Most Promising Artists 2019: KRANKk

Pictures by Lars Duchateau

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As with every Red Bull Elektropedia Awards show, we like to put upcoming talent in the spotlight. The Most Promising Artist Award is given to three acts that are deemed to be on the verge of breaking through. Whether it’s making beats, spitting bars or singing melodies, these artists have one thing in common: a promising potential to make it big in the music scene.

British underground music has long been a dominant force within the worldwide dance music circuit. More so, it looks like classic UK genres like garage and grime are finally making their breakthrough in pop music. Just look at the success of Jorja Smith, Stormzy and Skepta. Back in Belgium, a trio of Antwerp-based, classically schooled musicians have made it their mission to bring attention to this overlooked piece of dance music history. If their two powerful singles and an upcoming album show us anything, it’s that Aram Abgaryan, Thomas Geysen and Willem Heylen have a lot of fresh ideas up their sleeves. With their meticulous approach to making live music, KRANKk is a name to keep your eye (and ears) on.

Tell us where you guys first met.

Thomas: We met through a mutual friend, Cellini (last year's Most Promising Artist, ed.). We all study at the Royal Conservatory in Antwerp, and we shared an interest in electronic music. Aram was already making beats at this point, but we were all looking for a project that could include a live band. After countless brainstorm and inspiration sessions, we developed a plan and started our adventure.

Where does the interest in UK garage come from? We doubt you were old enough to be clubbing in London in 2001…

Thomas: I grew up with jungle, drum ‘n’ bass and dubstep. I have a lot of family in England, and my uncle always told me incredible stories about big garage raves. He first taught me about the roots of the genres I was into.

Aram: I too was already deep into dubstep and drum ‘n' bass, but the sound of UK garage just spoke to me. It was funky, skippy, bouncy, etc. When we developed KRANKk, we looked into the history of the genre and fell in love. They have a certain groove that you can find in contemporary garage or grime tracks.

We've really studied our instruments, and that changes the way you approach music production.

Does being a student at the Conservatory make you look at UK garage differently?

Willem: I think it does, because we are very instrument-oriented. We've really studied our instruments, and that changes the way you approach music production. You start to value arrangements and sound pallets more. A simple digital production won't do it for you anymore, and so you begin to incorporate live acoustic elements. In the end, that's going to affect the way your music sounds.

Aram: That mindset is something you can find in the spirit of classic UK garage. A lot of the old tracks have jazz and classical influences. Think bombastic strings and stuff like that.

You guys focus on playing live as opposed to DJ-ing. Is the live set your priority?

Thomas: Yes, it is. With every production we make, we keep our live performance in mind. We also do DJ sets and sometimes we make well-curated mixtapes, but our goal is to have a solid live show. We are instrumentalists before anything else. Once we've reached that target, we can pay a little more attention to DJ-ing.

So far you have been teasing everyone with a handful of singles with great features, like Miss Angel, Blu Samu and David Ngyah. Will they be part of an upcoming album?

Aram: The strategy behind ‘Like That’ (the track featuring Blu Samu and Miss Angel, ed.) was to show the world what we could do with a grime sound, proving that Belgian artists do it just as well. We have to say both women did an incredible job. ‘Crazy’ (the track featuring David Ngyah, ed.) is indeed a sample on the upcoming album, which will be drenched in dark garage vibes.

Where does the name and its spelling come from?

Thomas: KRANKk comes from krankzinnig (Dutch for "crazy", ed.), which is kind of what it feels like sometimes. I remember watching Roni Size’s live show at Dour Festival many years ago and feeling like ‘damn, this is krank’. That served as an inspiration ever since, and the word just stuck with me. I like that word because it has a ring to it in almost any language. It just fits.

What’s your endgame?

Willem: I think we aim to become an established name in that scene while remaining true to ourselves. We don't want people to think we are copying others. Doing big shows, that's our goal. If we're able to collaborate with some legendary artists in the process, that would be amazing.