Detroit Swindle’s debut album ‘Boxed Out’ is one of those collections of music that brings you back to a certain place and time. For me, it was first year in college, earphones in, walking the long way home to Westside in Galway’s city centre, or the theme song to nights spent procrastinating in the warm surroundings of NUIG’s library or the freezing ones of 191 Gleann Dara. The album is a house music masterpiece and unique in its ability to capture a moment without really saying anything at all. Their second one is on the way, after months of DJing, including Boiler Room sets and festival headlines, as well as running one of the most prolific and successful house labels in the world, ‘Heist’.
The Dutch duo is comprised of Lars Dales and Maarten Smeets (the latter being the one present for the interview), and are currently leading a silent charge to the top spot when it comes to house music.
Through their productions, vast vinyl collection and their hugely influential label, the pair have slowly but surely been an incremental force in pushing their own high charged, good-vibed house sound. After missing their first show in Electric in Galway two years ago and then again this year after a last minute cancellation on their part, getting to speak with one half of the duo that opened my mind to house music was an experience to say the least.
Their second album is forthcoming on their own ‘Heist’ imprint after the first dropped on ‘Dirt Crew’. It will be the first album released on their own label and a surefire marker of how far they’ve come.
“We took time off in the studio last year, for the first time ever since we started. We blocked our calendar just so we’d have studio time. Usually, we’d work during the week then play on the weekend, then back to work again. We really wanted to spend some time in Amsterdam, lock ourselves in the studio for three weeks and see what comes out.
“We took the time off last March and we didn’t really want to put the pressure on, we just wanted to have a full creative flow, not feel like we had to make a certain type of track. We just started jamming, just me and Lars mostly and for a couple of days we had people over. Some key players, guitarists and vocalists. We had one or two rough concepts that we wanted to work on, but pretty much the whole album was recorded in those three weeks, bar one track.
“The first album was made throughout the course of a year and to me that is a collection of tracks represents that period. With this album, most of the days I’m really happy with it, some days I want to do something new again, but most of the time I’m happy. When I’ve played out some of the tracks in the club they’ve worked really well.
“We didn’t want to make a full club album like the last one, so we broadened our spectrum a bit more. Even the clubby tracks are quite melodic; pretty easy on the ear if you just have them on at home. The whole thing really feels like one story. Partly because it’s made within a certain period of time, but partly because we only used a few synths, so the tracks feel connected soundwise because they’re made with the same gear with the same mindset. It was a really fun process for us because we didn’t have to worry about gigging. You could show up in the studio, drink a coffee or a beer or smoke a joint, close the door, turn on everything and stop whenever you want. In the end, it’s a nice collection of different moods that fit our sound. There are some super heavy tracks and some ambient ones; it feels like a complete story. I’m super excited to share it with the world, which we will in May, and we’ll put out a single with a couple of remixes in April.”
Being able to release this album as the first on ‘Heist’ is as important for DS as it is for house music as a whole at the moment. Plenty of house that’s being released right now sounds the same, somewhat due to YouTube channels acting as tastemakers. There’s a lot to ‘Heist’; all of the different artists have their own sound but still fit in with the overall, all while breaking the monotonous barrier that exists within the genre.
“Releasing it ourselves puts the pressure on. We chose to do it because we wanted full creative control over the album. We also thought it was a good idea because ‘Heist’ is at a point where it feels really logical to do a different type of release. We’ve only done singles and remix EPs and after five years it feels right to start doing albums and what better way than to start with our own? We figured ‘Fuck it, let’s do it’, and we took full creative control. It can be difficult because it means that you have to make all of the mistakes yourself and then correct them yourself. We obviously have some great people working with us and plenty of experience running the label ourselves. It’s definitely a big step and in that way the pressure is on.
“As ‘Heist’, it’s cool to move into this territory because you can tell such a different story with an album than you can with an EP. The EPs that we’ve done are really house-related and have focused on that particular ‘Heist’ energy that we bring to house music with some lovely artists. To be able to do an album now and broaden the perspective of the label feels great. It can evolve into something more mature and something that can surprise people more, soundwise. It can show them a different character that we have with the label that we haven’t been able to share in the past few years.”
Heist comes across as a real close-knit atmosphere.
“It is a family! We make it a family. If you just have a label and you send each other a couple of emails, get a WeTransfer of the pre-masters and you releases someone’s music that can be that, that’s fine. For us, the whole idea of ‘Heist’ is to bring something more than just music, we want to create a family vibe. Just like the ‘Round Up’ remix EP and some of the events that we do.
“Some people you just click with immediately, like Nebraska, like Nachtbraker or like Frits [Wentink], when we spoke to all of those guys we clicked personally. We had the same type of humour, the same interest in older music and the same annoying habits like punctuality and wanting to do everything in our own weird ways. It can be really hard to work with people like that because they can be really picky, but I think it’s a big compliment that they choose to work with us. They can be themselves with us and with the label. We have dinners regularly; Frits and Nachtbraker are in the studio next door to us. We really stay connected with everyone we release with.”
The pair recently recorded a mix for Tim Sweeney’s legendary ‘Beats In Space’ radio show based in New York City. The hour-long journey really showcased their taste for older, alternate disco and afro cuts. With those sounds taken into account, the US itself is another obvious influence on Detroit Swindle and playing there must make for a special experience.
“Obviously, we’ve been playing in the US for quite a while now. Our sound picked up really quickly there because a lot of people hadn’t heard that sound there for quite a long time. It’s still really deeply rooted in their character and in their sound.
“We’d been emailing back and forth with Tim [Sweeney], and every time we were there it was at the wrong time! It took about two or three years to actually find a time where we were both in the States at the same time. His studio is great, it’s in NYU, a great spot in Manhattan. It was super fun to be there, he’s got a whole wall full of pictures, all the polaroids he’s taken of all of his guests and Tim’s obviously a nice guy that knows a whole lot about music. For us, we wanted to play an hour of music that really inspired what we’re doing at the moment.”
The ability to experiment with electronic sounds doesn’t cease when the radio shows stop recording. A four-show residency in Berlin’s Prince Charles is another useful medium of testing what works and what doesn’t for the pair, something that’s invaluable in the world of one and two-hour sets.
“It’s been our go to club for the past few years in Berlin. Last year when we decided to do the album and when we decided on releasing it in the coming summer, we wanted to do some special things with a couple of clubs that we have good relationships with and Prince Charles was one of them. When we pitched the idea of doing something special, they said ‘Yeah, let’s do a residency; you can showcase a different part of your sound every time’. The first time we played back to back with Soundstream, and Session Victim warmed up for us and next up we’ll have a ‘Heist’ showcase, after that we’re doing a party with DJs from Amsterdam and the last one will be just us all night.
“It’s a great way to focus on different elements of your sound and bring it to a club that has the same ethos as us. We feel that the eclectic sound that we play works well there.”
Detroit Swindle are unique in the way they take traditionally more classic aspects of the dance music world and work them into being relevant, like running a label, releasing albums, residencies and radio. All of that and their modern take on classic funk and disco sounds is what makes them who they are.
“The concept of an album is that it gives you a blank sheet to inspire people. You can show parts of you that they haven’t heard or haven’t heard enough of. You get to tell a complete story. With so many people listening to Spotify and playlists, long listening is actually easy now. You just look up an artist, press play and it’s easy to dive into what an artist has to offer. Spaces like Spotify are focused on albums; they’re at the top.
“For electronic music in general it’s good to showcase all the variation in sound. All the different influences you have, even house music; we produce house music, not hip hop or techno, but it’s not a narrow genre. It’s so broad, what we try with our album is to show how broad our house music can be. Albums are a different listening experience, it’s something you listen to more rather than putting on a single or a playlist while doing your dishes.”
Despite only being able to get a hold of Maarten, the dynamic of the duo was still slightly apparent, especially when referencing all of the work they put in daily. Having said that, being constantly in someone else’s presence and trying to work to creative conclusions must have strain the relationship from time to time.
“I guess there are just as many upsides as there are downsides when it comes to working as a duo or on your own. We both focus on different things. Sometimes when we’re listening to something or working in the studio, I’m completely focused on a rhythm or a sound design and Lars will be totally focused on mixing. It can be very hard because we both have really strong opinions and know exactly how we want things done. Lars has different takes on things than I have, as a duo it’s about finding a middle ground. It might take a while but more often than not, it gives an end result that makes us both happy.
“What’s good as well is that if you set an alarm and you miss it, you always have a back up!”