“The most beautiful thing about playing professionally is the communication and flow you share with your fellow musicians.” KRANKk on the power of collaboration to create idiosyncratic sounds

In anticipation of this year’s BOUGE B, an innovative dance and music festival held annually in deSingel, we speak to some of the talented dancers and performers showcasing at the event. BOUGE B was originally founded in 2008, and has since developed from a contemporary dance event to fully-fledged dance and music festival and continues to grow and evolve every year. Combining music and dance to explore new means of presenting differing art forms and thus creating a platform for the audience to fully engage with the experience, this year’s Club Edition is sure to palpitate the senses.

Next up is KRANKk, a musical group comprised of two current students and one graduate from the Royal Conservatoire Antwerp. Combining their diverse backgrounds and respective musical talents, they discuss their far and wide inspirations – ranging from everything like jazz and blues to grime and UK underground -, their energetic stage presence and how they engineer their experimental sound to create idiosyncratic and hypnotic music. Here, Aram Abgaryan, Thomas Geysen and Willem Heylen reveal how they translate their music to eclectic live performances, as well as the dark atmosphere, exciting grooves and thrilling music from their new latest album, DARK, all of which you can expect at this year’s BOUGE B.

Can you describe your practice as a musician? How would you define your music and where do you draw your inspiration from?

Willem: Thomas and Aram are students at the Royal Conservatoire Antwerp. They have a large repertoire to study, Aram as a classical pianist and Thomas as a jazz drummer. I already graduated, and am enjoying working as a full-time musician. We come together twice a week to produce, record, mix or rehearse with a clear goal and vision towards our releases and live sets. We also do a lot of engineering for our hybrid live setup. Because the drums and guitar are half electronic, half acoustic, we need to pay a lot of attention to the tone and balance of the electronic sounds that we produce.

Aram: We love to experiment with complex drum grooves, multiple basses and organic sounds. Most of the time, we tend to create a lot of variation in most of our tracks. You’ll never hear the same hook twice. We do admire producers that create the perfect loop and keep it rolling, but somehow that doesn’t work for us from a live perspective. Working with complex ideas gives a different bounce to every track. For our first single How We Were, we use 5/4 rhythms combined with 4/4 musical lines, which creates a trippy kind of bounce for the listener. The fun thing is that people don’t need to know theory in order to understand music. Complexity can be perceived emotionally and doesn’t have to make sense.

Thomas: A big influence and inspiration for me is Roni Size. I was blown away by their performance at Dour about six years ago. Their live band is amazing, made up of great musicians and great producers. We think it’s important to engineer our own sound and implement our own voices in our music to create something that’s unique and immersive. Artists like Burial, Preditah, Sticky, Spooky Bizzle and Skepta are important sources of inspiration and references in our productions – each one has their own signature sound. Various UK styles inspire us a lot. They enable us to make a lot of different types of tracks adjusted to our features.

Annika Wallis (c)

What are your respective backgrounds? How did you first get introduced to making music?

Thomas: Most of my family live in the UK – my grandmother emigrated there from the Caribbean. My family listened to funk, blues, jazz while my uncles were well and alive during the 90s underground garage and jungle period. I myself encountered with this music during family visits to London, and I was happy that Belgium always swiftly followed UK artists in the dubstep and drumb and bass scenes. The bounce, rhythm, tempo – everything about UK music gets me up on my feet. I began playing the drums when I was four years old, inspired by James Brown and Shaggy. I was lucky enough to get a private teacher and enroll in a music school later on, where I was taught a classical approach. I remember buying Logic 9 the very moment it was released. I was so inspired by underground bass-genres that I badly needed a medium where I could write down my ideas. I switched from classical music to jazz around the same time, and as a result, studied massive inspirations like Tony Williams, Peter Erskine, Simon Phillips, Eric Harland and Stéphane Galland. I enrolled in jazz contemporary music at the conservatory in Antwerp. The most beautiful thing about playing professionally is the communication and flow you share with your fellow musicians. Trying to be organic as a group playing compositional music and adding your own ideas through improvisation is delightful. KRANKk’s intention is to cover all of these inspirations as we produce, compose, perform and collaborate with artists that we think best suit our music and mindframe.

Willem: Growing up, there was always music around me: I picked up the guitar at an early age and went on from there. Music always was a great way for me to escape life, school and whatnot, and a natural way for me to express myself. Over the years I started exploring improvisation. And at 18, I decided to attend the Conservatoire to focus on jazz and improvised music. In the next five years, I found my own direction in music, focussing mostly on improvisation, soundscape and atmospheric music. All of these elements are connected to KRANKk. 

Aram: I received my first keyboard when I turned two. I don’t really remember the brand, but it looked huge for my tiny self – it was serious, grown-up stuff. Barely on my feet, I would try to sync the patched beats with music on the radio or TVand play along with the melodies. Ever since, music, buttons and keys have been my entire life. I’ve been studying classical music since I was 10, and started producing when dubstep and drum and bass started to get popular in Belgium. I’ve tried out a lot of genres, and learned a lot from books, YouTube tutorials and simply listening to music. In the last five years I’ve switched to producing UK garage because I love its classy and adult vibe. That’s where I found a common interest with Thomas when we met at the conservatory. Working through our shared inspirations in a live project is really thrilling. 

The fun thing is that people don’t need to know theory in order to understand music. Complexity can be perceived emotionally and doesn’t have to make sense.

Could you talk to us about your recording process and your approach to music-making?

Most of our tunes start off with an idea or song that one of us developed. These ideas can be close to finished songs, but can also be more vague concepts. We each have our own approach to making tracks and using or recording sounds, which is nice, because we always end up with many different sonorities and ideas to work with. Together, we shape and refine the arrangements. We mostly focus on expanding every aspect of it to make the instrumental interesting enough to play live. We also bear in mind the artists we should feature and the type of instrumental that would best fit their vogue. Since we all have our own influences, we end up with a nice mix of styles and sounds, which gives us a broad palate to work with.

How do you translate your music from studio to live setting? What are you seeking to express to the audience during a live concert context?

Translating our music to live performance can be tricky. This type of music relies heavily on the produced sound of the studio setting, so we put a lot of effort in getting the live sounds just right. Thomas even had to come up with his own notation system in order to be able to write down and study our produced drum patterns. The process is really difficult and time-consuming, but the result is truly magical. Once we get the feeling that the live sounds of a track are on point, we start figuring out the live performance. It does happen that we adapt the live version of track: sometimes the vibe or build-up of a tune doesn’t really work in a live setting. For example, some produced ideas can be impractical to play. And we do want to be comfortable and free playing the music live. So once we start rehearsing a tune, it naturally starts to develop. Both the drums and guitar have hybrid setups; that way we can choose between the produced electronic sounds and the acoustic sounds of our instruments. This allows for more freedom when playing live and adds another dimension to the songs when performed live.

What, exactly, will you be performing during BOUGE B?

Our performance will be doubling with the release show of our album DARK, which consists of original material and featuring David Ngyah on the main track. We also have a couple of remixes, like KRANKk flips of Modern Love by Chris Dogzout and MJ Cole’s recent single If Only. The atmosphere we’re going for at the moment is dark and edgy. The live set will contain some more open, UK garage inspired tracks; which does tend to have a certain degree of sadness, but always with a clear underlying groove and drive. The live set also includes tracks that are more related to grime, and build up nicely to our latest release Like That, featuring Antwerp’s Miss Angel and Blu Samu. These tracks add some edge and in-your-face energy to the live set. In general, you could say that the live set combines a dark atmosphere with driving grooves and turn-up moments. We always keep the old skool underground UK garage parties in mind.

Music and dance festival BOUGE B will be taking place on 15th and 16th March at Antwerp’s deSingel. The Word Radio will be handling afterparty duties with 2F4F on the Saturday.