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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

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    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.

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    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.

    Thoughts from Rachel Fee, A Self-Proclaimed Kandi Kid

    1836908_753848351293578_1637910046_oAs long as promoters have been organizing rogues around a few turntables and even fewer lights, kandi has been a ubiquitous part of rave culture. Their creation is largely innocent, a couple of friends normally crowded around a table quickly placing beads and quickly sorting through new tunes. Some stimulants might be involved, but no worse than those Adderal-fueled all-nighters we all loved in college. Like a sports jersey or band tee, the kandi was meant as a sign of allegiance to a particular sound or regional crew. Even better, they could easily be traded as a simple sign of peace, love, unity, and respect. Have some designs gotten a bit extreme, sure! But, so did spike-studded, leather jackets, cut-up denim, and platform boots.

    For decades, the colorful bracelets existed far below the popular radar. With Diplo now banning them from his Mad Decent block parties and Miley Cyrus showing hers off during the “Dirty Hippie” art show, these small pieces of plastic have somehow became a dedicated talking point. With the conversation being dominated by reports of MDMA being stored in the bracelets and the ornaments somehow acting as a new health concern, The Drop went in search of the other side of the story. We found the highly decorated Rachel Fee, and these are her words:

    When I first began wearing kandi, it was nothing more than beads.

    Early 2012, I was preparing for my first festival, Electric Daisy Carnival in Las Vegas. Having never been to a major event, I made the rather impulsive decision to buy a ticket, fly 2,220 miles, and attend solo.

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    I was scared. I had no idea what festivals were like. What should I wear? What do I bring? What about the social aspect … would I be able to have fun alone? As I started to do research, I fell into a world of EDM culture that I hadn’t yet discovered. I learned about the ornate, homemade costumes people wore. I learned about the mantra of Peace, Love, Unity, and Respect (PLUR). And of course, I learned about the beads.

    The idea was presented to me as a fun medium for self-expression, mixed with rave fashion, and bound with a game of trading. With nothing more than some plastic beads made for children and some string, you could create massive and beautiful works of art. Entire kandi communities existed where people shared ideas and patterns, helped each other, and posted their latest work. In addition, those who chose to wear kandi often traded a simple bracelet, called a “single,” with others they met. Those covered in kandi, usually known as “kandi kids,” were regarded as the friendly individuals who’d made the most trades, as they’d been to the most events and met the most people.

    In an effort to fit in with the crowd, I bought some beads and some elastic string, and I made a few basic singles. While I didn’t really understand the meaning, it felt like a way for me to get involved and be accepted in a world with which I wasn’t really familiar. My worst fear was travelling thousands of miles only to arrive at EDC and not fit in with the other attendees.

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    I traded my dozen or so kandi bracelets away before the festival even started. I came home with new pieces; some from those I’d ridden the bus with or stood in line beside. Some came from friends I’d met before the festival through various Facebook groups. Those were the most special of kandi; they were gifts made especially for me.

    And while it was fun and I kept each piece as a memoir of my trip and the people I’d met, it wasn’t until a few months later that kandi became more than just fashion and a trading game.

    I’d travelled to Toronto for a night in October to see Armin van Buuren at the Guvernment. My bag was packed full of gum and lollipops, my small collection of kandi loaded onto my wrists, and sunglasses on my head.

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    It was the simplest and most ridiculous of moments that changed everything. I wanted to take my sunglasses off and put them in my pack, but I couldn’t, because it was full of candy, and there wasn’t room. I considered just throwing the rest of my lollipops away, but it seemed like a waste, so I instead decided to see if anyone around me might want them. I tapped a girl standing beside me on the shoulder, and she turned around as I held the lollipop out to her. Her reaction surprised me. I got a giant hug as she squeaked thank yous of disbelief at my generosity. I couldn’t imagine that something so simple could ever make someone so thankful … and that’s when it all clicked. That girl’s reaction single-handedly changed the way I think about giving on a daily basis.

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    I spent the rest of the night handing out lollipops, gum, and kandi bracelets to everyone around me, for no reason but to thank them for being a part of my night.

    I began to look at kandi as something that could be more – something that could be special. I bought a variety of beads and began putting love and soul into every piece I made. I put endless hours into making each piece perfect. They were no longer cheap beads on string – they were tokens of love and appreciation. I wanted people to receive something special. Perhaps they could use it as a reminder of the night. And while I’d accepted that not everyone might appreciate my intentions as thoroughly as I’d like, I could feel confident that somewhere down the road, a small token could brighten someone’s day, or even help them realize the power of generosity on their own. It didn’t stop at trading kandi at raves. I brought the kindness and generosity I experienced into my life however I could. While it was something I did for others, it was just as much something I did for myself.

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    Before long, others recognized me as a full-blown kandi kid, covered in beads wherever I could get away with it. It took some convincing, but eventually I began to recognize and accept myself as a kandi kid as well. I’d found a place where I fit in. I could make others happy, make myself happy, and experience the music I loved, connected with thousands of other people. Such massive gatherings with such meaning made me feel like I was accepted as a part of something bigger than myself, but yet a place where I was appreciated. I’d found my home.

    However, even in a place that so many feel the same love and acceptance I do, it’s an unfortunate fact that our electronic culture has always been plagued with negative media. We ourselves are the worst critics, constantly scanning and spreading the news of the latest events: how many deaths were there? How many people got sent to the hospital due to drug overdose? How many arrests were there? This news spreads to concerned citizens who are unaware of the inner working of our culture. A music festival quickly becomes known to the public as that place where two people died and 40 criminals were arrested, often ignoring the positive aspects experienced by many. It would be a tough sell to argue that there aren’t problems with drugs in our community; however, we’re still all individuals making our own choices, and many people never take part in that aspect of the culture.

    Those of us wearing kandi are often seen as representatives of the entire culture, as we’re the most easily recognizable. This makes us representatives of not only the positives, but the negatives, such as drug-related tragedies, that go along with it.

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    As I mentioned above, it’d be tough to argue that there aren’t problems in our community, and with events being put at risk as more tragedies happen, promoters are looking for any way to show they’re making improvements and keeping attendees safe. Any regular festival attendee can tell you they’ve been subjected to invasive pat downs, thorough bag searches, and heavy police and K-9 presence for years, but we’re on the verge of entering a whole new level of safety “precautions.”

    After two deaths earlier this year at Mad Decent Block Party in Maryland, the promoter chose to crack down on drug use for the remainder of the tour in an interesting way. It was announced that “as a safety precaution” against future incidents, kandi would be banned from all remaining events on the tour.

    I’m a reasonable person, and while I’m a huge fan of kandi and the culture that surrounds it, I can understand why a promoter may want to ban kandi. We live in a world of corporate-sponsored events, with major companies who have images to uphold providing the cash to fund many of the events that I love. Of course, it isn’t ideal, and it’s financially driven, but that’s just how it is. I understand that major companies may not want their brand represented to the average person by bead- and fur-wearing twentysomethings. Additionally, festivals are often kandi wastelands by the end of the weekend. There are beads on the ground everywhere you look. I can accept that a promoter may need to leave an outdoor venue literless, and thousands of tiny beads are time consuming (and therefore expensive), if not impossible to pick up. I’m fine with leaving my bracelets at home to protect a natural area that needs to be kept clean.

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    The detail of this announcement that infuriated so many people is that we all know it’s an excuse. It’s a way for MDBP to tell the outside world, “Hey look, we’ve solved the problem with drugs!” No matter how you feel about kandi, I think most reasonable people could agree that this does NOTHING to help solve the problems that exist in the community. It passes blame to the kandi bracelets so that MDBP can continue on and put on a front of success – that by banning kandi, they’ve effectively rid their shows of drugs.

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    From the inside, we know that appearance has no bearing on drug use. It’s there – it always will be – and no matter what, people will find a way to bring it in. It doesn’t matter if that person is wearing bracelets or not. The idea that perhaps drugs are being snuck in inside the bracelets themselves has been tossed around, that it would take security too long to search, but we all know that with the absence of kandi, anyone intending to do drugs wouldn’t be stopped by having to find a new way to bring their stash into the venue. Sure, it may stop some from attending as a statement about their rights, but will these people only include those who choose to use drugs? Will it even be a sufficient number of people to make a difference? Of course not.

    The things that would truly impact festival safety are being ignored. I personally believe strongly in harm reduction. Preaching abstinence and taking “precautions” like TSA-style searches and multi-page lists of prohibited items will have no effect on the safety of the community and instead destroy the surrounding culture, increase costs, and force us all to feel like criminals under watch every time we step inside the festival gates. While none of us require kandi beads to enjoy the music we come together for, it’s also unnecessary to destroy the surrounding culture and treat us like we’re expected to commit crimes whenever we gather.

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    In some ways, our community needs help. We’re willing to admit it ourselves, but this isn’t the way.

    We need education and someone who we can openly ask for help when we’ve made a mistake without fear of spending life in jail. We need resources to help us understand what we’re putting in our bodies. We simply need someone to outline the basic risks in an honest and informative way without trying to scare us. A person who’s only been told to stay away and never been told why won’t fully understand the risks when they’re thrown into the darker side of the culture. It isn’t all black and white. Someone who has no resources to find out what they’re ingesting may not consider the negatives when all they experience are positives. However, inform them of what they’re actually ingesting and the risks that go along with it, and they now have the tools to reconsider and make responsible choices.

    Kandi to me is not only innocent – it’s a positive push in the right direction that this world so desperately needs. It’s made me a better person and shaped who I am. To use it as a scapegoat for the community’s problems is naive, irresponsible, and damaging, when it would be so easy to provide proper resources to make real changes and help curb some of these problems.

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    But I guess excuses are cheaper.

    Click ahead to see a list of six up-and-coming producers worthy of checking out.

    From the Underground

    With festival season now about wrapped, music discovery becomes a bit more daunting. Side stages won’t be popping up for a few more months to showcase up-and-coming talent, and while some dance cuts do make it to our weekly Top 10, a well-curated SoundCloud page is a must to keeps your beats fresh. Below is a shortlist of producers who deserve to be populating your feed.

    Bixel Boys

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    Based in LA, this duo have had a premiere vantage point to watch the rise of American EDM. Founded in 2013, Bixel Boys are on a mission to shake up that four-to-the-floor mainstage sound. Equipped with the same drive that led Skrillex to shift the dubstep sound, Bixel are prime to bring their dark bangers to the masses shortly. And it doesn’t hurt that Skrillex has been spotted wearing their tees during NY Fashion week.

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    Knife City

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    2014 has been a remarkable growth year for what many refer to as “electronic game music.” At the forefront of this chiptune movement is Luke Silas (aka Knife City) of Brooklyn. Tapping into dubstep basslines and classic NES 8-bit, it’s the near perfect soundtrack for eliminating your digital nemesis.

    Galvanix

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    If glitchy mid-tempo bass music is your thing, keep regular tabs on Galvanix. Based in Austin, one of the most under-appreciated electronic music communities in the US, this producer is regularly churning out new thumpers via his SoundCloud account. Still finding his own sound, you never know when he is going to follow up a lean-soaked anthem with some more cerebral vibes.

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