were so into it that we did everything sort of ass-backwards and the wrong way around. It cost us a fortune to do anything because we didn’t know the right way to do stuff. But, at the end of the day, the distribution company [we worked with], we couldn’t repress records quick enough for them. We used to sell a lot of records. Now, it’s kind of… I’ll tell you what―we’re kind of okay because we’re 20 years in and we can command the fee we do and get paid a certain amount for remixes. But, if you’re starting out, I think it must be tough. You have to do, like, four jobs just to keep your head above water. I hope it [improves]. As you said, people don’t sell as many records… so, what’s happened is records have become really expensive. If you’re starting out and want to buy a handful of records―wow.
Yeah―it’s hundreds of dollars.
C.M.: Yeah. And I find that… restrictive for people. They shouldn’t be that much.
D.T.: If you’ve got the wherewithal and the tools to get your stuff out there, though, in some ways, it’s probably easier to do that today than it was when we were starting. It’s a different kind of process. It’s nice to see that vinyl hasn’t completely disappeared―and that people appreciate it.
When we used to go record shopping on the weekends or whatever… if you didn’t go, you’d just miss some great record. Because they were there and then they were just gone. There’s a bit of that now, with the limited pressings. It used to be a bit of a pilgrimage, getting records, though―if you didn’t haul ass into town, you weren’t getting any.
Well, we should talk a little bit about the album! When did you start working on Cellar Door?
C.M.: January, the year before this…
D.T.: January ‘11.
C.M.: January, 2011!
D.T.: Some of the tracks on there have roots that go farther back, but―
C.M.: Some parts. Basically, we did the Meanderthals record, and Joakim [Haugland of Smalltown Supersound] was happy with that. We did that with Rune Lindbæk. And then he was like, Is there an Idjut Boys album? So we came back from Japan and then we started. We got everything we had on the computer―and there was a lot of stuff―and siphoned it down and siphoned it down, and then started deciding what we needed with what. We worked quite hard and were quite methodical―we worked out recording schedules. The drums were recorded live. It’s all played… and recorded with the best gear we could lay our hands on, in some really nice places.
When we were in the room when Bugge [Wesseltoft] recorded “One for Kenny”… Bugge’s got the headphones on, and Dan and I are standing in this beautiful, big studio in Oslo, [watching him] play the piano with his eyes closed. We can’t hear the track―we can only hear the piano―but we were almost in tears, man. That was truly, truly sick.
We were lucky because Joakim helped us to do this kind of stuff. I just think it’s really fun to go to different places and work with different people. It certainly adds something.
How did you go about constructing the whole thing? Since you guys don’t actually play anything yourselves…
C.M.: We program, so [we] get a groove going and a guide bass line, and, from that point, we get [other] people in.
How do you two divvy up the workload?
C.M.: When it gets to the point of driving you mental, you swap. [Laughs] Looking at the screen, doing the same thing… you get to the point where you’ve had a really, really long day and you’re working on something that doesn’t seem to be working, and you get really frustrated. But, fortunately, there’s that other pair of eyes.
D.T.: I will say that, with this, I totally credit Connie for his engineering skills. We work in tandem, but… well, we’ve had no schooling in engineering. Everything that’s happened with our studio has been trial-and-error, self-taught.
The album is meant to be something you can put on one piece of vinyl or a CD. You might gravitate towards one or two tracks, but it’s meant to be something you can listen to [the whole way through]. We’ve played some of it in clubs, but… we’ve had a couple of people who’ve heard it, and they said it was a little different from what they were expecting. We are intending to do a dub copy of it as well, which will take it somewhere entirely different.
Alright, so, lastly… what’re you doing for the remainder of the year?
D.T.: Yeah, there’s another single―we’re just debating what it’s going to be. Maybe with a remix from an extremely well-known dance music god. That will remain a mystery until [we] decide it won’t be any longer! But we also have a couple of remixes to do… we just did one for Dennis Kane… and we have another one for our friend Luke Solomon. And then, yeah, maybe a dub copy of [our] album. We just did a compilation for Claremont 56. It’s a five-year compilation, which we’ve done a mix for, too.
C.M.: There’s a label out of L.A. called Acid Test, and I think we’re going to do something for it.
D.T.: It’s sort of like that little label we had, Droid. [Acid Test] is leaning that way, so we’re hoping to satisfy them. We both dig that kind of music and it’s certainly a million miles from Cellar Door.