iDJ catches up with Scotland's least Scottish-sounding house duo
For a good half a decade now, Illyus & Barrientos have steadily been building a reputation as a force to be reckoned with in house circles, with a string of releases on respected labels such as Defected, Suara, Nurvous, Mother Recordings, Glasgow Underground and Toolroom, and regular Radio 1 airplay support from the likes of Annie Mac and Pete Tong.
Crucial to that success has been the ease with which the duo swerve from one house style to another, serving up deep, underground club cuts one minute and big-room vocal belters like their forthcoming Toolroom single Shout (out this Friday) the next. Lifting a chunk from the Loleatta Holloway classic Stand Up by way of a vocal, Shout is an old-fashioned peaktime, singalong affair that takes us back to the glory days of the mid-90s
And that versatility, in turn, is perhaps a result of their diverse heritage. Barrientos was born in the US to Chilean parents and has a background in classical music, while Illyus was born in Scotland, but grew up in Frankfurt, Germany listening to hip-hop. It was only in 2014 that fate (and, according to legend, a well-known Scottish label owner – though as they refused to be drawn on that when we asked, we won't name him) brought them together in Glasgow. They've been making beautiful house music together ever since.
So with Shout already looking set fair to become one of 2019's biggest podium anthems, we figured now was a good time to find out more...
What can each of you remember about first meeting the other?
"The first meeting was rather chill. Barrientos loves a bit of Thai food, so we met in this Glasgow spicy spot. We wined and dined, hit it off, and more or less moved from there. We very much realised we came from different backgrounds instantly but somehow we got on and had a laugh. It all seemed easy!"
Your various backgrounds range from hip-hop to classical music… how does that impact on the house music you make, do you think?
"For us hip-hop is a massive influence, as we also love sampling. It very often creates the mood of a record for us; then again, the classical influence for Barrientos impacts our melodic breakdowns. We suppose that’s why most of our tunes are straight-up house. We like that soul factor in records, it creates a feelgood atmosphere when playing them out. Both genres have allowed us to open our minds a bit and we now look for influences across all genres."
The first Illyus & Barrientos record I ever reviewed was actually an Illyus solo outing (the Shuffle EP on Different Attitudes) in 2014. Do you still do solo productions (either of you), or is it purely an I&B thing these days?
"Ha ha, that takes us back! It’s nice to think from 2014 onwards we had only just met each other. We now mostly just focus on I&B given how busy we are, and we’re loving every minute of it."
Over the years, your productions have covered quite a range of house territory, from deep and underground to more 'accessible' tunes. Where would you say you're at right now, stylistically?
"At the moment, we feel at home and comfortable with our sound. It took a while to find it but to be fair, we reckon most producers go through that journey. Now it's just straight-up HOUSE!"
Your music has also graced some very well-respected labels, including Defected, Suara, Glasgow Underground and Toolroom – and that's not counting remixes! Are there any of those that were a particularly exciting moment for you?
"Every label we have been on (and strive to be on) is always an exciting journey. It’s probably because every record represents a different journey or moment, so the fact that Toolroom, Defected or whoever take a chance on us means the world. That buzz about getting your records out will never leave us, we’re really still just two studio geeks from Glasgow who love releasing music."
Your next single is Shout on Toolroom... tell us about that track? It's quite rare to hear a proper full-lunged diva vocal like that lately…
"Yeah, you’re spot on! We did something similar with Scream so we thought we should continue on that style. Also, who doesn’t like a diva scream? COME ON!
"The idea for Shout just came about so quickly, it literally went from the studio to the club in a day, and the next thing you know people are going mental and asking for a copy of the record."
I'm told you have a "killer residency" lined up for Ibiza 2019… can you tell us anything about that yet, or would you have to kill me?
"Ha ha, we’re lovers not fighters! But let’s just say “TAPS AFF!”. Sadly we can’t say anything right now, but there should be an announcement coming soon."
I also hear you've got a tour Down Under coming up…
"Yeah, so buzzing for that – neither of us have been to New Zealand or Australia. It’s just mad to think that people there are sending us messages excited for us to play some music. We’re gonna be hitting Brisbane (Prohibition), Sydney (Chinese Laundry), Auckland (Av Club) and Adelaide (Front Room at The Historian) so if anyone is out and about, let’s do it!"
Are you still based in Glasgow and if so, what's the house scene like in the city as 2019 dawns?
"We will probably never leave this holy place, we love our city so much. The scene in Glasgow is thriving and strong, and hopefully that will never change. There are always young DJs, producers, nights and afterhours parties happening that keep everyone dancing. The nice thing up here is that everyone supports each other."
Finally… what else is going on in Illyus & Barrientos's world right now that iDJ readers need to know about?
"Phew! Everything is 100mph at the moment. We have three records already signed and good to go, plus a good batch of remixes that are yet to come out. Another thing we’re passionate about is radio, so our aim this year is to give everyone a constant show, with some banter and of course the music we bang out in our sets.
"Other than that... plenty of gigs, and plenty of studio time with fellow producers (watch this space), songwriters and vocalists. 2019 HWG!"
Words: Russell Deeks
Shout is out on Toolroom on 18 January - you can order it here