Remixing has become an art unto itself. To take another artist's work and rearrange it with one's own stamp — and to make it sound really good — is far easier said than done.
For the past four years, Toronto's Keys N Krates have been cranking out onstage remixes on the fly while wreaking some serious havoc on dance floors across North America. But, as artists are wont to do, they've been progressing. Lately, they've been progressing the art of the remix.
"Rather than going to see this live remix band where they're doing interpretations of other people's work and you go to see it live, (we're) more like this hip hop electronic act that uses a lot of familiar sounds," says the band's DJ Jr. Flo.
Last November, Keys N Krates — Jr. Flo, drummer Adam Tune and Adam Matisse on keys — released the Blackout EP as a free download available through their website. The tracks still uses familiar samples but rather than simply rework a song they take elements from just about everywhere, from Nina Simone to T.I., and stitch them together for a batch of tracks that sound at once like nothing, and everything you've ever heard.
With Blackout, Keys N Krates have evolved from a mashup remix crew into electronic artists in their own right. It's a groovy album in every sense of the word, and one that bridges Toronto's two most current prominent genres — the underground electronic scene that's gaining momentum and the mainstream hip hop brought to the masses through Drake and The Weeknd.
But don't expect a full-length any time soon. Flo says they'll only release EPs and mixtapes to keep their creativity moving forward.
"That just allows us to keep going back in (to the studio) to keep refreshing our sound and doing new projects that are conceptual and fluid," he says.
Flo says they're trying to craft a sound that mirrors the energy of the live show while trying to carve out a fresh approach to electronic music. The beats are heavily influenced by the 90s hip hop that they all grew up listening to, but the live show itself peaks and lulls like a DeadMau5 set.
"Hip hop is interesting because I think when they go to a rap show, they generally react to familiarity," Flo says. "I guess that's what's been going on with rap in the last 10 years, as it got sort of radio-ized. It got sort of away from that with the Internet... but (what) we love about electronic music is you go to a show that's not really about hearing a bunch of shit that you know, it's about hearing a bunch of shit you don't know and just being swept up in the energy of it."
The trio formed in 2008, after Matisse, tired of working the soul musician circuit in Toronto, linked up with Flo with the idea of forming a live remixing dance act. Matisse invited Tune onboard. They locked themselves in a rehearsal room for half a year and then played their first show.
"People seemed to get what we were doing so we just kind of kept going. It's been non-stop ever since," Flo says.
He's speaking from a coffee shop on Queen St. West in Toronto, finishing up some remixes for release over the next few weeks. There are five in the can set for release, including remixes of The Weeknd and Miike Snow. All of them, except one, are unofficial, i.e. bootlegged. Like most producers working in the Internet age, he knows that these unofficial remixes are a rather smart way to connect with an audience.
"It's just really to reach people with our music," says Flo. "It's really easy to get new fans drawn in when you do a remix of somebody's music that you're already in to, and then hopefully it makes them check out your other music. That's the long and the short of it."
"Being able to put our own stamp on it will hopefully sort of draw people into us, I guess is the hope."