Detroit Swin­dle We get a taste of The High Life, the lat­est al­bum from Hol­land’s pre­mier funk-house-fu­sion out­fit

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If this year’s sum­mer proves to be as stop/ start as pre­vi­ous sum­mers then you could do much worse than to keep a copy of Detroit Swin­dle’s new al­bum, High Life, close at hand, as it’s pos­si­bly the clos­est thing to au­dio sun­light you might hear all year. Am­s­ter­dam-based Detroit Swin­dle, aka DJ/Pro­duc­ers Lars Dales and Maarten Smeets, started work­ing to­gether in 2011 and made a name for them­selves with the house-in­fused de­lights of The Break Up and The Wrap Around, both re­leased on their fledg­ling Heist Record­ings im­print.

Lars and Maarten then gar­nered a rep­u­ta­tion, both as artists and as la­bel-own­ers, for em­brac­ing eclec­ti­cism and stead­fastly re­fus­ing to stick to any nar­rowly de­fined genre, pre­fer­ring, in­stead, to fol­low their elec­tronic muse wher­ever it takes them and to use Heist Record­ings as a plat­form for their own mu­si­cal ad­ven­tures as well as for nur­tur­ing new and up­com­ing elec­tronic mu­si­cians.

High Life sees Detroit Swin­dle con­jur­ing up mul­ti­ple flavours of care­free, soul­ful house mu­sic, from the floor-fill­ing Flavourism (fea­tur­ing the dis­tinc­tive vo­cal chops of Seven Davis Jr) to the in­fec­tious funk of ti­tle-track, drenched in Fen­der Rhodes and vin­tage-beats while al­bum closer,

Lucky Num­ber 13, shows the duo at their at­mo­spheric best. Never ones to forego the many de­lights of Am­s­ter­dam, FM caught up with Lars and Maarten in their elec­tronic lair to find out more about the great Detroit Swin­dle method­ol­ogy.

High Life sees you fur­ther your rep­u­ta­tion for re­fus­ing to stay within any one genre; is that im­por­tant to you guys?

Lars: “The thing is, we started off as be­ing fully house but then over the years we’ve ex­plored so many dif­fer­ent gen­res and now we hardly stick to any genre. We like – and play – al­most ev­ery­thing dur­ing our sets and I think that’s what peo­ple re­ally en­joy now… it’s def­i­nitely what we re­ally en­joy. We felt it was time to ex­pand our pro­duc­tion to that level of eclec­ti­cism.”

Do you find any re­sis­tance to your pen­chant for genre-hop­ping?

Maarten: “There are al­ways peo­ple who say we should make an­other ver­sion of TheBreakUp or

TheWrapAround again. I guess that makes sense and it’s also a com­pli­ment, as it’s prob­a­bly the first song of ours that they heard. That’s kind of what sticks with you, if you dis­cover a band or a pro­ducer and you maybe don’t want the sound to change so much. Ev­ery­one changes though, and evo­lu­tion is nor­mal so it’s fine for those peo­ple to still want to hear the older style of things.

“On HighLife, there are some re­ally de­fined nods to the style of tracks we used to make. A track like Flavourism, with Seven Davis Jr, is not un­like

TheWrapAround. We don’t in­ten­tion­ally set out to make things sound com­pletely dif­fer­ent, it’s just the prod­uct of the evo­lu­tion of our taste in mu­sic, our pro­duc­tion skills and the way that our stu­dio setup has evolved.”

Each new bit of gear can take things off in a dif­fer­ent di­rec­tion?

Maarten: “For sure. You may dis­cover a syn­the­siser whose sound you re­ally like. For this al­bum we’ve worked with, aside from a gui­tar and one syn­the­siser, ev­ery­thing we used came from our stu­dio and noth­ing was bor­rowed. So, all the sounds are more co­her­ent as they’re from synths we’ve been us­ing for a while and that we know well. It’s been nice for us to work that way.”

We know you’re both fans of Elek­tron’s tech, which are not for the faint-hearted pro­gram­ming-wise. Do you both go deep into the ar­chi­tec­ture of them?

Lars: “Maarten is the more prag­matic one of us. He’s the one that reads the man­ual first then goes into the ma­chine. I don’t have the pa­tience for that, so I’ll just dive into the ma­chine then fig­ure out stuff that I should know way later than he does! We’re both flu­ent in Elek­tron now. So to speak.”

Their gear cer­tainly proves pop­u­lar within the dance mu­sic com­mu­nity, de­spite that harsh learn­ing curve...

Maarten: “You know what, if you pre­pare a live show with them you must just re­ally get to know them as you play around with them so much. It makes you dive into them. For our live show at the mo­ment we’re us­ing the Ana­log Rytm and the Ana­log Keys and, in a way, once you’ve got to know the ar­chi­tec­ture of one of them then the ar­chi­tec­ture of the oth­ers is quite recog­nis­able. We’ve also got an Oc­ta­track, [laughs] which is a dif­fer­ent beast al­to­gether and in no way re­sem­bles the other two. It’s an older ma­chine of theirs but it’s a great sam­pler. Once you’ve got your head around their menu ar­chi­tec­ture though, it’s amaz­ing how much you can do with those ma­chines.”

Lars: “There must be some credit to Lorenz, our key­boardist, for the live shows but he’s also a big part of cre­at­ing a lot of sounds for the al­bum. He does a lot of patch-cre­at­ing for Dave Smith’s synths. We’d be work­ing on a sound and say we wanted it more a cer­tain way and Lorenz would say, ‘No prob­lem, just change this and this’ and it would come out ex­actly the way we wanted it to sound!”

So, a very handy ad­di­tion to have in your mu­si­cal team?

Maarten: “Very true… although he over­com­pli­cates things some­times too. When he’s cre­at­ing patches for the Dave Smith synths, his chal­lenge is to get the most out of the synth, so he makes some of the cra­zi­est things you can imag­ine with polyrhyth­mic things go­ing on, with de­lays and af­ter­touch. We have to say, ‘yes but we want to make mu­sic as well!’”

It can be quite a del­i­cate di­vide be­tween stu­dio ex­per­i­men­ta­tion and ac­tu­ally get­ting some mu­sic fin­ished some­times?

Maarten: “Ab­so­lutely. When we were record­ing this al­bum we were smart enough to take a few weeks off, which we’d never done be­fore so we had the

time to mess around with syn­the­sis­ers and see the ways in which we could cre­ate new sounds even though we’d been work­ing with some of the synths for a long time al­ready. So, we had the time to do that with­out hav­ing the stress of hav­ing to fin­ish any­thing or hav­ing to de­liver some­thing.”

Lars: “We were also lucky to be work­ing with a lot of in­cred­i­ble mu­si­cians. We had Tom Misch here in the stu­dio and we worked with the guys from the Am­s­ter­dam brass-band Jun­gle by Night over a cou­ple of days in the Red Bull Stu­dio there. Lorenz was with us for a big chunk of those weeks in our stu­dio. All those in­cred­i­ble artists helped make things fresh and added a new in­put. Some­times if you get a new synth, a new VST or a cool sam­ple, then that trig­gers you to feed on that and make some­thing new. We cooked up all the great lit­tle ses­sions we had with th­ese great mu­si­cians and recorded ev­ery­thing, so we had so much great stuff – hours and hours of mu­sic to choose from. That’s a dif­fer­ent ap­proach for us and the first time we’ve tried any­thing like it. You can hope­fully feel and hear that.”

It’s great to cap­ture the much sought-after ‘vibe’ when you’re putting stuff to­gether…

Maarten: “Callof theWild is a good ex­am­ple of that, as it’s over nine min­utes long. The only rea­son for that is that it was im­pos­si­ble for us to fit it within a more reg­u­lar house-track length as we just had too many cool parts. So, we thought, ‘Let’s go full Fela Kuti on this track and get all the horn sec­tions and all the so­los in and just go crazy’. It was su­per fun to do it like that.”

We love all that beau­ti­ful Fen­der Rhodes all over the al­bum, but also the space you leave around ev­ery­thing...

Maarten: “Thanks. Most of the Fen­der Rhodes is Lorenz play­ing but most of the stabs or loopy stuff is Lars and me.”

Does the Rhodes and ev­ery­thing else go di­rectly into the box?

Lars: “Yeah… we record ev­ery­thing into Able­ton, then chop things into pieces, glue them back to­gether, then dis­card bits or record new bits on top. Most of the tracks we put to­gether like that in a day or over a cou­ple of days. The de­tails come after.”

Maarten: “There was hardly any hard­ware pro­cess­ing dur­ing the record­ing, maybe just one or two things go­ing through our Akai fil­ter or the Elek­tron Ana­log Heat but mostly ev­ery­thing was recorded su­per-dry. Then we take a lot of time to give ev­ery­thing its proper place in the track.”

Once you start adding ef­fects and pro­cess­ing, are there a lot of plug­ins in­volved or is it mostly hard­ware?

Lars: “Some hard­ware but mostly plug­ins. Ba­si­cally, we don’t have that many out­board ef­fects. We just bought the Even­tide H9, which is a very cool ma­chine. We’ve got a Boss RE-20 that we use for live shows and we used that a bit on the al­bum too. We use the Sound­toys pack­age a lot, which we re­ally love. We got a great deal on the bun­dle about a year ago and we use them loads.”

Maarten: “The mix­down was done with a lot of nice hard­ware… we took the tracks as far as we could take them in our stu­dio, but we felt that they still needed a lit­tle more life, so we asked our friend, who’s a great engi­neer, Marco Spaventi, who lives in Am­s­ter­dam too, to help with the mix­ing. He’s got an amaz­ing stu­dio filled with dis­tres­sors, com­pres­sors and ev­ery­thing you need to get a re­ally nice dy­namic mix. So, we spent a few days there with him fin­ish­ing ev­ery­thing off.”

Lars: “Marco said that he re­ally loves how much dy­namic we leave in our tracks as it gives him a lot of room to work with. Be­cause of that, I think, it never sounds too pumped and maybe helps keep it quite or­ganic sounding.”

We re­call you pre­vi­ously ex­tolling the virtues of the Apogee Duet. Is that some­thing that’s still in your stu­dio arse­nal?

Maarten: “No, we used to use it for live but there’s no com­puter in­volved in the live show now, ev­ery­thing’s hard­ware.”

Lars: “We’ve got the big brother, the RME Fireface UFX still in the stu­dio. What we used a lot on the al­bum was the Prophet-6 and the OB-6…”

Maarten: “We made use of a lot of the equip­ment

“We had so much great stuff – hours and hours of mu­sic to choose from”

we al­ready had in the stu­dio, ac­tu­ally. Pretty much ev­ery synth we have has fea­tured at some point on this new al­bum.”

Lars: “That’s true… the Moog Voy­ager, the Korg Mono/Poly, MFB Do­min­ion, our ARP Odyssey. Even our lit­tle MFB-503 drum­com­puter. Pretty much ev­ery­thing we have was used dur­ing the mak­ing of the al­bum.”

There are so many great lit­tle com­pa­nies such as MFB and other bou­tique com­pa­nies mak­ing in­ter­est­ing hard­ware again…

Maarten: “Yeah, it’s nice. I think the most bou­tique thing we have is the Twisted Elec­trons Acid 8. I think there’s a ver­sion 2.0 out, which is good as I’d never take this one out live but for record­ing it’s su­per cool be­cause it’s re­ally raw. You can com­pare it to a 303 but it’s a unique ma­chine.”

Lars: “It’s a very elec­tronic kind of sound, not acid. It’s al­most like a com­puter growl.”

Do you ever set down the hard­ware synths in favour of any soft synths?

Lars: “Ac­tu­ally, we did use one on the track Flavourism. The top-line over the synth sound is from Ana­log, one of Able­ton’s ba­sic synths. It can add a fifth layer to the main chords as well as just a lit­tle pitch­bend.”

Do you each have set roles in Detroit Swin­dle? And is any­thing off-lim­its for your mu­sic?

Maarten: [laughs] “The only rule we have is that Lars isn’t al­lowed to sing.”

With your la­bel, Heist, you’ve gained a rep­u­ta­tion for help­ing new artists come through. What are the pros and cons of run­ning your own la­bel?

Maarten: “Well, it takes a lot of time and it usu­ally costs more money than it makes you! No, there’s not re­ally a down­side, as it’s a lovely out­let of creativ­ity for us in terms of putting out our own mu­sic, as well as putting for­ward artists whose mu­sic we re­ally en­joy lis­ten­ing to and who we want to help pro­mote.”

Lars: “I’d say that the only down­side for us, if you could call it that, is that we re­ally wanted to re­lease this al­bum on Heist but we’re still a fairly small la­bel, so for an artist of our size it was a bit of risk to do that. You have to do quite a lot of pro­mo­tion and try and get it out to as many peo­ple as you can, which has been a chal­lenge, but it’s also been fun for us. It’s the first al­bum, so we’ve kind of come full cir­cle as the first sin­gle was on our la­bel too so it felt like the most log­i­cal and good thing to do to re­lease our al­bum on our la­bel too.”

You men­tioned the track Flavourism ear­lier and it’s such a stand­out track! Could you tell the

FM read­ers how you as­sem­bled it?

Marten: “Flavourism was fairly straight for­ward as it was just Lars, Lorenz and me in the stu­dio and we didn’t have a beat or a sam­ple to start off from…” Lars: “I think we did, ac­tu­ally, we made a beat and then made a vo­cal sam­ple then, from that we

worked to­wards the chords. Then we took out the orig­i­nal sam­ple and worked from there on­wards. The orig­i­nal per­cus­sion was quite shuffly and when we recorded the bassline the shuffly per­cus­sion sounded off, so then we made a more straight­for­ward per­cus­sion other than the kick do­ing hops here and there.”

Marten: “The bassline was done on the Voy­ager, we have the rack-mount Voy­ager and it’s prob­a­bly one of the first patches we’ve made on the Voy­ager in a long time. It’s by far the most ex­pen­sive synth we bought in the first years of Detroit Swin­dle but it’s also the one we used least!

“We started us­ing it more after we spent some time get­ting to know it. For this bassline it worked so well. I love the pads on it too and when we play live I play them, but I’m just in love with the bassline as it kicks through and it’s so funky.”

Lars: “Lorenz was play­ing the bassline while I was han­dling the cut-off fre­quency on the Voy­ager while he played, and we recorded the whole thing. Seven Davis recorded his vo­cals in LA and what he did bril­liantly was com­bin­ing the lit­tle mod­u­la­tions in the bassline with his vo­cal so it’s a re­ally or­ganic flow in the track. I think he re­ally nailed it.”

Do you stick with an idea un­til it’s work­ing, or are there some things that you’ve aban­doned in the stu­dio?

Marten: “We’re not the kind of pro­duc­ers who’ll make 100 sketches but only put out four tracks. We’re more likely to write 20 sketches and put out 18 tracks. Pretty much all the sketches for the al­bum were made in the ini­tial three-week pe­riod and I vaguely re­mem­ber only two or three ideas that we bailed on after a few hours work­ing on them. We were clear about the kind of vibe we wanted so most of it just clicked.”

Is it all the Elek­tron ma­chines you’re us­ing to take After Life out on the road?

Lars: “It is quite an ex­ten­sive setup… we have three sta­tions, so it’s me, Marten and Lorenz. I’m in charge of beats, se­quenc­ing and some bassline and ef­fects. I use the Pioneer To­raiz SP-16 sam­pler as the main el­e­ment in my setup. When they first came out, it was more of a glo­ri­fied looper than any­thing else but then they added all the MIDI func­tion­al­ity, ex­tra ef­fects and the later firmware up­dates. It’s an in­cred­i­ble ma­chine to use be­cause, as Lorenz aptly put it, it’s ‘sim­ple­ton live’! [laughs] It’s like a sim­pler ver­sion of Able­ton but in a box. It works re­ally well and I’m se­quenc­ing the Elek­tron Rytm from it, so all the beats are se­quenced within the Pioneer.

“I’m also se­quenc­ing the lit­tle Dave Smith Mopho for some basslines and I use the Roland Aira MX-1, which is ba­si­cally a lit­tle dig­i­tal mixer. The cool thing about it is that it’s got built-in ef­fects and a built-in ef­fects se­quencer, which I use mostly for side-chain­ing on dif­fer­ent lev­els for dif­fer­ent in­stru­ments. It has a re­call func­tion where you can store spe­cific mixer-wide set­tings for ev­ery track. Maarten is us­ing the Ana­log Keys and the Prophet-6 with some cool patches and Lorenz plays the Fen­der Rhodes and the OB-6, which he also uses for his talk-box. It’s a cool setup. Our man­ager’s boyfriend, Thys, is a re­ally good pro­gram­mer and he’s in the process of pro­gram­ming a light-show that’s com­bined with the mu­sic and the MIDI-notes that we’ll take out live with us.”

Fi­nally, is there any­thing ei­ther of you is keen to add to the Detroit Swin­dle gear-list?

Lars: “Per­son­ally, I’d love to have an 808 and a real tape-echo…” Maarten: “I’m not al­lowed to buy any­thing be­cause I al­ready bought too much this year! To be hon­est, be­cause we were so busy fin­ish­ing the al­bum, I can look around the stu­dio and see four or five bits of equip­ment that we haven’t used much at all yet. I picked up a Yamaha DX7 for a good price and we have a new bou­tique drum-ma­chine called Dou­bleDrum­mer by Au­dio­thin­gies, which we haven’t hooked it up yet. The list goes on, re­ally!”

“As our key­boardist puts it, the Pioneer To­raiz SP-16 is ‘sim­ple­ton live’”

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