Kraak & Smaak Talk Albums, Live Sets & Boogie Angst In The Dojo [TMN Interview]

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The Netherlands is a hub for talent, especially if you were focusing on electronic music. Most people will immediately think of Hardwell, Afrojack, and Martin Garrix, but there are three men who have been trailblazing dance music in a big way for over 10 years now. They are Kraak & Smaak.

Kraak & Smaak is comprised of Oscar de Jong, Mark Kneppers and Wim Plug. Together they produce riveting dance music that is anything but average. In fact, even if you don’t call yourself a lover of electronic music, leave it to these guys to take your heart. They are more than dance music producers. They are artistic visionaries. Don’t believe us? Run through the five albums they have done together, including their latest, Juicy Fruit, and tell us otherwise.

Furthermore, they’ve got a live show that will blow any DJ set out of the water (even their own), and they run the exemplary imprint Boogie Angst. A lot of artists talk about paving new trails and creating new experiences, but Kraak & Smaak walk the walk. They’ve done it for years. Now, they’ve entered the dojo to talk a bit about their past together, as well as their latest album and what is in store.

TMN: Can you tell us a little about “Juicy Fruit,” your latest album?

Well, it’s our 5th and feels like a bit of a return from 2005’s Boogie Angst. It’s open, organic, warm and above all funky in the traditional sense of the word, so in that sense different from Chrome Waves, which was far more electronic and clubby. There is a big difference though between then and now: on our first album it was mostly sample based, including the vocals and songs that were on there. Since then we have mastered the art of using more and more live instrumentation and getting vocalists to work with us. I think we can be proud of ourselves again to have found such great songwriters and vocalists such as Eric Biddines, Cleopold, Meeka Kates, Mayer Hawthorne, ALXNDR London and Parcels, but also our own live band singers Ivar Vermeulen and Berenice van Leer.

TMN: How did you go about choosing remixers for next the single ‘Alone With You’?

We always start out with a longlist of ideas based on current favorites and a bunch of names that have been circulating for a longer time. From thereon we look if certain remixers could be a good match and pick out the best ones. Then we ask them and just hope a) they don’t hate our music b) they are available and c) they don’t cost too much 🙂

TMN: What inspired the artwork behind the LP?

With the album title Juicy Fruit became definitive, our first ideas were inspired by the paintings of Henry Rousseau and more in general Brazilian album artwork. I mean, with that title and the music it was only logical to have something colorful, fresh, organic, etc as the cover. Again we asked Jimmy Turrell, who also did the Electric Hustle album artwork, to come up with a few ideas. And among those, the final one immediately stood out: this big explosion of colorful objects, bulls eye!

TMN: Talk us through the live aspect of Kraak & Smaak and how it has evolved over the years?

Of course we started out Djing – which we already did for a longer time, but now under the K&S banner. But when the first album was up for release our then agent convinced us to start a separate live act because it made the music – which was essentially dancefloor based – more interesting to a bigger public. So we assembled a live band for the album presentation and it was an immediate hit: at the time there were only a few bands that performed that type of music in a similar manner, and certainly not in the Netherlands. So from thereon it really got bigger and bigger and alongside our dj sets we were able to develop the band further in terms of adding further live instrumentation, sound, lighting, etc. Our current band is more or less the third live incarnation of K&S but for us also the best ever. Above all it’s cool and logical for us to be able to both live shows and dj sets. It’s a best of both worlds but at the same time they are both quality.

TMN: You’ve been together for over a decade, how have you made it work between the three of you, and how have you maintained staying relevant?

I guess – especially with three people – it’s all about giving each other space and trust each other in ideas, expertise, etc. Ego for example has never been such an issue that it threatened the K&S project. I guess we were – and still are – very aware of what we have and are still accomplishing. Not many dance acts can say the same. And I think the relevancy is still there in the sense that we are still coming up with new and original material, against the grain of time perhaps.

You’ve survived several albums together, which is each of your favorite?

Oh dear… They’re all really good to us, just different! But If we all really look in the mirror I am sure we will all say the first one, Boogie Angst. Above all because it was our first, and with first albums it feels like it’s sort of the apex of everything you have done and thought of before. It’s the album you just had to make. After that it’s a whole different ball game – you just feel happy if you can develop your sound further and keep people interested – which I think we did.

TMN: You now also have your own label, Boogie Angst. What drove the decision to set this up and what has been the biggest challenge in creating a label?

We just came across some very good unreleased music and artists once in a while, and we thought: why not try and releasing it ourselves? It perfectly made sense when you came to think of it. And it’s definitely nice to put your own experiences and know how into new and young artists, real cool. Plus there is definitely still a need for labels to get new artists and music through. For most releases putting it just on Soundcloud and sit back is not enough. An important challenge for the time being though, is that it takes a lot of investing before you get a return. In that sense, as we are a relatively new label, we still have a long way to go.

TMN: What can fans expect for the rest of the year, and beginning of 2017?

Of course we will be rolling out the new album and its singles further this year and into 2017. Lots of DJing and playing live across the globe. Some upcoming remixes and DJ mixes going online. Also keep an eye out for new releases on our own Boogie Angst label and a remix album further down the 2017 road!

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Lotus Talks Red Rocks, “Eat the Light,” and Sour Beers from Crooked Stave [EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW]

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Lotus is once again adorning legendary Red Rocks Amphitheater with their unparalleled sonic and visual experience, showcasing their brand new album, Eat The Light. If you’re not up to speed on their latest offering, it brings a fresh perspective that hasn’t been seen by fans yet. The entire album, all 10 tracks, feature vocals, something that this storied fivesome has never done before.

Some of those vocalists will even make an appearance this weekend at Red Rocks, including Denver’s Gabe Otto of Pan Astral (“Eats the Light”) and Rachel Eisenstat of Raven Jane (“Suntan”) as well as LA’s Oriel Poole (“Anti-Gravity”). Additionally, fans will get treated to two knockout openers with El Ten Eleven and Tycho, both of which are favorites around TMN HQ.

Before you head out to buy tickets, take a moment to check out our conversation with Luke Miller, the man behind the guitars and keys for Lotus.

TMN: Thanks for taking some time to sit down with us, virtually. We’re excited to see your upcoming show at Red Rocks. Speaking of that show–you guys are no stranger to that venue. Does it lose it’s luster after having played there already? We have to imagine each time is just as incredible as the first.

Lotus: Red Rocks is always breathtaking and inspiring no matter how many times you go there. I think each time we play Red Rocks we get more comfortable with it. The first time is kind of intimidating since it’s such a historic place. But relaxing into the venue and vibe of the crowd there usually begets a better show rather than trying to stress and over-reach.

TMN: For those who’ve been to your shows in the past, what can they expect this go around?

Lotus: Well, last time at Red Rocks we did the Talking Heads De-Constructed. This time, we’re back to a regular Lotus show. So expect the typical Lotus stew of genres and all the jams that go with it. Plus a killer light show, we are rolling out new productions. And we’ve got a few other surprises in store.

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[TMN Interview] Ta-ku & Wafia Discuss their Joint EP, (m)edian

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International fame and critical acclaim have attached themselves to everything Ta-Ku has released for an unprecedented amount of time. With a stacked resume of late containing the release of Songs to Break Up To in late 2013, the foundation of Create & Explore, releases under the moniker HWLS, collaborative efforts with HW&W and Street Dreams Magazine, while also having a hand in the success of Australia-based Weston’s Barbershop, the Perth trendsetter has been hard at work creating a multimedia empire off of his many talents. Your favorite Music Ninja writers has covered multiple Ta-ku releases over the years: FrogsI Miss YouDown For YouLong Time No SeeLove AgainNo Reason, and Help Me Lose My Mind. His June 2015 release – appropriately titled Songs To Make Up To – exceeded all expectations in its depth and composition. As impressive as his catalog has been up to this point however, the recently released EP may overshadow them all in complexity – thanks to the lyrical infusion.

Median, stylized as (m)edian, is a concept album in the form of an EP; it’s short, succinct and tell a formative story of the dual protagonists Ta-ku and Wafia. Starting in 2015 and after much collaboration, the duo, Regan Matthews and Wafia Al-Rikabi, released their breakout take on Estelle’s “American Boy” with their aptly titled “American Girl, along with a collaboration with Charles Murdoch on “Frongs”. Shortly after, they debuted their joint live act during Ta-ku’s MoMA PS1 show. This spawned the duo’s (m)edian EP sessions in early 2016 that also included Wafia’s trusted collaborators Thomston and Ben Abraham. After solidifying a bond around their experiences with their fathers, they poured those feelings into (m)edian, which resulted in a raw confessional that unearthed a bedrock of complicated emotions.

Lyrically, the album focuses on several themes: strength in the face of adversity, maintaining a balance emotionally, and the space between familial love and forgiveness. As one of our first glimpses at Ta-ku the vocalist, the dynamic range of his singing is a welcome addition to the repertoire. While listeners are processing the limitless talents of Ta-Ku, Wafia comes into the fold, seductively harmonizing her lines intermittently throughout Median. On the introductory track, “Treading Water” a sparingly light sequence of piano keys sets the scene, before a dynamic lyric-infused ballad takes hold and finishes painting this masterpiece. Tracks two and four act as instrumental bridges between one, three, and five – accentuating the storytelling vibe of the album. Taku and Wafia sat down with TMN to discuss their experiences putting the album together, as well as inspirations behind the project, in great detail: Continue reading

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HWLS Talks Touring, Ta-Ku & “Gamma” [TMN Exclusive Interview]

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Justin Elwin – the frontman of production duo HWLS – recently came off his first US tour with Flume, and we had the pleasure to briefly catch up with him and talk about the exciting happenings revolving the HWLS project. Check out what the Australian duo has been up and peep their new single “Gamma” with ShockOne here.

TMN: First of all, congrats on your first US tour with Flume! Is it your first time in the US?

J: First time touring as HWLS in the US but been back and forth over the years for different things. Nice to be back here though touring and playing in different venues and people each night so it’s a super exciting time at the moment.

TMN: What are some things you have to cross off your bucket list after this trip to the US? Especially California?

Playing at the Shrine was a tick of the list but during the down time I wanna check out the country sides and nature so Yosemite is definitely on the list, playing at red rocks is a bucket list tick as well!

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A Lightning Round Q&A with Marian Hill [TMN Exclusive Interview]

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Here at The Music Ninja, we take pride in being solely focused on the musicians we love and the works they create. This mindset has allowed us to bypass the pop culture aspects that many others focus on, bringing our Ninja following the freshest faces and best yet-undiscovered acts as they appear across the web. This massively time consuming pursuit has introduced us to many a fledgling band as they try to find their ways early in their careers. Back in mid-2013, that hunt led us to a diamond in the rough.

Marian Hill, a band who rose to fame on the back of their debut song, “Whisky” is a Philly-raised, Brooklyn-based duo consisting of Jeremy Lloyd and Samantha Gongol. As early fans of their work, it has been exciting watching the band take off and become a successful name in music behind their jazzy-electronic style. While making their second appearance at Outside Lands Music Festival a few weeks ago, Jeremy & Sam were gracious enough to meet up with us while taking in St. Lucia’s performance to talk touring, inspiration, and the road to success.

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Benny Benassi on Danceaholics, “Cinema,” and Staying Healthy on Tour [EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW]

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TMN: Hey Benny! First off – thank you for being a part of our Residency program. It’s an honor to have a legend like you onboard. Let’s kick things off by talking about Danceaholic, which is currently smashing up the charts. Talk to us about how you approached this project as a whole.

BB: I’m very fond of the instrumental track “Danceaholic” which lends its name to the whole album because it takes me back to my roots and projects me forwards at the same time.
The album is a bigger project of course. It’s a mixture of tracks that were already released and brand new material, so it’s a kind of a bridge between the last four or five years and where I’m going!

TMN: You have an eclectic group of artists with you on the album, including singer/songwriter legends like Chris Brown and John Legend, as well as a nice collection of other producers. How did you go about selecting who you wanted to work with?

BB: I work first and foremost collaborate with my cousin Alle Benassi. He’s my musician and producer. But I really love working with different collaborators. Chris Brown is such a great artist. Everything he sings just comes to life and is amazing. Since working together on “Beautiful People” we have an artistic relationship and always feel free to send ideas to each other, that’s how ‘Paradise’ came about.
 As for John Legend I met him through a mutual friend of Alle and I, Jean Baptiste, in LA, who was working with John at the time, then we performed together at Coachella and we just knew we’d collaborate on the new album.


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[TMN Exclusive Interview] UK House Duo Just Kiddin’ Talks About New Music, Tour Life & More With TMN

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Ever since first cropping up on our Ninja radar back in 2014 with the underground sweeping single “Thinking About It”, Just Kiddin’, the British House duo comprised of Lewis Thompson and Laurie Revel, have held down a tender place within many of our writers’ hearts. Formed in 2010 and originating from the small town of Kettering, Northamptonshire, England, Just Kiddin’ have quickly become one of the hottest acts in all of Club-Land over the last few years, and for good reason. We had the chance to catch up with Lewis & Laurie not long after wrapping up their most recent North American tour & behind the release of their latest music video for “Fall For You” (see below to watch the entire piece); and as always the two brought a smile to our face while dropping some insight into what’s been going on with them as well. Read the transcript of our entire conversation below, and be on the lookout for more music from Just Kiddin’ very soon.

The Music Ninja: First off, thanks so much for taking the time to sit down and answer a few questions on behalf of TMN. We’ve been following you guys pretty closely since all the way back in August of 2014. So thanks again, we’re very excited to pick your brains. Let’s just get right after it! After a bit (read: a lot!) of background research on you guys, we came across some interesting arcs to the Just Kiddin’ saga. Lewis & Laurie, you both grew up in the same town of Kettering, and from what we understand, were near the same social circles, and both grew up with more traditional music backgrounds as well. With those rich musical histories, how did you both manage to fall in with each other in a musical capacity, and what led you both towards the world of club & electronic music; and also why did you decide to apply your talents in that direction?

Just Kiddin (Lewis): Good researching! Laurie & I have been friends since we were about 13, from a young age we got into electronic music together really, hence why our tastes are so similar. We tried to go down the band route originally, but got frustrated with organising band practise and how long things can take. I think this impatience made us grab copies of some music production software, and there’s been no looking back ever since!

The Music Ninja:You guys had early releases as Just Kiddin’ on Nurvous, HK & Exploited before becoming an Eton Messy staple. Obviously, Eton Messy has released and pushed some of your most notable tunes. How did you guys end up getting involved with the YouTube page turned club night, record label and electronic industry leaders? We assume you guys have a pretty solid relationship with the number of releases you’ve had under their banner.

Just Kiddin’: We love the guys at Eton Messy, they’re our good friends and we’ve had some wicked times together. We originally met them at a club night we played at in Bristol after they had been supporting our music on the channel, we hit it off and then decided to release “Thinking About It” with them.

The Music Ninja: Do you both consider Eton Messy to be a home of sorts for Just Kiddin’?

Just Kiddin’: Yes and no really. Like we said, we love the Eton Messy guys and really appreciate the help they’ve given us along the way. But we don’t want to state one place as our home and sounds & styles can change.

The Music Ninja:Your last release was the original record “Fall For You”, for which the official music video recently dropped as well (watch the whole thing above). It’s got quite the buoyant, summery feel to it. Do you think of Just Kiddin’ as maintaining a certain aesthetic and sound, or do you feel you both can go in any number of directions with the project?

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