Culture | Resuscitating the club scene, a show at a time

Keys N Krates take their instruments to the DJ booth

Anyone at all acquainted with the current Montreal music scene will know that it is over-saturated with two kinds of acts: pseudo-experimental indie bands and club-oriented DJ-based groups. This trend is not unique to our fair city – every major metropolis worth its underground is experiencing something similar.

Of late, the club scene has been particularly noxious, as electronic club music has moved from underground innovation to an Urban Outfitters cult with a marketed lifestyle to match. Since the boys of Justice enjoyed their meteoric rise to the mainstream, every 14-year-old girl with an AA headband and fake ID is now joining in the fray, praying for the day when she too will be able to pronounce that she is “with the DJ.”

That’s not to gloss over the good stuff out there – check out Booka Shade, the Bug, and Flying Lotus. However, true to the laws of supply-and-demand, as the market for the scenester club music has expanded, so has the volume of club-geared groups. In the realm of artistic production, mass demand inevitably leads to an exponential increase in the volume of uninspired, unoriginal, and superficial crap – Uffie or CSS anyone?

Enter Keys N Krates, a Toronto-based outfit that is currently taking on the North American club scene, proclaiming to have “reinvented the remix.” The group, formed about a year ago, comprises three members: DJ Jr. Flo (turntables), Matisse (vocals/keys), and Adam Tune (drums). All three were working on different projects in the Toronto area before uniting based on their mutual desire to bring something new to the realm of nightclub music by fusing a live band with a DJ.

“The idea was to create a group that was more of a band, with the DJ as the lead singer,” Matisse explained in an interview with The Daily. “We rehearse live for hours, like a band would, and then we perform the mixes we work out on the spot as part of a set.”

So far, the group has released a number of remixes that are available for download online. Their process of creating a track begins with a sample, usually taken from hip hop or RnB, that the group then remixes, retools, layers with instrumentation, and records live in a studio. Artists used for sampling have included Jay-Z, Aaliyah, Janet Jackson, and Lionel Ritchie.

“We like to call them ‘live remix demos,’ because they are jammed out live and recorded in the same way things were done during the Motown era,” said Matisse. “We were basically just in a room with a lot of seventies vintage amps.”

The tracks themselves are catchy, danceable, and solidly woven together, both technically and musically. They avoid being overly repetitious by constantly evolving and building on the main sequence through subtle variations to create a fugue-like structure. However, the sound in itself as a concept, though enjoyable, is not the main innovation. Rather, it’s all about the “vibe.”

There is something intangibly different about the energy that comes from live instruments as opposed to pre-recorded or electronically generated ones. While quality of sound is definitely part of it, it is also about the connection between performer and audience – the knowledge that the experience is unique in time and space, never identical to another performance. Keys N Krates is bringing this versatility back into the nightclub, one that has long been missing as laptops and digital programming have all but replaced even records and tapes.

“Live musicianship in a nightclub is a totally different experience,” Matisse commented enthusiastically. “You have real instruments with moving parts in there, and because we are actually ‘performing’ a set live it brings energy like what you would get with a band in a live concert.”

About a month ago, Keys N Krates played their most recent show in Montreal, and a high-energy, rollicking good time it most certainly was. The group’s music is by no means experimental; instead, they are taking a solid model that has morphed into something mechanical and giving it back a little soul.

Keys N Krates will be playing a show at Academy Club on Saturday, March 14.


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