Earlier this month we announced the upcoming album debut of an artist that we have come to love and respect for his productions and energetic DJ sets: Keith Carnal. Today digging deeper with Keith Carnal sees us learn more about the roots and life of this well-respected Amsterdam-based techno artist.
The Dutch artist made his LA debut with us earlier this summer, performing a peak-time three-hour set that had the entire warehouse bumping until sunrise. Keith’s tracks are consistently played by artists of various genres, finding play from underground techno acts inside Berghain as well as more mainstream acts on big festival stages, a testament to the versatility and quality of his tracks.
With most of these highly-acclaimed releases out on esteemed imprints the likes of ARTS and Affin, Keith recently launched his own SEC NDº (Second Degree) imprint. Following two EPs now under his belt featuring stand-out tracks like “Rolls,” “Van Gogh” and “Obesity,” Keith is now releasing his debut album in the form of ten-track Retrofit album.
The album is outstanding, as we ourselves wrote: “The album showcases Keith’s dynamic, effective and eclectic studio muscles in ways not many LPs do. This is not a compilation of dance-floor-ready bangers, but rather a mesmerizing and well-thought-out journey through Keith’s mind as an artist. This is not to say that none of the tracks are ready for dance floor play. Rather, it underscores the fact that Retrofit is far beyond a “debut” album — it’s a collection of carefully-crafted tracks, seasoned by never-ending years of musical passion.”
This monumental release deserved an in-depth chat with the man-of-the-moment. We dove a bit deeper with this one, digging deeper with Keith Carnal to discuss the album and label of course, but also ADE, his debut U.S. tour, living in Amsterdam, his touring pet peeves, and much more.
Hi mate, great speaking to you today. Recovered from ADE yet?
Hey man! Yeah, I’m up to speed again! Was an intense one and every year it takes more time to recover… I wonder why! (laughs)
We spent some good moments in Amsterdam together, and I must say I really loved your set at Awakenings Exhale. Proper build-up and journey… the crowd was REALLY up for it as you kept going and going. How did you enjoy it?
Thanks, I appreciate the kind words! Yeah, it was kinda hard to believe really. The room filled up within like 30 minutes and people were ready to GO. But I often have this at ADE: people are partying pretty much non-stop, so on Saturday they’re not really waiting to ease into the night. They come in locked and loaded, so to speak. So yeah I felt it in the room and just pretty much built it up properly (if I say so myself). So it’s definitely up there with my favourite opening sets.
How is ADE for you, as an artist who lives in Amsterdam?
Well different than for you, as we spoke about before. I mean, I know all the venues, the city and the parties basically, so it’s not a holiday feeling for me. But it’s always great that everyone is here. Also very convenient that you know that once a year, you get to see most of the people you want to see and you don’t even have to travel for it. But even though I live here, the city turns into something else. There’s some kind of magic energy in the air. So it’s always special to be a part of it, for sure.
Congrats on the album man, really enjoyed it. Can you tell us the story behind it? Where and when did you produce it and what was going through your head while working on the tracks?
Thanks man! Very pleased with it myself as well
Well, I made the album basically to show the people—and maybe myself as well—that I can do more than make club-ready tracks. I’ve made so much music that’s not on EPs, because it’s often not fitting an EP. Therefore making an album is the perfect outcome to show what you’re capable of.
The inspiration I had with the album, was more or less music from movies and shows I grew up with. For instance Twin Peaks, Blade Runner, Blue Velvet, True Romance, and more. That’s why it’s called RETROFIT, which basically means making old products modern again. So people should realise that it’s not a banging album, but really something you can listen to. Of course, there are tracks on it that you can play, but you can listen to the whole thing in your living room as well…sober!
How did the selection process go when selecting which tracks to include and which—I assume there are some—not to?
You assumed correctly! It’s definitely a hard part of the process. But I tried to let it be somewhat of a story. So it starts off with a long intro and sweeping pads where I tend to keep it deep in the beginning of the album. Later on, it goes more towards the techno I play and I’m “fading it out”, so to speak, with more melodic vibes. And yeah, many tracks I left out because they simply weren’t really adding anything to the album. Could be that I’ll release them later on an EP.
Also, you have to bear in mind, that a vinyl record has a maximum of minutes you can put on there. Otherwise, the quality of the sound really goes down fast. So you’re kinda restricted to 10 or so tracks, when you have a mix of beat and beatless tracks.
What software and hardware were used for these tracks?
I used everything I had. So most of the beats were made with the TR-8. I used the Virus II for some pads, the Moog Subsequent for the bass leads, the Omnisphere for some classic synth sounds, and a lot of samples as well. Also, I used vocals from movies and interviews to add something special. And also I used a lot of effects on these elements, to create a widespread of sounds.
I consider you a studio wizard. Your tracks are played by DJs in sets with completely different sounds than one another. Why do you think that is?
Good question! If I see who plays my stuff, it goes from very “underground”—whatever the hell that means nowadays—artists to big room artists and everything in between. And I’m not really sure why that is, but I think it has to do with the simplicity of the tracks. Most of my club banging tracks are pretty straight forward and made for mixing. They often have a proper break and the energy is high. These elements are important when you DJ, no matter what kind of DJ you are. So the effectiveness is what makes it interesting for a widespread of DJ’s. But I’m always amazed when certain DJ’s come up to me and they say they play my music a lot. I’m often thinking something like, “What?! you!?”
Talking about sounds… techno is going through a big high-BPM rave/industrial phase right now. What are your thoughts about that and where do you see yourself currently fitting in the global technosphere given its status quo?
It is indeed, although there are signs that something else is afoot. But I think it’s a pretty logical evolution. It happened in the ’90s and early 2000s as well. Everything got faster, harder and in the end, Hardcore was created. Then all of a sudden, people were fed up with the hard and over the top music, that they instantly minimal was the shit. So I think something similar might happen again, but who knows. The industry is a lot bigger now and something for everyone is always an option.
Anyway, if I look at what kind of parties I get booked, it’s definitely the harder kind of techno, but not rave though. If I look at how I play, I play kinda fast and very energetic, but without the EDM-ish breaks that some of the rave has got going on now. So I like to keep the energy going, without too much of “hands in the air” kinda music.
The album comes out on your recently-launched imprint, SEC NDº (Second Degree). First important Q is… I have seen some write it as “SEC NDo” or as “Second Degree”?
Well it was meant to be SEC NDº, but a lot of websites can’t process that in their reports for sales etc. So it’s hard to allocate sales to the label. So therefore sometimes it’s written as SEC NDº and sometimes as Second Degree. But if I’d make sweater it would definitely say SEC NDº.
Ah, makes sense! Second Q on the label is: what prompted you to start a label rather than calling other labels you released home for future releases?
Well, because the need was there. If you have your own imprint you can release when, what and however you want. So no waiting 6 months for a release, or tracks that get excluded. Also, if you sell well your income increases, which you can invest in your studio or something.
What is your ultimate goal with the imprint?
I wanted to start a label to create a brand that goes with me as a DJ. I don’t only wanna release my own stuff, but also from other DJs. Maybe I’ll start doing parties in the future and make a whole concept out of it, like Marcel Dettmann is doing with Bad Manners. So it would be great to have a bunch of talented youngsters on there and we start touring together in the end.
What are some of the lessons you have learned as a label-head? Any advice you’d give anyone thinking of starting a label?
Yes, keep the costs low. You never know how a release turns out, so don’t go all-in with artwork, cool shit on the vinyl record, etc. Make sure the music is solid first and see if it gets the support you want.
What helps you have a good studio day? Do you have any routines or must-have/must-do in order to be productive while making music?
Well, I definitely need coffee and the earlier I start, the better the production day. And no other shit going on. So the quieter your life is, around production days, the more productive I am. During my album, I tried some mushroom micro-dose, but I’m not sure if that did anything, I was already in a good flow for my album and that remained.
So it definitely wasn’t a bad thing to do, but saying it helped… I don’t know.
Do you ever go party in Amsterdam to get “inspiration” for your own productions and/or DJ sets?
Sadly no. Well, basically only during ADE. But most of the time I’m away on weekends. And when I am home on the weekend I meet up with friends, we have dinner, etc. I mean I’m in clubs a lot, so going to clubs when you’re “off”, doesn’t really make sense to me anymore. And if I do go, I mostly go to parties where they aren’t playing the music I play. Because then I’m listening to music to much, rather than enjoying it.
Who are some of the current young/new DJ and producers that excite you?
Well, there are a few. Guys like Kaiser, ASEC, Border One, Temudo, Phara are a few that I have a lot of tracks from.
You were in the States a few times in 2019, how were your experiences?
LOVED it! Didn’t really know what to expect, but it was great. And compliments again to you guys, for really throwing proper parties in LA man. Great venues, sound, lighting (as in not much, love that) and vibes! But all the cities I went to were cool! Everyone was really a great host and people really were into the music, so that was great! The thing that struck me most is that Americans are enjoying mostly internally. So unlike Italians or Colombians for instance, they don’t go complete crazy, but they appreciate the music just as much!
What is your biggest touring pet peeve?
The selfishness of people at airports. Like people turn into animals when they’re at the airports. Waiting for lines, getting off a plane, boarding, some really will do anything to get there first. And I don’t get it, because you win very little with it.
Tell us your craziest Keith Carnal industry story!
Well, it was when I was in Malta. I was still young and I partied every time I went to play, because it was on weekends after all. So I played for 5 hours and finished probably 3/4 of a vodka bottle. Don’t really remember then end of the night, but when I woke up I was in the hallway of the hotel, naked. Probably sleepwalking or something, but I locked myself out. So after like a minute, I woke up properly and I was like, shit.. not good. At that moment a whole family came out of their hotel room and saw me standing there, hungover and nude. So I ran through the hallway, to see if there was someone there who could help me. After a search of 5 min, still naked, I found a cleaning lady, who took me to my room and let me in. But yeah, not something I wanna try again, anywhere.
(laughs) Wow… alright, no more music talk for the rest of the interview. Talk us through a typical weekday when you’re not touring…
Well, I just finished rebuilding the house but moving to another one already which needs a lot of work. So I guess it’s gonna be spending a lot time there in the future months. Also when I’m not producing I like to be out in nature with the dog, one of the reasons we’re moving. There’s nothing more relaxing than being away from all the noise from the city or my studio.
What is your favorite Amsterdam food spot(s)?
Oh man, there are a lot. De School is great—also for partying after—good food and great ambience. Lion Noir is also really nice, although a bit more formal. But one of my favorite places is “de Klepel”, a small restaurant in the “nine streets” of Amsterdam with a monthly changing menu, but always on top! Really recommend it, but make a reservation well before you’d like to go.
Not many people on our side of the pond (the States) know what typical Dutch food actually is. Can you tell us about some of your favorite dishes?
(laughs) That doesn’t amaze me because it’s not that spectacular. But we’re an agrarian country, so a lot is based on potatoes, cabbage, carrots, etc. And very winter-minded. So heavy stews are a big percentage of the typical Dutch food. “Boerenkool” which means Farmers Cabbage, is the first thing I always think about when someone asks me for a typical Dutch meal. And then we have the Bitterballen, Kroketten and Frikandellen of course! Snacks, when you’re either drinking alcohol or just drank a shit load of alcohol.
But seriously good stuff! I’m still amazed that the world hasn’t adopted “Bitterballen” yet…
What is the hidden gem neighborhood of Amsterdam and why?
I’d say Amsterdam Oost (or East) is cool area to go to now. A lot of stuff is happening there. You still have the beautiful houses, parks, etc. But not so much the tourist attractions. But it’s great for a walkthrough and drink and eat. A lot of Amsterdam people go there when they go out!
Do you ever get out of the city to nearby towns or areas? What do you like to do if so?
Not as much as I’d like, but sure! I often go to the national Reserve, just 30 minutes away from Amsterdam, which is stunning! I often go to the beach, which is 40 min away. And my favorite cities outside of Amsterdam would be Utrecht, Rotterdam and Deventer!
You have a dog and a young child. How do you juggle it all with the life of a touring artist with a lot of studio time?
Being in the studio for me is like going to work. So I go to the studio from 9 – 18 (or less even) and then I go home. And maybe listen to some promos later at night or when I’m at the airport. And of course I’m not alone in it all, so that helps a lot!
Last Q… back to the album… will you be touring to promote it in the coming months? If so, where can we expect to see you play?
We haven’t really set up an Album tour, but of course I’m playing! Going to Greece, Turkey, France, Germany, Spain, Hungary, Portugal and hopefully the States again soon!
Thank you mate, speak to you soon!