Pig & Dan: “Techno gives you the authority to add weird, wrong notes. It’s sexy”

Since meeting on a flight to Mallorca almost 20 years ago, Igor Tchkotoua and Dan Duncan have risen to become one of the most recognisable, influential duos in modern techno. 

Over the course of their career, they’ve dropped tracks on many of the scene’s most important labels, from Drumcode to Soma to Cocoon, and DJed to thousands at clubs and festivals across the world. 

With a packed release schedule and touring diary heading into 2019, Pig & Dan show no sign of slowing down. We sat down with them at last October’s ADE to quiz them on synths, studio synergy and more.

What’s your current studio setup?

Igor: “We have two studios. You could say that I’ve got more hardware in my studio and Dan’s got more software. We have a pretty simple setup though. We have an ARP Odyssey, a TR-8, a Moog Sub 37. We’ve also got the Prophet 6 rack, which is a great synth – it’s got a never-ending cutoff where you can just open, and open, and open it. Dan has UAD, but I don’t have those. Then we have the Native Instruments virtual stuff. Then there’s some sneaky plugins we use, like the [Audio Damage] Kombinat.”

Dan: “Oh yeah. Secret weapons. And the Eos reverb too. Don’t tell anybody about that!”

Igor: “That’s about it though. I buy a new synth every three or four or five months, and every time you get a new synth it’s like you get a new sound and a bit of new inspiration. I just discovered a synth called Sylenth, which is apparently like a beginner software synth from years ago, but I’ve just discovered it now. I’ve made full tracks with it in three or four days.”

Dan: “It’s inspiring to have new sounds.”

Igor: “It is, but it’s also about being inspired personally. Some days you’ve got that inspiration and you’ll be creating things like, ‘yes, yes, yes’. But the day you’re not inspired everything sounds crap to you. It’s about perspective.”

What one production tip would you give your younger selves?

Igor: “I don’t think there is much production knowledge you can share. It’s a very organic thing.”

Dan: “We’re experimentalists, so from the very beginning we’ve always taken sounds and experimented with them.”

Igor: “Also, I think music production is something that takes time to learn. You can’t really go, ‘just do this’. I would tell my younger self other stuff, like don’t waste your life with drugs because I wasted many years of my life… But in production I couldn’t give myself any advice. We did what we did and we’re here now because we spent a lot of time in the studio and music was our passion. It’s about dedicating a lot of time to it and being constant and not giving up. But that’s life.”

How do you start a new track?

Dan: “We always put a kick drum in first. The kick influences everything in techno; it’s very much the core of where that track gets its soul from. It’s the root of all evil when it comes to techno!”

Igor: “If it’s a good sounding kick then everything else follows. If it’s a crap kick sound then everything else is going to sound crap.”

If it’s a crap kick sound then everything else is going to sound crap.

Dan: “We make folders of our own kicks, so we’ve got our own sample pack. We’ll go through that until we can find the kick we’re looking for and then throw that in. You’ve already got a sonic reference, about how much sub there is, so you can work the bass off of that. It makes it easier to mix the track.”

Igor: “Then once you’ve got the track done and the bass, you can tweak that kick again. A little trick – this is something naughty for beginner producers – what we used to do was sample kicks from another mastered track. Then you’ve got that as a reference.”

How do you beat writer’s block?

Igor: “We just stop.”

Dan: “Yeah, or the other one takes over. Sometimes we inspire each other.”

Igor: “It’s great being a double team like that.”

Dan: “It’s a tag team thing. I might not get anywhere with an idea, but maybe that inspires the other person to evolve or add to it in some way. We’ve learned over the years to work with our synergy.”

Igor: “In the beginning we used to fight a lot – our egos used to get in the way. Maybe Dan would spend ten hours on a track and then I’d just go ‘let’s scrap it’. He’d be really pissed off. But maybe we’d keep one element from that track and use it for something in the future. We still do that, but the difference is we don’t have fights over it now. Sometimes though, we’ll still get writer’s block and take a month or two break. When you’re inspired, take advantage of it. We’ve just had a bit of inspiration and we’ve ended up making four or five tracks in the last week.”

Dan: “I’ve worked since 9am today in our hotel room. You were working on something last night.”

Igor: “Yeah, I wrote a track yesterday afternoon. That’s a great thing about having your studio on a laptop, the fact you can do that. Dan even mixes down on the Sennheisers.”

Dan: “Yeah, I use headphones now; I don’t even use monitors anymore – I sold them!”

How important is music theory?

Igor: “[Dan]’s theory, and I’m chaos! He’s much better at it than I am. I know the basics but that’s it. I know there’s a sound spectrum and I know I can’t have my kick and my bass in the same frequencies, but that’s a very basic thing. He thinks in spectrums and theories and everything. With time you develop an ear for these things though. It takes time to develop these things; your ears get more refined and the sounds you can create get more refined.”

Dan: “So, what we should say to our younger selves is to be patient. I guess that’s the answer in a way.”

Igor: “I have done a course in the past, and it is good to learn about things, but it’s like anything; you need to think outside the box too.”

Dan: “I got to grade eight in my musical education and I said to my teacher ‘where do I go now?’. She told me if you want to be creative you have to forget everything you’ve just learned. I was like, ‘what the fuck did I learn it for then?’. But it’s a case of, if you know the rules to break, it’s a different way of doing it. [Igor] breaks the rules from the beginning, so we have this synergy because he’s like chaos, where he’ll put in a note that’s technically wrong, but it sounds right. Techno gives you the authority to do that – add those kinds of wrong, weird notes. It’s sexy.”

What one track do you wish you’d produced?

Dan: “Energy Flash by Joey Beltram. The best dance record ever made in history.”

Igor: “Maybe Man With The Red Face by Laurent Garnier for me – what a track.”

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