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Midnite marauders: Keys N Krates plot their next sonic adventure

Del Cowie

Keys N Krates are on a roll. Earlier this year, the group picked up a Juno for Best Dance Recording for the song "Save Me" from their Midnite Mass EP, which featured U.K. singer Katy B. Invariably, the group found out they had won the award while they were playing a show.

The song itself came out of a meeting with Katy B on a Mad Decent boat cruise. After bonding, the singer sent the group some vocals which they spliced up and framed within their genre-eschewing beat brew that blends the sounds of electronic, hip-hop and trap.

The Juno award is vindication of the work the Toronto-based band, comprised of DJ Jr. Flo, keyboardist David Matisse and drummer Adam Tune, have been putting in, releasing EPs and playing to sold-out festival crowds across North America. What makes Keys N Krates different from the average electronic music act is that while a DJ is at the fulcrum of what they do, they also have a live and spontaneous element. Consequently, they can issue the adrenaline-boosting drops crowds yearn for as well as more experimental fare. They've continued on this path with projects like the remixed version of their Midnite Mass EP, released last month.

There's no rest for the wicked though, and Keys N Krates are about to go on the road again. The trio are about to embark on a bunch of Canadian dates, starting with the Evolve Festival this weekend (July 8) as well as the Way Home and Pemberton Music festivals later this month. We recently caught up with the electronic music trio before they hit the road to talk about their creative process, growth and what to expect on an upcoming album.

So the song you won a Juno for was from the Midnite Mass EP. I’m not sure how old that song was from your perspective, but I'm interested to find out where you are now creatively.

Adam Tune: It was one of the first tracks we had done from that EP. To us it was old, but it was the first thing we released from that EP.

On the EP you can hear the continuity between the tracks and how it flowed. I’m noticing that you guys, on the Midnite Mass EP, are incorporating more vocals into the mix, and the track which you won a Juno for was approaching a song. You weren’t doing that as much before. Is that something you guys are looking forward to doing more in the future?

Flo: We want to attempt to make an album. We want to make it dynamic and we want it to have songs with vocal snippets. We want to have full songs and we want to have beats and interludes. We just want it to be a dynamic record that just has lots of different aspects to it.

There were a lot of different moods on the record. Sometimes it could be about the drop and that’s what gets the crowd hype
when you play live, but you do definitely change the mood up. So what can we expect in the future on an album and when can we expect it?

Adam Tune: We’re just locking ourselves in that studio and see what happens, that’s kind of the approach we’re taking. We’ve given ourselves probably more time than we would probably need to be able to do it. I think a lot of the time we’ve been making our EPs, we’ve been trying to figure out our sound for the whole thing. As a whole, we try to have a lot of continuity. Instead, a lot of the other electronic acts that just put out one single now and one single then and you kind of change up a bit, but we kind of wanted something that you would listen all the way throughout and it kind of had similar sounds like the snares used throughout. So picking those sounds at the beginning is super important. I think we’re just taking our time now to figure out what we want to make with the palette of sounds and then just kind of go ham on it and make a bunch of tracks with no pressure to release anything at any date. ... It’s just been so free. I think we’re just gonna try and do that as much as we can and then hopefully have a bunch of songs we can pick from, then take from those, go work with vocalists and then create this album.

Do you have a wishlist of people you’d like to work with?

Flo: There’s definitely vocalists I want to work with and we probably all want to work with but I think more than anything. I think the demos we make are gonna kinda inform that. 'Cause I could say, oh yeah, I’d like to have The-Dream on a record or something. Which I do. But I don’t know if we’re going to make the record that suits him or whatever. I get the feeling we’re going to be doing like, the demos are going to inform who we get to do the main idea of the songs and then hopefully we can get different people to do different small things on it too and listen to the Kanye album a lot.

You guys do a lot of shows. Is there anything that you’ve been gauging from crowd reactions that you’re seeing that you’d
like to incorporate into this round of creativity?

Matisse: I guess for myself, I kinda envision what would someone who has been a music lover all their life and maybe doesn’t like the traditional face value electronic music, they like something more intelligent, more mature, what would they listen to at this point in their life? If you had to listen to our album but you’re not at a nightclub and you’re at a lounge where you can get up and dance, how can I make those people move? How can I make someone who is a hip-hop head who doesn’t normally like electronic music, how can I make those people like our music?  I find just making music for the traditional electronic music people – that’s really simple to us now – you just make a build up and a drop. To me, that’s not fun anymore for us. We kinda want to get those listeners who are a bit deeper and need something to be surprised by. How can we make the song go somewhere where you’re not expecting it to go, but still be catchy and still want to make you put it on? That’s what goes through my mind now when we make songs and if I would like it. Right now I feel like I’ve become a very jaded electronic music lover. It’s not my first love so it takes a lot for me to like a song.

That ties into something I wanted to ask as you guys don’t necessarily fit into one genre. There’s been a lot of writing recently about the lack of need for genres because of playlists and everyone listening to everything in the age of streaming and now it’s more about how records make you feel and characteristics that cut across genres.

Matisse: It’s almost about environment too, not just feeling, but where you listen to a song. What kind of crowd are you around? Are you at a barbeque or are you at home? We’ve talked about that a lot. We wanted our music to be something that you listen to at home as well as the nightclub. We also picture a lot, OK, so this could work at a festival but is this something that can work when you are waking up in the morning or at nighttime, like, where would this person listen to a song? Because that’s what music is, it’s just a soundtrack to whatever you’re experiencing at that moment and we try to figure out the aesthetic and the mood and the type of place we would want this to be heard. I think that’s what we pay a lot of attention to now.

Flo: I think it’s a bit of a dangerous spot making music just for crowds because, I mean, you go to these EDM festivals, literally it’s like a Pavlovian response at points and they’re just making the simplest, dumbest stuff. ... It’s crazy, but the crowd totally goes for it and if you are going to let that inform what you’re making, you’re going to make stuff like that. You’ve got to take the more interesting stuff from that world and let that influence you.

So basically, you’re challenging yourself in the studio.

Flo: And for the record, there’s tons of interesting electronic stuff out there to check out, it’s just not what people often
think of when they think of electronic music. They think of some weenie standing on a table. [Laughter]

You guys are not only coming from an electronic background.  I’m aware of Flo’s background as a turntablist before being in this band. And Matisse’s R&B background. There’s a video of you guys playing hip-hop covers in a downtown Toronto bar to about 100 people going nuts, I remember seeing it like six, seven years ago.

Matisse: Eight years ago
All: That was our first show.

That was your first show?

Matisse: We put it on YouTube. It was the Down One Lounge. We had no idea what was going to happen when we put that show on. It was surprising to us that it did as well as it did. I think we all came together because we all shared the common thing that we liked to experiment with music and we’re not satisfied with staying stagnant and we’re always interested in like, OK, this is what you expect us to do, so what don’t you expect me to do? How can I get into this world? And that’s how this [group] was created. How do you put a DJ and a band together? And we just started live remixing these tracks and it just kind of went from there. To this day, we’ll bring each other tracks and it’s almost like, "Hey guys, look what I got, look what I did to this track." ... That’s fun for us, to sit there and study how someone took a song, tried to emulate it and then to do it in our style. That’s the only reason we’re still doing it. If we lost that I don’t think any of us would be interested in this project. And the great thing about the project and our fans is that they allow us to do that. I think they’re happy with us to push into different sounds. I don’t think they’re asking us to make the same song over and over again. If we did, we’d be tired and done with this years ago.

More to explore:

Keys n Krates on CBC's q

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