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The Drop, Vol. 5: Keys N Krates, Thoughts of a Kandi Kid, and Six Must-Hear Producers

The September issue of Derek Staples' EDM zine looks to life after festival season.

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    Senior Staff Writer Derek Staples returns to discuss all things related to the EDM market and culture. Don’t wait for it, read ahead now: The Drop.

    In a recent Nod Your Head column, News Editor Chris Coplan made a valid point about the “growing pains” of the EDM community: “You’re always going to be music’s redheaded stepchild.” It is this very notion that has fueled the new wave culture. No matter the generation, children have always discovered the music and trends that were most likely to piss off their parents — and circa 2012 nothing was better at doing the trick than some beads, glitter, and a pacifier (all which seem innocent enough alone). But as legendary selector Carl Cox recently quipped, “EDM’s a sound America has latched on to, but once people start going left and right of that scene, they’re going to find their Art Departments, their Loco Dices and their Sven Väths – and that’s a really good place to be.” For those not familiar with the names, the point is simple: the allure of easily digestible EDM will lead interested listeners to the true artists within the club music realms. So, while this ongoing act of rebellion has led to the unwarranted success of DJ Rage and Paris Hilton DJ nights, it has also established a fanbase that would have otherwise remained blind to the visceral connection of a well-crafted live mix.

    To ease popular resistance, EDM figurehead Diplo has taken it upon himself to shape up this so-called “redheaded stepchild.” Banning kandi bracelets from the final leg of his Mad Decent Block parties to help discourage the transportation of MDMA, Diplo is effectively modifying the perceived culture of a base that he helped cultivate. Gone are colorful bracelets and animal backbacks, replaced by skinny jeans and snap backs. Historically, prohibition has done little to curb societal ailments, so The Drop continues its path of industry education: Be it organizations sharing this cause, artists pushing the game, or insiders shaping the scene, The Drop aims to keep you in the know. This month, we bring you a chat with Keys N Krates, thoughts from an admitted kandi kid, and a short list of artists to keep listening to now that the festival season is winding down.

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    Q&A with Keys N Krates

    KNK 4

    For all those that want more from their DJ sets than a dude perched behind his computer, take a trip through the eclectic discography of Toronto’s Keys N Krates. Formed in 2008, the trio of Adam Tune (drummer), David Matisse (synthesizer/keyboardist), and Jr. Flo (turntablist) care little about the walls within EDM’s sub-genres, blending their skills to keep a dance floor grooving even when hitting them with the filthiest builds from the bass music realm. Although the trio share the heartbeat of a free-jazz outfit, they chose the label (Dim Mak) of celebrated cake thrower Steve Aoki to drop their forthcoming EP, Every Nite. Amid a busy fall tour, Tune, Mattisse, and Flo shared their thoughts about that decision, the convergence of hip-hop and EDM, and finding their place in a world of laptop DJs.

    Back to the beginning. What brought the three of you together as Keys N Krates?

    Matisse: Flo and myself both wanted to try something new and different from a live performance perspective – using Djing and live instruments. I then brought Tune into the picture to drum, and we all just started rehearsing these live rap remixes and performing them. We had this really cool live show, but wanted to do more, so we all sort of became producers together and started making our own music. We also changed our live setup — electronic drums, VSTs — so that we could make that music translate live.

    Toronto has an eclectic late night scene. What about the city and its people drive such continued innovation?

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    Flo: Toronto is a massive, multi-cultural city that’s always had its own music scenes very reflective of what is going on in the world. We get all the major acts coming through here that route through NYC (and the northeast), so we are spoiled in a way, but I think maybe being up here in Canada, there has always been a bit of a different psyche that’s more based on being an observer than being totally involved in music. However, I think we’ve always kind of had our own take on things. For example, hip-hop culture here has always been very tied to West Indian culture, particularly reggae culture, more so than I’ve ever seen in any US city. We also had a massive rave scene in the ’90s, making Toronto a hub for DnB.  Definitely makes for an interesting context when you combine this with a big, multi-cultural population of sprawling city and sprawling suburbs that has been growing exponentially over the last 20 years.

    Funny enough, though, I think the psyche has changed in rap and dance music over the past five years from an observer perspective to “We can fuckin’ do this!” Kids have seen guys like Drake or MSTRKRFT, among others, and started making music in their basements or on their laptops, and low and behold, we have a lot of talented people here. It doesn’t hurt that you have organizations like “The Remix Project” teaching kids how to use software and produce music.

    Even though techno producers and hip-hop producers have shared a love of the TR-808 for decades, has it been a challenge to merge the hip-hop and new EDM fanbases with the KNK experience? 

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    Matisse: Not really for us. Funny enough, we were making instrumental “trappish” beats before they became fashionable and main fixtures at raves and festivals. It always seemed like a logical step for us to make beats that kids would dance to, and we never saw why they couldn’t be rap-based beats.

    KNK 2

    As a trio, each of you bring a different skillset to the stage. How did this translate into the studio environment during the recording of Every Nite?

    Tune: I think we all just hear things a little bit differently based on our specialties. I’m very groove-based, so I’m always making sure our music grooves and swings properly. Flo is always very attentive to the way the samples are being chopped, and Matisse always has the strongest perspective on chord progressions and melodies. With that being said, we all have strong ideas and opinions about every aspect of our music, and it’s not uncommon for us to constantly flip roles.

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    The Keys N Krates sound incorporates everything from R&B to drum and bass. Where do you find inspiration for original productions?

    Flo: Yes, definitely! We just try and listen to as much music as possible and draw inspiration from it. We are constantly doing that!

    As I imagine you each listen to tons of music, when do you feel that a Keys N Krates production is finished? Do you tend to play songs out first to see how the crowd reacts?

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    Matisse: For us, the song is finished when we all feel like it’s finished. We do test tunes in front of crowds, but that’s more to make sure the mix is proper. By the time we play it for an audience, we are usually all good with it.

    Dim Mak boss Steve Aoki has taken heat for being more entertainer than producer or DJ. As musicians first, what drew you to the label for the release of Every Nite?

    Flo: We released our last EP [SoLow] with them, and they did a great job of getting it out there, so we decided to sign on with them for our next couple of releases. They’ve been very supportive of us, so we really have only good things to say about Dim Mak and Steve. With regards to Steve taking heat, we don’t really know much ’bout that. I did see a video that was clowning on him for playing out one of his tunes and tweaking some knobs, but doesn’t every DJ that plays electronic music out there do that?

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    Keys N' Krates @ Hard Summer, Los Angeles 9.4.13

    In a world of laptops, ever feel like outsiders during events like Ultra and Electric Zoo?

    Tune: Yup! All the time! It’s funny when we get to a festival and the stage crew is basically asleep ’cause all they have to do is roll out cdjs and turn them up, and then we show up, and they have to deal with a three-piece band.

    Ever been approached by artists about how to enhance their own live elements?

    Flo: We get approached by a lot of rappers to be their backing band, which we pretty much always politely decline. We hope we are inspiring people to try new ways of performing electronic music. Craze was hanging out at our set with us at a festival this past Saturday, and he has a new project in the works that you guys should look out for.

    What artists across hip-hop, EDM, etc. do you really see as advancing the vibes?

    Tune: From a live performance perspective, AraabMuzik is insane. Really cool to see people doing turntablism in DJ sets like Craze, A-Trak, and Klever. We have a running joke that we want to replace Flo with Klever. Joking, but not really. From a production perspective, people like Flume, Cashmere Cat, Hudson Mohawke, and so many other amazing producers are making such weird and musical shit that’s next level. It’s such an interesting time!

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    Prefer the festival experience or the intimate live setting? Bring a different set/energy to either? 

    Matisse: I think we’ve recently discovered that our new favorite context to play in is in a tent at a festival.

    Dead or alive, what group of artists would you like to see come together to headline a dance-friendly stage?

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    Flo: Maybe LCD Soundystem and Prince?!

    Best city to crate dig?

    Flo: The internet.

    Any side projects fans should be listening for?

    Matisse: I’m working with some artists on the side, but nothing to talk about yet.

    Flo: Tune made a really cool record with our friend Ollie. The project was called Dirty Magazines.

    New collaborations coming up?

    Tune: We are definitely pulling some friends into the mix for remixes of the Every Nite EP and probably for some collaborative work on our next EP.

    In an era of dwindling record sales, how does Keys N Krates define career success?

    Matisse: If we can make music on our own terms and have a large enough fan base that digs our music and comes to our shows and will sustain us, that’s successful to us.

    Any words of advice to the young musicians out there just coming up?

    Flo: Just work on your shit obsessively, and don’t be a weenie!

    Wondering what all the fuss about that “kandi” is about? Click ahead and find out.

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