When drum ‘n’ bass and classical collide: Camo & Krooked tell us about their symphony

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In the Red Bull Symphonic documentary with Camo & Krooked, the two drum 'n' bass dons link up with Christian Kolonovits to create a hybrid symphony.

In what’s probably the biggest challenge of their lives, Austrian drum ‘n’ bass duo Camo & Krooked collaborated with the legendary composer Christian Kolonovits to mix electronic music with symphonic sounds and perform live with a 74-strong orchestra. The result - Red Bull Symphonic – premiered with two exclusive shows in an even more exclusive location: the Wiener Konzerthaus, where usually only the world's leading classical composers perform. Red Bull was there to film the process on every step of the way – the documentary is out now. In the meantime, Camo & Krooked are set to play a headline set at RAMPAGE this Saturday March 14, although they are still buzzing from what happened in Vienna last month. “We have the post symphony blues right now”, says Markus Wagner. “Seeing all this work pay off is the best feeling in the world – I don’t think we’ll ever be able to top this”. Together with his partner in crime, Reinhard Rietsch, we set up a Skype call to hear what the hell just happened and what they have in store for us on RAMPAGE.

So guys, how did it go?

Markus: “We’re still on a cloud. I still get goosebumps when I look back on it. Fun fact: we hit the loudness record at the venue. The screams from the crowd reached 115 decibels without any music, overwhelming the orchestra. Everyone gave it their absolute best. It will probably take a while to process what just happened. It truly was a dream come true”.

Did you ever dream of working with such a prestigious composer and orchestra when you were just a young junglist teenager?

Markus: "Until a few months ago, we didn't even know we were going to do this. Then tickets went on sale, and everything went out the door within 48 hours, so that's when the pressure really hit us. Luckily, many of the tracks, arrangements and hardware were already prepared because of our recent live show. This was crucial because we would never have been able to reach the deadline otherwise. If you count in the work we did for our live show, and add it up with the time we spend on this project; the whole thing cost us one full year to prepare. If we're honest with you, normally we weren't going to use any material from our live show anymore. But then this opportunity came about, and we couldn't refuse".

In classical music, the ‘drop’ is the moment when the orchestra stops and everything becomes quiet. Do you see how that might cause some confusion?

What were your biggest challenges preparing for such a massive project like this?

Reinhard: “First of all, the communication with a legend like Christian Kolonovits required some alignment. The vocabulary used in classical and electronic music is quite different from each other, you know? In his context, the ‘drop’ is the moment when the orchestra stops and everything becomes quiet. The ‘break’ means the ‘pause’. Do you see how that might cause some confusion”?

Markus: "Maybe the biggest challenge of all was getting the sound right in the venue. It's a massive space tailor-made for classical music. Blasting drum 'n' bass music on big additional subwoofers was a tough task, to say the least, mainly because the 75 musicians still needed to be able to cut through. To make matters worse, there's another room directly under the concert hall, which inadvertently generated so much resonance that it would dominate the orchestra sound. Lucky for us, the sound engineer did a fantastic job levelling the complete range of sounds".

As you guys are used to electronic music production, how does one write music for an orchestra?

Reinhard: “First, we had to choose which tracks we wanted to use. We had to give Christian specially adapted minimalist versions of these songs so that the orchestra could build something of its own on top of them. That proved to be a real challenge for us, but luckily he was such a pleasure to work with – and he soon got the hang of what we were trying to do”.

We only saw the result with the full orchestra four days before the first show.

Markus: "It wasn't just giving the music to Christian as you would do for a remix. It's a symphony, which means the music needs to flow seamlessly from track to track. This required a lot of rearrangements, new interludes, outro's, tempo-changes and even some math. How else are you going to explain an orchestra they need to go from triplets at drum ‘n’ bass speed to 125 BPM four-to-the-floor tempo? On other parts, we gave Christian more creative freedom to interpret the track. It was a blessing to work with such a legend. He can think of a score in his head, and he’ll immediately know exactly how to write it down. That said, we only really saw and heard the result with the full orchestra four days before the first show. That was a stressful affair, but it exceeded our wildest expectations".

With RAMPAGE on the horizon, it looks like you guys only do big shows. Are you happy to return to Sportpaleis?

Markus: “As a drum ‘n’ bass DJ, playing RAMPAGE truly is the ultimate pinnacle of what you can achieve. The sound of the crowd gives you chills down your spine – there aren’t many places in the world where that happens. Sharing that moment with a good friend like Mefjus in a B2B-set will be incredible. Belgium still is one of the strongest countries for drum ‘n’ bass. So many parties, so many fans, so many good promoters – that’s special”.

You guys are good friends with Murdock and Netsky too, we hear. What’s your relationship like?

Markus: "Murdock booked us on our first ever gig for which we had to take a flight. That was back in 2010, at Silo in Leuven I think. It was a Radar party with Sigma and Netsky on the bill too. Since that night, we've all been in touch regularly. It goes beyond business, you know. We've been at Netsky’s parents house for example. We’re all part of a close-knit family. It doesn’t matter how big RAMPAGE has become, Murdock has stayed the same friend for us.

As a drum ‘n’ bass DJ, playing RAMPAGE truly is the ultimate pinnacle of what you can achieve.

What can we expect from your RAMPAGE performance?

Reinhart: As Markus said, we’ll premier our B2B-set with Mefjus here, which is a fun twist. Our sounds may be a little different, but it's going to be interesting to hear our melodic stuff interact with his intricate sound design. We're going to make mash-ups of our tracks and create a lot of new music, just for this performance".