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Annelies Rom

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Who the hell are Smoakland

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Who the hell are Smoakland

2022 was quite a year for Smoakland making their debut performance at Electric Forest to no less than 15 000 people and at the start of this year they released Morning Rituals – the debut EP of Liquid Smoak, their drum & bass side project. This side project has its roots in the true passion for drum & bass this duo cultivated since they started creating mixes a few years ago. The pair have quickly gained a huge fanbase, who’ll no doubt be seeing them alongside their longtime friend & collaborator Mersiv at Red Rocks on April 6.

The duo will keep showing love for dubstep though, as the Westcoast artists continue to create dubstep bangers, with a new release coming out on Deadbeats on the February 15. Working with Shlump the track highlights seamlessly combines both Smoakland and Shumps signature sounds oscillating between the two. Smoakland has started off 2023 with a bang, and we wanted to hear what else they have planned this year. 

How are you doing?

Harry: On my end, I’m doing so well, things are going good, I’m really in tune with my life and happy with how the Liquid Smoak project is going. We also have an amazing tour with Kumarion planned, we’re premiering the Liquid Smoak project, so right now I’m just gearing up and getting ready to leave.

Anthony: The past few months we’ve given ourselves a break, after touring so hard last year. It was good to take a step back and work on music, just enjoying what we’re doing. But it’s really exciting, thinking about what’s to come.

You’re releasing a dubstep track on Deadbeats on the 15th of February, called ‘Rock Like This’. Can you tell us a bit more about it?

Harry: It’s a collaboration with Shlump, it’s amazing, he’s been an inspiration to us for literally a decade. 

Anthony: It’s a ripper, it’s one of my favourite tracks we’ve made. Up until a few days actually, when we made a sick one with Kumarion, which is gonna be a big one I think. But this track has an old-school r&b, motown vibe to it. Then it comes to this airy, ‘bad and the ugly’-type build, which then breaks down into this ripper. 

Harry: We might have played it at NYE last year for the first time. We toured with it the whole year, and it was always this tune that people would hit us up for, and now it’s here. We’ve been sitting on it for a really long time and we wanted it to come out on Deadbeats. They’re our family, we love them so much. Without even knowing, they helped form this project.

We’ve been following Zed’s Dead since we were 18 years old, they’re the top dogs, and they basically crafted our music taste throughout the past ten years, so we wanted it to go to them. They got it, then we wanted to wait for the perfect time. We had a really big year last year, and this is the perfect way to kickstart 2023, early on with one of our biggest tunes, and kind of ride the wave for the rest of the year. 

How did the final track come to life?

Anthony: It was an easy collaboration. We had the first version of the track, which actually already had the final structure in it, and when Shlump got that version from us, the second he got it, he got an idea of what needed to be done. He sent back what was basically a complete track, so it was a really easy process. When you know each other, and the way you both work, it’s easy to work together, it just flows. 

Harry: You can really hear it throughout the whole track. You can hear our sounds, and you can hear Shlump sounds. It is the most 50-50 collaboration where the listener will have no doubt about who’s doing what when they hear a certain sound. It’s so cool.

Anthony: It sounds like they’re battling back and forth. 

Harry: It’s so black and white. Our sounds are so distinct and unique, that battle throughout the whole song, it’s really cool. 

You also just released your debut EP for Liquid Smoak, your drum & bass side project, but you’ve been making dubstep for a while now, as Smoakland. How did that side project come to life?

Harry: Liquid Smoak came about really naturally, because I got into drum & bass back in 2012 when I saw Dieselboy, that was my eye opening moment. But we leaned more into the dubstep sound, cause that’s what we enjoyed producing and listening to the most. Liquid Smoak came to life when we were on the road somewhere and Anthony said ‘let’s do a liquid drum & bass mix, let’s give them our favorite selection of drum & bass tunes, of what we like listening to’. 

It kinda progressed over the years. When making the first mix, we only put one or two of our own productions into that set, because we hadn’t really put much work into creating stuff, as we were busy building the base aspect of it. And as each year progressed, we’ve put in more of our production in each mix. It’s slowly grown from this little project into people really responding to it. People come up to us saying ‘I didn’t even know I liked drum and bass until I listened to your guys’ mix’, and honestly, that’s what we’re doing it for, that’s why we love it. But we never expected it to become this. It’s been really awesome to watch it progress.

 

Anthony: It’s a different side, it’s soft, but also still has high energy moments. Most people, when they think about drum & bass, they think it’s too intense. But liquid is a very good step into drum & bass, it’s vocal, danceable, and it’s very easy to listen to. For our second track on the EP, we worked with vocalist Megan Linnell, she did the vocals for ‘Hold On’, I wanna give a massive shout out to her, she was amazing to work with. Keep an eye out for her. 

Harry: She’s so talented, so talented. Like everything else on the EP was sample driven, but she wrote everything from scratch, she elevated the EP so well, it’s almost intangible how much better she made it just by her vocals. She killed it. 

What are the main differences in producing drum & bass and dubstep?

Harry: For me, creating drum & bass is more like creating an atmosphere, you have to create a feeling that almost disarms the audience. With dubstep on the other hand it’s more about power, building the tension, building up the energy. You have to create a different space when creating each tune.

Anthony: Drum & bass for me is less like a big epic drop, more about cool melodies and writing more meaningful progressions in the music. I get more emotional writing drum & bass, I really have to listen, everything is more drawn out, spaced out, you wanna create that liquid drop sneaking up on you. It’s all about that perfect release when it hits. 

And with mixing?

Harry: In our dubstep sets I’m very energetic, jumping all over the stage. And we were thinking about how people would respond to us playing drum & bass, we didn’t know how we would be either. Would we be more tight, or whatever, but no, I feel like I’m even looser during a Liquid Smoak set, I’m dancing even more, all over the stage. Drum & bass just sparks something in me. There’s nothing that brings me the same feeling, not even an epic dubstep drop. For me, there’s no better feeling than when a liquid track is coming on and the entire audience has their hands in the air going all out. It’s just so infectious. 

How did you go from dubstep to liquid?

Harry: It’s so contrasting, that it almost evens itself out. Don’t get us wrong, we love the jump-up, we love the rollers, we love all types of the genre. Anthony and I, we come from very deep R&B roots, vocal roots. When we’re in the car and we’re not listening to electronic music, Ant has old sixties, jazz, R&B, Otis Redding type, and I play a very melodic type of music, with lots of vocal songs. That’s where we both come from, that’s what we like to listen to, so I think it was just an easy translation to liquid drum & bass. It feels right, I feel like it still has the vocal range, you can sing to it and all that. It happened really naturally, honestly.

Anthony: Producing high energy dubstep all the time, you kind of get burnt out. In our car we listen to almost the opposite. And also, after six hours of listening to the same high energy song you’re producing, after that, I like to listen to something easy, and liquid drum & bass definitely fits that.

You were talking about getting burnt out sometimes. The scene is going quite fast at the moment, how do you stay motivated creating music?

Anthony: I think having a partner, having a duo, really helps. Because not all the weight is on you. When someone is burnt out, the other person can pick it up, so it’s nice back and forth like that. When you do something for five, ten years, you’ll get desensitized no matter what, you’ll need another outlet, you need something else to put your energy into. But we stick to our roots. When it comes to dubstep bangers, we know what we like and what we want. It helps that we’re still in the learning process and learning how to get better. So every time we make a track and it gets better, that’s exciting too, cause you’re constantly seeing the growth of your own project. 

Harry: Also, seeing everyone else’s progress, and drawing inspiration from other people, our friends. I never really think we have trouble keeping the motivation when it comes to this stuff, because we’re always trying to move forward, and not being stagnant. Sometimes it does feel like the content machine is taking over a little bit. Someone was tweeting out to us ‘Where’s Liquid Smoak IV?’ like dude, we just released Liquid Smoak III, give it ten more months. I think it’s always the thing to not let outside sources not influence our workflow, all our motivation is always internal. Other people can just react to it however they want to react to it. 

You’re playing Red Rocks in April with Liquid Smoak, supporting Mersiv. How did that come about?

Harry: It’s a really cool area, we’ve been wanting to play Red Rocks for a while now. The fact that our first time there is going to be with our side project, that’s really special to us. This is going to be our most special performance yet. It happened quite naturally, because Mersiv is basically our brother, we’re under the same team, we work together all the time, we’re in the same studio, we went to Hawaii together, we’re always hanging out. 

When Mersiv was building the line-up for this Red Rocks show, I threw in my little two cents and was like ‘Hey, we’re around, we would love to be a part of this’. I basically told them that we would love to do Liquid Smoak there if they would have us. Do something together, keep it in the family, and they agreed to it. My whole family is going to fly out from Arizona. It’s going to be really special, I think. 

 

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Anthony: Anything at a Red Rocks venue is amazing. We went up to do a song last year with SuperAve at Deadrocks. To be there, and to see that amphitheater and to now be able to do it on our own, it’s something I don’t think I’ll ever forget. 

Do you have any other plans you can tell us about?

Harry: We’ve got our High Rollers tour with Kumarion coming up, and some other things, which we can’t say much about yet unfortunately. But believe us, it’s going to be big, really big collaborations that have started. This year is going to be incredible. 

What would you want to achieve with your projects?

Anthony: We’ve not played in Europe before, but I feel like our liquid drum & bass project might open that door for us, because our style of dubstep isn’t that popular in Europe. Riddim is quite big, but that’s not us, we flirt with it sometimes, but riddim is more high energy. But maybe that liquid drum and bass will open for us, if it takes off properly in the States. We would love to get out there, that would be a dream. 

Harry: We produce a lot of drum & bass now, so I can definitely see a shift coming. The first two or three years it was all dubstep, but I could see us in five to ten years just doing drum & bass. I’ve caught the bug hard now, like now that people respond to us, it’s amazing. At first it was really scary, I was scared that people would not like us anymore or not think it’s good enough. But now that people like it, I can’t stop writing, because I know people will react to it in a good way. 

Anthony: I mean, it’s always scary putting yourself out there, doing something new, especially when you have an established fanbase that knows you for this one thing. It’s a risk, changing it up. That’s why I liked putting out the Liquid Smoak mixes, putting our own production into it, so we could see how people responded to it. By the third mix we were confident enough to say ‘Okay, let’s make an EP’. By now we have these four songs out, but we have maybe 30 in our back pocket that we could work with. 

The scenes are pretty mixed as well, in terms of the audience. We play a good amount of drum & bass in our dubstep sets still, people seem to respond to it well. You can feel the change coming in the States, they’re loving both genres now. 

Harry: People that are into dubstep are now more open to also getting into drum & bass. When we’re doing our dubstep sets, we’re playing about 15 to 20 minutes of drum & bass. No one gets tired, and afterwards they will get right back into the bass music. I think it’s becoming more relative for everyone, they’re starting to find the tracks that they like and just starting to craft their taste from there.

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