Illyus & Barrientos Celebrate Signing to Ultra and Debut in New York

Jonah Flint

Illyus & Barrientos Celebrate Signing to Ultra and Debut in New York

Scotland is an underrated haven for house music. It's the home of underground tastemaker label Glasgow Underground and the birthplace of superstar producers like Calvin Harris, Chris Lake, and Hudson Mowhawk. It's high time we add Illyus & Barrientos to that list. In recent years, the dynamic house duo have properly represented Scotland's scene with their joyous dance music that draws heavily from soul and classic house.

They've become mainstays on Mark Knight's Toolroom label. And proving that their star is rising, they recently signed a coveted record deal with Ultra Music that will see them have the opportunity to branch out further stylistically, as well as collaborate with new artists. After releasing a track with A-Trak, the duo will take on their first-ever New York City headline performance and establish an even larger footprint in the US.

We caught up with the guys ahead of their show at Superior Ingredients in Brooklyn on Friday, June 24, to chat about working with A-Trak, breaking into the American dance market, and working with two of dance music's most iconic imprints.

What's the story behind your recent release with A-Trak? How did you guys connect with him, and what was that process like producing a track with someone so musically diverse?

We've always been massive fans of A-trak, and when we got to remix one of his tracks, the wheels were set in motion to eventually work together. We sent him over a more melodic idea at first, but he felt there were elements in it to explore. From there, "Together At Last" just happened. The guy is such a talent that he can move into any genre as he sees fit. That freedom has to be admired.

"Together at Last" is a funk-laden track, carrying your signature sounds. On the other end of the spectrum, you also recently released "Ghetto Thang" with Gettoblaster. This is such a showcase of your versatility as producers. Do you find you're trying to make an effort recently to switch up the style more often?

We wouldn't say we switch things up intentionally. Music is a thing of mood and feeling, and when it comes to making it, it's no different. A lot of our up-and-coming stuff has been approached the same way, plus the fact there are two of us with different tastes.

How different is your production process when you work with another artist versus just the two of you in the studio?

It's not too different from how we work sometimes. We're not always in the studio together. We send each other ideas back and forth until a song gets to the final touches, then we might come together to give it the last touches. We have just finished a record with Josh Butler, and it was a similar process. A lot of WhatsApp voice notes with silly jokes and some music chat.

Although it seems hard to believe, you are playing your debut NYC show on June 24 in Brooklyn. As artists who have been playing gigs worldwide for years now, what does it mean to you to finally have a headline show in NYC?

To headline in NYC feels surreal to us. It's one of those pinch-me moments. We can't wait for people to hear what our sound is when it comes to playing music. The energy is going to be amazing!!

The American dance scene is bigger than ever now. Yet, many successful American acts have difficulty breaking through in Europe, and vice versa. In your opinion, what's the big difference between the two scenes?

We don't think you can pinpoint what the difference is. There are various genres and cultures that are different on both sides, and somewhere they meet in the middle, and maybe those are the ones that translate well on both sides of the Atlantic. We always feel that being a good person and appreciating people matters. We make sure we love what we do; hopefully, everyone can see and feel that. At the end of the day, house music is about inclusivity—everyone's welcome. Everyone should be part of something positive. We try our best to make sure our music translates that way onto the dancefloor and earphones. Maybe that's why our music style varies so much.

If you had to pick between a festival, small club, or large venue, what would you say is your favorite type of gig to play?

We recently played with Calvin Harris and MK at Ushuaia [Ibiza]. We still haven't fully recovered from that one. It was insane! Printworks in London recently was a highlight too. But a lot of the time, we love a smaller intimate party because you can really take the dancefloor on a journey. Tulum springs to mind, and Bang Bang in San Diego was really cool.

Labels play an important role in how an artist's music gets heard and the level of creativity they can use with their productions. Toolroom has been a landing spot for you and provided you with plenty of opportunities over the years. So what does that label mean for the house music scene?

Toolroom has been an institution for so many clubbers and artists. We've been so fortunate to have great records out on the label. It's one of those labels that is constantly evolving because they have such a great team behind them. Everyone is a family member, and that's why it keeps on going from strength to strength.

You recently signed a deal with Ultra records. What are you looking forward to about having a deal like this in place? Do you plan to release an album soon or keep it going with the singles and collaborations?

It's been a different journey with Ultra. Even though you work with a big label, you get a lot of control when it comes to what comes out and how you promote it. It's been a nice learning curve. We have spoken about an album recently. It's definitely something we're looking at because we'd maybe like to try and release more than just straight house.

What are your current secret weapon tracks in your sets?

Dombresky, "Bubblin," and Matrefakt, "Shine," have been working wonders for us.

Do you have any pieces of hardware or software plug-ins that you love to use when producing?

We recently met Ben Hemsley, and he told us when he was starting out, he kept watching our tutorial because we gave him a great tip about a bassline plug-in. So here's another amazing bassline tip for up-and-coming producers. Get the R-Bass by Waves. It will bring out amazing harmonies in a bassline that may be hidden.

Do you think the electronic music scene in Glasgow is heading in the right direction?

Scotland as an overall scene now is huge. We have so many acts making their mark, one being Ewan McVicar. Guys like him are constantly pushing boundaries but at the same time making sure people get a glimpse of who they are as people too. There are also loads of great female DJs and producers. BETH and Hannah Laing, for example, are getting put on the map by labels such as Nervous and Trick. It really shows you how far of a reach our scene has.