Dorian Duvall, the artist known as Onuinu (On You, In You), calls his music Disco-Hop, a moniker that obscures as much as it reveals. While the energetic thump of disco and the erratic beats of hip hop are evident in his sound, the songs on Mirror Gazer, his striking debut, can’t really be tied down to a single genre. The title track blends a rock bass line, shimmering piano drenched in dub effects, and a big funky chorus. The simple swinging beat of “A Step in the Right Direction” is driven by a bass line that wouldn’t be out of place on a Kraftwerk album, skittering high-hat accents, and washes of swirling ambient sci-fi synthesizers. The romantic ballad “Last Word” is more down-to-earth. Duvall’s dreamy vocals, lush ambient string effects, and brittle percussion accents call to mind the classic sound of Philly soul during the early ’70s.

“I do listen to a lot of ‘70s R&B and soul, as well as stuff from the ‘50s and electronic music from LA and the UK,” Duvall says. “Eno, Bowie, Madlib, J Dilla, Yellow Magic Orchestra… I can’t even remember everything that inspired me. Since I was a kid, I’ve always been a huge music fan. I started singing in church with my mom and grandma before I could play an instrument.”

Duvall grew up in the suburbs of Cleveland and got his first guitar when he was 15. The minute he picked up the instrument, his course was set. “I was really into Pink Floyd and practiced everyday in my bedroom. I jammed a lot in high school. I wasn’t in many bands, but we’d have these four-hour free form psychedelic sessions that helped me develop my manual dexterity, improvising skills and rhythmic sense.”

“I moved to Portland in 2005 to go to school, start a band with a friend, and focus on developing my music. I was in a couple of bands, but they didn’t go too well, so I went solo and did my own thing. I got a sampler and began building tracks by looping and sampling myself. I played experimental  shows where I built ambient, open-ended soundscapes. I wasn’t listening to much pop music and really got into the production side of things.”

Duvall was also making instrumental tracks at home on his four-track recorder. A few of them found their way to Ape Tapes, a small local label. People responded favorably, and he began thinking about making an album. “I wanted to compose songs that would combine hip hop, disco, R&B and the other sounds I like, without following in anyone’s footsteps.”

Duvall was introduced to drummer/producer/engineer Jeremy Sherrer (Gossip, Dandy Warhols, Hockey) by his label, and they immediately clicked. The duo laid down the tracks that became Mirror Gazer in a single all-day session. “We added a few counter melodies here and there, but I had the beats and arrangements all figured out, so the process was smooth. Working in a real studio gave us a lot of options. I didn’t want to make conventional Top 40 pop music. I wanted to make every song sound different.”

Live, Onuinu expands Duvall’s musical vision by leaving room for improvisation and spontaneous expression. “We try to reproduce the sound of the record,” Duvall says, “but I’m huge into guitar solos. I hadn’t been playing guitar while I was finishing the album, so I’m slowly easing that into our sets. The band is Arian Jalali on guitar and keys, Jeremy on drums, and me on guitar, synthesizer and samples. Jeremy plays an electronic kit and does a lot of drum triggering, which gives us a unique sound. We only [started playing together] a week before the last tour, so we’re making it up as we go along. We’re actually practicing while we’re playing shows, but so far it’s going well.”


Text by J. Poet