Dam Swindle: "It feels like we’re just getting started..."

Dam Swindle have reached a decade. To celebrate, they've curated a 10-track playlist reflecting the decennary and joined us for a chat.

After forming in 2011, breaking into the electronic music scene via a formidable pairing based off a shared love of similar sonics, Dutch duo Lars Dales and Maarten Smeets aka Dam Swindle have been consistently swindlin' with their signature brand of feel-good grooves and high-calibre club sounds.

Not long after first teaming up ten years ago, they established their now well-reputed label Heist Recordings as a home for their own original productions and guest entries from fellow underground stalwarts in the world of “classy deep house”. Since that time, they’re worked with and platformed the likes of Tom Misch, Marina Trench, Max Graef and Adryiano and launched two sub-labels Transient Nature and 10Questions to host sounds a bit more explorative than Heist. Most recently the pair have released a new 3-part EP series ‘Keep On Swindling’ [Part 1 out now] – an exercise in revisiting past tunes, and reimagining them in new fashions with reworks from talent Emma-Jean Thackray, Ash Lauryn and more.

To further mark the milestone, and in wake of the pair's celebrations at the club on 3rd September, Dam Swindle joined us for a chat. Lars and Maarten cover a lot of ground, reflecting on the very first time they played together as DS, the evolvement of their creative partnership, what makes a good remix (and a bad one), and the artists they're still dreaming of working with – from Overmono, to Elkka, to Mr G. We also asked the boys for a playlist – ten tracks for ten years; "We went through our record collection and most used playlists on our drives, and looked for tracks that we played countless times and tracks that really shaped the Swindle sound.." Keep reading and listening for your all-encompassing round up of that swindling sound.

Dam Swindle play fabric on 3rd September. Tickets here.

Congratulations on the decade. Looking back, do you remember the very first time you played officially as DS?

Ha, that’s a good question. We’ve obviously done a bit of digging and reminiscing and we’re both quite sure that our first show together as DS (after having played a few shows under a not-to-be-named working title) was in Amsterdam in a spot called Club Up. We did the opening three hours of the night and had a great time playing all the music we simply didn’t get to hear in clubs in the Netherlands at that time.  

How has the dynamic in your sets and sounds changed or evolved over the years?

I think our sound progressed in many ways. One of the very functional ways in which it’s changed is because of our DJ sets and set times. We started doing opening slots and moved towards headline slots, which require a different approach to the approach. After that came all-nighters, where we started off with under 100 bpm disco, funk and soul and gradually moved the tempo up to 130+ bpm disco, house, acid and techno. 

Lately, we’ve been playing closing slots or late slots at more electronic oriented parties and festivals, where we also get to play more techno and electro, which is great. Overall, we’ve always kept on looking for new (and old) music so the sets change along with that as well. There’s also always a trend in club music that moves in a certain way and we always try to stay connected with that and find music that fits our own taste and taps into the current musical climate. Lately, everyone seems to want to go harder and faster, so our sets move that way as well, which is really fun. 

What do you think is key to maintaining such a creative collaborative partnership for ten years?

Being honest to yourself and to your partner. Honesty (and being vocal about that) means you get to work together on what you want to reach. Even when we both want something different, talking about it opens up opportunities and creates a real sense of partnership. It’s something we learned along the way and with the experience that we’ve had in our business and personal relationships, we found out that this is key in working together in the best possible way. 

Your new EP ‘Keep On Swindling Part 1’ is out to mark the decade anniversary. Can you tell us a bit more about the release, and what we can expect from the forthcoming parts 2 and 3?

We went through our discography and talked a lot about the tracks that we really wanted to revisit after 10 years. We looked at the ‘classic’ tracks that made people love our sound and looked at ways to do something new with these tracks. ‘The Break up’ was an obvious choice, but we didn’t want to go for an obvious remix, which is why we asked Emma-Jean Thackray to do a full live jazz rework of the track for instance. 

In part 2, we’ve got the upcoming frontwoman of the Detroit house scene Ash Lauryn on a remix as well as a Dutch artist we’ve been fans of for a long time: Arp Frique. On the third release which will be out in December, we’ll have 2 legends doing a remix of 2 other DS classics, a much needed reissue of another track and new music as well. The idea behind these releases is to look back at the past 10 years, create something contemporary, and look at the future as well with up-and-coming artists as well as with new originals. 

We especially love that deliciously jazzed-up rework of The Break Up by Emma Jean Thackeray – [the first release from Dam Swindle on their fresh new Heist label back in 2013] – are there any other up and coming artists on your radar you’d like to work with? 

Definitely. There’s a huge list of artists we really admire, enjoy listening to and that inspire us in new ways. We recently came across a great singer with a lovely vintage voice. Her name is Lady Wray. We’re also huge fans of Elkka, whose music has felt like a fresh breath of air in the scene. Hablot Brown is a group we’ve already worked with for a remix, but we’re still in touch to find the right project to work on again. They’ve got so much soul and the way they create atmosphere with their voices, instruments and FX is great. 

We’ve also built up a nice group of musicians around us in the Netherlands who play in bands like Altin Gün, Jungle by Night, etc who regularly come over for recording sessions in our studio, so having these amazingly talented musicians close to us also takes the pressure off other collabs a bit. We simply keep our eyes and ears open and get in touch with people we feel a vibe with whenever we can. 

How do you decide who to let rework your tunes? Who else would you love to entrust with a remix?

It’s a combination of finding people that we know will deliver something great and people that we know will surprise us. We look at several things when choosing remixers. How badly do we want this artist? Is it a legend, an exciting new name? Is it someone who does a lot of remixes, or someone who hardly releases anything? Most important for us is that we choose someone who we know will bring a new and exciting perspective to the original and that this artist has some sort of musical connection with the original. The track and the artist need to fit together. Only after that does it become a discussion about time and budget. 

I could name a few artists I’d be super excited to have as remixers. Someone like Mr. G would be great as he’s such a great artist and has stayed true to his sound since day 1. rRoxymore  (just like Elkka), is someone who’s being doing great things recently and we’re following her closely as well. The list can be endless though and all depends on the direction we would want to take with that release. We’re big fans of the Overmono boys for instance, and at the same time can also image Nu Genea doing a full Italian disco rework of another DS track. The possibilities are endless..

What were your aims with the three-part Keep On Swindling series? 

The idea behind the series is threefold. Firstly, we wanted to look back at classic DS tracks, give them a new mix when needed and present the ‘hits’ of our back catalogue. Secondly, we wanted to release new Dam Swindle tracks that really show the progression in our sound. We’ve written so much new music and presenting parts of that in this series is a way to show the contemporary Dam Swindle sound. Last, we wanted to connect with famous and up-and-coming remixers to rework Dam Swindle tracks, to give these tracks new life and new perspectives for the years to come. 

Tell us a little about the playlist you’ve curated for us - how did you decide who featured, and what sounds does it scope?

We went through our record collection and most used playlists on our drives, and looked for tracks that we played countless times and tracks that really shaped the Swindle sound. Even though it’s impossible to break our 10 years down to 10 tracks, this selection definitely shows you an important part of the musical history of our sound, our label and our DJ sets.

You’re playing fabric on 3rd September alongside Ash Lauryn – she’s making quite a splash in the club cultural scene right now – what do you enjoy about her sound and her work?

Ash is amazing in so many ways. Her knowledge of the city, the music it has brought, and the cultural position of Detroit really shows how thorough, considerate, and aware she is of what music can do and what it means to be a Detroiter. The Scan7 guys tipped us a few years back on Ash just as she was starting to make her way to Europe and we’ve followed her closely ever since. This party is coinciding perfectly with our second Keep On Swindling release, on which she appears as a remixer. As a DJ, she’s great as well. She really breathes the music and has a great aura when playing. We already played together in Croatia during Suncébeat this year where she played 2 amazing sets at Barbarella’s and at our boat party, so we can’t wait to hear what she’ll do at fabric. 

In 2020, you changed your name to Dam Swindle, now reflecting the city you’re based in, Amsterdam. How has Amsterdam’s music culture influenced your sound?

I think the Amsterdam scene is a scene that’s always buzzing in its own typical way. From up-and-coming producers to event organisers: The Dutch scene is always looking for the next big move to make. We’ve got a great crew of (live) musicians around us that have inspired us and helped us shape our sound, moving from more sample-based music to the more hybrid live-electronic sound that we do now. Apart from that, Amsterdam simply is our home. It’s the place where we’ve lived for most of our lives, where our friends and family live and where daily life gives us the mindset to write our music. 

Your longstanding project Heist Recordings have welcomed the likes of Adryiano, Marina Trench, Nebraska and more releases over the years.  How do you sum the direction and mood of the label, and where do you want to take it going forward?

Heist has become synonymous with classy deep house, or at least, that’s what other people say. For us, it’s the culmination of the sound we’ve lived and breathed for the past 10 years in its many forms. Its got touches of disco, techno, afro and classic house, all folded into 63 singles and 2 albums so far. We’re going to expand the Heist catalogue into more electronic territory, after having already researched this with our sub labels Transient Nature and 10Questions. We’ve got releases coming up by Byron the Aquarius, Krewcial, ourselves, Orlando Voorn and much more, so we keep ourselves busy! 

You launched these two new labels more recently, 10Questions and Transient Nature. How does the sound and style differ? What are your plans for these two projects?

Transient Nature and 10Questions are both aimed at a part of electronic music that we felt were a bit too distant from the Heist sound. 10Questions has a more italo-electronic edge and Transient Nature is focused on electro and techno with releases from Artists like Scan7, my own side project Wanderist, Orlando Voorn and Black Cadmium. We’ve set these up as fully independent labels from Heist, but we might bring these a bit closer to what people know from us under the Heist flag. 

You mentioned in a recent interview the core ingredients for a good remix – which definitely sums up some of the remixes you’ve done. But what makes a bad remix? Have you heard any disastrous ones? 

Ha, what makes a bad remix? The first thing comes to mind is when the remix does not add anything to the original. When it’s uninspiring and doesn’t have any character in it. When a track is simply there out of functionality, and not out of creativity. For us, it is all about the reason for the existence of a remix, or any piece of music for that matter. A remix can be mixed awfully (or bluntly), arranged in a weird way, but when it has an original voice, when it’s got something that makes it stand out, it deserves to be heard and then it can never be bad.  

Where are you taking DS in the next 10 years?

Hopefully, we get to do what we've been doing for a long time. We’re touring a bit less these days, really picking the spots we want to play, which gives us time to work on new music and other projects. We’re launching a Dam Swindle AI experience during ADE on the AI platform Aimi.fm, which is super exciting. Apart from that, we’re working on a sample pack and VST for loopmasters, which we’re really excited about since it’s our first sample pack ever. There will be a new album as well (we’ve already started recording) and if all goes according to plan, there’s going to be a lot of exciting music coming from us and the labels in the coming decade.

Finally, (and it’s a hard one), if you had to select just one track to sum up 10 years of Dam Swindle, what would it be?

It would be Idris Muhammed – Could Heaven Ever Be Like This. It’s the track that has marked some of our most special sets and all the emotions that run through this track feel like a complete story in itself. Not to say that the Swindle story is complete after ten years. It feels like we’re just getting started… 

Dam Swindle play fabric on
3rd September. Keep On Swindling Part 1 is out now.

Words & Interview: Isobel Trott

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