The Knocks on NYC’s DJ Scene, Not Producing for Rihanna, and Their New EP

The Knocks photographed by Justin Bridges for BlackBook.
JPatt wears leather trainer jacket by Coach. B-Roc wears waxed nylon aviator jacket by Coach. Styled by Alyssa Shapiro.

Ben “B-Roc” Ruttner and James “JPatt” Patterson of The Knocks are overflowing with kinetic energy. Now the producers are making a name for themselves.

Sitting in an East Village townhouse cluttered with art, the guys are as excited to tell their story as we are to hear it. A decade or so of running the DJ scene in downtown New York nightlife, writing for the aforementioned powerhouse performers, and releasing a thread of singles and remixes that have made their Internet presence nothing short of pervasive, Ruttner and Patterson are anxious for the release of their forthcoming EP, So Classic.  We talked to the duo about their humble, sometimes frustrating beginnings, the pros and cons of playing music for New Yorkers, and why their new work finally feels right.

How did you two meet and start playing music together?

B-Roc: We were each producers in our own right, making mainly Hip Hop music at the time — like in high school and early college days. We met through a mutual friend actually when I went to the New School, because JPatt had a friend that went there. At that point, we were both kind of new to being in New York City a lot and kind of just played each other beats and sent stuff back and forth on the Internet, stuff like that, just to kind of see what we were working on. And then we both needed roommates, so we moved into an apartment together in the East Village, actually Avenue C. We were still doing our own thing in our own rooms and slowly started to kind of work on projects together. The stuff that we were making was really cool and ended up taking off a little bit.

So you guys could literally hear what the other was working on through the walls?

B-Roc: Yeah, that’s actually how we got the name The Knocks. Because we used to have like a shitty little apartment where the walls were paper-thin and we each had studio-sized speakers in our rooms. We’d each be making beats really loudly and the neighbors would knock on the walls and the ceilings, and we called them “the knocks.” I’d be like, “I got the knocks. I have to stop playing.” I’d turn my speakers off and I’d go into his room basically until he got the knocks.

What kind of work were the two of you doing at the time?

JPatt: I think we were both at the time writing a lot of stuff for other people. We were doing the whole kind of L.A. base producer thing where they’re all sort of aiming for the same Pop record. And it’s kind of unfulfilling work in that you’re not really making anything that’s real, like that comes from any sort of real place. So I feel like we’re both artists…we both love what we do before…I mean we both want to make money off of it obviously, but at least for me I like the fulfillment of the music we make and being appreciated. Like, it coming from somewhere where someone can appreciate what I do, because it is me. So we were kind of like, fuck that. It was kind of an accident, we were just joking around, like jokingly made this dancer called “Can’t Shake Your Love” in our production room of our studio, not even in the main room.

B-Roc: This is like 2008 or 2009. The EDM thing hadn’t really hit.

JPatt: We did that and we literally just threw it up online to some bloggers that we knew and got the most feedback or like the best response of anything we had done up until that point. So then we were like, “Maybe we’re onto something.”

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The Knocks photographed by Justin Bridges for BlackBook

You guys have both been members of New York’s downtown music scene for a while. How has this affected your sound or style?

JPatt: We were both DJs, so we would go out and test stuff in the clubs, or see what people are reacting to so that when we get back into the studio, we could kind of just put that into our music and what we’re aiming for as far as  vibe, if we want to really get the crowd’s reaction. The New York scene is like the scene in my opinion, so it helps to be involved in it in that way.

Do you think it’s the scene for just music or for basically everything artistic?

JPatt: For music especially, because we do music, but really for everything. Like if you ask me, I feel like New York is the place to be but especially for the music, because there’s every kind of scene here and there are open format gigs where you have to play every kind of music in a three hour span, and a lot of DJs are House DJs or Hip Hop DJs, or ‘whatever’ DJs. You have to play to every kind of person while keeping the crowd unified. It’s a really unique skill set.

B-Roc: I think it comes through in our music. You can’t listen to our music and be like, “Oh, they’re a House duo,” or whatever. You can hear a lot of influence from Hip Hop and you can hear a lot of influence from old Soul, and Classic Rock even. That’s kind of what we aim for. It’s like, we don’t corner ourselves …even when I met him, he wasn’t even DJing yet. It was my day job. I was DJing five nights a week at like all those clubs, whether it was like 1Oak or Darby, all those crappy bottle places, and you have to be on your toes and be able to mix a U2 record into a Jay-Z song, and I think seeing reactions and when people react to different parts of it, like “Oh this part of this U2 song always goes off so big in the club, and then this part of that Daft Punk song…” so were always in the studio using that. We’re like, “Oh, this breakdown sounds like Fleetwood Mac versus this breakdown, which sounds like Frankie Knuckles.”

It must be a great tool to be able to so regularly gauge how a live audience is reacting to you music.

B-Roc: At the same time it can be dangerous though, because New York is such a bubble. But it’s almost like running with weights on because New York audiences are even harder in a sense where they’ll just sit there and stare and then you’ll go do the same thing in Boston and everyone will be like, “Woah!” and freak out because they don’t see it all the time. In New York, everyone’s like, “I could go see this show or I could go see this other guy here.” There’s so much shit going on.

As you said, you guys used to be a part of that base producer songwriting process. Contrarily, you’ve fully collaborated with and helped to develop certain artists, like Alex Winston. Can you expand on that?

B-Roc: That’s how we started and that’s what we wanted to do. Like, we had this kid who got signed to Columbia Records at one point and then Winston…she was making us work on music and we made her move to New York and started producing this other kind of stuff for her…But then The Knocks stuff got so busy, and you can’t really balance it all; you have to focus.

But now that our album’s done I can definitely see us going back and doing more of that, but also our album is very collaborative. Like even when it was just production stuff, we worked with a lot of other producers, and whether it’s guitar players, horn players, musicians…Phoebe [Ryan] is featured on our album. We worked with a lot of artists like that. Most of the features are not just guys that we call up and pay. It’s basically people that we know through the scene here and friends, which always ends up being the best songs. Like “Classic” was totally just a collab with a friend. That song “Comfortable,” which is one of our bigger songs, was just a collab with our friend from X Ambassadors. Because we always kind of feel like underdogs. We’ve never been put in the studio with anyone huge, or it’s rare that we get thrown in with massive guys, so we kind of try to create our own path.

How does this type of collaborative work compare to what you were doing before?

JPatt: I didn’t mean writing with other people is unfulfilling. I meant there is like a specific style. It’s like, “So-and-so, a huge artist, needs a record. They want it to sound like these other five records. Go.” And then they send that call sheet out to like a million different producers and everyone sends in what they think will work, and then they end up going with Dr. Luke. That’s the kind of production work we were trying to get away from.

B-Roc: They’d be like, “We need a song like Britney Spears meets Courtney Love meets the Ying Yang Twins,” and you’re like, “What are you talking about?” I mean yeah, it looks good on paper, but it’s not the way music works.

Do you ever feel that people within the industry are trying to force a certain image onto The Knocks, or classify you in an inorganic way?

JPatt: For a while we were on this other label, I won’t even name any names, but we were on a label for a sec that was a little like the nightmare stories that you hear about labels, where they’re like, “You know, we like what you do, but why don’t you try this other thing that isn’t anything like what you do, at all?” It was just a constant struggle trying to prove our points to them. It was just a bunch of older guys who had no connection to current pop culture and just like hear the radio on the way to work and are like, “Oh, this is what kids are listening to.” And that’s what they try to force you into. So we were there for a second but luckily we were able to get out of that with a clean break. So, yeah, it’s hard for us to be put into those sorts of boxes.

B-Roc: [And that’s because] we already kind of built it up. And I’m super hands-on with administrative things, like the artwork and direction of stuff like that. I think as long as you know what you want and you have something secure…like working with a label like Atlantic’s been amazing because they just want to amplify it. They saw us already as a packaged thing, like they saw what we were already doing, and were like, “Yeah, we love this. Let’s just make it even bigger.”

Then in terms of your real style and appearance, what are you guys into?

JPatt: I like vintage stuff. I like old stuff. LPM is one of my favorite stores to go to. And I like the ‘90s era vintage, graphic cartoon tees, and troop jackets, and stuff like that. Mostly dark colors.

B-Roc: I’m into vintage stuff also. I’m a little bit more into the rocker side of things, all the ‘90s grunge, and I grew up as a punk rocker in middle school. That was my whole thing, so it’s funny to now come back [to that]. I wish I had a lot of those old clothes I wore, but I got rid of all of them for like, my Rocawear suits in high school (laughs). I’m big on leather jackets, and I have a vintage Marilyn Manson tee that’s like my favorite shirt of all time.

Can you tell me about the new EP?

B-Roc: The EP is a taste of what we have to come with the album. It definitely is a new sound, but at the same time we feel like it’s finally the right sound. We feel like, you know, a lot of these bands nowadays with the Internet, like you put out a song and overnight it gets big and all of a sudden we’re playing these shows. And we we’re touring with only having like, four songs, and we had to play a lot of live remixes because we didn’t have enough material. I felt like these past five or whatever years that we’ve been on the road a lot and just running around, we haven’t had time to really sit down and develop our sound. We’d just kind of been running with whatever we were doing. And it just felt like over this time, slowly, we’ve been building, and like when we made “Classic” and a couple of these other new songs, everything seemed to kind of click in this way that was like, “Okay, now this is what we’ve been meant to make.”

JPatt: It’s a good showcase of everything that we’ve been through up until now, and everything we’ve learned, all of our influences, you can really hear them and it’s not like muddy in that it’s two-layered.

How does this work feel to you compared to what you used to produce?

JPatt: It doesn’t feel forced at all. Like even with the old label, by the end, we had reached sort of a weird compromise with them and then they folded, but even with the music that we made in lieu of that compromise, still to me felt a little bit forced, like we were trying to please someone else.

B-Roc: It feels right, and it feels good to have that. Because we definitely had a whole album done that was like cool and a good album but like I feel way better about this one. When we were with the last label, we scrapped a whole album and went and made a whole new record, and it was such a blessing in disguise because we’re super proud of this, and it just feels like something that no one’s ever done before.

Grooming by Ashley Rebecca

Style Like A$AP Rocky and Moves Like Usher: Meet Jacob Latimore

Jacob Latimore photographed for BlackBook by Justin Bridges

He may have a Disney teen star past, but eighteen-year-old artist Jacob Latimore has grown into a full-blown Hip-Hop phenom (Drake, sound familiar?). His beats are clean and catchy without sacrificing the swagger, in part thanks to collaborations with the likes of T-Pain. (We’ll mention his Justin Bieber friendship without comment). And it’s not just the music world he’s slaying; he’s got acting chops too. His next role will be his biggest: starring in The Maze Runner next month…a film that promises to crash down on us with Hunger Games-like pop culture weight. With moves like Usher and style like A$AP, our recent photo shoot pretty much proves that for Latimore, the world is his oyster.

Click on the images to see photos full screen.

 

See Justin Bridges’ BlackBook photos of Fifth Harmony here, then check out this interview with Wiz Khalifa.

Photos by Justin Bridges for BlackBook

Wiz Khalifa: Still an Outsider

Wiz Khalifa

Since the release of his debut album Show and Prove in 2006, Wiz Khalifa hasn’t been one to color within the black and yellow lines. His musical style remains unpredictable, the vocals alternating between singing and rapping, sometimes pulling on Eurodance influences while tracks like the recent “We Dem Boyz” veer closer to a merger of pure hip-hop and trap with a club-ready vigor. His torso and arms are wholly coated with tattoos, displaying years’ worth of stories and symbolism that add even more transparency and candidness to the artist’s intimate album cover. He speaks openly about his love of weed, as well as his family life (including wife Amber Rose, originally of Kanye West fame). We spoke with the rapper about his fifth studio album, Blacc Hollywood, due out tomorrow, August 19th.

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“I still think the main thing in my career… is overcoming people and the way they try to block my vision or stunt my growth with their own ideas and what they feel like,” he replies when asked about difficulties he’s faced. “I value opinions and I’m loyal. A lot of the time that can get in the way of the original idea.”

His appreciation of others’ artistry extends beyond that of those playing within the hip-hop realm; he’s mentioned a desire to work with Lady Gaga, revealing, “I just really respect her craft and what she does, and her loyal fan base.” That said, artists to be featured on the new album include Nicki Minaj, Curren$y, Ty Dolla $ign, Juicy J, and Young Jeezy. Despite smoking “a ton” of weed with Miley Cyrus and talking about a possible collaboration for the new album, Khalifa tells us “she didn’t end up making it on there.”

Wiz Khalifa - main pub 1 - Miko Lim

To overcome the excess of opinion that goes into creating an album for an artist as influential as Khalifa, the rapper relies on his strong sense of confidence. “I came from a world where everyone doesn’t understand me right away but it pays off later,” he says. This sense of conviction is not undeserved; Khalifa been signed to two major record labels, charted numerous tracks, sold out entire tours, and been nominated for five Grammy awards, among another milestones. When battling pressure from record executives, collaborators, fans and the media, Khalifa says, “having that confidence, you know, that really helps me move forward. When I don’t have that, it’s a weird place for me.”

Though his family, which now includes one-and-a-half year old son Sebastian Taylor Thomaz, has changed significantly since the start of his career and surely plays a big roll outside of the studio, they haven’t had an overwhelming effect on Khalifa’s work.

“Honestly, the music is pretty much still the same. My message is directed to people who can understand and know what I’m talking about.” This message has everything to do with being alienated from the rest of the world, a feeling Khalifa connects to strongly. “The name of the album is just basically the attitude towards my generation and our culture and just how we’re looked at. It doesn’t matter how far you get in life or where you come from. We’re always going to be the same outsiders.” In an attempt to rid any possibility of this message seeming racially focused, Khalifa changed the “ck” in black to his own spelling, thus broadening the message to anyone who shares this feeling.

When describing Blacc Hollywood as a whole, he says, “I wouldn’t necessarily say it’s better than anything. I just feel like the message is really relevant right now.” This approach stems perhaps from the previously mentioned self-assurance, showing that Khalifa is a unique player in the music industry, focusing more on fulfilling artistic ambition than surpassing previous successes, or the expectations of others. He seems unfazed by any possibility of failure, assuring us, “I already know what I’m capable of doing.”

Wiz Khalifa - main pub 4 - Miko Lim-1

 

Want more music? Check out this interview with Fifth Harmony, then click over to see our shoot with Jacob Latimore.

Photos courtesy of Wiz Khalifa

Hi-Five: Ásgeir Covers Miley Cyrus’ ‘Wrecking Ball,’ Rihanna Gets a Remix + More

Image: Flight Facilities.

Belanger x Rihanna – Calico Na Na

I will never tire of this song, and great mash-ups like this will make sure of it. Belanger pairs his latest single Calico with Rihanna and Drake’s hit “What’s My Name?” for an adrenalin-filled track, perfect for powering through the work day or hitting the gym.

Ásgeir – Wrecking Ball (Miley Cyrus Cover) 

Despite a great deal of fame in his native country, Icelandic artist Ásgeir is only now gaining international recognition, due partly to the success of this cover. The singer-songwriter creates a soft, heartfelt interpretation to the anthem, which challenges Cyrus’ powerhouse voice with simplicity.

Tinashe – 2 On (Ft. Schoolboy Q)

For those of you who are fans of Ciara or Cassie (and particularly Cassie’s infamous video for Me and You) 21-year-old Tinashe is a guaranteed new favorite. She can do more than sing and dance; the fresh face had a reoccurring role on Two and a Half Men.

Flight Facilities – Stand Still (Ft. Micky Green)

Australian DJ duo Flight Facilities team up with Sydney-born but Paris-based Micky Green. The sweet whistling summons anticipation for summer and couples well with the 80s Hip-Hop inspired drums and base.

http://youtu.be/hUU3nX5Rgp8

Gold Spectacles – Steal You Away

Speedy, Spanish-style guitar playing laid over an upbeat base riff and distinguishing percussion creates this gem within the “Baroque Pop” genre, classified as a blend of pop rock and classical music. Charming lyrics and harmonies add to the song’s already endearing sentiment.