Interview conducted by our favourite four-to-the-floor expert, The Insider.
Heavyweight producers and in-demand Dutch DJs Maarten Smeets & Lars Dales have been around the globe working their own particular, brilliant, brand of house music. In the studio, their productions have transcended trends, and weathered storms, with each new piece seeing them come out of their corner packing a hefty party-starting punch. This year has been a big celebration for the duo, otherwise known as Dam Swindle, since it marks a decade in the dance-floor ring. Consequently, they end 2022 with a bang, via the third and final installment of their Keep On Swindling series of 12s. We celebrate with them, and find out a little more about where Amsterdam’s hottest house exports are at, as I chat, here, to Maarten, on the eve of the record’s release.
2022 marks ten years in the game for Dam Swindle. Big congratulations to you both. When you first started out did you think it would go on this long, or maybe you didn’t think about the future then?
It was something we hoped, yes, but we also knew that it wasn’t gonna be fully in our own hands. We just kept working, kept releasing a lot of music, and pushing ourselves to try new things, develop our sound and play music wherever we could. There was always a next goal to work towards: produce an album or two, go on a huge live tour, or start a record label. It`s certainly kept us busy over the past 10 years, and it’s great to see that we still get to do the things we love most.
How have you been marking this celebration?
We developed a main theme for the anniversary called ‘Keep On Swindling’. It was a sort of ‘yell’ that we had in the beginning which got picked up really well by the core fans, and now – 10 years later – it feels even more relevant than back then, so we dusted off the theme and built our year around it, with 3 releases on Heist. Each release has a classic DS track on it, in a new mix, remixes by amazingly talented up and coming artists from the jazz, techno and house scene, as well as new productions by us. Apart from that, we’ve done Keep On Swindling parties in some of our favorite cities and did a special event during ADE. We also made some really nice t-shirt designs together with 2 close friends our: Emiel Steenhuizen who runs tattoo studio Mosel Mosel in Amsterdam – and has done most of our tattoos – and Steven van Lummel, owner of Pip, among other cool creative stuff that he does. He’s a great designer as well with a very distinctive style.
Dam Swindle in 2022, compared to Dam Swindle in 2012, how much do you think you`ve changed?
Oof. Do you have a minute? So much has happened in the last 10 years. Having kids, getting married, struggling with time and staying healthy / fit, losing work-life balance, and also finding it again. I can honestly say that I’m a better version of myself now, even though I see and understand the Maarten from 10 years ago. That also goes for the Lars of 10 years ago. We’ve gone through ups and downs, but I get him better now, and I think that goes the same for him. He’s gone through a lot of good times, and hard times as well, which has shaped him and made him understand himself better as well. We both turned 40, and I gotta say; it’s not bad (smiles).
And the music… how has it evolved over the years?
It has evolved, for sure. We’ve gone more electronic, broadened our sound, even though I’m pretty sure the ‘Swindle sound’ is still clearly audible in our recent releases. If you compare our latest single, You, to something like The Wrap Around – which we’re re-releasing on Keep On Swindling Part 3 – there’s a lot of differences but these tracks do live in the same sonic universe, which is nice. I also still like the bluntness and simplicity of The Wrap Around, and other tracks from back then.
If you could go back ten years, what would you have said to a young Maarten and Lars, what lessons would you tell your younger selves about life, and a life in music?
Music is your life, but there’s more to it than that. Don’t forget the other great things in life, such as love, friends, family… Do more sports and don’t say yes to everything. The sense of urgency you’re feeling is natural, but you’re here to stay, so don’t worry.
How do you keep things fresh? Where do you find your inspiration these days?
We listen to a lot of new – and old – music in so many genres. This always leads to inspiration – and awe – and always makes us want to push ourselves to write music that really evokes an emotional response.
With so much new music, and so many new artists, surfacing constantly, is it hard to remain relevant to younger audiences? Or do you feel that your audience comes with you? Do you give this any thought?
Well, there’s always gonna be people that like you for the things you did in the past. The track that made you discover Dam Swindle has a special place, and if our sounds moves too far away from that, there’s a fair chance we lose connection with those fans. On the other hand, if we look at people that buy tickets to shows, it’s not those people anymore, so purely from a business perspective, you need to think about it. I think we’re lucky that we’ve got a very broad musical interest, so there’s a lot of contemporary music that we like a lot, so I’m sure this will have its influence on what we make and play and therefore, will also help us connect with a younger audience.
I think it’s also a matter of being OK with your role as an artist. Our role is not to be the exciting breakthrough young producer or DJ. Our role now is that of the experienced artists, with a beautiful catalog, who can bring you the classics, but can also surprise you with the music they bring. There’s beauty in that transcendence as well, you just have to enjoy each phase you’re in and be present, cause ultimately, that’s when you’ll have the best time.
Have you enjoyed and embraced the digital revolution?
For sure. There’s so many possibilities these days, and honestly, without computers or the digital world, we might not have gotten to where we are now. It’s still very much in motion. We do need a better balance between artist credits – and income – and the income of streaming platforms, but I’m sure that this is something that will happen one way or another. The whole rise of Bitcoin, NFTs, and shop-concepts, like Bandcamp, shows us that when creators aren’t happy with their position, something better will come up that will challenge the status quo. Record Labels and large platforms will need to work harder and harder to show their worth, because it’s getting easier and easier to be successful without them.
Would you say that the work involved in being successful artists in 2022 is a hell of a lot more than ten years ago, or do the key parts remain the same?
I would say the core is still the same. If you look back even further, the biggest difference is the way that you need to promote yourself these days. It’s not easy, but social media is a key part of becoming and staying visible.
Your very first release was on Huxley’s Saints & Sonnets, right? Have you worked with Huxley since?
No, it was just that release. We played a few parties together back then, but we’ve moved in different directions since.
If you had to choose your most significant Dam Swindle records which ones would you pick? Hard I know.
I would say it was The Break Up, in 2013. It was the launch of our label Heist Recordings, and it feels like the record that took us from breakthrough to established artists.
How has life been since you replaced the Detroit with the Dam?
Good! We’re happy we changed it, and we moved on with new music. Some fans needed – and might still need – to get used to it, but it’s all good.
In a deep blue sea of new music, how do you find the music that you play? How do you sort and seek out the good stuff?
We’re lucky in that we get quite a few promos throughout the week that are curated by the right people, so a lot of good music comes to us. We get a lot of new music through Instagram, either from artists who share their new bits, or through premieres / channels built specifically around sharing music. The same goes for Youtube by the way, and even Spotify – with radio as a good tool – works well!
What new artists do you feel have really got something at the moment?
We’re big fans of Ash Lauryn, who we’ve done a few shows with this year. She’s got style! She also did a great remix of our track with Lorenz Rhode – High Life – on Keep On Swindling part 2. We’re also big fans of Elkka, Sofia Kourtesis, Makèz, Amy Dabbs, Kush Jones, Eden Burns… It’s really varied and there are A LOT of great artists out there.
Are there some artists you regard as living legends?
Kerri Chandler & Moodymann. For obvious reasons. But also, Four Tet, just because he’s such a unique character, with such a specific sound. I think he’s doing inspiring work for so many young artists, with his ownership over his own music, the way he samples, and the simplicity of his setup. Love it. There’s loads more obviously. Laurent Garnier, for being the techno god that he is, and still being one of the most enthusiastic and friendly people you’ll ever meet. Here in the Netherlands, I think one of the key people that drove the scene is Gert van Veen, who did the Welcome To The Future festival, Studio 80, was part of Quazar and a lot more.
What artists from the past have directly inspired, and impacted, the sound of Dam Swindle?
I would say that our sound is really influenced by jazz, soul, R ‘n B and hip hop. J Dilla, Roy Ayers, Freddie Hubbard, Herbie Hancock, Marvin Gaye. That’s the music we listened to when we were young, and has really shaped our taste in music.
What have been the three most essential records in your box in 2022?
Eden Burns, Big Beat Manifesto Vol V. We play it all the time!
Just because it was the launch of our anniversary series: Dam Swindle, Keep On Swindling part 1. Body Control and All I Want are new tracks that got a lot of great feedback, and there’s a full jazz rework – by Emma-Jean Thackray – of The Break Up on it as well.
Third one: Daphni`s Cherry. Sick album, funky, electronic, and weird. Love it!
How much does intuition play a part in making a dance-floor pop?
A lot. You need to feel the room to know how to build up momentum. There’s more to it than just throwing on hit after hit.
Having known each other for over a decade do you share some kind of telepathy?
That would be nice, but no. We just talk a lot. Better to speak your mind instead of keeping each other guessing.
Do you think there are some DJs that are so good, they can play without reading the room and the night still works?
I think when someone is so hyped, or has so many fans, people become excited just to see that artist play, and will easily forget small mistakes, or elements that take you out of the vibe. If you’re ‘just another’ DJ, or not a superstar yet, it’s all about reading the room and finding the right selection.
As well as remixing and releasing on other labels over the years, you have your beloved Heist Recordings. Has the label also been running for 10 years?
2023 will be 10 years of Heist, so we’re rolling from one birthday into the next. It’s gonna be a big year, with great releases and specials throughout. You’ll see soon enough.
You`ve always released your music on vinyl. Does vinyl remain crucial for you in the future?
Vinyl right now is something we do for the love of it. It’s hard to make a business out of vinyl these days. Who knows what will happen in the future, but for now, we love making and playing vinyl. Every time a record arrives is like a gift.
If you had to look 10 years from now, do you think that vinyl will still exist?
If we find affordable and eco-friendly ways to keep producing it, I sincerely hope so. It’s an artform, and vinyl is a beautiful medium. We have to keep music and the artwork in the real world, rather than minimizing it to a file with a tiny image.
On December 2nd you release the third EP in the Keep On Swindling series. You’ve got some pretty cool remixers on the stage. Tell us a little about this heavy-duty project.
We wanted to end the series with a bang, so we got Nightmares on Wax – who we’ve been fans of for a long time – and DJ Bone – who has become a good friend over the years – to re-interpret two classics: 64 Ways and The Wrap Around. We’ve also got two new Dam Swindle tracks on it, that are quite a bit more electronic – You – and warehouse-y – More Love – and to top it off, we’ve got The Wrap Around on there as well. That record has been out of production for a long time and is going on Discogs for silly money. Hopefully, people will pick up this record, and we can give that classic a new life.
Rolling, jazzy, chunky, deep house grooves have been the order of the day for Dam Swindle. Do you see the production sound of Dam Swindle ever evolving?
For sure. As an artist, you have to. Or at least, we have to. It’s in our nature to get excited about new things and keep evolving.
Artists come and go but it’s fair to say that you`ve remained at the top of your game. What tips would you give to artists who want to achieve the same longevity?
Stay focused on the music, build a community, and stay humble, no matter how successful you get. Be nice to people, whoever they are.
What are you working on in 2023 that you can share?
We’re working on the next Dam Swindle album. Nothing to share yet, but this is in progress! We’re also producing an album for a really cool Dutch band.
Do you think Dam Swindle will be making music in another ten years?
Dam Swindle’s Keep On Swindling is out tomorrow, on Heist Recordings.