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„Best of Both Worlds” – Interview with Wim Plug of Kraak & Smaak

On June 24, one of the main musical events of the VéNégy Festival and Theater Meeting will be the performance of Kraak & Smaak, who are celebrating their twentieth anniversary this year and returning to Hungary with a live band this time. On the occasion of the concert – on which you can expect a real rollercoaster of different musical genres – we talked with Wim Plug, one of the founding members is the Dutch DJ and producer trio who approaches electronic music in the most originative way possible, about topics such as the twenty-year anniversary, the creative dynamics of the group, and the mutual effects of the different incarnations on each other.

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This year you are celebrating the twentieth anniversary of Kraak & Smaak. Can you recall what was your first impression of each other when you first met? Why did you decide that the three of you should start a joint project?

We actually knew each other before that as Mark was already a friend of mine and Oscar was working in a Leiden bar that was a popular hangout during that time, for all of us. Mark knew that Oscar, being schooled as a professional musician and engineer, was looking for people to work with, and as neither me or Mark were trained musicians, but had at the same been DJ’ing a lot and built extensive record collections, combining things to start making music together made sense. We all clicked in that regard and never looked back since.

When you are working on a new song or even a remix, how is the division of labour? On what basis is it decided whether Oscar, Mark or Wim will be responsible for the given task? Is there an area that is a pronounced strength of one of you – be it the creation of song structures, the arrangement, the mixing/mastering process – or does the creative chemistry change continuously, song by song?

At the beginning we started out with all three of us in one room to work on stuff, bring our own perspectives on sound, arrangements, etc., into it. And not to forget, especially on the first two albums, bringing along loads of records to look for samples. Later on, that became less important, due to more possibilities gear-wise, and our interest in working with live vocalists/features. But in general, it always started with a musical idea from Oscar or a loop or snippet that caught our attention from our records. However, as we got more successful over time,  with all the extra work and related things needing attention, it just wasn’t doable anymore to work as a trio constantly. Nowadays it mostly starts with Oscar working constantly on ideas in the studio and me in the room next to it, in close contact, working on daily and longer-term K&S stuff of all kinds, also on our label Boogie Angst. We also divided up the performances, with me and Oscar doing the live band, and Mark and me the DJ sets. We only have so much time!

Is there a song from the twenty years of Kraak & Smaak that you are especially proud of, or that you think perfectly represents what that group is all about?

Maybe a bit of a standard answer, but ‘Squeeze Me’ has for a long time embodied the way we work and what we like: combining live instruments with a great sampled hook, plus a great song written and performed by Ben Westbeech (The Vision) in this case. Crossing the borderline between dance and pop music; something we implicitly always look for. Of course, we have been blessed with other featured artists such as Parcels, Durand Jones and Romanthony too, though!

You are probably the live refutation of the stereotype that lives in the minds of those who don’t like or know electronic music that much, since both in the studio recordings and live, a lot of musical motifs are combined in your songs, from the funk of the sixties and seventies to downtempo to indie rock. Do you remember a certain moment when you felt like you had found your own, unique world musically, or did everything develop step by step, following natural development?

To be honest, we already quickly felt confident in what we were doing. It’s just that you never know when the creative juices stop flowing, haha. We have always been very diverse in our musical tastes, and, although it has never been a deliberate goal, all these styles are apparently coming together.  Plus we have the best of both worlds really, on the one hand, the ability to record live instruments, electronica, but also, on the other, doing things from a DJ perspective. The studio is really the starting and end point of things, and combining all these things together makes, I guess, our sound original and recognizable. Moreover, our live band is an extension of our studio and not a goal in itself. We spend a lot of time ‘recreating’ our studio recordings. Not like a 100% copy of course, as a live performance is different and has its own ‘face’, and some things don’t necessarily work in such a setting and therefore need to be adapted (or dropped)  Otherwise it would just be a regular live band from around the corner.

What do you think is the most important difference between Kraak & Smaak twenty years ago and today, either in terms of music, attitude or your personal level?

I guess we were quite green at the beginning, although there was a healthy dose of arrogance and drive to get K&S across. Of course that has become less so, more realistic, etc. We also, in general, have shifted a bit from dancefloor-orientated stuff to more song-based material. We also have to take into account that the music world is not the same anymore (the importance of streaming nowadays for instance) and there is adaptation in that regard. But all in all, at the time we could never have dreamed up the fact that we are still here, making relevant music and performing on a regular basis, and all over the world!

You are performing with a live band for quite some time in addition to the DJ sets. How do the two Kraak & Smaak incarnations interact? Is there a situation where, for example, you like a new guitar tone or drum beat at a concert with a live band, and it then appears in some form in a later song?

Essentially the DJ set and the live show are two different things. For one thing, the DJ set does not necessarily revolves around K&S tracks only, while for the live band that is of main importance. Both also have totally different flows and contexts. But ideas do spring up from both situations, for example, through tracks by other artists we play out as DJ’s (or trying out things), or from the creative input of band members, who also regularly drop by to record in our studio when we need a specific sound only a particular instrumentalist can provide.

The anniversary will be celebrated with a special compilation album called Twenty, which will be released on June 16 by Jalapeno Records. What should we know about this twenty-song release? On what basis did you select the compositions included on that record?

Owww, a difficult one. We had to kill quite a few darlings tbh, also because we wanted to limit the number of songs to, well, 20. haha.. But the idea was to provide an accessible sample-card of what we have done during all those years. Tracks that really stood out for us, but also for the public. But  I can imagine though that we could come up with at least two more, different,  compilation albums that would also work. Maybe we ought to!

You will be playing in Hungary again soon as one of the main musical events of VéNégy Festival. Did you come with a DJ set or a live band now? What can the audience expect this time?

We’re doing the full band live show, with 6 people on stage, ready to rock! The crowd can expect a roller coaster ride mix of pop, disco, and house, but also more driving, raw electronic tracks, and with lots of dynamics within the set.

Have you ever been to a similar festival featuring music, theater and new circus productions at the same time?

Not sure about the circus part, but it’s definitely not the first time we have performed at these kinds of festivals. The Joshua Tree Music Festival in the US and Lowlands in Holland immediately spring to mind, which had a similar approach. The latter has for example also movies showing and even science lectures! We obviously like the diversity of programming involved; it really makes it different and more enjoyable than your usual festival me thinks!

You have performed concerts in Hungary many times – do you have any especially lasting memories from previous visits?

I think Hungary is actually the most visited country outside of Holland since our inception. The first time on Sziget was particularly memorable, I think it was 2005 or 6 and it was the last live gig of the festival, and in a closed, round tent, fully filled up with as many people as possible, who wanted to go at it just one more time. It was a super-energetic rock n roll sweaty mess anarchy! If I remember correctly our drummer at the time fainted afterwards, or at least needed an hour to come back to his normal self. One of the most amazing shows I’ve ever done and one for the list of classic K&S gigs for sure.

More information on the Vénégy Festival website! You can read our previous interviews with Ina West and the members of the Cirkus Younák troupe here and here.

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