Amsterdam's most popular deep house act talks about the Motown legacy, touring through Australia, and hooking up with Mayer Hawthorne for Boxed Out.
"Two idiots abroad", Lars en Maarten of Detroit Swindle.
Detroit Swindle's first album Boxed Out will come out Monday March 24th on Dirt Crew Recordings, and THUMP has got an exclusive preview. I visited the guys in their studio to talk about the past, the presence and the future of Amsterdam's hottest deep house act.
THUMP: You've both been active for years in Amsterdam's nightlife. Can you both tell a bit about the days before you started working together?
Maarten: While studying business management at university, I was always throwing parties. For a long time, I was programming and producing events for a famous Dutch organization called Electronation. But the acts I liked to book the most, got the least response from the crowd. So after five years, I was fed up with being a promoter, and ended up working in advertising. I was also DJ-ing in Club More at the time, where Lars was booking dj's. We liked a lot of the same stuff, and we also disliked a lot of the same. But the actual collaboration started with a bad news talk Lars had to have with me. He had to tell me my style was too deep for the club. He basically had to sack me, even though he loved the music I was playing.
Lars: That's right. I'd been a hip hop DJ from age twelve. Until a friend of mine asked me if I wanted to go an HQ clubnight at Melkweg, after a school party. I was fifteen, and that was my first clubbing experience, and my first drug experience, too. I was completely hooked. In the years that followed, I visited all the big festivals in Holland and abroad: Dance Valley, Awakenings, Love Parade. I was playing hard house and techno at the time. And then I started programming the commercial side of Club More. I did that for seven years, till I was completely fed up. There I was at my own party, popping the new Jay-Z, but as soon as I'd come home, I'd put on an Isolee or a Paperclip People record. So I made a choice, against all advice, to burn all my bridges. I locked myself in the studio for over a year. I did jobs or fixed people's homes to make ends meet. Then the talk to sack Maarten, was in fact the start of our collaboration.
And then came the first release, The Wrap Around, which was an instant hit.
Lars:Yes, I had finished some tracks and asked Maarten what he thought. He didn't have much experience with producing, yet. But he had a fine ear for the music. So we actually finished the first two EP's all together. A friend of ours then sent one of the EP's to Huxley, without us actually knowing about it. Huxley immediately said: I need this on my label! The second EP was signed by Dirt Crew and then we were off, bursting onto the international scene quicker than we could really comprehend.
Maarten: The first EP was out in March, the second in May. Then Peter from Dirt Crew said: "Guys, you're music is the shit. Go work on a live show, 'cause we need to have you play live on the release party." We didn't have a fucking clue, where to start. That first live show was a complete disaster: the computer crashed because of the heat and that was the end of the show. A few months and some more successful shows later, we were playing Panoramabar. That was our fourth live show. There we were, not even half a year after our first release, soundchecking in the Panoramabar, joking to each other "Hey, you think we're allowed to make pictures now?" That was the moment we realized things could be going really fast from there. It's been a rollercoaster ever since.
What clicked between the two of you?
Lars: It wasn't just the house click, because that was only just the start. It was also our respective musical backgrounds that clicked. I was brought up mainly on hip hop and Maarten had been interested mostly in soul, funk and breakbeat.
Maarten: At one point, we had a talk saying: "all these generic, a dime a dozen tech house records flooding the charts, there has to be something cooler than that."
Lars: Right! And then came Motor City Crum Ensemble with Raw Cuts, and we were like 'What the fuck!?' Completely blown away.
So the name Detroit Swindle is actually a nudge to MCDE?
Lars: Not exactly, but he sure gave us a kick in the ass, showing us it was possible: combining funk and soul influences in house, in such a way that it's still club music.
Maarten: MCDE proved you can fill a track at 118BPM with energy. That you don't need speed or a hard kick to make a banging track.
Lars: We thought hard about our name. Most music we dig and have in common, carries the Detroit legacy. We wanted to refer to that, but also make a bit of a joke about it. The name also had to have a good ring to it, hence Detroit Swindle. We were always pretty clear about just being two whiteys from the Dam, haha.
Maarten: I mean, Detroit was the epicenter of soul in the sixties and seventies.
Lars: Yeah, and if I had one album I could take to a deserted island, it would be Labcabincalifornia, which is mostly produced by J Dilla. Anything that guy makes, hits all the right nerves with me.
Before you decided to fully focus on music, you both had other jobs to attend. When did you decide it was going to be all about Detroit Swindle?
Lars: I had given myself an ultimatum from the moment I burned all my ships. If I wouldn't be able to support myself more or less doing music, I would have to find something else to do. It's good to have a deadline like that, because you really have to give it your everything.
Maarten: That was actually a bit different for me. The moment I started with Detroit Swindle, I was just starting to think about having a baby with my wife. I had a really well payed job, so financially, there was absolutely no reason to focus on music. But my wife was really supportive and saw the pleasure it gave me. Detroit Swindle's first step was definitely not to make enough money to support both me and Lars. Our first step was simply: let's just make cool shit and see where it takes us. It should be fun, and if we're enjoying it, maybe we can make others enthusiastic as well. For the first year and a half I slowly started working less and less.
That must have been touch, with all the traveling?
Maarten: It definitely was, with the job and the kid as well. But at one point, just as we were about to have our first American tour, I told the advertising company: see you guys. I really liked making commercials, but the creative freedom of determining everything by yourself, was great. Detroit Swindle is, after all, a brand in itself: you need to think about how to present yourself, how to do events, do a label. Now I'm really happy to be fully involved in Detroit Swindle.
So you're basically doing your own management?
Lars: Yes, we are, and that takes up a lot of time. But if you can sit together during the week and also work apart from eachother, you get a lot done and you don't have to spread yourself thin. Once you actually focus on one thing, the results grow exponentially.
Maarten: We've already got some extra hands, but we need to have everything pass by us first. For some it doesn't work like that, but it does for us. And we're really expanding now. We're not just dj'ing, we're also a live-act. We're not just booked as an act, but also run our own night at Amsterdam's Studio 80, which really has a concept to it. We're running our own label and who knows what is yet to come.
Lars: They're all choices we're making ourselves. And they're all fun things we really love to do, but we have to start dividing our time. It's tough for us to find someone just as good as we could do it ourselves. I think we'll always be on top of the Detroit Swindle foodchain, having someone show us stuff and asking us for feedback. We've each got a decade of experience behind the scenes: you know how it works and you know how you want to get in the picture, and stay in the picture. Because staying in the picture is probably the most important. We've grown so rapidly in the last two and a half years; we really need to consolidate that for ourselves in the next ten to twenty years. We're very selective about which parties we play and which labels we release on these days.
Doesn't all this strategic thinking kill your creativity?
Lars: It may sound a bit calculating – which I guess it is – but it's also a fifty-fifty thing. Fifty procent is strategic. But people also see us as two fun and creative guys. I guess we are. We obviously have a right and a left side of the brain. Because once we enter the studio, all of that doesn't matter anymore. We're really just busy with music and not what kind of tracks we're making. Whatever comes out, comes out.
Now you've released your debut album Boxed Out. Why an album?
Lars: All the EP's have sold really well, and we haven't really had a bad review yet. With the album, we wanted to show that we can do more than just straight forward house. An album gives you the space to expand your scope. There's also a few hip hop and disco jams on the album. Although it's not a shame to be known for your clubtracks, of course.
Maarten: There's so many EP's out there. And if you manage to put together a good album, you get noticed more. A lot of people don't really have the time or the skills to make an entire album. We wanted to find out for ourselves if we could build such a story and also start to think about a live act; become more interesting for the bigger festivals. A lot of doors open up once you have an album. We just want to do achieve shit we've never achieved before, and go places we haven't been yet.
Are you planning on making more slow jams? I really found those the coolest and the most surprising.
Maarten: Those tracks have been produced for a reason. We wanted to see if we could incorporate more of the soul we grew up with. If you've had a great night, the dancefloor is still packed, and you drop a track like You, Me, Here, Now as a last record, everyone is standing there cuddling and getting down at 100BPM. That really fits into the broadening of our scope this past year. We really drop anything from disco to acid, from techno to house.
Lars: We managed to broaden our sound, without becoming messy. In fact, it's become more of a story now. We used to push our house sound; these days we pull the people along on a musical journey. Also, we produce much broader than we used to. The album really broadened our horizon.
Your tour through Asia, Australia, and New Zealand was the longest to date. What were the highlights?
Maarten: The absolute highlights were Shanghai, Sydney and Auckland. People really showed up especially to see us. That gives you a 1-0 advantage as soon as you hit the decks. Perth and Brisbane were smaller and fun as well. But you really need to work harder to grab the people's attention in places like those.
Lars: The overall feedback we got from promoters, is that we were pretty underground for the clubs we played, but still made it happen because of our energetic sets. All the promoters were happy with us, so we're looking into a new tour already.
How did the connection with Mayer Hawthorne come about?
Lars: In his free time–which, miraculously, he still has–Mayer is a dj, and he used our track The Wrap Around in his mix. We actually sent him a message on Facebook, to which he immediately replied. He invited us for his show in Amsterdam, and we told him we had a track that would fit his voice perfectly. He had finished the lyrics the next day. But it took a few months before he suddenly called us that he was in the Dam for ADE. We ended up recording his voice in the middle of the night at Red Bull Studios.
Maarten: And his management has been really cool about everything. We were allowed to use his vocals, if we promised to remix one of his tracks. We just finished the remix; it will be released on Universal soon. It's pretty bizarre, to get those parts sent in, made by Pharell. But then, a lot of bizarre things have happened in the last couple of years.
- thump blog