Electronic dance music moves fast these days, both in beats-per-minute and fashions-per-year. But Keys N Krates have been around long enough to craft the kind of unique performance style that transcends trends.
The Toronto trio is currently supporting Every Nite, their fifth EP of vibrant, pulsing "trap music." It's a style that's taken the EDM world by storm, as it revives chopped-and-screwed Southern hip-hop beats and turns them into a rave-ish rumble that's both dreamy and aggressive. The six-song disc is highlighted by the pair of songs at its center, the icy, soul-tinged "Are We Faded" and the martial, menacing "Yes We Faded."
Programmer/drummer Adam Tune, keyboardist David Matisse and turntablist Jr. Flo (aka Greg Dawson) initially came together seven years ago as a live hip-hop act, doing covers and reinterpretations, before evolving their current dancier format.
"We kind of became producers together and started making our own beats," says Dawson, who won DJ scratching championships in the aughts before discovering music software Ableton Live and gravitating toward EDM.
"We started figuring out how to play those beats into our live show," he explains. "Now we have a lot of kick triggers and live sampling, less acoustic drums, and more playing live 808s and stuff like that. It changed the whole landscape of what we do."
Keys N Krates are deeply influenced by artists like Timbaland and J Dilla and impressed by their ability to get distinct, imaginative samples.
"We're always looking for weird sounds," says Dawson. "We're trying to make our snares and kick drops unique and give them a lot of character. We remember listening to Timbaland and those kinds of artists in the early 2000s, and you'd hear sounds and wonder, 'Where the hell did they get that sample from?'"
Their approach to performance has similarly set them apart. For a lot of EDM acts, the term "live electronica" is a misnomer, since most of the music is pre-recorded to a backing track. Instead, Keys N Krates weave their samples and beats live.
"It never occurred to us to get a backing track that's going to do 85 percent of the work and we'll throw some sprinkles on top," says the turntablist.
Unlike most live electronic acts, there are no fixed beats or click tracks to fall back on. "If I'm just chopping a sample it's one thing. But if I'm triggering a really short loop, we really have to be pretty dead on. So we do a lot of practicing to make sure we keep a steady groove."
All of which gives the trio's live performances a subtle vibrancy. There's also a sense of urgency and chemistry that takes the onstage energy to a higher level.
"You'll notice a different vibe," promises Dawson, "and it will still feel big."