Words and Interview by DJ Pangburn
The Dutch trio Kraak & Smaak want to make fans move. To do this, they call upon several decades of music history. No boundaries, no limits exist for these three melody makers. Over the course of five records, house, soul, funk, and many more genres have found a distinct fusion in the Kraak & Smaak sound. And, unlike their Dutch dance music kin, the trio isn’t racing to the bottom for the most bombastic and popular sound. For them, music is a craft, one that requires elastic tinkering and experimentation.
While debut album, Boogie Angst, is more sample-driven, their latest, Chrome Waves, adds more synthetic, electronic layers than ever before. This approach, as Wim Plug tells it, freed the group up to follow their muse—to pursue any idea as long as it was good. Singles “Love Inflation” and “Good for the City,” featuring Sam Duckworth on vocals, serve as the two polar opposite fruits of this effort.
In the wake of Chrome Waves‘s release, Plug took some time to muse on a variety of topics. As with the music itself, nothing was off limits. International club culture, the importance of sonic mutation, and how Kraak & Smaak survive in an ocean of musical noise were all on the table.
Since Kraak & Smaak debuted electronic and dance music have really mutated. For the new album, Chrome Waves, did you guys feel the need to answer this cultural shift?
Chrome Waves feels like something else in a sense, but also a logical extension from our last album,Electric Hustle. It has more organic sounds even though I think we moved creatively down an electronic path.
How is it more organic?
Well, I’m not sure “organic” is the appropriate word. Over the years we’ve been able to buy synthesizers, get more digital gear, and try out songwriting with guest vocalists. In the end, this gave us more creative freedom to go where we want to.
Are guest vocalists integral to what you do now?
Definitely. We like to take vocalists out of their comfort zone and see how it works with the Kraak & Smaak sound. We’ve always tried to find a middle ground between pure dance floor music, which can be sort of abstract and trendy, and then songs that are more timeless. Some artists are flavors of the month, which works really well for a year or two, but then you never hear from them again.
Ibiza apparently had an effect on the album. How so?
We wanted this album to be more upbeat, so I think that Ibiza might have influenced us in that way. Dance music in general was influential with the coming of Disclosure, and the return of UK garage and two-step. Then, of course, there was the return of deep house. Dance music has become subtle again, not so crazy and loud. I think we were picking the fruits of that, especially since we aren’t full-on house producers.
What are your thoughts on electronic dance music’s cultural and financial explosion? Has it opened up any new opportunities?
We’ve gotten some more attention because of it, but we’ve been around awhile, and we don’t make music specifically for the dance floor or for big audiences. I think the booming business is really happening in mainstream house and trance music. It’s a bit of a different scene in the end.
I think the enormous surge and interest in dance music in the US could all be over in a couple of years. There is enormous money to be made, which attracts everybody. In the end, maybe more European and UK acts can play the US, whether it’s in the underground or mainstream. The US could become a breeding ground for dance music, but maybe we’ll see the big names crash in a couple of years. Does that make sense?
Absolutely. Electronic and dance music culture were traditionally very underground in the US, while they’ve always been big in the UK and Europe; which is strange because house and techno come from Chicago and Detroit. So, superstar DJ domination in the US is an anomaly.
I think the US house or dance music pioneers—the Detroit and Chicago guys—got really big very quickly in Europe. They were huge. Maybe that’s typical of a US which eats its young or doesn’t appreciate them until sounds come back like a boomerang. We’re also talking about minority cultures, which is where hip-hop, house, soul, and funk started. In the end, maybe it will all come back, but no one will remember that it came from the US in the first place.
Well, that lack of memory already exists. Electronic music festivals promoters and superstar DJs rarely acknowledge house and techno’s origins. You can’t help but feel that dance music is being sucked dry without a tip of the hat to its originators.
That could well be, but maybe it’s different now because of the digital revolution. It’s far easier to get your hands on music now. I’m 45, so I grew up with vinyl records and seven-inch singles. It was simpler—you had a gatekeeper who picked the right songs in a record store or for the Top 40. It was also more diverse back then as far as what you could listen to. Now it’s very difficult to get an idea of what is popular or good. People need to find out what good music is again because 95 percent of tracks aren’t listened to, but they’re still there.
What did you grow up listening to?
Apart from pop singles, I listened to alternative and indie music like Sonic Youth. I also liked new wave. I just soaked up everything that was cool, whether it was a pop, disco, or alternative record. As long as it was good, I didn’t care. Maybe in the future we’ll make an alternative guitar record. [laughs]
That diversity of taste allows you to be flexible and timeless. You mentioned Disclosure. They’ve been a big thing in 2013, but if they don’t figure out how to evolve like you guys , they’re dead.
I agree. You can set a trend for awhile, but things pass. If you want to produce music, the debut record is always the first time that you are able to put your best ideas down. That makes it very special, but after that it starts over again. Then you see if you really have the creativity to develop the sound. There needs to be progress and creative space to do new stuff. I think we’re still good at that. If there wasn’t the idea that we could still grow creatively, then we wouldn’t exist anymore.