Interview: Kraak & Smaak share tips on DJing technique + crate digging

Recording together since 2003, Kraak & Smaak‘s sound is heavily influenced by disco and funk, their productions and live shows a happy marriage of live instrumentation and super-charged house beats. They’ve released six original albums, a Toolroom mix CD, what they describe as a “mega-load” of remixes, and have performed all over Europe, Asia, North and South America.

Who Are Kraak & Smaak? They are a Dutch production, live and DJ trio made up of Oscar de Jong, Mark Kneppers and Wim Plug. Oscar is a is a trained musician, engineer and producer, whilst Mark and Wim come from a DJing and record collecting background.

The trio also performs as a live six-piece band, and Mark and Wim have DJed at clubs and festivals worldwide. They also run their Boogie Angst label, featuring their own productions and showcasing other artists such as fellow-Dutchman Moods.

We caught up with Wim for an in-depth chat about K&S’s DJing style and technique.

Turn this set up and read on.

Thanks for chatting with us! First off: you started our playing gigs with all three members, but since switched to DJing individually. Why?

Well… we did start out that way, but DJing with three people was a bit too much of a hassle – even with two, to be honest. Given the fact that we already DJed individually before the inception of K&S and had slightly different styles too, we decided after a while to do the DJ sets individually, dividing up the sets between two of us, with Oscar focusing more on the live band.

This has worked perfectly and has given us the chance to act out both ‘branches’ of what we do and like: dance music and the more musical, organic approach of producing albums and performing live. Moreover, an added bonus is that we can tour at the same time, in different places and venues and to different kinds of fans, as the DJ set material often has a different dynamic to the more album-orientated live show.

What format/kit do you usually use? What style of music do you play?

Our current set up is 3x Pioneer CDJs and a Pioneer mixer. Sometimes we do a little vinyl too, alongside the CDJs, but the former is the basic setup that always works for us. We grew up playing vinyl, but due to the whole digitalisation of dance music, we moved first to playing CDs and CDRs, and have now arrived at (only) USBs. It may not look like the coolest thing like a box of records, but at the same time, we remember the times that we had to drag two or three cases of vinyl with us, breaking our backs and filling the coffers of airlines with all those extra kilos (not to mention the nail-biting stress of having to wait and see if your records survived the trip too).

Our regular club style of playing is somewhere in between nu-disco, deep house and more general electronic vibes, plus – of course – a fair share of Kraak & Smaak-related material. These could be originals, but also remixes by us or for us. Sometimes we perform with one of our live vocalists as well, creating more possibilities with regard to doing K&S tracks with live vocals and general MCing. On the whole, we like the more intimate, underground stuff, but also the big rooms and stages are great fun. We just pick the right records for every occasion.

Photo via Kraak & Smaak’s Facebook page.

What equipment do you bring with you to gigs?

Having grown up as ‘classic’ DJ’s from the mid-1980s onwards, we have more or less always been of the opinion that the music should speak for itself, and that as a DJ you’re setting out an original, particular vibe that fits where you’re coming from and get asked for, plus playing the right tunes (whether known or unknown) at the right time, yet trying also to do unexpected things as much as you can get away with.

So to answer your question, it’s all quite clean, ‘good ole’ mixing so to speak, and no extra instruments, effect equipment, etc.

Any other little bits and pieces you always bring with you?

Mark still takes along his CDR wallet, just in case. And sometimes I take a rare 7” vinyl with me, just for fun to see if I can play it. But apart from that, no frills!

What’s the worst technical hitch you’ve ever had DJing? How did you deal with it?

Oof… the last time I experienced something like that, was when the player went into loop mode and I had to shut the player down and put it on again… and sometimes the power failed, but overall it has gone quite smoothly recently (knock on wood). I do remember instances, however, where we played on a festival where the hot sun directly shone on the players and I burnt my fingertips when mixing. And of course, in a slightly drunk state, removing the wrong record player needle and the music stops all of a sudden, haha. But the last time that happened was way back.

Of course hitches happen, but thank God (or for Kraak & Smaak) it’s less and less, which is good. We both had our shares of embarrassing and annoying moments, though. Can’t think of any particular song right away, but mostly they involved a pop hit that totally didn’t fit the set or just a very crappy record in general. We did find ourselves in a situation once where the promotor didn’t want to pay our full fee because we were not all three of us.

Even the best DJ in the world occasionally makes a weak programming decision – what do you do to recapture the vibe in such a moment?

I guess as soon as you notice a record falls flat, just try to get it together again. Mostly by quickly dropping another record that does work. And you can’t really do anything about a bad transition once you’ve done it of course, so I try and forget it immediately. And as long as it happens only once or twice within a set (rather not at all of course, but still), most people won’t really feel it as a letdown that one time, as long as the choice of music and overall vibe is great.

Obviously a vital aspect of DJing is crate-digging. How do you source your music?

Although we have the added value of more than 30 years of DJing – and with all the music from that period to match it – for me nowadays, it’s about browsing the various DJ download sites as deeply as possible, trying to cross over genres for that odd record out, looking for the underground releases on Bandcamp and keeping up to date regarding new music from colleagues via the socials.

Plus, trying to get on promo mailings of artists and labels you dig, of course. Personally, I think YouTube is also a great way of getting into older music, both obscure and classic dance tracks and styles.

Do you use Rekordbox? If so, do you compile playlists?

Yes, we have been working with Rekordbox for two or three years now, but only at home to categorise music according to recent new additions and rough genres. From there, I put them in folders, and an extra folder for tracks I think will really fit for a particular night – or desperately want to play.

Sometimes I also add cues to tracks. I do transfer and keep certain history playlists on my USB, though – they might come in handy if I think I want to find a track I played earlier but can’t access it quickly enough, or as a fallback mechanism in case of a meltdown. It’s also helpful because with those little, text-screens only, I miss the whole visual aspect of picking the right record, which was so handy with vinyl covers.

When prepping for a gig, do you have a clear idea of what you want to play? Is it all off the cuff, or do you have favourite mixes and transitions that you go back to?

Just a bit, really. You probably know the venue and type of event, the overall vibe (warm-up or peak time), perhaps there a track you want to start out with and any newly added music you’d like to play… But in the end, most of it is done on the spot and you quickly learn which new tracks work and which don’t – at least in that situation. And in our case, we can always make a good impression with our own music. There is something for every occasion, we’ve learned over the years.

Photo via Kraak & Smaak’s Facebook page.

How do you feel about DJs using FX in their sets – good thing or bad thing?

I don’t really mind, as long as it’s functional and doesn’t dominate the music and your set. Otherwise it will put me off, at least. If you look at scratching, for example, you can use that in a really functional way, adding greatly to the experience.

Do you have any FX tricks you can share with us?

There are some effects that work great if used in a measured manner, like the Dub Echo on the Pioneer mixer for instance. I also use Delay or Echo if I need a hard stop and go to the next record – makes such a transition a bit smoother.

Do you use the EQ and/or filters much when DJing?

Filters not so much, but with mixing it all starts with the EQ, of course. It really depends on what records you’re mixing to decide what’s best, but it mostly starts – boring, I know – with turning down the low end in my case. By first just opening either the high or mid you get a different approach, but like I said, that really depends on the tracks in question. During a track I only tend to play with EQ (and filter) when it’s really something that adds to that particular moment.

You’ve played in many of the world’s finest venues. What’s one piece of advice you’d offer to up-and-coming DJs?

Definitely be original, but also stay open-minded and flexible; in the end, you are there to entertain the crowd and have them dance. Also try and listen to music as much as possible, new as well as old stuff. There is so much to be found out there besides the ‘sweets of the week’ on your regular DJ download sites.

Try and get better, practice and listen to other DJs and mixes. And start producing, either on your own, or with like-minded people. The combination of producing and DJing has become very important for a DJ career nowadays, at all levels in the various scenes. When we started out, just technically being able to DJ and especially having good taste were good enough traits, but those days are unfortunately over.

Kraak & Smaak’s ‘In Plain Sight’ (ft. IVAR)/‘Naked’ (feat. IVAR & Bernice van Leer) gets a limited release on 7th August and full release on the 21st, out on their Boogie Angst label. You can check the trio out on Beatport here, and follow their label on Facebook.

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