Camo & Krooked interview: Varied pictures of sound

Martin Guttridge-Hewitt caught up with multi-award winning drum 'n' bass duo Camo & Krooked to discuss milestones and the science of making music.

Skiddle Staff

Last updated: 9th Jun 2017.
Originally published: 6th Jun 2017

Image: Camo & Krooked (Credit: Thomas Unterberger Photography)

Few things put the average Joe (or indeed Josephine) off more than the words 'concept album'. However incorrectly, the term connotes contrived attempts at faux intellectualism, absorption in oneself, and a pretty boring listening experience driven not by a desire to entertain and enthral, but to prove an overarching point. 

Nevertheless, not every album based on a concept is droll chin-stroking fodder, as the latest LP from Camo & Krooked, Mosaik, goes to show. Several years in the making, it's the first full length work to appear under their own Mosaik Music umbrella, arriving via the legendary RAM Records, and representing a sonic departure from their previous output on drum 'n' bass institution, Hospital.

The idea, we're told, stemmed from the desire to take seemingly disparate parts and turn them into a coherent whole. The result, we have heard, is a strikingly varied record that isn't so much DnB as it is a hybrid of sounds that reference everything from bass to dubstep, electronica to broken beat.

Landing in the wake of their Radio 1 Essential Mix, which aired on Friday 5th May, we took to the blower to give the Reinhard Rietsch (Camo) and Markus Wagner (Krooked) a chance to shed some light on the release, ahead of their appearances at Made Festival, Tramlines and SW4 this summer.

Hi guys, how are you both doing today? 

Reinhard: Good, we're a little bit tired after a King's Day party in the Netherlands...

Markus: I had to get up early to get some last minute vaccinations for Sri Lanka, too. They got both arms, and they hurt.

What's happening in Sri Lanka? 

M: Holidays, finally. I've not had a proper holiday for years. Now the album is done, before the tour, I really need to get some head space and time out. It's going to be nice.

Any holiday plans for you, Reini? 

R: Well, I started the whole idea actually, booking for me and my girlfriend to go to the Maldives, which is our album-finishing trip. We have been working really intensively for about half a year now, pretty much the last eight months the pressure was on every day. So we had to go straight from that into the Essential Mix; two really big things for us. Now it's starting to feel like our bodies are beginning to relax a little again.

Recording an Essential Mix has always been seen as a massive milestone for artists, but is it as big an accolade as it was before there were so many podcasts? 

M: We are so happy to finally do it. We know so many of our idols have done one, and to finally be able to add to the history ourselves is really cool. Although we tried not to do the obvious dance floor smashes as everyone seems to in the drum 'n''n' bass realm. Grabbing the obvious tunes. We did quite a lot of digging for it, including some old classics and then just stuff we are into from outside drum 'n' bass, to have a healthy mixture in there.

R: I would say it's not as big as it used to be, but it's still one you know has to be good. People aren't as focussed with other mixes as there are just so many out there. But with an Essential Mix, you know every artist makes it as personal as possible. It's interesting to hear what people play and how they want to present their Essential Mix, not necessarily what they play out, also lots of influences. It's quite inspirational.

The album, Mosaik, is arriving imminently too. How long has this taken to make? 

M: Actually the idea of writing an album started pretty much after our last album, Zeitgeist, which was the second half of 2013. So the beginning of 2014 we had the idea of putting thoughts into an album and getting tracks together but we didn't really know where the sound was going to take us. But we knew it had to be a logical progression in terms of sound. More of a listening experience. 

We did a lot of studying science, on how sound works and how every single element within tunes works. To be able to take certain sounds and replicate them in a digital way, and master in a way you would never have been able to record them. On the other side, we also tried to use and make the most from very simple sounds that are accessible to anyone who has ever opened FruityLoops, Cubase, Ableton or whatever. We also wanted those sounds to be very personal and stumbled upon analogue gear heaven, we acquired some analogue synths and outbound gear, seeing what fits our sound most. And that took a long time. 

R: I have to say now we have found a sound source that we can rely on to restrict us in a way that keeps everything as homogenous as possible.

That's almost contrary to much of dance music today when variety and breaking down genre lines seems to be the modus. 

R: Pretty much. Sort of.

M: Yeah, to make your own genre or whatever. Nowadays anyone can buy a wavetable synth or something like that and make the craziest mid-range modulations. Five or six years ago, Skrillex, for example, came along and made these crazy noises and we were all like 'how the hell is he doing these?' 

For a long time everyone tried to, but synthesis has advanced so fast that now downloading the presets means you can achieve those sounds in no time at all. So we were asking what is the essence, and what emotions do those sounds bring? And we found out we were happy using very simple sounds but in very personal ways. 

R: Yeah, and it's about trying to avoid the obvious drum 'n' bass sounds. By doing that it's easier to stand out in the genre. You can be sure, if there's a big hit, a tune every DJ is playing, a couple of months later there are ten or 20 other tunes that sound the same because everyone follows a trend. Our idea is to avoid trends.

M: That took a lot of time. And it was about science and research, making sure we are happy with it. That judgment changes in the process as you acquire more knowledge and want to go back to older projects, those from when we started the album. We kind of revamped the whole thing about three or four months back and it all pretty much sounds on a par now. Even some of the older tunes are sounding better than the newer ones. So we are really happy with how it sounds, the musical content.

So Mosaik Music, and the Mosaik album concept were developed as you made the record? 

M: Exactly. So the whole Mosaik thing started when we had a whole bunch of ideas or maybe just templates, a sound, a drum loop, or a breakdown. A cool bass rhythm section. Those were all loose templates, and we started to piece some together and they began to make sense. So a lot of tunes on the albums don't really have a songwriting or pop culture arrangement. They evolve every 16 bars or whatever, into something new. Then halfway through they evolve again into something completely different. 

For us, it's important to have a lot of musical aspects and subtle things that you only start realising exist in there after you have heard it ten times or whatever. We just don't want it to get boring after that, which is something that happens. People don't seem to be able to listen to anything or pay attention for longer than a couple of minutes; they have to move on.

Whilst our sound is a bit like that, in a nutshell, we still try to keep it enjoyable. So there might be a lot happening but it's still interesting and isn't overwhelming. That's how the whole Mosaik came about. When we started to put these things together we had no idea what the overall context should look like. We kind of knew the overall sound but we didn't see a start or finish. Then we were sitting on a plane and Reini started saying 'why don't we just call it Mosaik'. It fits really well.

Did you feel the need to set up Mosaik Music because Hospital Records was too linear for where your music started heading? 

R: When you're with a certain label the crowd expects certain sounds. I mean, from all the drum 'n' bass labels Hospital is the one that fits the best to us, and also those boys are great and we have lots of respect for what they did for us and what they are still doing. But we also felt we wanted to reach people that want to hear something new. 

Some in the drum 'n' bass fanbase just want it to be drum 'n' bass. So you'll read YouTube comments like 'this is super nice, but it's not drum 'n' bass'. And we're like 'yeah, but what's the problem?' So we wanted to invent a new thing with no preconceptions, built around our sound. We were a little worried, as obviously when you change something some people might not be sure, but our fans are following us on this journey and I'm really thankful of that. 

Does that mean you've started reading YouTube comments again? 

R: It's always good for a laugh.

M: I think you should always read them too, to get an idea of what people think of your sound. We spend so much time in a studio, we live in a bubble more or less. Sometimes you get completely crazy over something that's actually pointless to everyone but is really important to you. Obviously, it's important to make something that means something to you; a meaningless track is something that we will never release. 

For example, we did a purely dancefloor track two years or so ago and we never released it. And it never will be released or heard. So this is important to us, even though we have changed the sound and it's not as in your face, the emotion is still there.

R: Actually I'd say there's way more emotion now. 

M: I think it's more personal. But to come back to the original point on comments, obviously you kind of polarise yourself when you change the sound but that can be a good thing as you get out of your comfort zone and may be gathering new people, or bringing back others who haven't been into drum 'n' bass for a while, but get the sound we have now.

And how do you see drum 'n' bass overall right now? Healthy? 

R: I think it's super-healthy. There are so many different trends evolving, it's changing all the time. Like, Neurofunk was huge but only in a couple of cities in a couple of countries. Now it's the same with jump up, it's coming back in a big way and is maybe bigger than it ever was at the moment. 

It's funny to see. And then at the other end from where you have all those harder sounds, there's something like we do. The counter thing. Minimalism. It's good because music with so many active trends never gets stale. And in some ways, I think that's why drum 'n' bass is still around after all these years. Whilst other genres disappeared after they had a big hype, maybe with drum 'n' bass it never really peaked.

M: Also within the last few years the term drum 'n' bass got way broader. So now, for example, you have Ivy Lab's 20-20 halftime, which is basically hip hop. At the same time, you have Kimyan Law and other guys going for a completely non-dancefloor approach. It has evolved into so many drum patterns the only thing holding the thing together as drum 'n' bass is tempo. And in the future, I think we will see a broadening of tempos. So everything from 150-180BPM.

Any new protégés you'd recommend then? 

M: From Austria, Kimyan Law, who's more our kind of vein. Internationally Signal is doing really well at the moment. He's 19 years old, and just did a remix for us and absolutely smashed it. It's one of the highlights of our sets at the moment. He's basically sending out five tunes or whatever every couple of weeks. His output is enormous, and there are a lot of artists like that at the moment. 

You're hosting a festival this year too, Nu Forms? Sounds interesting. 

M: We're not so much hosting. We are doing it with our manager and Rob from Body & Soul, who is a good old friend of ours. But we are curating the whole line up. So we've been sitting down to discuss bookings, the general feel of the festival. Ideas to make the hospitality better for people attending.  

So, instead of another bar, you have an art installation or whatever. We want to try and make it a festival that feels familiar in a way. Like you've been here before even if it's your first year. Comfortable.

R: I think as well the Austrian drum 'n' bass scene has come to a point where everyone knows everyone. And they are all going to Nu Forms. So it's like all the crews reunite, plus the crowd, and the international guests and DJs. So when we want to book someone they are super happy. The festival has been around over ten years in some form, different names, same people... 

M: I think maybe 13 years...

So how nerve-wracking is curating something so prestigious? 

M: It's not too hard really, we just discuss. The whole festival has a lot of experience so we just bring ideas. As we have been touring so long we have seen everyone play and obviously try to book the guys we are good with, to bring all the friends together.

Finally, your album launched at Fabric at the end of May. Another milestone? 

R: We turned down other offers there, as that was our first real headline show in London. We had been curating that lineup too, so asked them to book Spectrasoul, Dimension, and guys we really rate. It's the Mosaik thing again. These are the guys we like to work with, play with, and party with. That's our brand on Fabric. It's not a RAM night, it's not a Hospital night, it was a Mosaik night. 

M: Yeah, it's another of those things like the Essential Mix. You can look back at what you've done and a Fabric headline show is one of those things. As we'd never done one before we thought we'd choose this over the other offers as it felt right. It's something special.

You can catch Camo & Krooked at Tramlines, Made Festival and SW4 this summer.