An Interview With DJ Jr. Flo of KEYS N KRATES

Keys N Krates has made quite a splash in the dance music scene. After 2013’s “SOLOW” and last year’s “Every Nite”, the group has seen support from all corners of dance music and hip hop for their unique sound that blurs the line between hip-hop and dance music. The group has been touring all over North America to promote “Every Nite”, and are they currently slated to perform at Coachella this April. Last October, I sat down with DJ Jr. Flo, the turntablist from the live electronic group Keys N Krates. We discussed topics ranging from the music scene in Toronto to the group’s dynamic on and off stage.

Are you guys all from Toronto?

Yeah, I mean we all live in Toronto, I’m originally from the suburbs of Toronto, those guys, Tune’s from the suburbs of Toronto and Matisse is from London, Ontario, which is about an hour and a half outside of Toronto, but we’ve all lived in Toronto for at least the last 10-15 years.

I’m sure the music scene there is very different. Are there any artists that had a huge impact on you guys that aren’t big in the states, like people that we wouldn’t have heard about?

I think Toronto’s an interesting place, because we have a lot of talent but we don’t really have a scene. OVO [Drake’s Label] is kind of the first of it’s kind [in Toronto] because they’re building a collective, but the thing is they’re not just signing people from Toronto, they’re signing people from everywhere. But there are guys coming out of Toronto, like PARTYNEXTDOOR, Majid Jordan, that are OVO, so that’s really cool, and yeah it’s the same with electronic music. When you go to LA, there’s a lot of guys that live there that are on Mad Decent or are on OWSLA, or whatever, and there’s a bit of a scene and a comradery, and in Toronto…there’s a lot of guys like Zeds Dead and Thugli and Grandtheft and Art Department…and us, but it’s not really a scene, everyone’s doing their own thing. I think Toronto [is] not an overly unified place. It’s not hostile, but it’s not super unified, and I think it’s partially because the audience isn’t super unified in what they like, and the audience in Toronto is a little unsure of what they like, and that’s why…there’s a lot of artists that are way bigger in the states than they are in Toronto, or at least blow up first in the States before they blow up in Toronto. Toronto’s kind of waiting to hear what other people like and then like it, versus leading the charge on it. It’s interesting because it’s such a big city, but it’s kind of got an inferiority complex.

When you were growing up, what were you listening to?

I was listening to rap music, some house like Masters at Work and the Strictly Rhythm-type 90s house, like I’m a 90s child, so I was buying like house records and hip hop records at the same time…and the thing is, I was always more into rap music I think because I lacked the context of early 90s house, like I would buy the records, and I loved the records, but unless you were going to warehouse parties or going clubbing in the early 90s you didn’t quite understand house music the way you should, and I think I sort of lacked that. I knew it secondhand from older friends, but I was like a bit young to be going to house clubs, but I was going to rap concerts and in DJ battles from a really early age, so I was part of hip hop and b-boy culture really early on…Matisse was always super into R&B and soul and stuff like that, and Tune was also into hip hop as well, but he was into all kinds of music, he listened to a lot of rock…Tune loves Phil Collins.

The dance music scene has changed a ton since you started making music, did that have an impact on you guys and your music?

It didn’t really have an impact on us…the way stuff unfolded definitely helped us…when we started, we were just like a band, doing hip hop covers and live remixes, we weren’t really producing and at that time what was really popping was like, block house, and stuff like that, and nobody really gave a shit about us, you know. We had a tiny following of people that would come out and see our live show cause it was a really cool live show…about we didn’t really have any music, and the whole hip hop thing was not very fashionable at the time ‘cause everyone was like “I just want to fuck with electro”…not even EDM yet it was like, a fuckin remix of a bloc party song, the electro remix…, or the indie electro scene, and we didn’t fit into that, so we weren’t super cool at the time, and then what happened was we gradually wanted to become producers and make our own shit organically just cause we wanted to. We became producers together, and what we naturally gravitated towards making was like kind of weird hip hop beats with the 808s, which kind of coincided with the whole trap thing, and the bass music, and the weird hip hop, like the pretty lights stuff, and basically kids, especially in the us being into weird rap beats…so I think that the fact that what we were doing at the time when that was getting big and the fact that we were a live act and we had a different sound doing it, I think the timing really worked to our advantage, but it didn’t really influence us, we were just kind of doing our own thing.

Who’s responsible for the musical form of your songs?

It’s everybody, I mean we all really have equal say in the music, and we all work on it together, and we all kind of have to come to an agreement on what we think is dope, and what we’re gonna put our stamp on, and that sometimes slows down our process a lot, but it’s how we work. We have our specialties, like I’m definitely more of a sample-chopping guy, Matisse is definitely more of a melody and chords kind of guy, but with that being said, it not uncommon for me to like play synths on something, and it’s not uncommon for him to chop up a sample, and Tune does everything as well, Tune will play synths or come up with chord progressions or chop samples, and we all do drum programming. So yeah, we’re all kind of doing everything and constantly trading roles I think.

What’s your production setup like? How is your production affected by the live aspect of the group?

We just have ableton and some midi controllers, and we just make the beats the way anyone else would, and we just try and, you know, make unique shit. I think what’s unique is that a lot of the ideas that come into that setup are formed from rehearsing live. We might have a jam session…and we’re like, “let’s flip this sample”, and we flip it and we’re like “actually, that chord progression is really dope, let’s use that for an original song instead” so we’ll take those chords and lay them out in the studio and we’ll chop different samples over it and it becomes something totally different, that happens a lot…Treat Me Right started as a French Montana remix for live, …and we liked the groove so much that we took it into the studio, and we like laid down the synths and the groove, changed the synths up a lot…and we came up with that “treat me right” sample over it and that’s when it really came together.

What is the weirdest sample you’ve incorporated into a live set or track?

It’s hard to say because to be honest with you, we’re always looking for really weird shit. We’re always looking for like a door clank to layer with the snare, or a weird breath to put on a kick drum…we’re always looking for fucked up sounds from different places, we’re always digging through weird sample libraries, downloading weird shit off youtube to kind of use as texture. It’s hard to say, like Dum Dee Dum is a single [angelic] choir hit that we took and turned into a hook. That’s pretty weird, but to us it’s not that weird because that’s the kind of stuff we’re always looking for.

Where do you guys look for all this stuff?

Everywhere. Youtube, sample banks, we record shit. We sometimes record us doing stuff, our voices, like our Clique remix is Tune saying “ain’t nobody fuckin with my clique” and we just pitched him down. Are We Faded is a friend of ours who’s a vocalist. We brought her into a studio session and just had her sing a bunch of shit, and then we took her vocals and chopped the shit out of them and came up with Are We Faded…We’ll record sounds, we’re just looking everywhere. I really want to record a legit choir ourselves and do…all kinds of shit. We’re just into getting it wherever we can get it.

What’s the process for getting ready to perform live?

It’s long. We play everything live off the floor from scratch so it’s like, not only do we have to decide to play that song, but we have to know how to play that song and it has to groove right, it has to groove at the right tempo, and that’s very particular, and then we have to work it into the set somewhere that makes sense, and that we can physically transition in and out of with it, so it’s a lot of work. I used to DJ clubs all the time, I know the work that is, but doing this is a whole other level of work because you’re just dealing with, like, physically doing everything.

Have the three of you thought about producing on your own?

We somewhat do produce on our own because we’re always individually making tracks, like making ideas to bring to the table, but what ends up happening is we bring an idea to the table and everyone gets involved, so it becomes a collaboration, but sometimes the ideas are so worked out that there’s not a lot that all three of us do. Like Dum Dee Dum, Matisse did like 80% of it because he chopped that initial sample. We did a lot of work in terms of mixing and the drums, and like adding a second part with synths and that second vocal sample, but to me the heart of the song is the “dum dee dum” chop, and he came with that already…when Tune and I heard that chop we were like “oh yeah, that like 90% done, we just gotta fit everything around it, but that’s the song”. Sometimes an idea is a really good idea but it’s only 10% done, and we have to work on the rest of it, and sometimes it’s [like Dum Dee Dum]…None of us have any ego, none of us care who really does what, we just want the best music to come out. I don’t care if Tune makes 90% of the song, I don’t care if he makes the whole song. As long as it sounds good and works with the Keys N Krates brand and the Keys N Krates sound, we’re down to use anything the three of us come up with.

Do you guys have tracks that don’t fit the Keys N Krates brand? What do you do with those?

Yeah, we have a few things that we made for this last EP that just didn’t fit on the EP, and they’re just sitting on the shelf, and they could be a beat for a rapper, they could be a bonus beat for another project, they could be something we just release for free on soundcloud, we don’t know, but more and more that’s gonna happen because we’re becoming a bit more picky about our projects having unity and continuity, and [a refined sound].

Are you guys looking to work with more rappers and music groups in the future?

Yeah we’re definitely looking to work with more rappers and vocalists. In terms of producers, like, a little bit, but for us it’s gotta just make sense, you know. We’re not looking to do it just for the sake of doing it. The thing is because there’s three of us it’s already one big collaboration, so when you throw a fourth party into the mix, it kind of slows shit down even more, and it makes it tough to work for us. We have a little wish list of guys…like we’d love to do a track with Just Blaze just because he’s our fuckin idol, and he’s also our friend, and we have a good vibe with him, but like that’s how it starts with us, I think we have to have a bit of a good vibe and a friendship with the person, and we have to be like a super fan of their music and think that there could be something complementary that could come out of the whole thing. We did it with Grandtheft for example. Grandtheft is one of our really close friends and we kind of came up with him so it was natural for us to make a tune with him. We’re definitely not the collab guys, I know there’s a ton of guys where you go on their soundcloud and they just have a shit ton of collabs, that’s not really us. We more into taking our time and doing shit ourselves.

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