Some have already spent years in the shadows, waiting for the right moment - others have barely left their bedroom studios. Some aim for headlining festival stages, others aim for nothing in particular – but all of them have developed a sound with the potential to turn a lot of heads. With this feature we shine a light on some of the most interesting emerging new talents our tiny country has to offer.
British underground music has long been a powerful force within the worldwide dance music scene. When you have to come up with examples, chances are you will think of drum ‘n’ bass or rave music. Alas, one of the only distinctively UK genres that never really broke through elsewhere is UK garage (or UKG). When this form of ‘broken’ garage house dominated the British charts and nightclubs around the early 2000s, relatively little poured down towards the European mainland. Later on, it would come to influence big movements like breakbeat, dubstep and UK funky.
Fast forward almost 20 years later: a trio of Antwerp-based, classically schooled musicians have made it their mission to bring attention to this overlooked piece of dance music history. With their thorough approach to making live music, KRANKk may be on to something. On a rather cold summer day, we met with Aram Abgaryan, Thomas Geysen and Willem Heylen for a cup of coffee on a Borgerhout terrace to see what they’re all about.
Live UK garage. Never thought that this would become a thing again. We assume you guys were too young to experience the golden era of the genre. Where did the interest come from?
Thomas: "Just those vibes, man! Just like many other genres, UK garage had to escape to the underground after it went through a phase of commercial abuse during the heydays. During our teenage years, we were listening to a lot of dubstep and drum ‘n’ bass, two genres that draw a lot of influence from 2-step and garage. So that’s kind of how we got into it. By trial and error, we noticed that crowds usually respond very positive to these vibes."
Willem: "‘Future garage’ is a kind of darker and melancholic derivative of UK garage that I’ve been following for a couple of years now. Think Burial, Clubroot or Blawan. I wanted to recreate this vibe for our band as a starting point from which we can later expand sonically."
Aram: "We can never bring back the golden era, but we hope to bring that same euphoric feeling back in our own way. Since garage was mostly a British affair, we already made a lot of connections with MC’s and vocalists from the UK."
What does UK garage have that other genres don’t?
Aram: "That warm, yet light-hearted feeling. It’s skippy, it’s highly danceable, while it’s never too much ‘in your face’, you know? It’s a genre that really acts upon the ‘mood’. Sometimes that mood is melancholic, but most of the time it’s optimistic and euphoric."
What does your setup look like?
Thomas: "The drums are played on a custom kit. As for the electronic arrangements I use the Roland SPD-SX sample pad, 2 kick triggers and a digital snare."
Aram: "I use a Roland RD-2000 keyboard, which is the perfect tool to recreate that typical natural 90s sound. Other than that, I have some MIDI controllers among which a Keylab Arturia 88 to play those iconic wobble basslines, synths and samples in Ableton. I also control the effects on Thomas’ drums."
Willem: "I’m playing the guitar, but without the amplifier to keep an uncoloured sound. It’s also wired to trigger effects in Ableton Live, which I control with my Akai APC."
Aram: "All the samples we use come from a sound library we made entirely by ourselves. When we play live, we always invite different MCs of vocalists on stage with us to keeps us on edge to remain creative and avoid habituation."
It seems like you guys had some background in music production before this, right? Where did you guys meet each other?
Thomas: "Willem and I both study jazz at the Royal Conservatory in Antwerp. We both started experimenting with instruments and electronic music about two years ago and we both had a love for UK breakbeat music. When we eventually toyed with the idea to start a band, we had to look for a producer slash keyboardist. Techno DJ Cellini, a mutual friend, linked us up with Aram, who was already making garage music under his solo Fifty Hertz moniker. It turned out he was studying classical piano in our school! The chemistry between the three of us worked perfectly."
UK garage never really broke through here in Belgium. Do you guys feel like you want to use your live show as an introduction to the genre for a new generation of music fans?
Aram: "We certainly hope so. UK garage inspired us, so it may do the same for other people too. Nowadays, it has almost completely disappeared from the club, yet its influence is still present throughout the dance music scene. Take an artist Jorja Smith for example. She builds upon the foundations of UK garage, but she does it in a forward-thinking way. That’s our aim too: paying tribute to this great era of electronic music, without doing what’s been done before. We want to keep moving forward."
What do you mean exactly by ‘moving forward’?
Aram: "Our studies at the Conservatory really shape the way we approach our music production process. First we distil UK garage to its core elements. We look for what exactly determines ‘the flow’. Once we identified those, we use our own organic methods and our own sounds to create something new."
So, what are your next moves? What’s in the pipeline?
Thomas: "Right now we are finishing up our debut EP, ‘Dark’. It features a guest appearance from David Ngyah, who you might know from his collaboration on the blackwave. single ‘Elusive’. The track with David will be released first as a single in December In the near future we will start playing live shows. Meanwhile, you can expect a whole load of singles, collaborations (with Ms Angel and Blu Samu for example) and remixes. By the summer, we’ll be ready with a tried-and-tested live show and heaps of summer-y feel-good sunshine garage!"