Over the last few years, one massive electro-funk outfit we’ve had out eyes on is Kraak & Smaak. The trio, hailing from the Netherlands, have been creating chart topping dance hits and music since their original releases back in 2003. We recently had the privilege of catching their incredible set in San Francisco (at 1015 Folsom alongside Gigamesh, Motion Potion, and other big names) as well as asking one of their members, Wim Plug, a few questions about the group.
What prompted you to start the group and when did things start to take off
for you guys?
We knew each other already from DJing and we all had the wish to produce as well, as we were full of ideas. Only thing was that two of us (Mark and Wim) didn’t have the studio skill and musical background while the other (Oscar) did. So it made perfect sense to start working together. We just started out, making a couple of demos, and then sent them around. Before we knew it we had a deal for a first EP with Jalapeno in the UK. From thereon, we just continued with releasing more records; we really noticed that we hit a nerve globally.
It really took off with our first album, Boogie Angst, and after that, with the second album, we of course had a minor hit with Squeeze Me, which opened up things for us even more. In the mean time we continued with our dj sets but also started a full live band – quite a novelty at the time that made a big impact as well. In that regard we took the best of both worlds really:being able to do proper DJ sets as well as performing with a live band.
How have you diversified your sound within the electronic music scene?
Originally we started out as a breakbeat and lounge kinda affair, but we quickly expanded into electronic and house music territory as well. Given our background, enjoying, collecting and playing genres from soundtracks to funk to house to hiphop to jazz to new wave etc. etc., I guess we quite naturally developed that eclectic sound people give us credit for nowadays. It’s also important to stay hungry for new developments out there, keeping in touch; we wouldn’t be happy with making the same style of music and albums again and again. So although we haver developed far more electronic sound in recent years we don’t feel as a typical electronic act as such. Actually lately we’re experimenting more and more now with ‘traditional’ live instruments and are also rediscovering sampling again, which we had mostly laid aside for a while.
Where do you draw your musical inspiration from and which artists have influenced your sound?
It all starts with a love of music really: we have been avid record collectors for a long time, so we have always sucked it up big time. When we started out DJ’ing we also played venues where it was normal to play all different styles, from pop to funk to soul, alternative & indie, wave, disco, etc. so we developed a real broad taste as well. Later on hiphop, house and drum & bass came along, which diversified it even more and opened up producing. We can enjoy very basic club tracks but also a more musically interesting pop song. I guess we took all those genres, styles and fancies and distilled our own take on pop and dance music.It’s difficult to pinpoint to particular big influences however. Most important perhaps is that when we are producing we are always very ‘referential’ in terms of sound, of what we know and like, and that all depends again on what we are working on.
How is it working as a trio? What do each of you bring to the table that ultimately creates this cohesive group?
It’s not the most common collab type but happily for us it works. All three of us have different characters and backgrounds, which can clash once in a while, but at the same time also bring in different ideas, opinions, perspectives and expertise on the creative and business side. We also don’t necessarily always do the same things in and around the studio. Mark does the DJ sets, Oscar and me (Wim) do the live stuff with the band. When we started out we were often together in the studio making music but given the whole expansion of K&S that’s undoable anymore. Instead we focus more on who can do certain things best but still drop ideas, give feedback, etc. on anything important for K&S, whether it’s production, performing and so forth.
What does the timeline for a track usually look like and how long does it usually take you guys to produce a finished track?
It depends really. Sometimes a good idea comes really quickly and the basis for a track is there the same day. At other times different ideas can float around for months, even years before they fall into place – or not at all of course. It usually starts out with a groove, a synth hook or, or a sample. From thereon you work on it, seeing if it has potential. Then, if you think it could need vocals, you start thinking about who to ask to have a go on it for a catchy topline or a full song.
What do you appreciate most about your music?
The diversity, its originality. And apparently being able to make a difference. Being able to co-op with songwriters and vocalists that lift a track up to – sometimes a far – higher level.
What are the short and long term goals for Kraak & Smaak?
At the moment we’re busy DJing and playing with our liveband, plus producing remixes and new originals, mostly focused on singles as we don’t want to spend all our coming time solely on the next album and not releasing anything for some time. This time we’ll take a more step-by-step approach in releasing new material, more regularly. It gives both more visibility to what you are doing and you don’t have to wait so long before something is available.
We have also just started our own imprint, Boogie Angst, which we will try and roll out in the coming years. Our first release, this November, will be a special project – called ‘Octaves’ – featuring Sam Duckworth; he did the vocals on ‘Good for the city’ off the last album. We’ve really hit it off together and he has dropped by a couple of times in our studio in Leiden to record with us. The first batch of those songs will be our first release, limited vinyl only and with special handmade artwork by Dutch visual artist Thomas Raat. Our second release will be the first EP by Moods, our first signing. He is a really talented producer from Rotterdam and he will definitely going to make some waves. Really glad to have him onboard. Moreover, we are also in the process of setting up management for other artists.
What has been your favorite memory/venue thus far?
Phew, that’s difficult…. I really enjoy our USA tours very much; with a coach, a number of times we crossed the entire country and went to places you ordinarily would never go to as a regular tourist, very exciting. Mark just did a DJ tour last week – and earlier this year we did a really great little West Coast tour with our full live band, with A.O. a couple of festivals and a show at the Roxy in LA – brilliant stuff. So hoping to come back real soon again, either with our DJ set or with our band.
What other musicians would you love to collaborate with?
We’re currently very much into finding the right vocalists for our new tracks, so the focus is very much on that for now. Not necessarily big or well-known, but if we would have to name names, personal favorites would be Lana del Rey and new talent like Chet Faker.
Can we expect anything new at the start of 2015 from Kraak & Smaak?
Brand new K&S material will definitely pop up early next year and of course we’ll start releasing other artists on our new label as well. First we are going full circle with the release of the remixed version of last year’s Chrome Waves album, featuring some established + cool upcoming names in the scene.