Written by Eric B. Thornton / Edited by Bernadette
Some artists are known for their genre-bending experiments, but they are still a rare breed in the music industry. Think of Bob Dylan’s transition from folk to rock, or Snoop Dogg’s foray into reggae. Leaving your comfort zone, in this case, genre, can be a risky move, especially when you have built a loyal fan base and a successful career around a certain sound.
This is the challenge that Keys N Krates faced with their third full-length album, IN: TENSION. The Toronto-based trio, composed of drummer Adam Tune, keyboardist David Matisse and turntablist Greg Dawson, carved a niche for themselves in the electronic music scene a decade ago with their hip-hop influenced trap beats and live performances that always get their fans hyped up. One of their hits, “DUM DEE DUM,” is a prime example of their signature energy before this shift.
With their new album, they have completely pivoted to a more house and deep house vibe, and it is a pleasant surprise for their fans and critics alike. EDM.com praised the album as “the biggest evolution in their career to date”, and I couldn’t agree more.
The tracks on IN: TENSION are reminiscent of the 90s house tracks we heard in the early days of electronic music, but with a fresh and soulful twist. Their breezy first track, “Feeling Something,” which is also a perfect driving tune, sets the tone for the rest of the album.
The energy then ramps up for the next two tracks, “I Can’t Make You Love Me,” featuring Dana Williams and “Fantasy,” where the tribal percussion creates a groovy mood that continues throughout the album. “Fantasy,” the track on which they collaborated with Grammy-winning artist Ciara, in addition to the track “What Girls Do“ are two very catchy songs that create melodies that give a feeling of what edm music would be if Missy Elliot‘s beats collided with the classic house key stabs of the early 90s.
Some other personal favorites of mine are “Get Up,” which has a retro-disco feel in the vein of house legend Armand Van Helden, the groovy beats of “Say You Love Me“ and “I Know,” another garage-influenced track that also has beats that slap. To be honest, I personally enjoyed all the tracks in the album and I welcome their courage in switching genres. They have definitely pulled it off, and I really look forward to hearing what they will do in the future. Don’t forget to catch them live next time they perform in your city. You will definitely dance!
Check out the full album and Frank151’s interview with the members of Keys N Krates below:
For each of you, if you could curate your dream festival, who would be the top three headliners? Dead or alive?
Greg: Earth Wind and Fire, Janet Jackson, and A Tribe Called Quest.
Matisse: Hanz Zimmer, Beyonce, Prince.
Tune: Phil Collins, Stevie Wonder, Sade.
Your latest album, IN:TENSION, just dropped, and I’ve been vibing with the diverse tracks! It’s quite a departure from your previous hip-hop and trap influences. What inspired this shift towards a more house music vibe in the new album?
Greg: I think just maturing and identifying more with a groovy context than a rambunctious one. House grooves feel like we are able to make people dance in a way that we enjoy at this stage in our lives more, and there’s also so much freedom and opportunity to make cool, different kinds of tunes within those parameters. It also doesn’t feel like a total stretch to us. We still take a very hip-hop approach, using a lot of 808s, chopped-up samples, etc.
I caught your live show at the El Rey Theater a few years back, and the energy was unreal! With the new album embracing a different vibe, how will your live set evolve? Will it continue to be a dynamic mix of live instruments, or are we looking at more DJ sets?
Tune: We are doing more DJ sets for the time being. This is less of a musical decision and more because we are very into writing more music than ever now, and the constant quick feedback loop of DJ sets keeps us inspired and writing lots of stuff. Doing the live stuff, it takes a long time to modify the set and put new songs in, and the whole machine is a lot to upkeep. So right now, we are focused on just giving our DJ set the strongest musical identity possible by having it inform what we make.
“Fantasy,” the collaboration with Ciara, and also “What Girls Do” stand out for me. The blend of tribal drum beats and disco elements is captivating. Can you share the creative process behind crafting that track with Ciara?
Tune: We love really textured drums that often feel kind of tribal. We wanted the drums in the Ciara record to feel really raw and ignorant. We started with those drums and pianos, and then began writing to it with a friend of ours (shout out Jordi), and once we had the initial idea, we floated it to Ciara to finish with us and cut. We didn’t actually think we were gonna get Ciara on it as we were more using her voice as a reference as a tone that could work on the track, but we were miraculously linked with her, and she fell in love with the song. We went back and forth with her on FaceTime and text messaging until we got the record to a place where everyone loved it.
How does the songwriting process unfold?
Matisse: All different ways, really. Usually, it’s one or two of us going into a blind date kind of scenario with a vocalist or a writer that we are fans of and just trying stuff. We’ll pull up beats that inspire them to write or maybe make a sketch with them on the spot that gets them going. More and more lately, we’ve been going into sessions with demo beats that have a direction in mind that would work with that particular vocalist, so often when we are making beats, we are thinking about what kind of a song they could be with which vocalist. That’s just one way of doing it, and there are a million ways. We are constantly open to trying new ways of getting to songs that excite us. There’s no set process, really.
For all three of you: Are there any current artists you’d love to collaborate with?
Greg: Janet Jackson, Rihanna, Sofia Kourtesis, Jayda G, Aluna
Matisse: Frank Ocean, SZA, Toro Y Moi
Tune: Dua Lipa, Jayda G, The Weekend
Any personal favorites from the new album? If you had to sum up IN:TENSION in one word, what would it be? One word for each member, please.
Greg: Man, it changes for us every day. Today my fav is the Dana Williams rec called “I Can’t Make You Love Me”.
Tune: Today I love “Feelin Something” the most.
Matisse: Today it’s the Lionbabe one (“Overdrive”) for me.
Checkout the full album on: Soundcloud, YouTube and Apple Music
Connect with Keys N Krates
Keys N Krates Upcoming Tour Dates
November 10 – Q Nightclub, Seattle, WA
November 11 – Wild Buffalo, Bellingham, WA
November 17 – El Club, Detroit, MI
November 18 – Sound Bar, Chicago IL
November 30 – It’ll Do, Dallas, TX
December 1 – The Loft, Minneapolis, MN
December 2 – Liquid, Madison, WI
December 9 – Velvet Underground, Toronto, Canada
December 15 – Elsewhere, Brooklyn, NY