Illyus Brown and Ivan Hall Barrientos have the kind of working relationship that many artists dream of. Before forming Illyus & Barrientos, the two were just like any other artist looking for the right partner, or vocalist looking for the right producer. In their case, it was Brown, a local Glasgow DJ known for his club and hip-hop nights, and Brown, an aspiring artist. Barrientos worked a corporate job as a designer in manufacturing, but the job didn't have the right balance of using technical skills and creativity he was looking for – so he turned to writing music for a change. They were both green, and found that collaborating with one another helped them both find themselves musically.
Two aspiring artists from a small music scene like that in Glasgow that hadn't crossed paths was unusual, but it was meant to be. Barrientos concentrated on writing, and Brown on production and the technicalities involved with engineering their sound. It didn't work right away, as Barrientos recalls. "We actually had a couple of a couple of duff attempts in music, but then when, you know, for what for whatever reason, when we went back in it, it just clicked and we wrote a record that came out on Glasgow Underground and got premiered on Radio 1."
Such luck isn't something that automatically translates for many artists on their first go of things, but for this duo, it is starting to stick. Now, the guys are in a rhythm where they seemingly have total trust in one another, a synergy that often signals that they're meant to work together. This comes, however, after years of spending long stretches spent in the studio. Barrientos went back to school to get his PhD in biomedical engineering – a move that in hindsight, allowed his schedule to open up and for him to dictate the time he spent in the studio. They acknowledge that their flexible schedules allowed for this time to work through, with trial and error, creating a signature sound.
Tech house releases can feel like a dime a dozen in the UK, but in a sound marked by rigid stylistic choices, the focus on vocals that Illyus & Barrientos place on their own productions feels like a breath of fresh air. "We're not afraid to say no to vocals," Barrientos says on their latest release, "Promise."
It has led them to make bigger connections, including, with the right record, finding a home at Toolroom Records. Their sophomore release was via Love & Other – an affiliated label that seeks out new and rising talent. They continued to be a core feature for the label as it grew, occasionally remixing tracks for Toolroom itself. It wasn't until two years later in 2016 that they released their first original on Toolroom, and now, "Promise," shows off that proprietary sound.
Using a gospel sample isn't a new tactic to employ in house music, of course, but so often it's about the "right" sample. That's what worked for them as they tested the track out live. "We really wanted to make a track that we want to play out, and 'Promise' really came from that," Barrientos said on the phone from his home in Glasgow. "I am not particularly religious, or anything, but you know, there's some sort of a style of music, which is just absolutely captivating. It's the energy of passion. I just think it translates."