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Dutch DJ collective Kraak & Smaak doesn't just keep its beats in the club

Cary Darling
McClatchy Newspapers (MCT)

The Dutch DJ collective known as Kraak & Smaak, which played two dates at South by Southwest in Austin last week, skillfully walks the line between competing, often polar-opposite, musical worlds: beat-heavy club grooves, atmospheric chill-out and soulful, melodic pop.

It's evident in the group's eclectic second album, "Plastic People," with such tracks as "Bobby & Whitney," "Man of Constant Sorrow," "Il Serpente" and the infectious, Motown-meets-Moby European chart hit "Squeeze Me." It's also evident in the sensibilities that make up the core of the group, DJs Mark Kneppers and Wim Plug, who came out of the world of dance music, and keyboardist Oscar De Jong, who came from a more traditional musician's perspective.

"It's a combination of between them being DJs and me being a musician, and that works," says De Jong by phone. "I am a musician and I tend to make things too musical with bridges and choruses and blah blah blah. They know what works for the (dance) floor."

But K&S also tours as a flesh-and-bones, seven-piece live band - something many club-oriented acts don't do - and that's where De Jong's experience comes in. The group has developed a reputation for riveting shows at some of the globe's top music festivals, including Glastonbury in England, Coachella in California, Winter Music Conference in Miami and, of course, South by Southwest.

"The idea of doing it live came from the fact that we made a mix CD ("Boogie Angst" in 2006) prior to 'Plastic People' that was music just for DJs for the floor. But when it came to making this one, this was for a different audience, people listening at home who don't necessarily go to dance clubs," he says. "There are 3 million DJs on this planet, and we want to do something different. Doing it live obviously is one way to do that."

De Jong says that making the adjustment to dance music hasn't been too difficult. "Being a pianist, going to conservatory but always liking funk and soul music, it was not really a big step into dance music," he says. "For musicians, house music is sometimes too simple, but you have to make a (mental) switch. ... Of course, when the music is really for the floor, it can be hard for a person like me, but when it came to the album, then a musician can be more himself."

In addition to the live setup, the human element comes into play on "Plastic People" in the rotating lineup of R&B-influenced guest singers such as Ben Westbeech, the distinctively old-school soul voice of "Squeeze Me."

"Our strength and our problem is that we like too many styles," De Jong says. "The second album goes in various directions. ... The first album was sample-based, and on the second album, because our profile had grown a bit, it was easier for us to ask (singers) to be on this album, to say 'Could we write a song together?' without them saying, 'Who are you?'"

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