Australia-bound Keys N Krates chat their debut album, live shows + more
The Toronto trio, renowned for their invigorating and defining live show, will be in the country for Origin Fields and a show at Oxford Art Factory.
Keys N Krates are an act crucial to the diversification of electronic music over the last few years, even if their name isn't too familiar on first glance. Some of the Toronto trio's earliest work - 2013's SOLOW EP and 2014's Grandtheft collaboration Keep It 100 especially - are regarded as some of trap music's early defining moments, paving the way for the bass-reliant wave of hip-hop-electronic that was inescapable until only just recently. Similarly, their invigorating live show placed an unheard of emphasis on the word live, playing their percussive-heavy productions on actual drum kits instead of the classic DJ set-up (which is far easier and cheaper to travel and run); alongside acts like ODESZA, they're referred to as one of electronic's early embracers of live performances.
Now, years later when trap music has fallen off its pedestal and live electronic shows are almost as common as DJ sets, Keys N Krates are still as relevant as ever. Their 2018 debut album Cura united synth-driven productions shaded with their former trap sound with a heavier hip-hop emphasis, with acts like Tory Lanez and rising star 070 Shake only adding to this as they feature among glitzy pop hooks and thick instrumentals alike. It was a versatile and dynamic record built on traditional songwriting and experimentation, with the trio reducing their former sound to just a shading as they take on a wide array of alternative sounds.
"We kind of felt like we needed to freshen things up and take our sound in a direction we were all more personally passionate about," they told Billboard on release. "We spent just over a year making this thing, but a lot of the first six months were spent just experimenting; making different ideas and demos in order to figure out the direction that we wanted to steer the ship in. After making a lot of different kinds of demos, we gravitated towards the ideas that sounded/felt dusty, melodic, soulful, and beautiful and then went in on making a bunch more stuff like that. We wanted the whole thing to be genre-less but come from the perspective of hip-hop, cause that’s really where our three perspectives cross. We also wanted to make songs with verses and choruses, that could maybe be sung at a house party or maybe make someone cry at home alone or something. It was also important to have good instrumental records as well," they continue.
Now that the dust has settled on their debut album, Keys N Krates are embracing their hip-hop-inspired, genre-varied sound even more. Their latest single Getaway sees them unite a crafty, nostalgic production with an R&B edge thanks to Noah and Mickey Shiloh, whose repertoire includes work with Britney Spears and Janet Jackson. There's plenty more to come too, and with the trio returning to our shores for Perth's Origin Fields - more info HERE - and a stand-alone sideshow at Sydney's Oxford Arts Factory, we caught up with Keys N Krates to chat about Getaway, Cura and more.
First up – earlier this year you guys released your debut album Cura. Can you tell us about the album and what pushed you into going down the album pathway after a long line of singles and EPs?
Gregory: We were ready to rework our sound into a direction we were all more passionate about. It’s a more soulful and vibey sound and we felt like we needed to deliver that in the form of a project to put everything in context and show where we are trying to go. I think if we would've just dropped Glitter on its own it wouldn’t have made much sense, but when you hear it next to Flute Loop or Music To My Ears you can hear how our earlier sound ties into our current sound and that really gives you a glimpse at the broader scope of what we are trying to do.
The album was released back in February – how do you feel about the record now, almost a full year later? How has the reception been?
Tune: We're still really proud of it and we feel like it’s launched us into a whole new and exciting direction. People are still just finding out about Cura, and the reaction is just as positive now as when it dropped.
I personally find that a lot of electronic artists struggle with their debut albums because they don’t realise how hard it is to keep something sounding fresh and interesting over the ten tracks that make an album. What did you guys do to prevent this happening on Cura?
Matisse: We really just went after making something that we loved and that we felt was kinda missing, which is sample sounding stuff that’s catchy, fun and at times really emotional. Once we got into that zone, it was just about making the best shit in that vein.
Getaway is your second single since the album release. Can you tell us about the single and how it came about?
Gregory: That was such a cool process because that went from being a tropical wavy organ sample we made while just vibing, to being flipped into a beat a few days later, to a fully written song the following week.
After we made the beat, we had Mickey Shiloh in Toronto a week later to write with us. We had all these other ideas we had started, but this Getaway idea sort of had a life of its own and took over. Everyone just became pretty excited about finishing it up to be our next single. It just felt like a cool way to follow up Music To My Ears.
It was super fun working with Noah for his additional vocals and our dudes Rob and Ouici for some guitar and additional sounds. Their parts made everything extra special.
It sees you link up with Noah and Mickey Shiloh – who between them – have some pretty strong backgrounds. What was the process of collaborating with this pair, and what drew you to them?
Tune: Ya, we found out about Noah through our dude Shagabond who’s collaborated with him before, plus Greg heard Noah doing these really amazing harmonies on this IG clip, so we tapped him to try some harmonies to enhance the song.
Originally, we met Mickey in LA during a studio session. We made like five ideas with her in under an hour and we were all like “Yo we gotta bring her to Toronto to finish all these ideas". She was down to come to Toronto and just lab’d it up for four days straight, and that's how we came out with Getaway. Mickey is mad talented and has the ability to do so many cool things with her voice, plus she's an incredible writer. She is also focused af and wants to make every record great.
You guys are renowned for your live show, which was really pushing the boundaries of an electronic show back before it really picked up steam. What does the live show include now, and how has it evolved over the years?
Matisse: The feeling is more dynamic and vibey now instead of that punch you in the face feeling for the entire show. It’s more musical, dramatic, and fun for us than it’s ever been. We’ve also recently had guest vocalists, flute players and other musicians hop on our sound and we're hoping to do even more or that.
You’re back in Australia for some dates over the New Year period, including Origin Fields over New Years – as outsiders, what do you guys think of the Australian electronic market? Are there any particular artists you’re vibing from Australia?
Gregory: Man we feel like Australians have such cool taste in music. Triple J is your mainstream radio station and they play all kinds of cool indie shit from different genres and it really reflects on ppl’s taste out there. So I guess our impression is Australians are fun and have cool taste in music? And you guys have Tame Impala so...
It’s mentioned that Cura is the ‘first step towards a new creative vision’ for you. What can we expect from Keys N Krates in the future now that the debut album is well and truly out the way?
Matisse: Our vision is more about creating a vibe that's not only interesting but more catchy and touches on a variety of emotions. We're out here trying to offer something truly amazing, a big picture sound that can get very specific at times. Overall it's a sound that we feel people want and need and will revisit over time.
Keys N Krates' new single Getaway is out now via DIM MAK. See them at Perth's Origin Fields this December – full lineup and info HERE – and at Sydney's Oxford Art Factory on December 29 – more info HERE.