Seven years into their Detroit Swindle project, Lars Dales and Maarten Smeets have certainly transcended their humble beginnings as two Kerri Chandler fans with a funny name. Hailing from Holland, the duo has cemented themselves as true artists and tastemakers through standout releases, memorable DJ sets, an ambitious live show, and their label Heist Recordings.
Since starting Heist in 2013, they have aided and abetted the careers of a number of notable conspirators such as Nachtbraker, Nebraska, Fouk, and Frits Wentink. Through the label’s clean aesthetic, fans are exposed to modern interpretations of the wide-ranging influences that inspire the duo’s productions and DJ sets. With nods from everything to nostalgic-soaked disco to far out African rhythms, there is a throughline of clever musicality that serves as a connection between both studio session and DJ sets.
On High Life, the duo’s second album, Maarten & Lars pushed the boundaries of what a Detroit Swindle track could be and, in that process, brought on a number of collaborators. Vocal guests Tom Misch and Seven Davis Jr make appearances alongside Amsterdam-based brass band Jungle By Night and keyboardist Lorenz Rhode — whose inspired synth and piano playing can be heard throughout the album and is currently on tour as part of the Detroit Swindle live show.
We caught up with the duo ahead of their performance at Phi Centre here in Montreal. Check out their inspirations behind the album and get a look into their live show in the interview below.
High Life is clearly your most ambitious project to date, what were some of the goals for the album? Any big takeaways or lessons learned now that it’s finished?
I guess our main goal was to explore our own sound as far as we could. We had a general idea of the kind of music that we wanted to make, but when you start a project like this from nothing, it’s unclear what will come out until you’ve gone down that road of improvisation and discovery. We did set out to record a piece of music that would work both for club use, as well as for home listening and obviously, the development in taste and the development in our sound over the years has played a big role in our ambitions for this album. We also specifically wanted to see in what way we could go back to the first Detroit Swindle records like “The Wrap Around” and make music that is both contemporary, and relatable to those first records we put out.
Listening back to it, I think we managed to create a really warm, coherent and soulful piece of music that’s not too pretentious and most importantly: we feel that both our earliest fans, as well as people that get introduced to us for the first time through this album will find something they can relate to.
Almost every track on “High Life” has a collaborator, how did you decide who to collaborate with and what was the process like?
We both really liked the idea of working with vocalists and after having worked with a guest musician on our last ep (Marc de Clive-Lowe played keys on “just not Norma”), we knew that this was a really nice way to broaden our perspective and sound. The choice for who to work with on this project musically, was pretty much the same as our approach for the concept, production and artwork: We wanted to make this a really personal project, so we also wanted to work with people we know well and have a personal connection with. We had already done a remix for Tom Misch and stayed in touch ever since, meeting up whenever we’re in London so he was our first pick. With Seven Davis Jr, we had already worked as well, remixing him and performing on stage live a couple of years back. Lorenz Rhode is a close friend and already joins us for our live shows as a key player, so we know eachother well and he really understands our view on music, which is really nice when you’re jamming in the studio and throwing out ideas. We chose to work with Jungle by Night because of our Amsterdam connection and we really have a good personal click with the musicians. It was lovely to work with all of them, and each process was different. With Jungle by Night, we spent 2 days in the Red Bull Studios in Amsterdam recording different parts to our track Call of the Wild, which was already finished for a large part. “Yes, No, Maybe” with Tom was the result of a jam session with him, Lorenz and us in our own studio. When they laid down those chords together, we really got goosebumps and knew we had something special going on.
You are known for your modern take on a vintage sound, how did you go about translating that into the live show? Did any of the songs change significantly from the originals?
The Live show is a combination of album tracks and a few older DS tracks that we really enjoy playing live. Depending on the song, we’ll play it pretty much like we recorded it (Flavourism), or we’ll play a complete free flow and improvise on stage (Ketama Gold). Some older tracks like Pursuit have evolved during the years of playing it live and i’m not even sure what the recorded track sounds like. I just know that the version we play live is really fun and energetic.
Has playing live changed your approach at all in terms of creating music or was the live set perhaps an extension of your creative process in the studio?
The live show is a special thing. It’s not something we think of when we’re producing music, but now, looking at the way we’ve set it up and the music the we can play, I can see that it’s connected. We’ve chosen to play certain tracks and take out others based on how we can play them live, if the message of the song will come across, and if we can make an interesting live rendition of it. In a way, it’s a whole new creative process because you have all these elements in a track, and you need to decide what to play live, what to sequence and how to build it up. A track like “High Life” for instance, has so many different chords and parts running and whilst writing the track, we never thought of the challenges we would have to play it live. It is one of the funnest tracks to play though, because there’s so much happening.
How did you build the live set? What elements and gear came first?
I’m not sure which version of our live show we’re at right now, but we’ve had many different setups over the years. Right now, the sequencing, samples and drums, -- the rhythmic core if you will- comes from the Elektron Analog Rytm and the Dave Smith Pioneer Toraiz sampler. We have a bunch of submixes cause we work from 3 ‘stations’, and there’s quite some processing going on like filtering, sidechaining, etc. For keys, we’ve always had a Fender Rhodes on stage and now, we have Lorenz playing that along with the DSI OB-6, and i play the DSI Prophet 6 and Elektron Analog Keys, which has an onboard sequencer and is really versatile.
Any go-to guides or perhaps some advice for young producers looking to build out a live set?
Start small, and make sure you know the gear you work with inside out. If there’s one lesson in playing live, it’s that machines will not react the way you expect them to. Midi will stop for no reason. Patches will disappear, things will sound completely different on stage. Anything that can go wrong will, at some point, go wrong. If you know your machines and you’ve practised day in day out, you’ll know how to deal with those challenges and still deliver a great show.
As frequent travellers, have you ever missed a flight? Do you have any bad travel stories in particular?
We’re actually really good with planning, so we’ve only missed 1 flight so far, which wasn’t really our fault because the airport security was on strike. It took us 3,5 hours to get through security and customs on the airport in Lisbon and the whole tension at the airport was the craziest ever. Unfortunately, because of this we missed our own label night in Berlin that day, so that was really bad. Traveling with a live show like ours (5 flightscases), is quite intense as well. There’s a lot that can get lost and a lot that can break. We’ve survived quite well so far though, so let’s hope we’re not jinxing it.
Where and what food are you looking forward to eating most in North America?
Aah, the food. Almost our main reason to be in this business. Lars told me about this sushi place in Detroit he was crazy about after the last show in Detroit, so we’re definitely going there. I also this that we can’t miss a good midnight Poutine when we’re in Montreal. Gotta go for the classics right? In general, the food is really nice in North America so i’m sure we’ll come back in dire need of a diet and some excercise…
HIGH LIFE NORTH AMERICA TOUR:
FRI08JUN Echoplex, Los Angeles, USA (LIVE)
SAT09JUN Smartbar, Chicago, USA (LIVE)
SUN10JUN Splash House Festival, Palm Springs, USA (DJ)
WED13JUN Flash, Washington DC, USA (LIVE)
THU14JUN Marble Bar, Detroit, USA (LIVE)
FRI15JUN Elsewhere, New York, USA (LIVE)
SAT16JUN The Phi, Montreal, CAN (LIVE)
SUN17JUN Sunday Social, Boston, USA (DJ)
Interview by Adam J/Paul/Igor