Straight out of New York's Lower East Side, indie-electronic duo, The Knocks, has been blowing up recently by putting out their own brand of dance music. Known for their viral remixes of tracks by the likes of Katy Perry, M83, and Dragonette, Ben "B-Roc" Ruttner and James "Jpatt" Patterson bring a sound we can only describe as falling somewhere between retro and new. What we do know is that it definitely makes us want to dance!
Just before a performance at Mansion Nightclub, the two sat down with Joonbug at the Perry Hotel in South Beach to tell us a little bit about their musical roots, their career goals, and what life is like for an artist in NYC.
How did you guys come together as artists?
Ben: We met through a mutual friend at a studio in the city. We ended up being roommates ‘cause we both liked to make music.
You started off doing mainly hip-hop. How did that background influence your musical style now?
Ben: I was into turntables and stuff (I used to compete in battles) and listening to DJ Shadow, Fatboy Slim…stuff like that growing up. Being a hip-hop producer is so about the tracks, and now dance music is more about the tracks and the song and the vocals…it's about making it sound cool, which is what I used to be really into.
James: Rappers always had DJs with them, so I always wanted to DJ, but my parents never had money to buy me turntables. That’s why I downloaded recording software and started making beats.
You guys have a very groovy sound that’s not strictly EDM. How would you classify your music?
Ben: We’re not so much in the EDM world…we’re more into the indie-electronica kind of thing, that’s more our scene. Slowly we’re doing more and more dance stuff but I’d never consider us strictly EDM. We’re kind of in this weird zone.
You seem to attract listeners of all musical tastes. What is it about your music that keeps everyone happy?
James: I think that people just like the sound of good music, no matter what it is. If it’s good than it's good, and we just happen to make very up-tempo danceable music, and it falls under a variety of genres.
Ben: It’s a little more retro than straight progressive or electro. You could be making dinner and listening to our songs, or you could be in a club dancing.
So what’s life been like recently for the Knocks?
Ben: Up until the past couple of weeks we’d been on the road since November; it’s been a lot of traveling so it’s really good to be back in New York. We’ll be in New York most of the summer, maybe doing festivals here and there.
What are you working on now?
Ben: Just making music. We put out another song, it’s a song we’ve been playing live forever and just never released, but it was like number 2 on Hype-Machine I think, and it got like 60,000 plays in two days. The ‘Midnight City’ cover got a lot of hits, but this new release is doing better than that and now…we just did a song with Fred Falke, he’s this awesome French electro guy.
Anything you’re working toward in particular with your music?
Ben: We’re trying to bring back that Daft Punk/Discovery era, like a sample base but with other disco influences, and I feel like there needs to be a Daft Punk-ish type thing coming from New York. Right now there’s not much coming out of New York for dance music in general, it's just a bunch of club DJs. It’s either club DJs or really indie stuff from, like, Brooklyn...you know what I mean (everyone always assumes we’re from Brooklyn).
Why do you think there aren’t as many big producers coming out of NYC?
Ben: I don’t know what it is…I think it's because DJs in New York get really comfortable DJing—you can make a lot of money as a DJ in New York just spinning. A lot of producers in New York end up moving to LA. If you’re going to really try and be like a Top 40/Pop producer, you’ve gotta live in LA. All the writers are out there, all the artists.
As far as performing and production goes, what’s your ideal workload?
James: I’d like to be at a level where we’re not playing as many shows as we are now, because I like being in the studio. Definitely play the big festivals and have that make enough money to support us while we’re in the studio.
Ben: Or do something like Justice - you don’t hear about them playing that often but when they do (they headlined at Coachella) it's really good. That’s what we want to do. And we try to really pick what we put out; we just put out an EP...it was our first time putting out a body of work, and it felt weird for us anyway because we’re such single artists. So I feel like we want to just keep doing that, we want to make sure we put out good stuff. A lot of people put out these mix tapes with lots of material, which is good at times but if it's not all great I think it's pointless.
When did it hit you guys that your musical careers were really taking off?
Ben: We went on tour with Ellie Goulding and that was crazy for us, not only because it was our first time playing big crowds, but she has like these 15-year-old girl fans who are just fanatics and no matter who you are, if you’re on stage and the beat drops, it's just hands up, everyone’s going crazy. And then we went back to New York and our shitty apartment, eating Chinese food.
Anything listeners should be on the look out for?
Ben: Our new song is called ‘Learn to Fly' and we’re playing a bunch of festivals. We’re playing Electric Forest, we’re playing Bamboozle (randomly), we’re playing Camp Bisco, and we’re playing Holy Ship next year.