These two need no introduction. It’s been five short years since their collaborative musical minds first graced our ears, but Detroit Swindle can already add a host of EPs, a renowned album, an energetic live project and a focussed label and vision to their ever-growing list of achievements.
With an expert touch during their live stints and DJ sets, and an intrinsic soulfulness making them worthy of their namesake, the pairing of Maarten Smeets and Lars Dales aka Detroit Swindle, are continuing to carve their name into the nucleus of house music.
We caught up with the pair to talk favorite soul records, their live show and the important lessons they’ve learned along the way.
We have to start with a big up. Only five years in the game and it’s crazy the amount you’ve accomplished in that time. What would you say has felt like your biggest achievement to date?
Lars: To us, our biggest achievement is not something that’s tangible like a specific release or playing that certain special show, even though we’ve made and done things that we’re really proud of. The thing that we’re most proud of is that intangible feeling of direction and vision, and that we’re making, playing and releasing music without any compromise.
When you don’t have to compromise on your vision and direction, that’s really something. Talking of vision, Huxley put your first record out, but we’ve read that you guys didn’t think it was quite ready. Can you remember the initial reaction back then? It must have been quite overwhelming.
Maarten: Well, we were surprised that he’d gotten the tracks actually because we didn’t even know our buddy had sent them. I remember that by the time we figured out what had happened we were really glad, but also quite down to earth about it. We took a night or two to sleep on it because we didn’t want to rush the decision to sign with just any label. It turned out to be a good choice, and we’re still really proud of that first release with Saints & Sonnets.
Rightly so, ‘The Wrap Around’ is still on rotation. Now, we’ve seen you play and must say your mixing is seamless. After spending so much time as a duo are you at the stage where it’s very natural and instinctive when you play together?
Maarten: Yeah, we know each other really well and we know the little differences in both our styles and musical preferences. I think it’s that combination that makes our sets work really well. One of the biggest compliments we’ve gotten lately by a DJ we really look up to is that he was listening to our set from a spot where he didn’t see us, and that he couldn’t tell which one of us was playing which track.
That’s a big compliment! We’d like to talk a little about your approach to production - do you both bring different qualities and skills? Do you take on specific roles in the studio?
Lars: There’s no real structure or specific role we take, although in detail, there’s some stuff that I like to pay more attention to, such as arrangement fine-tuning, and other things Maarten really likes to tweak, such as little variations and movement in the background of the tracks.
When we’re in the studio together, we follow our inspiration, so we’re both moving back and forth between the different machines we’re using, tweaking, discussing and trying new things until we’re happy with what we’ve made.
Has your approach changed over the years? What valuable lessons have you learned along the way?
Maarten: Pff.. Too many to mention here. Lars taught me the ropes of Ableton and we’ve both done a lot of reading, and even more listening. “Use your ears” is probably the most obvious, but also one of the most important lessons. When you really listen to music that you like, you’ll find out why you actually like it and you learn from that. When you really listen to the elements in your own productions, you’ll learn about their respective functions and positions in your track and you’ll learn how to mould these elements so they get the spot they need.
Another really important lesson: Kill your darlings. You might have spent hours and hours on a recording, patch or track. Let it rest for a while and go for a clean, unbiased listen the next day. Follow your gut feeling with that first listen and be brave enough to change that specific thing that feels out of place. Producing takes time, and there’s no rule that states how much time. Give yourself the time you need and be “OK” with that.
Some valuable lessons there. And we imagine you’ve learned a few more whilst fine tuning your live show, which you’ve been doing for about a year now, how is that going? Was it a long time in the making?
Lars: The new live show is something we started last year, but actually, we’ve been playing live from the get go. The first live show was the two of us with a few controllers, and with our new live show we bring an extra band member on keys, Lorenz Rhode, and tons of equipment. The way we’ve got it set up now is a lot of fun for us because we really get to play our tracks in a live and unscripted manner.
After countless hours of rehearsals and doing live jams in our studio with the three of us I think we've got a good balance and a really fun show that can go from really funky to quite deep and electronic, from disco to house, to acid and back. Right now, we’re preparing for another string of live shows, so we’re looking at introducing new elements again to make the show even more versatile and interesting for ourselves.
How does it compare to your DJ sets? What’s the reaction like from audiences?
Lars: In our DJ sets we don’t really play a lot of our own music, outside of new tracks we’re road testing. Our live show is 95% our original music and every now and then we do covers of other tracks and do live ‘tribute’ remixes that we think really fit the show. For Weather festival last year for instance, we did a live acid cover of Daft Punk’s 'Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger', which was super fun. Lorenz had memorized the synth line and played it on the talkbox, with a rough acid line over it that I remember drove the crowd wild.
That sounds crazy - we would have loved to see that! So aside from your live endeavors your label, Heist Recordings, seems to be going from strength to strength. How do you go about selecting the artists you want to represent?
Maarten: We listen to a lot (really a lot) of music and keep an eye out for new names. When we hear something or someone that we really like we get in touch straight away, not specifically to ask for music, but just to say hi, connect with someone and build a relationship. And when there’s a producer we really love, we ask them if they’re interested in talking about a release on Heist. Usually, people get really excited about it so that’s a great compliment for the label. It also happens that producers just send us music and sometimes, we get some amazing stuff out of nowhere. There’s a release coming up with Adesse Versions, who sent us an amazing package of tracks and we’re really proud to be able to release those tracks on Heist.
We’ll look forward to that one. We’ve definitely seen a huge surge of Dutch producers coming to the fore over the last year or so - Nachtbraker, Fouk and Frits Wentink to name a few - what do you think sets them aside from the rest?
Lars: What really struck us with these guys, is that they all have a really recognisable sound. You can hear a Frits Wentink synth, a ‘Fouk-mangled-sample’ and a Nachtbraker changeover from miles away. They also all have their own type of funk that is really close to the heart of Heist, so we’re glad to have these guys represent our label. Oh, and they’re all really really stubborn, which is a bitch to deal with but a blessing when a release is finished and you realize you’ve made something amazing together.
Are there any producers you want to big up? Who should we be listening to at the moment?
Maarten: Apart from our Heist roster (duh), we’ve spent a lot of time recently listening to Byron the Aquarius, Geo-logy, Mezique, Mad Rey, Gary Romalis, Will Dimaggio, Jamie 3:26, DJ Slyngshot, Seven Davis Jr, Reginald Omas Mamode IV and way too many others to mention.
Thanks for the comprehensive list! Now, we know you guys are big into soul, this isn’t an easy task but can you name us three of your favourite records?
Maarten: Ouch that’s a tough one. I hate these short lists cause inevitably you have to exclude music that’s really close to your heart. I guess one of my favorite soul records is 'Shake It', by Percy & Them on Tantus Records. It’s got that beautiful crossover between funk, disco and jazz and works just as well on a dance floor as in my living room.
Heaven Sent & Exctasy’s 'The Greatest Love Story' is an amazing album as well that I’d love to own, but finding one is going to be really hard, and paying the set price for will be equally hard. For some things though, it’s worth bleeding a little.
I know one of Lars’ favorite artist is Idris Muhammed and even though he has made way too many good records, his personal favorite is ‘Could Heaven Ever Be Like This'.
Definitely a classic choice. What record never leaves your bag? Or at least always creeps back in…
Lars: We try to mix it up a bit, but there’s always at least one Soundstream record that finds it’s way into one of our bags. 'Inferno' has been in there for a long long time, for obvious reasons. Trackman’s self-titled release full of acid killers has been in our bag ever since we’ve got it as well. Hard hitting, no frills acid. Just the way we like it.
Finally, what’s on the horizon for Detroit Swindle and Heist? Have you got a busy summer ahead?
Maarten: This week is going to be super fun and a big one for Heist, with a Boiler Room in London on Wednesday, and a stage hosting at Farr Festival on Thursday. We’ve got a few really cool live shows coming up during summer, for instance at Pukkelpop (Belgium) and at our Heist party at the end of august in Prince Charles (Berlin).
We’re finishing our next EP and are dying to hear the remix of one of our favorite artists. We’re also finishing the next EP of our really fun side project and we’re planning ahead for our upcoming residency in a new club in Amsterdam. Loads of cool stuff to come, so hang tight.
Detroit Swindle are playing Odyssia Festival at the beginning of September - for more information and tickets visit the website.