• Thomas Splett

Interview with Kraak & Smaak


The Dutch trio Kraak & Smaak, consisting of Oscar de Jong, Mark Kneppers and Wim Plug, has been successful with their eclectic mix of electronic, funk, disco and downbeat music for more than 15 years. Their new studio album “Pleasure Centre” is the result of two years of hard work and the first release on the band's own label Boogie Angst. LATE NIGHT DREAM talked with Wim Plug about their new album, the search for inspiration, their instinct for new talents and their personal pleasure centre.


* Three years after your critically acclaimed album "Juicy Fruit" you are back with "Pleasure Centre". What was your basic idea behind the new album?


We wanted to build further on the sound of "Juicy Fruit”, but at the same time explore new ‘varieties’ of the Kraak & Smaak sound I guess. You could argue that this time the vibe is generally more about 70s / 80s USA West Coast, California and LA, etc., with dream pop, yacht rock and folky influences slipping implicitly or explicitly. It’s not that we hit upon that by purpose, but apparently those musical inputs were there in our heads and minds during that time. Just like our former albums really.


* You worked on the demos of the songs in your own studio before you travelled to L.A. to meet and work with featured artists. Tell us a little bit about the recording process of "Pleasure Centre".


As usual, it all starts out in our studio in Leiden, with lots of listening to all kinds of music and little ideas and ‘fröbels’ becoming more extensive demo’s. Not necessarily almost finished right away, but at least material with a good vibe, a good hook, etc., on which we can build further.


After a little while we generally know what will have potential and begin to think about – if it should become a song of course – who to involve on vocals. I guess that through the years we have been able to develop a good nose for new vocal talent, besides the people we have been working with for a longer time. We also need to take into account that ‘small fish’ can become big quite quickly nowadays, so we keep and try ourselves in touch with everything new out there, the same goes for asking for remixes. We really need to be there at the right moment, otherwise bigger artists, labels, etc., will pick them up and you’re a goner. Anyway, when we had a number of demo’s ready for “Pleasure Centre” we started to think about possible features, and already quite soon a number of names popped up, mostly US peepz at first: The Palms, Nic Hanson, Satchmode, Gavin Turek, etc. most of them actually lived in L.A., so it made sense that, after exchanging music and vocal ideas by email, we should go to California to record as much as possible in a few weeks (what’s not to like?). At the same time, it would also be a first for us to record face to face, as most of the time people come to Leiden.


So that’s how we ended up in L.A. at least; booked little studios or went to singer’s homes. It was all quite cool really. Afterwards we finished the tracks in our Leiden studio. Izo Fitzroy and Wolf Valbrun on the other hand, live in London and Paris, so with them we were able to hook up here right away. Unfortunately our recording budget didn’t allow us to record in New-Zealand with Imugi on ‘Sommeron’.


* What criteria do you use to select your collaborators?


Yes, like we mentioned before, we have always looked around for possible vocal collabs. We aren’t songwriters (and certainly no singers), so get tracks to a higher level, or to be able to add what they need, we have to look around. Sometimes we do have names in the back of our heads already (we heard Nic Hanson on a Moonboots track for example, and already knew and loved Izo and Wolf via our former UK label Jalapeno Records), but mostly we start thinking about it when the first ideas and demo’s shape up. Above all we need to have the feeling that it’s going to be a great fit. Sometimes that doesn’t work out however, you can’t force it either.



* How much did your song ideas experience a transformation through the interaction with other places and artists?


That normally depends on where a track ‘is going’. It can be small or big really. I do remember the instance that we had the instrumental for ‘Squeeze Me’ ready, meaning to have it sung by a Dutch singer. So he recorded that, but one way or the other we weren’t happy yet. Then Ben Westbeech came up, and that was what we were looking for, you knew it right away. We did use the other singer’s vocals for another album track in the end – ‘Booby & Whitney’, ha.


* The album has, despite all its modernity and fresh production, definitely a strong anchoring in the sounds of the 70s and 80s like West Coast, dream pop and indie. Which music and artists inspired your work this time?


Yes, you’re right on the money there. We knew all these sounds from radio when we grew up, and there is a lot of great material there It’s difficult to pinpoint one particular artist, but stuff like Robbie Dupree, Bobby Caldwell, Hall & Oates, Doobie Brothers, Christopher Cross…. Really mainstream stuff actually, ha. But contemporary acts like Poolside, Metronomy and Roosevelt, to name only a few, have also been important in shaping our ideas this time.


* Your sixth album is also a premiere for you. "Pleasure Centre" is the first Kraak & Smaak album released on your own label Boogie Angst. Was that a long overdue step for you?


It was always in the back of our minds when we started it a couple of years ago, but first we wanted to have the label set up properly, release other artists, and learn to run one. Now, as our label deal ran out with Jalapeno Records with “Juicy Fruit”, we felt comfortable and experienced enough to have a go at it ourselves.

Your sixth album is also a premiere for you. "Pleasure Centre" is the first Kraak & Smaak album released on your own label Boogie Angst. Was that a long overdue step for you?

It was always in the back of our minds when we started it a couple of years ago, but first we wanted to have the label set up properly, release other artists, and learn to run one. Now, as our label deal ran out with Jalapeno Records with “Juicy Fruit”, we felt comfortable and experienced enough to have a go at it ourselves.


* What can we expect from "Boogie Angst" in the near future?


We have already set up a few releases for the next couple of months, beginning with a recently signed Dutch electronic / neo-soul act, Secret Rendezvous, and in early 2020 we have planned in new material by Moods, Vhyce, David Harks and Inkswel. Furthermore, we’re also having a look at dropping some more dancefloor-related tracks / EP’s next year; our musical thirst as DJ’s also need to be quenched as well of course.


* The English BBC once called your music "Lounge Core". The attempt to put you in a genre pigeonhole doesn't seem to make much sense. "Variety" fits better to your work. Do you agree?


Yes, I think we have developed quite our own sound over the years; now you can really typify it as ‘Kraak & Smaak’ I would argue. There is of course quite a bandwidth in terms of the stuff we put out, from chill and downtempo, to club and more mainstream pop, but it always feels like K&S and not jumping on a genre bandwagon or anything, or a too narrow style. We’re really proud of that, and it’s also necessary to develop and do the same things all over again all the time. That would become quite boring.


* I have read that you are all passionate record collectors and that you allegedly own one of the most extensive collections in the Netherlands. Is “old vinyl” still a source of creativity for you?


To be honest it’s less than it used to be, as a direct influence that is. We are still hungry for collecting and listen music, but when we started out 15 years ago, sampling made sense as we had lots of stuff not used yet, and at the time there were not much means to record for us, apart from some keyboards and a sampler machine. Through time we also got more critical of using samples and obtained more possibilities to record. It diversified and deepened our sound, which was need as well. * You haven't just earned a reputation as artists, but also for the A&R side of the industry. What is it like for you to work at the crossroads between the music business and being an artist? Is it a win-win situation for you?


It’s cool and fun, and working with others has always come quite natural for us really. It also keeps you sharp in what you’re doing and teaches you other perspectives on things, which is important too. It’s nice to be able to reflect on other acts their material besides your own, and help out if you can. We have been lucky to have some success with K&S and hence also quite a lot of experience dealing with the ‘industry’, ideas, etc., and it feels great to be able to apply that to other artists and productions in a good way.


* You can look back on a 16-year career. How do you manage to stay hungry for new developments?


I think particularly that characteristic is what has made us ‘survivors’, so to speak. Although we have a particular status / image and an overall sound, we have never felt bound to any specific style (apart from rock maybe). We always feel the need to do things differently from the album before, and creatively there is always new things happening. For us at least, it is important to stay in touch on what’s out there, either on the streaming sites or on the global dance floors. Musical references have always been important to us in shaping the next K&S track, probably not in the least because we feel more like producers than musicians.


* You all come from DJing, but early on you also started to play live concerts – and that with great success. What is it about both formats that excites you?


We love it as it’s really two totally different dynamics; with the band we have K&S repertoire only and with six people on stage the experience is that of a full live show, while with a one or two person DJ set we play other people’s productions as well. With the DJ set it’s foremost about dancing, and with the band it’s really about performing for an audience. Moreover, because of this we can do large pop, jazz, dance festivals with the band, and as DJ’s play in small and big dance clubs. Plus a band doesn’t really work out well in a night club in the middle of the night, while a DJ does (and often vice versa as well). Consequently though, it could very well be that we have a DJ set and a live show happening at the same time but on different continents ;)



* You just announced a tour in the Netherlands. Are you planning more concerts in other European countries in the near future?


Absolutely! For early 2020 we already have a couple of European winter festivals locked in, and from spring onwards we are planning to drop by as many European clubs as possible. An USA live and DJ tour and an Asia DJ tour are also in the making again, so be sure to regularly check out our agenda on Facebook for example.


* A last question: What is your “personal” pleasure centre as a trio?


Given our band the name ‘Kraak & Smaak’, and its pronunciation into English ‘Crack & Smack’, you would expect some serious stuff here, but actually we are rather well behaved, lol. Perhaps music is our dope?


Kraak & Smaak’s new album “Pleasure Centre” will be released on October 18th.


Thomas Splett




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