The Knocks talk Festival Scenes, UK Love, & How American EDM Is The New Black (VTT Interview)
|Ben (left) & James (right)|
If you’re at all interested or familiar with the continually popular domestic dance scene today, you know who The Knocks are. The increasingly hyped NYC-based duo of Ben Ruttner & James Patterson have been making their heavy rounds as of late, touching down on both sides of the Atlantic and hitting the festival and club scene, all while managing to churn out quality material for us to eat up.
We sat down with the fellas at the Sweetlife Festival a couple weeks back in Columbia, MD for a quick convo. Follow up with the two’s reflections on life as of late, upcoming work, and how they first came up not too long back.
You guys have been super busy as of late, tell us about the last couple months.
Ben – We’ve been travelling a lot – we were in California for a couple weeks recording in studios and such, and other than that we’ve been hitting spot dates. We did our own little tour from NY down to TX for SXSW – the Neon Gold tour which was us, St Lucia, Savoir Adore, all really fun. From SX we went straight to Ultra, played the main stage there which was pretty sick, and then we were in Miami for all of the Winter Music Conference as well and just hung out.
James – And before that we were in London, like right before we did the Neon Gold tour, with DJ Shadow which was fun.
Ben - Yep, after all that, the travelling is chilling out for a little bit – basically after Sweelife we’re going from doing a festival or show every weekend from back at home in the studio consistently.
What do you guys like most about the festival scene?
James - I like the fact that the crowd is pretty built-in, so you know you’re going to be reaching new people. And if they like it, the festival response, is way more epic than a regular show. People come to a festival and they’re just amped for whatever they’re gonna hear.
Ben - Yeah the energy is way higher, it’s much happier vibes compared to a NY show or something where everyone is so serious, in scenes like this everyone’s just here to have fun. And our music is so much fun, so, it’s hard not to have a blast to it.
James – Sometimes shows can be more of a showcase for an artist, A&Rs can be there or industry people. Not that industry people don’t go to festivals, they definitely do, but I feel like the ratio is more in favor of the music lover than it would be otherwise at a scene like this.
You guys mentioned going home soon – being NY – how’d you two come up initially and first link up together…
Ben - I grew up in the boonies up in Vermont, James grew up in Connecticut, and we both did music apart originally. I used to make weird trip-hoppy instrumental stuff and he played through church and in a few bands and what not. I wanted to go to NY for school and J was outside of NY but wanted to move in. I was in a dorm at the time and wanted to get out and into an apartment, and we had a mutual friend who actually put us together ‘cuz he just thought it’d work.
James - It was then we first got together, and at first we were both just doing hip hop individually – like real aggressive hip hop beats.
Ben - In the early going we’d just be in our own rooms, making our own material, then gradually I’d come into his room and smoke a joint and shit, and say ‘ah this would maybe sound cool if you do this’, and then vice versa he’d come in and do the same, and the more we started bouncing ideas off each other we started to realize how cool our material was starting to sound. So we kinda just decided to link up, two brains are better than one.
The blog scene played a large part for your sounds getting out there in the early going – tell us about the role that played.
Ben - I was kinda running this faux label at the time, nothing too serious – I had this artist Samuel, but it was all DYI and low key. So for our material we’d hop on Hype Machine and just make mailing lists from blogs’ contacts lists to start off.
James - We were doing a lot of remixes too early on, which was great for the blogosphere. We had this Passion Pit remix in the early going that people just went off on.
Ben - So we basically started blasting out everything we did. At first it was just a few but then started to grow overtime, and now it’s at the point where we have our familiar list of sites who are just solid supporters, and the second we send something out it gets like a dozen posts. And it’s cool cuz it comes from us, it’s not a PR company or something, we write the e-mail.
James - And we’ve met a lot of the bloggers which is cool, just around at shows, in the streets, different cities, and have befriended a lot of them actually over time.
At first it was your remixes that kinda got you into the scene, how have you transitioned into more original material and developing a unique sound
Ben - Well since it started with the remixes that’s what got us into more dancey sounds. Also i was DJ’ing in the city, which got out of the hip hop a little bit and more into understanding the dance-based material. We also both kinda got more and more into the gear side of things – keys, percussion, etc – and we both just became fascinated by it.
James - We were doing hip hop for so long at that point too, we had done the Samuel project that we mentioned, and that was way different. I think at that point we were like ‘oh, there’s more material besides hip hop we could be doing.’
Ben - It kinda became this thing where when we started doing it, we had no idea what we were doing when it came to dance music – we were more so just applying hip hop production techniques to dancier material, which i think really lent itself well to one of our breakout tracks “Blackout”. With the chopped and screwed vocals, very piano driven, I think you can hear those influences. Now as we’ve developed though, the more we tour, the more we see other acts, and DJ more, we’re continuing to learn more about it and really getting better ourselves.
In the live sets, your instrumentation and originality has really played into it, as well as a certain energy you bring. tell us about your performance style.
Ben - That was the goal originally, to have something different. When a crowd is on a certain level, like today, it just makes it so much better for us, as we really feed off that energy from them. If they’re not going nuts, then we’re gonna be up there feeling pretty awkward.
James - And it’s interesting cuz really anybody can get up there with two turntables and call themselves a dance DJ. We definitely put that effort into making ourselves stand out from others, and take advantage of our bigger live performances compared to DJ sets.
How has your DJ set evolved? you’re doing one tonight, as well as some previous festival stops’ after parties.
Ben - We have different kinds, depending on the set-up and venue. Tonight we’ll just wing it and have fun, but at Ultra we had something pretty well planned out where we knew everything we were going to play. I was on the mic going nuts – for the bigger rooms, gotta play the bigger stuff.
Also your international fanship has seemed to play a big roll, what’s the reception been like in the UK?
Ben - UK’s been great man, that was one of the first things that got us a lot of attention. Our management was from the UK, and some of the first people we got down with were the Neon Gold guys – Marina & The Diamonds, Ellie Goulding, all them.
James - Yeah some of the first press we got was through UK and NME Music, they were some of the first to give us some good hard press.
Ben – They’re very hot and cold over too, they love you or you hate you, even NME can be like that. You can’t spread yourself too thin, ‘cuz at first we were almost focusing on the UK, but then it was like ‘why are we doing that when we have such a fanbase here’. Early on we thought our music wouldn’t really fit in the states, ‘cuz it was so on the nu-disco and progressive dance side of things, but really any music can fit anywhere nowadays
Also, American dance music is the new black, it’s like the coolest thing in the world, it’s awesome, it’s perfect timing for us. And it’s cool ‘cuz we try not to get shamelessly commercial with it, no David Guetta type stuff, and I think people are going to get a little tired of that material. These Chris Brown records, all the fuckin Usher songs that come out on the radio just sound like the same track. I think people are going to still love dance music, ‘cuz that’s what got them into it, but as they grow up they’ll be wondering more and more what’s out there, and go back and find more acts.
James - People are already starting to move towards the more niche stuff, less from the huge Aviciis and Tiestos and super commercial acts. Just because everyone wants to be ‘cool’, they wanna be that person who’s ‘heard of that guy’. People are starting to take advantage of the availability and accessibility of so many other artists out there.
Wrappin up, what do you guys have going on in the future – touring, studio life, etc…
Ben - Yeah we’re pumped – about to put out a new song with Fred Falke, which we’re really excited about. And then the plan for the summer is just to put out a bunch of singles, not really thinking of an album too much yet
James - At first we were going for an album, but we figured we’ve been putting out so many songs individually, so let’s just keep doing it that way for a little bit. There’s also so much pressure that goes into making an album.
Ben - Definitely, you wanna put an album out, but you wanna do so when it’s going to make an impact. Especially these days, you can put an album out, and no one’s gonna fuckin know about it.
James - I feel like the best albums are made up of all the songs you’d be making anyway. You hear the stories of acts just generally working on their music, rather than towards a specific body of work, and then just freely developing that material over a year or two comes an album – that seems to be the best stuff. We have a lot of new material that we work on anyway ‘cuz we do so many writing sessions, I feel like that’s where we’re going. Eventually we’ll just be like, ‘let’s make it an album’.
find more on the The Knocks at the links below