It’s no secret that Maarten Smeets and Lars Dale of Dam Swindle are inarguably one of Amsterdam’s hottest exports of the last decade. Their early releases on labels including Dirt Crew, Freerange, Tsuba and Aus Music laid down the groundwork for the development of their own music hub, Heist Recordings which is now celebrating its ten year anniversary with a series of releases titled Keep On Swindling.’
The three part series of releases features a variety of the labels content including label classics, inspirations and a view into the window of where they see the label moving forward. With recent remixes of some Salsoul Classics, Z Records and new Heist projects, Dam Swindle isn’t looking at slowing down anytime soon. What’s more they’ve recently collaborated on some music-based home interior design projects.
It’s a pleasure to have the opportunity to do this interview with you gentlemen as I’m an avid supporter of your music. I took off days from work on two separate occasions (which I never do) to see you perform live at Smartbar here in Chicago & I’m super happy that I did.
Well, so are we. Coming to Chicago for us was such a big deal, and even more so at an institution like Smartbar. Going to Gramaphone before the show, walking into the clubs with all the heads standing there enjoying the music almost felt like a rite of passage and especially the first time, it took us a few records before we started feeling at ease, but when we got to that point, it was amazing each and every time.
Celebrating 10 years of anything is quite an accomplishment, especially in an ever-changing music scene — along with the technology. Congratulations! Some of your earliest releases were on Dirt Crew. How did that relationship come about & how did it inspire you to create your own label, Heist?
Peter, the owner of Dirt Crew was one of the first real believers in our music. We had organized a Dirt Crew label night during ADE, I guess it was 2011, and we really clicked well. When he heard our first few demos, he knew he had to release them. He was also the one to push us to develop a live show which we premiered in Berlin and later on to produce our album Boxed Out. Our sound developed and got popular so fast that starting our own label after just one year felt completely natural and Peter was a great help in making that happen. He’s still a close friend and manages production for our label, so it’s nice to still be connected after all these years.
I hope that at the end of the year, after the three Keep On Swindling releases, we’ll have a nice look into the past, present + future with some beautiful + exciting music on it.
After the success of ten years of Heist and an amazing catalog, how difficult was it & what has been the process to select the music for the “Keep On Swindling” releases?
We were both really clear on the concept we wanted for the 10 year anniversary. It was going to be a moment to look back at some of our hits, a look into what we’re doing now with new music and a showcase of talent and the people around us that form the future of our sound or electronic music in general. Going for this concept meant we just had to do something cool with tracks like “The Break Up” and “64 Ways” and it also meant we would really need a few releases to show the diversity in our sound. I hope that at the end of the year, after the three KOS releases, we’ll have a nice look into the past, present and future with some beautiful and exciting music on it.
Over the years you’ve been integral in signing breakout artists like FOUK, Brame & Hamo, Nachtbraker and Max Graef amongst others. How does your A&R process go about finding these types of amazing producers early in their career?
A&R is something we do on a very personal level. We meet people on the road, in Amsterdam or on the internet and sometimes you just know when you’re on the same level in terms of music. On other occasions, you just see the great potential someone has and you feel like you can help that artist with the platform that we’ve built. Looking for talent and showcasing that has always been our goal, probably even more so than signing a well-known artist and going for safe. It’s a matter of keeping your ears and eyes open and recognizing patterns. This could be anything from reading an interview to checking out a mixtape or a release on an unknown label. And sometimes the music comes to you.
Like with Makèz: They sneaked into a club in Amsterdam when they were still underage to hand us their first demos and now they’ve released two EPs and an album with us.
Are you still using a similar process for the artists/remixers on the “Keep On Swindling” series?
For the “Keep on Swindling” series, we’re looking for a broad range of remixers that really represent all the aspects of our sound. We’ve just had a super jazzy live rework of “The Break Up” by rising UK Jazz talent Emma-Jean Thackray and on the next one we’ve got Ash Lauryn, who feels like she’s becoming the new frontwoman of Detroit house music, and Rush Hour regular Arp Frique, who did an amazing worldly remix of our track, “Yes, No, Maybe” with Tom Misch. The third EP will again have a different focus, so we’re switching things up nicely throughout the releases.
“The Round Up” releases on Heist were a similar concept, aside from the 10 year milestone, how do the “Keep On Swindling” releases differ?
So “The Round Up” releases always have Heist artists from that year, whereas these “Keep On Swindling” EPs feature remixers that have inspired us with their music but haven’t appeared on the label yet. This year’s “Round Up” will be another cool one by the way, with music from us, Orlando Voorn, Byron the Aquarius, Crackazat, Nebraska, Makèz and another surprise act…
You’ve recently done some remixes from the Salsoul catalog, which has to be an amazing feeling. How do you approach a project like that, especially with the popularity of edits and remakes to make it something entirely unique and tasteful?
That was a big project for us and we knew we needed to take our time for it. Even selecting the tracks to rework was a huge step; that catalog is so extensive and there’s so much great music on the label it’s just frightening. Choosing a track like, “Let No Man Put Asunder” involved a lot of brainstorming and us deciding on whether the world really needs a Swindle version of that track. We decided we could definitely add something new to the catalog with our music and got the multi-tracks in. That was a big moment as well, just to realize we were looking at the original parts of that song, recorded so long ago by these musical visionaries. It was an amazing and humbling experience and we’re super happy we’d been given the opportunity to share our vision on that piece of music.
What have been the pros & cons of your pandemic time musically?
I’ve got three kids and my wife is a nurse. When the pandemic started, she was still on maternity leave but quickly got called back to work. We really needed to be flexible with homeschooling two kids on different levels with a baby going everywhere around the house as well. It was challenging and didn’t make it easy for me to head to the studio, so my priorities definitely needed to change for a while to just keep our sanity. Lars on the other hand had a lot of time and he produced a lot of music for two other projects he’s doing (The Palmer Initiative and Sound Support). The spare time I had at home, I worked on my Electro-Techno project called Wanderist. It was also good to take some time off after being on the road together for such a long and intense time and It really refreshed our view on the Dam Swindle sound and the way we work together. Coming out of it now, we’ve got so much energy for the releases this year and we’re already working towards a new album.
Your live show is one of my favorites and would recommend it to an aficionado of live performances of any genre. What’s your approach to this and what are your plans for future performances?
That’s really nice to hear. We’ve always put a lot of effort in it and over the years, it evolved from a laptop and controllers show to a full-on live show with Rhodes, a bunch of synths, samplers and drum computers and us bringing our good friend and amazing key player Lorenz Rhode with us. Our goal was always to have our songs as people know them as the backbone of the set but have the opportunity to improvise during the shows as well. We’d always play some classics, some demos and a fun cover as well to mix things up such as “French Kiss” or “Can You Feel It.” The response to the shows has always been amazing, which really makes it worthwhile. It’s a big project to do though and eats up so much time that you really need a specific window to tour and not do it throughout the whole year. There’s nothing planned right now, but perhaps after the next album…?
Your last show I saw was with Lorenz Rhode. How did that collaboration come about & how did you decide to perform live together? Have you done live shows with other artists and/or do you have plans to do so in the future?
Lorenz is a close friend and he was an important part of the writing process of our album High Life, so it really made sense to bring him along. He’s an amazing key player and synthesist and a super funny, easy-going guy, so when we decided that our live show really needed that jazzy element of live keys, he was the first person we asked. If we’d do a new live tour, we’ll see what happens in terms of putting together the band.
You launched an interior design collaboration project with a company called Robuust at the end of last year. Can you tell us about that and if you will be releasing more to pieces to that series or if you have similar projects lined up or in mind?
It’s definitely a project that’s ongoing, but we also want to make sure that these first items get the attention they deserve. We’ve had a lot of media around the launch and products, which is great, but now we’re also looking into distribution and getting the pieces seen by the right audience, which is an interesting process as well. The guys we’re doing this with — Job & Niek — are amazingly talented and we’ve already got a few ideas to work on, so more might come in due time!
Random fun fact?
We’re doing this interview on my way home after two amazing shows for Suncébeat in Croatia where we tested a few new tracks and edits. They went down really well, so apart from the “Keep On Swindling” releases, you might see some DS edits show up somewhere soon as well.
Anything else you’d like to say?
Can’t wait to be back in Chicago, hit the record stores and play some jams in the clubs!
There’s more inside 5 Mag’s member’s section — get first access to each issue for a few bucks a month.
Ten Years Of Swindling: Dam Swindle’s Keep On Swindling Part 1 (2022)
Dam Swindle: Nod to the Classic (2021)
Dam Swindle’s Lars & Maarten start two new labels (2021)
Detroit Swindle changes their name to “Dam Swindle” (2020)
The High Life with Detroit Swindle (2019)
Detroit Swindle Lives the High Life (2018)
Detroit Swindle: The 5 Magazine Interview (2013)