From New York City, The Knocks started in their own apartment in a homemade studio. Eventually they made it to Chinatown, and now they’re taking over. These two are dedicated and continually growing and improving. Ben “DJ B-Roc” Ruttner and James “JPatt” Patterson came together in 2009, making their own hip-hop beats as roommates. Now, their love of disco, funk, and hip-hop have come together to land their music in the Will Smith box office hit, Focus. Vinyl Mag got a chance to interview the two friends about their unique sound, their origins, and their future. We look forward to catching them at SXSW, where they will be DJ-ing several showcases. Their music is catchy, feel-good, and dance-worthy – definitely two guys you should be listening to.
Vinyl Mag: Your single “Comfortable” was in the new Will Smith movie, Focus. Did you see the movie?
Ben Ruttner: No, I haven’t seen it. I’ve been getting a lot of texts from my friends when they’re in the movie theater.
VM: That’s exciting! How did you find out about it?
BR: Yeah, it’s one of those things where you hear about, and you kind of forget that it actually happened, which is cool. It’s number one at the box office right now, which is cool.
VM: That’s awesome! Do you plan on seeing it?
BR: I’m going to wait for On Demand.
VM: Your music is an interesting combination of hip-hop and contemporary classic. How do you find a balance between the two genres?
BR: I think it just happens naturally; we just pull from all of our influences. When we first started, we made a lot of “poppy” stuff with a more hard-hitting, almost urban influence. Then, we started to stray away from it towards more of this straight dance stuff. Since then, our new album is definitely going back to that original sound of ours, more influenced by early Gorillaz, Fatboy Slim, kind of 90’s pop but more credible trip “poppy” bass stuff, but it all has that kind of funk, disco influence to it, which is the thing that brings it all together.
VM: I can definitely hear that in your music. You guys started in New York?
BR: Yeah, we met in New York. I was born in Vermont; James was born here in New York. We met here, and we were roommates first, and we used to make hip hop beats together, and then we started making more and more music.
VM: How has your life in New York influenced your music?
James Patterson: We’re both DJ’s, so we like to test music out on different kinds of crowds, and if it doesn’t work, there’s a bunch of different scenes. We really have to be on our toes when we get to a gig and want to play different kinds of music – that way we can see what works, and when we get back into the studio we can incorporate different techniques.
VM: Do you think that your different backgrounds influence the music at all?
JP: Definitely. Sometimes, we listen to more rock or more funk and gospel, but we both listen to hip-hop. We take that into consideration when we’re making music.
VM: Do you think your music has evolved since your start in 2009? How so?
JP: Definitely; it’s just better in every way. Our equipment is better, and the sound is better; we’re going through a lot of different influences, just being here [in New York]. We’re trying to be relevant and stay relevant while keeping our own sound.
VM: When you first started, did you do a lot of your own recording, or did you have your own studio?
JP: We had a studio in our bedroom, and then we got a studio in Chinatown that we built. We’ve always had our own space.
VM: Is there a particular sound that you guys are going for in your latest tracks and for the future?
BR: We really like to use classic influences and have stuff that sounds like it could be retro and give it a future element. We call it “future retro” – no, “future classic,” “retro futurism” – but that’s basically the whole vibe. We try to keep with a feel-good sound; we have a couple of somber songs, but it’s very much so upbeat, feel-good music. We try to keep it organic and try to have a cool edge to it but keep it super accessible. We don’t think of ourselves as a super-indie band; we definitely make pop music. We’re trying to bring back that whole vibe, when Moby dominated the airwaves, Fatboy Slim, and Gorillaz – that really cool pop music that has something different you can put your finger on.
VM: A lot of artists remix your songs. What is that process like?
BR: We have so many friends who are producers and DJ’s that we’ll just reach out with a trade – we’ll remix their song, and they’ll remix ours. If it’s a bigger artist, they have to go through the label, and we’ll get them paid and do it. The ones that come out the best I think are the ones we get for free from friends, because they care a little bit more than trying to get some money.
VM: You guys will be making your way to Austin, Texas for South by Southwest this year? What are you most excited about?
BR: We’re headlining the Neon Gold showcase on the last night, which is going to be fun, because it’s a really great venue, Empire Garage. We’re playing with some friends, Alex Winston and Marina Diamond [Marina and the Diamonds], so it’ll be like a family affair because we’ve been friends for years.
VM: Do you think you’ll have to explore at all, or will you be hitting the road?
BR: Oh yeah – we’re there for the whole week, because we’re playing a bunch of stuff for interactive, and then we’re basically stuck there for the whole week. We’ll definitely be walking around, and we go every year.
VM: Who are you looking forward to seeing at SXSW?
BR: I don’t know; I’ve kind of been out of the loop. I like to go see artists I’ve never heard of before; I feel like that’s what it’s all about. Some people treat it like Coachella, where you go see these huge artists, but it’s such a shit show trying to get into all these parties. You have to be on the list, and you’re there with all of your friends, and you can’t get in. I like to go to the weird, off-the-beaten-path shows and see some band I’ve never heard of.
VM: What shows are you playing this year at SXSW?
BR: We’re actually just doing the Neon Gold showcase and the Atlantic showcase; those are our live shows. Then we have a couple DJ sets; I think we’re DJ’ing a Nylon party and the Crazy Heart party.
VM: Are you a taco truck or a barbecue joint person?
BR: Taco truck is me.
JP: I’d probably go for taco truck too; BBQ is pretty heavy.
VM: You guys don’t have a lot of BBQ up north, do you?
JP: No, we have lots of taco trucks.
VM: Well maybe you should try some BBQ in Texas – I hear it’s pretty good.
UPDATE 3.10.15 11:00 a.m. –
The Knocks announce the release of their forthcoming So Classic EP on April 7 via Big Beat/Neon Gold. Check out their new video for “Dancing With Myself” below!
Nikki grew up in an imitation German town in Georgia by the name of Helen. It wasn’t until middle school that she started to get interested in the arts: painting, music, and writing. She wrote in her diary, sketched in art class and listened to regretful music. By high school, her tastes became a little more refined. She found Fiona Apple, Lou Reed and Giant Drag, and they remain her favorites in college. She was accepted to the University of Georgia in 2012 and is currently majoring in English. Upon moving to Athens from a town with more trees than people, Nikki was a bit overwhelmed. However, there is certainly no lack of inspiration in Athens, and she appreciates its love for the arts and its service as a platform.