Detroit Swindle

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Lars Dales and Maarten Smeets’ rapid rise through the ranks has been fuelled by their soulful approach to house. We find out how it happened.

Detroit Swindle

“It’s a big scam.” Lars Dales and Maarten Smeets: not from Detroit, definitely a swindle.

In just two years, Detroit Swindle have racked up releases on labels including Tsuba, Huxley’s Saints & Sonnets, Freerange and Heist. They’ve toured the world for DJ sets, set up their own Heist imprint and turned out a series of classy remixes. It’s a sizeable chunk of any producer’s bucket list in such a short space of time, made all the more impressive by the fact that the duo weren’t even sure their music was any good until a friend took it upon himself to submit some demos for them.

We spoke to Lars and Maarten by email to find out more about their approach and discover why people might be a little surprised about the way they make their music.

Attack: We heard that you started releasing music almost by accident. Your friend sent some tracks to Huxley, right?

“Suddenly there was an email in our inbox from Huxley saying he really wanted to put out our first records.”

Detroit Swindle: The thing is, we were quite happy with what we were producing at that time considering the short amount of time we’d been spending in the studio together, but we just thought it wasn’t good enough yet. When our friend Immer heard the tracks, he was like, ‘Ooooh yeah this shit is good’… So he just sent it over to Huxley as a demo for his new label and suddenly there was an email in our inbox from Huxley saying he really wanted to put out our first records.

How long had you been making music up to that point?

We’d been making music together for about nine months or so. Before that, we’d both been messing around with edits and stuff like that, but this was the first serious effort to producing originals.

So you didn’t think your music was ready to release or you weren’t really sure?

We weren’t really sure. We liked what we were producing, but all beginnings are difficult and it’s tough to say if you’re good or not. It’s not like we’re Derek Zoolander and we’re absolutely sure we’re the hottest model around.

So how do you rate yourselves as producers and artists now, a couple of years in? Do you think you’re at your peak or do you feel like you’re still learning?

Oh man, we’re learning every day. We’ve spend loads of time improving our mixing the last year and we’re really keen to learn more. We’re also really enjoying ourselves in discovering analogue gear and that’s something you never grow tired of. It’s an everyday challenge to get a synth to produce just that sound that you’ve got ringing in your head…

Tell us about your music-making process. Is the focus exclusively on the dancefloor when you sit down to make a track?

It varies. We’re working on our album right now, and we definitely want to broaden the perspective. But most of the times, no matter how mellow or deep we start, we usually end up making a club track. It’s just in our DNA.

How do you typically work? Is it about going into the studio with a set idea of what you want to make, or is it about playing around until you find the right kind of vibe and developing an idea as you go?

Our best work is typically the outcome of messing around; working with samples, toying around with our synths and VSTs and staying away from any predetermined plan. When we’ve got a hook that we like, it gets a bit more organised.

You’re both big soul music fans, right? What do you think it takes to blend that soul element into house music?

Soul, disco, old-school hip-hop – that’s what we grew up with. Making edits helps, because you really have to listen to the original and pinpoint the best elements. We definitely sample a lot, but try to steer clear from the obvious loops or overused vocals, and we’re always looking for an exciting way to reinterpret the stuff we sample. It’s all about creating something fresh and at the same time respecting the original artist. That’s something people tend to forget and just use whatever hip-hop or soul sample they can find and use easily.

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  • Date: 18th November 2013
  • B Wizzle Wrote:

    Terry Lee Brown JR cousins

  • Michigander Wrote:

    Nothing like white Europeans copying and profiting on what poor black Americans created. Good thing they “can’t be bothered with localism” meanwhile people are starving, unemployment is at an all time high, the city filed for bankruptcy, and the average price of house is less than the cost of a new car. Great way to “pay respect”.

  • BB Wrote:

    Michigander, I totally understand why cultural appropriation is such a hot topic right now (hi Miley!), but we’re talking about music which has been produced, DJed, danced to and enjoyed by people all around the world for at least a quarter of a century now. How should house artists from around the world pay respect to the roots of this music?

  • Ben Wrote:

    Michigander…as a fellow Michigander, I must say that you’re being a little too touchy on this. While I think their name is a bit silly, I do recognize that they picked it out of respect for Detroit and the music they grew up with, not to profit on what “poor black Americans” created (though that, of course, is not the entire story). Anyway, no one group owns any genre of music, and “white Europeans” making House or Techno doesn’t mean they’re just copying, that they can’t do it as well as “black Americans”, or that they’re doing anything wrong. The core of underground dance music moved to Europe in the 90s (though there is of course still a lot of great stuff coming out of the US, Detroit and New York / NJ in particular for my tastes), and there’s nothing wrong with that. No one owns the sound.

  • Highlander Wrote:

    @Michigander: (Facepalm)

  • there are no ufos Wrote:

    Michigander… You seem to know less about MUSIC history than Guetta who claimed Larkin invented techno.

  • Michigander Wrote:

    By not capitalizing on the association, history, and (like it or not, it is what it is) credibility of a suffering city and it’s residents? I would venture to guess that these guys get 5-10x more opportunities (read, paying gigs) than many 3rd and 4th wave Detroit artists. Is it too much to ask them to come up w/ their own nam?

  • Ben Wrote:

    Michigander, no I agree that their name is not a good choice, and that they probably get more paying gigs than many relatively recent Detroit artists (and that they probably get more paying gigs because of their name, because of the certain detached “chicness” often associated with “Detroit” in some circles). I just don’t agree with where you took your first comment from there.

  • MidWestCoast Wrote:

    It’s a silly name, I agree, but I don’t think their opportunities came from using that name specifically. They came from the quality of the music and the early luck they had getting their music on respected labels. At most the name grabbed attention because it was different and stood out (similar to how I believe Claude Vonstroke’s name helped him stand out a bit in the beginning), but not because they used the word “Detroit”.

    Truth is, their music is good and they deserve their success. They’ve taken a collection of sounds, made it into their own, and it works really well.

    I hate to say it, but a good amount of the current wave of artists coming from the Midwest origin cities tend to trade too much on where they are from and try to fit themselves into the known sound of their cities, instead pushing things and expanding themselves as artists.

  • Yak Polo Wrote:

    [man holds his head in despair, the chat lads, THE CHAT...]

  • Michigander Wrote:

    Ben + MidwestCoast: Great comments! I agree, it was a touchy response, but the origin of it is well intentioned. It’s disappointing and unfair that these guys (likely) get more bookings (the livelihood of producer in 2013) than many talented, older house and techno producers who have contributed a lot more to the culture than using some sample packs and presets and putting out a few records.

    That said, life’s not fair :)

    PS: I have nothing for or against Detroit Swindle as musicians. Their music isn’t for me, but plenty of people love it and play it. My issue is the name, even if well intentioned, is a bit of a poor choice, and does provide some benefits to them.

    The point of all this, however, is to have the conversation.

  • Ben Wrote:

    Michigander, +1 for the comment and not jumping on the defensive like 90% of the Internet :)

  • Detroit Swindle Wrote:

    @Michigander, just seeing this now, i also respect the tone of your last comment, but I feel I must explain our choice!

    We chose the Detroit monicker to pay our hommage to the music (and especially the motown era) we grew up with. If a white kid (such as myself, or at least used to be) grows up with music that comes from detroit (or any other city) does he/she have less right to use this influence in his/her music or monicker than any other? Music is a personal thing and everyone should be free in their expression in which way shape or form (okay, obviously there are some boundries).

    On another note, did you know that the city of Detroit (french for: ‘strait’) has been founded and named by the French, the dutch closest ancestors?. Thought that would be worth a mention.

    We added the swindle (which means ‘To cheat’) deliberatly to hopefully have people know that we’re not trying to act as we’re from Detroit.

    We get a lot of bookings because we work our asses off and drop an EP every 8 weeks that a lot of people buy because they like it, not because of the name (well maybe a bit). We work closely together with a lot of Detroit’s older producers and they’ve never mentioned anything about us using the motorcity’s name in vain other than the occasional jokes now and then!

    I hope you will understand my point and enjoy our music, or not. :)

    Sincerely,

    Lars
    Detroit Swindle

  • The Cousin of Detroit Techno(twice removed) Wrote:

    I think Moodymann was talking about guys like this at the beginning of Can’t Kick This Feeling When It Hits.

  • Yush Wrote:

    @Detroit Swindle
    Listening to ( been listening to) your freerange set – great set and very representative of your style of music and the motown reference you made here.
    I think the name is great- it would be awful if you took this name up and made some choiced cheesy trashy stuff but from what I have heard I am sure you guys will continue to produce that funk induced vibe that will never get old.
    Good on you guys-from Chicago.