Hot off the heels of their latest EP out on Sustain, we spoke to the Manchester / London based duo Kerouac & SMILE (a.k.a Mike & Isaac) to ask how things are fairing, and what’s in the pipeline to add to their already impressive collection of tracks released Blind Vision, HedZup, Frost Plates, and Raw Level to name a few.
Capturing those warm, chord-laden house vibes with smatterings of vocal cuts that compliment their signature bass line groove, Kerouac & SMILE are a name you’ll be seeing more across the underground scene.
Kerouac & SMILE interview
How did you guys meet? What made you decide to form a duo?
Kerouac: Around 2007, Isaac messaged me on MySpace asking for remix parts for a track I had on my profile. I sent him a CD, but he never got around to making that remix!
From then on Kerouac played live as guest at Micron a few times. During Microns 6th birthday, Isaac persuaded Mike to go B2B with him (so that was the very 1st time we DJed together), from then on we started making tunes and was 7 years ago.
SMILE: Yeah, we met online years ago. Was via Myspace, you could upload tunes to your profile and I had messaged Mike about one of his. Was this techno banger that reminded me of Richie Hawtin back in the day before he started using tonnes of FX. Would love to hear that track again, god knows where it is now, hopefully on an old dusty HD!
There was no real idea behind forming a duo other than we were good mates anyway and Mike had way more experience making tunes than me you know, I wanted to get into that. I was playing out a lot around Manchester with Micron whereas Mike wasn’t really DJing at all. I guess we came together and that opened doors for both of us. Our first DJ gig together was at fabric in London which is obviously bonkers when you think about it, most would play in a bar or two but for us it was fabric’s iconic Room 1. You don’t say ‘no’ when fabric come knockin’, you start jumping about the room with a phat smile on your face.
Tell us about your studio setup. Do you like to make music together or remotely?
K: We both work inside the box at the minute. We both have hardware, but both of us haven’t managed to incorporate them into making tunes regularly using them. It’s what works best. For me, I work inside the box I have all my favourite VSTs, samples and FX and work faster this way. I’m so used to being hands on and not using a mouse, that I still don’t use keyboard shortcuts!!!???
I do have an Akai MPC 2000xl and Akai 2000 rack sampler, under my stairs gathering dust. I keep meaning to get them out. But have no space for them in my studio currently. We try to make music together as much as possible, but we have been testing out the possibility of making tunes via a live stream.
S: Generally Mike and I meet up to finish tunes together, which isn’t always easy with the distance. The Virgin Pendolino between the North and London is frikkin expensive too but having the time between sessions also means were not on each others cases all the time. Being in the same room makes the whole thing fluid and acts as a catalyst for creativity. As for remote collabs we do that too. The classic Ableton ‘collect all and save’ is your friend. It’s a bit ‘Chuckle Brothers’ though init – The whole ‘To you’ – ‘To me’ approach removes the live spontaneous idea generation you get when you’re in the same space. We’re trying to find a way to colab live via the internet, it’s harder than you think to achieve, someone needs to develop a turnkey solution for that, I managed to get something going recently but it slowed my macbook down so much. We’re meeting early September to finish projects and so that will hopefully yield a few ‘EP worthy’ results.
Where did the journey into electronic music start for you?
K: For me my 1st club experience was an acid techno night on a Thursday in Liverpool 1997, the music was largely TB303 driven, not totally what I was into, but it wasn’t terrible!
From then on I was a regular at Bugged out! In the strange era when big beat was dying out and the main DJs had to go back to playing house again. But my main influence to this day, was when I started going to The End in London every other month. The London tech house sound is still a major part of me.
Do you prefer producing or DJing? What brings you the most joy?
S: I prefer DJing because production is essentially a process of trial and error and it can take hours to get the sound you’re after whereas DJing you’re just playing records you like – one after another, usually whilst drinking beer. It’s simple in comparison. When you do get in the groove in the studio though it does feel great and so both are rewarding in their own way. These days though unless you’re Carl Cox you need to be putting out records to land gigs outside your local scene so there’s the thing….go produce a banger.
K: I myself prefer producing, as I’ve come to realise that I NEED to make music, I find it hard to go a week without making tunes! It’s not to say I don’t like to DJ, I love digging for music and playing it out. But if you said I could only do one of those for the rest of my life, it would be making tracks.
Tell us where would your dream gig be?
K: I’m a big fan of the whole Dutch scene and would love to play Bret. That red shipping container has been subconsciously calling to me, since I first saw videos emerging from ADE 2016.
How would you describe your sound, and how has it evolved over the years?
S: The Kerouac and SMILE sound is generally groovy, and we like to duck and dive into older tunes people have forgotten about. I don’t want to try and describe audio using too many words, it’s akin to creating sounds to describe a words. I say just dive in and have a listen and just to go full cliche “Let the music do the talking”
K: We call our sound “Sensible House” which when we started, the big room house sound was very big, drum rolls and white noise breakdowns were getting out of hand. It was a reaction against this, which is true to a certain extent today. We stick to the underground ethos of less is more. Sometimes drums, a bass line and a well placed synth stab is all you need!
I don’t know if our sound has changed that much over the years, I does feel like we have a sound that is “us”. Which is based around a strong bassline, and we have a soft spot for strange vocal samples. We like to make a variation of styles and don’t feel tied down to one sound, but the download stores seem to classify it all as minimal house.
Tell us about the inspiration for the mix…
K: The main idea behind the mix was, to use the newest music we have. We were lucky to be sent exclusive tracks from guys were very happy to call friends, Toman and Kreutziger (who are both big supporters of our music).
What have you been working on recently? Anything exciting to tell us about for the future?
K: We have a 3 day studio session booked in for September. Were hoping to get at least 3 EPs from that! We have an EP coming out on Floorpiece digital in October, and a remix for Haas records coming out at some point before that.