Keys N Krates: From R&B Cover Band to Electronic Game Changers
The Torontonian trio talk being a band that drops beats prior to their TomorrowWorld performance
There's a long history of organically-driven bands incorporating electronic elements into their songwriting and performances. From Depeche Mode to Radiohead, a little bleepy-bloopy has often found a place amidst the guitars. But what's made Toronto three-piece Keys N Krates stand out in the electronic music world is that they've so seamlessly incorporated dance music and hip hop, traditionally sample and DJ based genres, into a live setting. They're switching up convention as they approach the organic from the electronic and their freshly released Every Nite EP brings a hip hop laden bassweight to a live setting like no one has before.
It hasn't always been that way, though: "We've been a band for seven or so years. We started off doing live hip hop covers, re-interpretations," explains Adam Tune, the band's drummer. "It was kind of like The Roots with a turntablist. We used to have a bass player and Matisse played just one physical keyboard and I played drums. It really evolved gradually into what it is now, which is completely different. The only similarity is that we're still a band and we'll still take other people's samples and flip them live in our show."
"When we started, we didn't even have any of our own music. We were doing re-interpretations of The Fugees and Jay Z."
"We all come from more of a hip hop background," explains turntablist Jr. Flo. "I was a battle DJ. Matisse comes from an R&B, soul background. I dunno what the fuck kinda music Tune made, everything from soul or funk to country. I had exposure to the rave scene here in the nineties because I was a scratch DJ and by default that was one of the only outlets for scratch DJ's, but that was never really my thing. None of us were super into electronic music until, like, 5 years ago, when we started doing our homework."
The transition to electronic tonality was gradual, but it filtered into their instrumentation as much as it did into their tastes. Tune explains, "We started playing more of these festivals alongside other electronic acts and got into producing our own music, I found that we had to start to change our instruments to be able to play the music we were making at the time. I had to go back to the drawing board and get sample pads, kick triggers, snare triggers. The transition happened very organically, for the technology to match the music we were making live."
Even further, the reflexive organic/electronic relationship has drastically changed the way they write. Although they used to write music with software and then learn how to re-create it live, that's not the case anymore. Tune lays out their process: "Over the past year or so, since we've integrated our set-ups, we've been able to jam ideas for tunes and then take them into the box and then turn that into a song, then stem all that stuff out and bring it back into rehearsal and turn it into the final live version. The rehearsal thing isn't just learning songs that we've made in the box, it's become part of our writing process…In a way, it's completely old-school. That's what a real band would do. Like, a punk band or something, they'd go in and jam guitar riffs, sing over it, go into the studio to record it, and then come back and play a live version of that. In a way what we're doing is different, but in a way it's completely old school.
"We never actually see eye to eye. That's actually how our music is made. The three of us just go into a rehearsal room and argue until something comes out."
Keys N Krates are often the only act on the bills they play bringing a human-driven performativity to the stage. I've watched crowds overcome the immediate dissonance of seeing all those instruments on stage the second they see that the band bring both the energy of a live set and the bassweight of a DJ set. "I always love when acts are trying to incorporate more live instruments into their show. I hope more people start to do that," Tune says. "It makes it more interesting. We could really trainwreck shit really fast, y'know? It happens. There's shit that happens all the time. Technology breaks down, you never know what's gonna happen or who's gonna have to improvise while someone figures out why the left turntable isn't working or fixes the keyboard stand because it's vibrating too much because of the bass. Shit happens. All the time. "
All this considered, it's notable that they ended up on Dim Mak, a label with distant roots in guitar music that focuses more on upfront, DJ-driven tunage these days. Jr Flo explains the story: "There's this dude, Keith, who also goes as an artist by AutoErotique, he actually does a bunch of A&R stuff for Dim Mak. He's a friend of ours. I was just DJing in a club and running demos of ours that we were working on. He just ran up to the booth and was like 'hey, what is this shit?!' And then we ended up signing it to Dim Mak! We're definitely the odd dudes out on that label, we're not making big room house and stuff, but it's kinda cool to do because it makes us stand out more."
With their Every Nite EP just released and a TomorrowWorld set fast approaching, standing out won't be a concern for Keys N Krates much longer.
Jemayel Khawaja is THUMP's Associate Editor in Los Angeles - @JemayelK