Reinhard Rietsch and Markus Wagner, better known as the multi-award winning Austrian Drum and Bass duo Camo & Krooked have risen up the ranks of the global dance music scene at a rapid pace. Their fusion of futuristic funk and electric energy is underpinned with sensitivity and sophistication.
Straight off the back of the release of their latest album, the enormously popular ‘Mozaik’, released on their own imprint of the same name and ahead of their appearance at this weekend’s sold out MADE Festival in Birmingham, UK – they join us to chat about their amazing story and a very busy 2017 so far.
Straight off the back of your latest album release – Mosaik, you are flying high! Congratulations ! What has the response been like?
Reinhard: Really good! As we have evolved a lot musically, we have been really looking forward to seeing how the new music was received and so far, very positive! We’ve put so much work in to it too – it’s taken us around 4 years! Although it may seem like we have been away for a while, we’ve been far from lazy about it, we have been constantly in the studio trying to craft our new sound and the feedback all round has been really pleasing.
It seems like the people are happy that we are being experimental and finding a new sound rather than following an old recipe which has been working forever, that we have found may have got slightly boring over time.
Well then what would you say is the key ingredient in the new recipe then?
Markus: The main thing for us was to use sounds that are not typical in the Drum & Bass scene, or at least that aren’t used that often but rather in other music genres that we are fans of and listen to in our spare time such as music from the 60’s and 70’s or maybe minimal Techno or Tech House and everything in between. We really wanted to stay away from all of those mid-range modulations that everyone is churning out at the moment and do our own thing, and limit ourselves to certain sounds which is why we have acquired some old analogue synthesisers to allow us to get comfortable in a sound range that we can work in.
We have worked hard to get in to the mindset of making things that aren’t really Drum and Bass music but are at a Drum and Bass tempo because it allows you far more creative freedom rather than just thinking I have to write a Drum & Bass tune.
What a way to celebrate 10 years of Camo & Krooked! Tell us about the album, what inspired it? What is the theme?
Reinhard: Errmmm that’s actually a tough question!!
Markus: I would say it is a grown up album that sonically, you can’t really compare it to anything within the Drum and Bass realm, some people may not even see it as something within the genre however we see it as Drum and Bass in disguise! I would say it is all kinds of musical genres combined with 175bpm, I think that is the red line throughout the album, it’s at that tempo throughout whilst being more creative in terms of rhythm structure and everything else.
What about the writing process? All plain sailing? How long has it been in the pipeline?
Reinhard: The biggest difference from our other albums and in fact the reason why we called it Mozaik is because it contains so many different ideas and individual projects that didn’t make sense initially but we managed to sew them altogether to create the album tracks that’s why it’s so colourful and they are like stories being told rather than just continuous loops and ‘copy and paste’.
Markus: When we start writing a track, we don’t aim to write a ’song’, instead we try to capture and record an emotion which we then develop into maybe an intro or a main feature of the track which we could then leave alone until we find something that fits nicely into the vibe of it. In several instances on the album there are tracks that are made up of several ideas created at different times spanning over a two year period but we found a way of gluing them together in really interesting ways, ending up with some really cool combinations.
Reinhard: The majority of the album has been written in the last year and there have been times when we have really struggled to find our sound and to evolve the more minimalistic side of our work, to the sonic level you need so that it bangs on the dance floor and works in a club environment. It was quite hard to get it right in the beginning, but we found our way and have made a lot of progress there especially over the last year and are really happy with it.
The album features collaborations with the likes of Mefjus and numerous vocalists – how did you choose who you wanted to work with?
Markus: Well with Mefjus, it was kinda natural as we always wanted to do a tune together and we had a 32bar snippet lying around that didn’t seem likely to feature on the album as it just wasn’t good enough, however it was actually his favourite! So we handed it over to him and left him to it, he kept working on it and eventually it really caught our attention and became one of our favourites.
As for the vocalists, we chose a lot of Austrian singers and that was because we knew them personally more often than not so it was really cool working with them and we would rather choose someone with exactly the right voice, and the colour of their voice must fit the tune rather than trying to name drop by working with the most known singers out there. We use singers the way we use an instrument in a track and we wouldn’t just use a random instrument – you want the right kind of vibe, and therefore a singer who can fill in the gaps of the painting of an instrumental track.
Your tour schedule must be pretty intense right now given how in demand you are! You’ve recently just played Red Rocks among other headline shows all over the world. How’s it all going?
Markus: Since releasing the album, the touring has been completely crazy and the highlights have just been one after the other! Shortly before the release, we played EDC in Las Vegas which is pretty much a producers life goal to play there and we have been fortunate enough to play there maybe four times now. We continued with a short tour of America, then back to Austria for the New Forms festival, then straight back to the states to play Red Rocks and to be honest by then we were completely worn out.
Only a week after that we played Dour festival which was so good it completely revitalised us – it’s been an amazing summer and there’s still plenty more to come which we are really looking forward to.
Reinhard: We have played so many good shows this year, even the ones that weren’t as good as the best ones were still much better than the ones we have played the last few years so things have definitely grown a lot more recently. The standard has been high this year and we think it will be very hard to top! It’s been really nice to hear the crowd singing along to the songs off the album when we play them to, that’s when you know it has really caught their attention and they have taken them time to absorb the music properly.
There’s a real depth to this album, tracks such as Slow Down feat. Robb and Good Times and Bad Times seem really reflective and introspective – tell us more…
Markus: When we have an idea we don’t just try and write a song, instead as we touched on earlier we really try to capture the essence of the emotion and focus on it in a musical context. Maybe the next day, we might feel very different but this is why we feel some of the tunes may feel very introvert and fragile in a way and also very personal. You can probably tell how we felt when we were writing this album and for us, we always say it’s not the craziest sounds that will be remembered, but more so the emotion that you felt that stays in mind and has a longer lasting effect on the listener.
We try to stay away from the typical synthetic melodies and hook lines you find in so many songs as although they are nice and can be very catchy, they are usually the first thing to become really annoying once you are familiar with the track or song. We try to stretch out our melodies to avoid that and I would say that is the key to this album, long, intricate emotional melodies that we can rely on.
Do you write the lyrics as well as the music?
Reinhard: Yeah some of them, like with Good Times and Bad Times – the guy came over to mine and we had some beers and sushi and we just brainstormed the lyrics, trying to get the hook right which went really well and with other tracks we just had some lucky punches because you never know what you are going to get when you work with a singer. Sometimes it’s a hit and sometimes it’s a miss, getting good vocals is hard, especially when you don’t want to get a pop vocal. So many vocalists just think about getting their music onto the radio and in to the mainstream because it’s their living, where for us – it’s not like we are searching for pop vocals, we want ‘that’ vibe which makes it hard especially when you have to explain to everybody what you don’t want first, then trying to find the style that you do.
It’s essential to get a good understanding going with you and the singer, and generally if they feeling the tune, then something good will come out eventually – in most cases anyway.
Markus: Sometimes we tried and it didn’t work out, which is also the reason we started writing lyrics by ourselves and doing our own vocals too. I did three tunes on the album as it’s all about the vibe rather than the vocalist individually. The song doesn’t have to have a lot of vocal content, it just have to deliver a message and that can be only a few words but it has to fit and sound relevant to the musicality of the track.
We would often write down the emotions we felt when listening to the music as the instrumental would always have been finished before we started writing the lyrics. I have to say it was really, really difficult in the first instance but it got gradually easier as we went along through the other tracks, baby steps for us but we really enjoyed the process.
Reinhard: I would say the general theme throughout our music and the ‘message’ we tend to deliver is ‘intensity without noise’.
Mozaik was released through your own label, Mozaik Music, Ram Records and BMG – which undoubtedly amounts to an enormous audience – tell us about it all and particularly why you started Mozaik and what your thinking is behind it?
Markus: When our contract ended with Hospital we felt like it was time for a change of scenery, we had worked so well together and enjoyed our time with them – it was truly amazing. It was very positive on every level, however we felt like it was time to start a new chapter in our sound and our musical journey. It just made sense to start our own label and brand that we can build and establish by following the sound that we believe in.
Reinhard: We are very open-minded about the Drum and Bass scene and always remain eager to try new things and experiment in producing our music. We are not scared to try new things or develop concepts that are fresh and maybe completely removed from what people might already expect from us. It’s all about doing your own thing, not trying to be the next Andy C or next anyone else either, we want to find and align ourselves with similar minded musicians to create interesting and dynamic sounds to release through the label to the most appropriate audience on the widest scale possible.
Talking of audiences, what is the music scene like back home in Austria? And how much support is there for your music in the mainstream sense?
Markus: Winning Austria’s Amadeus Award back in 2010 was a real highlight for me, because no Drum & Bass act has ever won it and we were up against genuine superstars in the competition – it felt surreal that we had been accepted by the Indie and Alternate music scenes in Austria, and more than that, it was the first time we had received mainstream media support. It was definitely a turning point for us as it meant we were finally on the map outside of the Drum and Bass scene. We released so much music, we had released around 39 tracks across many different labels in that period and it was nice to receive some serious recognition.
Reinhard: The Drum and Bass scene back home is very healthy currently, I’d say even stronger than ever and especially the Jump Up scene right now. In Vienna, there are parties every day of the week and lots at the weekend, varying in sizes too from smaller intimate shows to much, much bigger ones covering all areas of the sound. The sound of the youth right now is definitely Drum and Bass, it is very, very popular.
Although, aside from maybe an occasional Sigma tune – you do not regularly hear Drum and Bass on mainstream radio if at all. I don’t think we have ever had our music played on the radio at all. It’s very conservative, they just stick to what they think works and will just play the top ten’s from around the world rather than representing a home grown sound or movement which is a real shame. Most of the radio stations are pretty bad all round, they don’t support local talent and overlook so much in the way of truly good music.
With the ever increasingly popularity of platforms such as Spotify among others, people can now access the artists and music they want to listen to and eventually I feel that mainstream radio will have to wake up and realise people want to hear more than what they repeatedly play over and over again all day long, otherwise they will just get left behind.
Markus: The underground scene is very, very colourful – especially in Vienna, it’s very healthy and all areas of the music are well represented, Jump Up, Tech and the more offbeat side of the scene – there’s definitely something for everyone. Jump Up is great for introducing the younger generation to the music and having fun on the dance floor which is what it is all about.
Reinhard: It’s all about the contrast, without the night there is no day!
Markus: Noisia have recently said that some of their new material has been inspired by Annix who makes Jump Up, and then Annix says his favourite album of recent years is Mozaik so it’s really cool how there is a continuous circle of artists and their music that continuously evolves and inspires new music, it’s never ending. Music is always progressing and you can never guess where it will end up – it’s very exciting and that’s the fun part of it.
You are appearing this weekend at Birmingham’s MADE Festival alongside the likes of Chase & Status, My Nu Leng, Subfocus, Hannah Wants and many, many more…its’ nearly completely sold out already and looks set to be an enormous success – have you played in Birmingham at the festival before and if so what’s the most exciting thing about performing there?
We have played the MADE Festival back in 2014 and we still remember it as one of our UK highlights of that year. The best thing about this festival is that so many of our friends from in the scene are there and everyone is having a great time and that reflects on the crowd!
Given that the ‘second city’ is such a diverse soundscape for underground music, and a melting pot for forward thinking creativity and youth culture – this is a serious line up to be part of, what can your fans expect and who else are you looking forward to seeing?
We will play a DJ set containing lots of our own new tunes, classics from the legends of the scene, some bangers and a good amount of dubs, that no one has ever heard before.
We will check out Mike Skinner as we are big “The Streets” fans and watch High Contrast’s new live show, that we have already heard loads of good things about.
It’s been great talking to you, thanks for taking the time out – anything you would like to say?
Thanks for supporting us and our music, we are working on a live show where we are really going to push the boundaries of live electronic music performance which we are really looking forward to and also a new remix album too, but they are all absolute exclusives right now so you will just have to wait and see!!
Camo & Krooked – Mozaik is out now