Q+A: Five minutes with Keys N Krates

On IN:TENSION, the third album from Keys N Krates, the Toronto trio explore their love affair with house music like never before. Having come up during the EDM boom of the 2010’s, Keys N Krates are likely best known for their bass heavy and propulsive productions in the vein of Dum Dee Dum, but with IN:TENSION, they return to a place much closer to where it all began for them. Informed by the warehouse parties and artists who first inspired them. Like Armin Van Helden and Masters At Work, the album touches on the cornerstones of house music while also taking Keys N Krates back toward their earliest hip-hop origins. Featuring stellar vocal contributions from the likes of Ciara and Lionbabe, IN:TENSION revitalises what house music means for the trio by pushing it into the space they currently occupy in dance music. We caught up with them ahead of IN:TENSION’s release to find out more about the project. 



Set the tone for us. Where is Keys N Krates at creatively coming into this album?

Matisse:  We were creatively in a place where we wanted to make stuff with a lot of energy but also a lot of groove.  We wanted to hear fun music that hit hard in the club but also had catchy elements that stay in your head on your drive home.  We wanted to hear soul and energy at the same time.  


The album’s title is a smart play on words between two different concepts. What are the core ideas or themes that you found yourself exploring on IN:TENSION, and how does the title speak toward these?

Tune:  In a lot of ways this is the most intentional we’ve ever been with a project, because I think it stemmed from us making stuff that made us feel good for where we are at in our lives.  We really wanted to make the music for the party that we would all want to attend.  Also, our production chops have come a long way, and I think we are able to execute on ideas that we have in our head better than ever before.  So, the name “IN:TENSION” felt good for that reason because this feels like our most focused and best executed work yet.  The name also feels like it captures the energy of the music. There’s a tension and release to the whole album and I think every song plays on that a bit.  


Sonically, the album pivots from the sound you’re probably best known for toward house music. Could you tell us about your relationship with the genre, and why now is the right time for Keys N Krates to explore it on a deeper level?

Greg: We’ve all grown up around it, as the backdrop to Toronto club music in the 90s.  When I was learning to D.J. and first buying records in the 90s, I’d be buying strict rhythm stuff, hard drive, masters at work, Armand van helden stuff.  The whole New York style of layered drum break style, sample collaging, gospel vocals, disco loops, or jazzy chords all just sung to my budding hip hop sensibilities.  Tune and Matisse, were hearing this music because it was playing in Toronto clubs, the same way dancehall was on a default back then.  You couldn’t escape it.  We had that Electric Circus show where they’d bring legendary local and international house D.J.s on to play sets and we all grew up watching that.  So those seeds have long been planted.  I think the bigger pull towards doing house for right now is the way people move to it appeals to us, and the freedom within the genre there is to do a lot of different kinds of records and play those in a way that can take people on a fun journey that we would want to be a part of.  


You’re working with an impressive roster of female vocalists on the album. How did collaborations like ‘Fantasy’ with Ciara or ‘Overdrive’ with Lion Babe come about?

Tune: Yes! Ciara happened through us reaching out to her as a Hail Mary. We actually didn’t think we could get her specifically.  We had an idea for a song that sounded like her tone would fit it, so we used her as a reference point, but our manager happened to have a guy who had a link to her that was able to put the idea in front of her, and she ended up loving it. So that was definitely stars aligning!  Lionbabe and us have been mutual fans for a while and have been talking about working together. Last June we had a show in NYC, and we just pulled up to their studio with some beats and pretty quickly recorded the scratch idea for “Overdrive.” It took a few versions to get that one right.  We actually ended up changing the drums to be more kinda afro-house style, and when we sent it to them they were like “what happened to the energetic drive drums from the demo?” The demo drums were more like Armand Van Helden kinda style. They were definitely right about the drums and I’m really glad they spoke up!  Often we change a lot about initial demos for the better, but we always have to stay careful not to suck out the energy of what made the demo exciting in the first place! This was a great reminder of that. Lionbabe are true pros.  



House music has a long and storied history of celebrating the ‘diva vocal.’ Why was it important to work with female voices on this album?

Greg: Honestly, we just love female vocals.  We love that range, because the female vocal can just be the illest lead instrument with the most human touch.  So we always gravitate towards female vocals.  Our favourite singers are classic soul vocalists of the 70s, but also the RnB singer divas of the 90s and early 2000s.  In addition to it just being what we love, you also just often need female energy on these records, and we are three dudes so maybe that balance is just necessary.  


What are you most proud of when it comes to what you’ve achieved with IN:TENSION? 

Matisse: We love every song, we’d play these for parents, for teenagers, for kids, for our grandparents; we’d play this in a club, a festival, or someone’s house party.  It feels like it fits most settings that are important to us while retaining its own identity.  It’s a cohesive body of work that’s funky, soulful, energetic, groovy and that’s what we want to hear in dance music.  


What does the next year look like for Keys N Krates?

Matisse: We’ll be between playing D.J. sets and constantly making new music.


Download / stream IN:TENSION here


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