House music is a machine-music imbued with soul. This has defined the characteristics and the limitations of the genre for four decades as artists and producers strive to parlay that human touch into a communal experience, coaxed from rigid machines. A sample, a choreographed modulation, a swing in the rhythm or a simple error, bring back House music to its origins. It’s where Funk, Soul and Disco still informs the work and artists like Detroit Swindle thrive in their modern interpretations of this ever-lasting genre.
Lars Dales and Maarten Smeets have been making music together as Detroit Swindle since the early part of the last decade. Both successful DJs and producers in their own right, the pair merged as a DJ/production duo when Maarten started playing at the club Lars was programming. Maarten’s underground sensibilities didn’t go down well with upper management however and Lars was forced to fire Maarten. They had started to bond over a shared musical passion at this point however, which developed into some studio time and eventually the start of Detroit Swindle. We don’t know what happened to that club…
As Detroit Swindle they released their first EP on Dirt Crew recordings, channeling those irrevocable Soul influences into the deeper echelons of House music. Gospel vocals and sparkling Rhodes keys streak a path to the dance floor on “Guess What,” establishing a Detroit Swindle sound that has veered little from these prominent roots up to today and their last release for AUS music “Rhythm Girl Swing.” Incorporating some elements of UK Garage and Disco in this latest release, the foundations of their work remain unchanged with an analogue warmth enveloping their sound.
Between releases for Dirt Crew and AUS, they’ve developed their own Heist imprint, providing a platform for others to extend the Detroit Swindle sound into new musical universes. Between their own EPs, running the label, playing live and DJing they’ve also released two LPs, which saw them re-imagine the sound outside of the club. From “Boxed Out” to “High Life” they’ve extended the Detroit Swindle sonic palette and with the assistance of some key collaborators on “High Life,” they created one of 2018’s most captivating House music LPs.
All through this Detroit Swindle have remained steadfast in their sonic approach and true to the original themes of House music that brought them together. Whether they’re distilling it into original music, performing live or DJing, Lars and Maarten have found a unique voice on the musical landscape.
I’ve heard the story about the circumstances that brought you together to lay the foundation of Detroit Swindle. But Lars, did you end up firing Maarten from the club, like your boss asked?
Lars: Well, Maarten had the choice to either change what he was playing, or stop playing at the club. He chose to stick with the music he liked playing and I think he didn’t really mind not playing there anymore. It was a shame though, since all the bar staff and the regulars really liked to hear the music he played.
What happened directly after in terms of the club and both your positions there?
Maarten: I’m not sure if the place still exists, but if it does, it probably isn’t the type of bar I’d go to for a drink. I was fine not playing there anymore and Lars quit his job as a programmer quite soon after to have more time in the studio together with me, which ended up being quite a good choice for the both of us.
So all’s well that ends well. What was the music that you bonded over in the beginning that cemented what you would eventually do as Detroit Swindle?
Lars: It was mostly soul, funk, motown that we both grew up with. We were both also really into old school hiphop and that was really the foundation for our sound. We wanted to add our version of soul to modern day electronic music.
You were both accomplished solo artists/DJs before coming together as Detroit Swindle. How did you experience your individual tastes converging as Detroit Swindle?
Maarten: having had another career and another partnership with its ups and downs really helps in your growth as a person and an artist. We both had worked with someone else before and have learned valuable lessons from it. From a taste-perspective, we both add something that’s really from ourselves to the table. The combination of Lars’ interests and taste together with mine is what makes it click. It’s not always easy as a duo since you’re always creatively dependent on the other, but in the end, it’s a combination that just works really well.
Did either of you ever feel you had to adapt your approach to music to accommodate the other?
Lars: During DJ sets, you can’t always decide on directions to take. Sometimes, it’s important to follow the idea of the other and that means finding a record to play that connects with the vibe the other is trying to go for rather than going for something different. Dj’ing in a duo is in a sense always about accommodating to each other’s ideas. And that’s how cool new things can emerge with combinations you’ve never thought of before.
When we’re producing, there’s a golden rule that we both must really stand behind the track that we’re making. Whether it’s a b2 for an ep, or a big remix, we only release it when we’re both happy. That means that sometimes you have to make compromises to create something that’s really ‘us’.
There’s a lot to unpack in the name Detroit Swindle, but I think the connection with Detroit is an interesting one. There’s always been a tradition of Detroit in the Netherlands, from what the Bunker guys were doing to what the Dekmantel boys were doing at the start. I know you are only able to speak for yourself, but why do you think this relationship with Detroit is so strong in the Netherlands?
Maarten: That’s an interesting question… I guess musically, Holland has always had a big jazz, soul and disco scene with its eyes firmly set on the midwest with record import, festivals, stuff like that. For us, it’s the raw soul and unconventional approach to music in a sense. Whether it’s arrangement, the raw way of recording music, or the loose programming of samples, it’s all so very ‘alive’. That’s probably the biggest reason why it appeals to us so much.
Detroit’s legacy is kind of enshrined in Techno. Has it always been about House music for you, and where do you usually draw the line in your productions and DJ sets in your interpretation of a Detroit sound?
Lars: It was always Hiphop for me actually, with Dilla really being the main inspiration for me for a long time. If I look at our record bag, there will probably always be a Moodymann whitelabel, Omar S. or Underground Resistance record somewhere. That said, there’s so much great music out there and musical inspiration can come from all over the world these days, which is a good thing. It’s just great to be knee deep into soulful electronic music and hearing it pop up all over the world.
Is the Heist platform just an extension of this sound?
Maarten: Heist is an extension of our sound so you could definitely say it’s an extension of where our inspiration comes from. We’ve had 6 years worth of great releases and in 2020, we’ve got some great diverse music coming up again, so we’re also pushing the sound to new places and drawing new inspiration from that.
What do you look for in artists or music to make it onto the label, and is there any direction, from your part that you’ve always instilled in the artists coming to the label?
Lars: most of all, we look for artists who have their own sound, or at least something identifiable and unique to him / her / them. How well that thing is shaped is not really relevant, but it has to be there. We are really actively involved with the music our artists make and send us and with that, we help them shape their own sound. At the end of the day, we’re just very happy to be the messengers of all these amazing records.
Over the years and your releases, you’ve stayed very close to the foundations of your sound, but you must constantly be evolving as musicians and artists. How have you experienced your own music evolve over the years?
Maarten: We’ve obviously learned a lot more about production techniques and mixing down, although I would still gladly leave the more technical stuff to real pro’s and stick to writing music myself. We’ve started working way more with analog equipment which really helped us in expanding our sound, understanding synthesis and also, very important, has ensured we still have loads of fun jamming in the studio. Our sound has definitely evolved as well, but I still feel very much connected to the music we made in the first part of our career. Change is a natural thing and we really embrace it with our productions. Moreover, we both really don’t see the point in repeating the same trick over and over, so it’s also in our character to keep on looking for fresh ideas.
I’m thinking about your last release on AUS, Rhythm Girl Swing. I picked up on hints Disco on Vibrations and a little bit of Garage on Wado Bayo. Was that something that you were actively trying to achieve on that record; expanding the repertoire?
Lars: To be honest, not really. We rarely go into the studio with a real plan or direction we want to take things. We just let the vibe of the moment take us wherever it goes. When we put together an EP, we always like to fit in some different styles, types of energy. Wado Baya is quite deep for us but still has that soulful warmth. The disco vibe on Vibrations is something that’s very close to us. We still like to switch it up though, for instance with this track with the more techy stabs, which gives the track a nice edge.
What did you take away from that EP, that might inform future releases?
Maarten: It had been a while since we released on a label other than Heist, but it was nice to get this EP out there on a great label like Aus. The EP did really well and that felt like a nice encouragement to explore that deeper side of things as well. Funnily enough, the next record we did was a full on house record, so that kinda proves the point we made in the last question. We just go into the studio and see whatever comes out.
With Techno’s popularity at an all time high at the moment and with House music favouring a kind of lo-fi soundcloud aesthetic, how do you feel you have had to adapt if at all with the current sounds on European dance floors?
Lars: We both have a weak spot for classic techno, so we always bring along a few bangers if we play a late slot or do an allnighter. The lofi house aesthetic is kinda interesting, because it’s a subgenre really focused on sound design, which I really applaud. That said, there’s loads of badly executed good ideas and well executed bad ideas in both genres (and every other genre) so it’s still all about making that right selection when you’re playing. As far as our sound goes, we’ve been playing music from all kinds of genres and love switching it up, no matter what genre is currently getting all the buzz.
We really loved your last LP, High Life here and still play it in our café. It’s perfect for breaching that space between the cafe concept and what we do at night. How do you approach the LP differently to what you do on EPs and singles?
Maarten: That’s great to hear. Our intention with High Life was to create a soulful electronic album with a lot of live elements. When we made it, we took 3 weeks off of touring, which we normally never do. During those 3 weeks, we had guest musicians come over, locked ourselves up in the studio and lived the music, closing ourselves off for all external influences. During the process, we also have let go of the idea of creating music for clubs and just went into jams with an open mind. It’s with that mindset, along with the fact that we had no real pressure on, that we were able to write that album. The process for us when we’re writing music for an EP is different, but also really fun. It’s a more lightweight approach, where you get to put music together you’ve written in the studio, in an airplane, waiting for a pickup, or wherever. It’s also nice to write music without any time constraints, which makes it possible to let something sit for a while and you get to think about the direction you want to take the track, think about possible collabs you could do, etc. Both processes are really nice to go through and the variety in output makes it really worthwhile to work on EP’s now and plan for a new album in the future.
There were a lot of collaborations on that LP compared to Boxed Out. What encouraged these collaborations and how did it affect the sound of the LP as a whole?
Lars: Our good friend and live collaborator Lorenz Rhode was there for quite a while to write keys for a lot of the tracks, which was great. We did a studio session with him and Tom Misch which ended up being a super special jam session. The recording with Jungle by Night was done in the Amsterdam Red Bull Studios and was amazing as well, having all these super talented guys jam on our track and have fun with each other. For us, these collabs have really made the album more diverse and give it a nice live touch. The combination of programmed electronics, sequenced synths, drums and samples and those unquantized live recordings give the whole album a real special feel that makes the album more than a dance album, but more a journey through our view on electronic music.
You’ve toured the album for a bit, playing live, but you’re coming to Jaeger to play a DJ set. What’s the correlation between live, the label and DJing for you that makes it a distinctly Detroit Swindle experience?
Maarten: The live show is pretty much all original DS tracks and during our DJ sets, we try and play all different kinds of music. We play a lot of unreleased Heist tracks in our Dj sets and I guess all the music we play, whether it’s live or DJ, have a role in our the Sonic space of the DS sound. The live show has a certain energy with all the equipment and keyboards, all the live playing, a lights show, etc. It’s more of a show than when we’re DJ’ing. While DJ’ing, we really get to connect with the crowd, and in the interaction, we try to get a feel for the musical direction to take. In a way, the label, the DJ shows and the live shows are different ways for us to express our view on music and together, they form a really solid basis for the Detroit Swindle sound.
And what should people expect from your upcoming set at Jaeger?
Lars: It’s been quite a while since we were at Jaeger and last time we played the courtyard, so we’re super excited to play here again. Usually when preparing a set, we go through the latest promo’s, get the latest tracks on Heist on the USB and check if there’s a new DS track to try out before we send it off for mastering. There’s always a nice combination of old and new music, as well as a trip through various styles. I couldn’t tell you now what we’ll play, but there’ll definitely be some unreleased tracks in there, as well as a few really nice records we got at a recent shopping spree.