The Knocks Nod To An Era That Was With New Song "House Party"

The Knocks Nod To An Era That Was With New Song "House Party"

“There’s not many people left in New York making dance music. Everyone’s in LA and we’re kind of flying that New York flag.”

“There’s not many people left in New York making dance music. Everyone’s in LA and we’re kind of flying that New York flag.”

Photography: Andrew Sokolow

Text: Cara Hessels

After living in Manhattan long enough, the city starts to influence your every move in ways you wouldn’t expect. Unbeknownst to you, her busy streets, yellow cars, packed subways and pungent smells actually begin to shape your tastes, desires and decisions. You quickly become a product of your environment, and here, New York City takes no prisoners.

That’s where The Knocks come in. Meeting for the first time as teenagers at Manhattan’s own New School, the pair quickly went from roommates to collaborators to studio owners, opening HeavyRoc studio at 55 Chrystie on the Lower East Side in 2008 (an address they would later nod to with the title of their debut album ‘55’). To these two artists, New York became more than a city in which to reside, but the birthplace of their musical careers.

In the last 11 years, the duo has gone on tour with Justin Bieber, produced and performed alongside the legendary Wyclef Jean, and has teamed up with the likes of Sofi Tukker, Nervo, Cam’ron, Walk The Moon, Fetty Wap, Carly Rae Jepsen, X Ambassador, and many more, to create some of the most infectious dance tracks streaming on the Internet today.

We sat down with Ben ‘BRoc’ Ruttner and James ‘JPatt’ Patterson to discuss their new single ‘House Party’, how the Big Apple has influenced their sound, and why they will never live in L.A.

You guys have been crazy busy huh?

BRoc: Yeah, it’s a different kind of busy. We’ve been off the road a little bit and just making music, which is my most favorite kind of busy.

So, being New Yorkers, what was it like seeing yourselves plastered in Times Square announcing your song ‘House Party’ the other day?

JPatt: That was pretty crazy. It’s a milestone.

BRoc: I didn’t think it was as big a deal, and then when it went live,  everyone was like ‘Oh my god.’ Especially my out of town friends and my parents. They’re like, ‘A Times Square billboard!’ As if to say ‘Ok, you made it.’ It’s like when my grandparents saw us in a Corona commercial, that was when it finally registered, ‘Wow, he’s successful. He’s on television.’

Yeah, I get that. As New Yorkers we’re so jaded. Everyone fucking hates Times Square.

BRoc: Yeah we didn’t even go up there. I thought about it too, and was like nah.

It’s awesome nonetheless. How’s ‘House Party’ tracking right now?

BRoc: We’re getting really good feedback. Multiple people are saying that it feels like the perfect combination of all our music that we’ve done over the years, which is really cool feedback. I feel like on this record, we really figured out what we are a bit more.

We were kind of testing the waters with this song to see how people react, and so far the reaction is great, it’s awesome. It’s more of a dance record than the stuff we’ve been putting out. It sounds more similar to the music we made when we first got started.

On that note how would you say your sound has evolved and why? Is it just how you’re feeling in the moment or are you pulling from an influence at the time?

BRoc: We’re just a little older now, I guess. When we started, we were just like, ‘Let’s make happy, fun music and talk about dancing with the DJ.’ Now, we still make fun, feel-good music, but it’s more grown up. We’ve been at the parties for a while now, and we’re a little over it. Not over it, but used to it.  

Would you say being a jaded New Yorker influences your sound at all?

BRoc: Oh yeah. On this record, I think that’s almost kind of a theme. The album is definitely a big nod to the era that we started getting into electronic music in New York, which was like early 2005-2010 when New York had a really cool thing going on.  It was the Strokes, it was The Raptures, LCD Soundsystem, all that music was really exciting. Justice was just coming out. To us, that was some of the best electronic music, and it didn’t get the shine it deserved because streaming wasn’t really a thing yet.

It was that weird in-between time when people weren’t buying CDs, and they weren’t streaming, so it was like a lot of this music just lived on blogs. It never really got heard. So that has been a big influence of ours on this record, referencing a lot of that sound.

I also read the book Meet Me in the Bathroom, which is about New York in that era. It’s an oral history with The Strokes, and it was inspiring for me to think about how that was such a cool time for music in New York, and how it kind of went away. Obviously a lot of scenes die in music generally, but that time in New York City was so cool, and we’re really trying to nod to that a bit more with our own music.

Do you think that there could be a resurgence of that scene?

BRoc: I don’t know. It’s hard now with the Internet. That was one of the last scenes like right before the Myspace boom, or kind of during it.

We definitely have our own little scene here, and I think we always have, so we realized that instead of trying to make songs that just sound good, we really wanted to start telling stories and make it more personal. Now, we’re literally telling stories. For ‘House Party,’ JPatt came into the studio and freestyled that entire story for the song.

I love that. It does feel like you’re taking us on a journey. Is that based on a real moment?

BRoc: Literally the night before we had just gotten to L.A. and were looking for a party to go to. We had to climb this ladder to get to the roof where the party was, and it was… weird. So the next day we put the beat on, and JPatt told that whole story. It just felt so real, and that’s how we’ve been running the rest of the music.

You’re trying to please people less and stay true to yourselves more.

JPatt: Yeah. We’ve always loved being producers, but now it’s time for us to be more artists in the sense that we’re talking about things that we’ve been through. I’m singing more on the record now,  so I feel like for me, I don’t want to sing someone else’s story.

Sure, you want to sing something that means something to you. That makes sense. So, going back to what you were saying about the scene on the Internet... do you think the Internet provides more opportunity with all of the different platforms? Or would you say it’s harder to break in now because it’s so saturated?

JPatt: Everything is so saturated.

BRoc: I think it’s harder, especially in the electronic world because there’s so much stuff out there… but it’s also easier to get lucky.

Right, you never know who’s listening.

BRoc: Yeah, it’s like, ‘Have you heard of this?’ and then somehow it goes viral. That happens a lot now, but it’s super unsustainable, and I think it’s also harder to stand out.

I recently read an article that was talking about how everything on Spotify sounds really good, everything is produced really well, and it almost fools you into thinking that the song is actually good. The production is so clean, and the vocals sound so good, but you might stop listening to the song and ten minutes later. You’re not going to remember what it was, it almost tricks the ear.

So a priority for you guys is the personality in the track.

BRoc: Yeah, it’s a big one, and it’s hard because another thing with the internet, you get a lot of copycats. Dudes like Skrillex or Kygo pioneer sound and all these other veteran producers come and basically just copy that sound and because it’s such a big thing in that moment .

Yeah, that’s frustrating. How do you respond to a copycat in that scenario?

BRoc: Well it’s harder I think for people to copy a sound like ours now because it is so personal. There’s also not many people left in New York making dance music, it’s weird. Everyone’s in LA and we’re kind of flying that New York flag.

You guys never see yourself in LA, right?

No. We’ll go there to work but, definitely no. We’ll never live there. It just feels like flying this New York flag is going to be an angel for us that you can’t really fake. We’ve both been living in the city for eleven years now, we just have a lot to talk about, which we never really did before.

So being New Yorkers, what’s your favorite spot to perform in in the city?

BRoc: That’s a good question...

JPatt: I really liked Webster Hall. Webster Hall was fun. There’s always a kind of gritty New York vibe in there. Other than that I think we prefer to DJ little, weird, sweaty basements… more like someone’s apartment that’s full of people. It’s just hard to find a lot of those these days.

What dream venue or festival is on your bucket list?

JPatt: Probably Coachella.

BRoc: Lollapolooza. too. Lolla’s my favorite festival.

So what is in the pipeline for you guys that you can tell us about?

BRoc: Our next EP is going to come out before the album, I think it’s going to be the top of next year, other than that we’re just working on our music. We have some amazing remixes of ‘House Party’ coming out, and then writing, writing, writing.

Want more from The Knocks? Of course you do. Check out their new track ‘House Party’ below and be sure to follow them on Spotify for more upcoming music.

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