Behind The Beat | Kraak & Smaak Bring Back the Melody
We can thank the Netherlands for a number of amazing progressive house electronic artists; Tiesto, Hardwell, Fedde Le Grand…the list goes on. They all ahve very similar styles, very similar sounds. But, if you take a look at Dutch producers Kraak & Smaak, you’ll see that they are much, much more than a set of CDJs and some software.
As electronic music gets increasingly easier to create, we are starting to see a continued lack of traditional musical implementation, as it can be quite difficult to find the right balance between instruments and electronics. Oscar de Jong, Mark Kneppers and Wim Plug of Kraak & Smaak are able to do this flawlessly, performing with guitar, drums and sometimes even a live vocalist. Haven’t heard of these guys yet? Chances are, you’ve already heard their music. Their 2008 single “Squeeze Me” garnered ton of airplay around the globe, with a funky beat, string and piano melody all wound together with wobbly synths.
The trio has gone far after this famous hit, with a fantastic new album, Chrome Waves that came out last year and numerous tours around the globe. Their newest single, “How We Gonna Stop Time” is a great track to bop to, with cooing vocals by Amsterdam-based producer Stee Downes.
I was lucky enough to catch them at The Do LaB’s Memorial Day Weekend festival, Lightning in a Bottle and they are a live electronic band that is not to be missed. You’ll get an earful of Nu-Disco and Pop melodies, and their shows are as much a joy to dance to as it is to watch. I love electronic music, but there’s definitely something missing at a festival when you’re seeing a DJ versus when you’re seeing a live band. So if you haven’t seen them, do it.
OTB: How did the three of you get involved making music together? Do you all have musical backgrounds?
K & S: Of the three of us, only Oscar has a formal musical education. He studied music and studio production at a conservatory over here, and Mark and me come from a DJ and record collecting background – we already knew each other before K&S. We all had a strong wish to start making music; hooking up together, it clicked on all sides and we just started to experiment with samples, some keyboards and the meager studio facilities we had. But quite soon we already had made some interesting, good stuff, which we then sent around to various labels in Europe. Jalapeno Records in the UK was the first to bite, it really matched. And from there on we just progressed, EP by EP, then the first album Boogie Angst… And now we’re at #4!
OTB: I noticed during your set at Lightning in a Bottle that your music is an incredibly original mix of electronic and instrumental sound; is that combination something that is important to you to keep in your music?
K & S: Definitely. Above all we produce music that is rooted in dance and electronica, so of course we want to have that same sound live on stage. At the same time we don’t want to be an impersonal electronic act where we are tucked away behind a laptop; being able to perform as a full band, with live bass, drums and synths really makes it far more interesting for us. So we always to try and make a mix of both and we found this really works great, also with regard to the visual aspect of it all.
An extra plus is that it makes our live act work on both dance and live festivals. Of course our DJ sets have a totally different dynamic and you can’t really compare them to each other. And we don’t play only our own tracks then but also stuff we like from other people. Our main interests are deep house and nu disco , that’s where things are happening for the dance floor this moment.
OTB: What’s your favorite thing about how dance music has progressed over the past few years, as well as your least favorite?
K & S: Favourite: the overflow of new good music, producers, DJs and acts. Least favourite: the tsunami of awful new music, producers, DJs and acts.
“We don’t want to be an impersonal electronic act where we are tucked away behind a laptop; being able to perform as a full band, with live bass, drums and synths really makes it far more interesting for us.”
K & S: What we always liked about those acts is that they mixed cutting edge dance music with pop; you’ll forget more or less most ‘ordinary’ dance or club tracks after you have spun them a couple of times, but in general, if you make a good song too, it seems to reach far broader and for a longer time. And these acts surely knew how to do that. We don’t really make the same kind of music but I guess we share that same perspective: we don’t just want to make good electronic club and chill music but we also want to add something more to it if possible. It is important to stay fresh as well, so it’s important to continue to suck up new things: musical developments themselves (the acts that you mention are of course quite 90s) and DJ and live performances too.
OTB: What is your favorite festival that you’ve ever played at?
K & S: With ourDJj set that would be the Detroit Music Festival and with our live band on Glastonbury. Just two very legendary festivals, and each with their own particular musical backgrounds It’s great to be able to do both kinds.
OTB: Anything people seeing your sets should all be looking forward to that they may not find anywhere else?
K & S: With regard to the live band, and as mentioned before, I guess the fact that we are essentially an electronic studio act that have succeeded in creating a very original and energetic live show with a full band. It’s definitely worth checking out. Our DJ sets on the other hand, are were we’re essentially coming from: DJs playing quality dance music that is warm and funky. And there is always the chance to catch new K&S material upfront. And sometimes we also bring one of our singer / MCs along – they’re very good!
OTB: What does your production setup look like on stage, in terms of instruments and electronic set up?
K & S: With the live band we run Cubase on a laptop, to keep it tight and with a minimum of sounds we can’t reproduce live on stage. Then we have live keys (Roland JP8000, Korg MS10, Roland Jupiter 8 and Wurlitzer), live bass, live drums (but triggered) and a dj for extra individual sounds and samples. Plus two vocalists, male and female.
Our DJ set up is fully CD player based; we grew up and started out with vinyl but since a number of years we have abandoned that all but once in a while: it’s backbreaking and most new things are dropped digitally nowadays (it’s actually weird to think that CD players are already old school again, haha. Maybe we’ll get a CD revival too?)
OTB: When Magnum PR introduced you to me, I dug through your music and really am liking the Chrome Waves album; a lot of your lyrics are very uplifting. Do you guys have anything to do with writing the songs?
K & S: Well, we don’t write lyrics ourselves but we do try and keep a keen eye out for good songs. That’s why we also try and find good singers that are also good lyricists: it can bring instrumental music to a whole new level. Ben Westbeech is a good example (Squeeze Me, The Future is Yours), Stee Downes (How We Gonna Stop The Time) is another, and Romanthony was too (f.e. Let’s Go Back, on the Electric Hustle album). So sad he passed away last year.
OTB: Anything new in the works? EPs, tours?
K & S: Absolutely: release-wise new remixes coming through for our album track Just Wanna be Loved feat. Joi Cardwell by Art of Tones and Blende, and we just finished remixes ourselves for Detroit Swindle and Mike Mago. There is also a brand new one-off single release coming up on the mighty Spinnin’ label, and to top our current run with the Chrome Waves album off, a remix compilation album is penned later on this year. Mark is doing two dj runs in the US the next couple of weeks and Summer seems promising with quite a good bunch of live and DJ sets across Europe.
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