The producing, instrumental, and DJing aspects of electronic dance music often seem so separate, so disparate that they might as well be different genres. Certain artists have tried to blend at least two of the three, like Avicii including musicians on last year’s True or acts like Second Sun adding singing into their live performance.
Yet with the exception of older acts like New Order or underground DJs like DJ Aakmael adding an instrument into the sound, most of it doesn’t gel well or sound like electronic dance music at points.
But Brass Knuckles, the trio consisting of Anthony Pisano, Danny D’Brito, and Tony Livadas looks to be changing that. Although they formed in 2009, two of the members previously played in bands –which has been a significant influence in their sound and live shows.
Crossfadr caught up with Brass Knuckles before their Slake NYC show on August 16, and the sound was the first point we touched on.
“So, we have a very eclectic sound,” D’Brito explained. “Obviously we’re a three piece group, so we all bring something different from our backgrounds. Rock and roll, soul music, obviously, we’re dance and electronic music, and what have you, so, we kind of like to marry all of our different backgrounds together. In five words, I’d say it’s aggressive, rock, soulful, electric…melodic.”
So, beyond just simply having a harder, rock-influenced, aggressive sound, what kind of influence did being in a band have? “We were in bands for a couple of years, and we had a recording studio, and we started producing,” said Livadas. “We worked with all kinds of artists, from hip-hop to electronic – the whole spectrum. So, we started producing, and that led us to doing our own projects in electronic music.”
The rock influence was immediately apparent as soon as Brass Knuckles’ set started around 1 a.m. With the opener finishing up with a remix of Cedric Gervais and Lana Del Rey’s “Summertime Sadness,” Livadas could be seen from behind the DJ booth tuning a guitar, while the other two got ready.
At a glance, it might seem gimmicky – until the set started.
Livadas didn’t stay behind the guitar the entire night, but at the times he used it, the sound seamlessly blended into the rest of the song’s textures. Arpeggios reflected something Benny Benassi might’ve put out in the mid-2000s, while the extra chords beefed up their own studio tracks like “Bad Habits” and added an extra punch to already hard-hitting remix of Dada Life’s “One Smile.”
But with these elements (not to mention a remix of Benassi’s “Satisfaction” that stripped down the original’s cheese and amped up the percussion and bass qualities), it’s easy to dismiss these up-and-comers, who reached No. 27 on the Billboard Club Play charts with “Bad Habits,” as just another big-room act.
Yet, along with their eclectic approach, which involves not just incorporating rock, soul, and hip-hop elements but throwing in a bit of dubstep, hardstyle, and trap into their DJing sets, they don’t aim to pigeonhole their sound.
“I don’t really know what that label is,” Pisano said during the interview. “We’re capable of so much. Every tack we do encompasses – we have a track coming out in the near future that’s called ‘This is Rock and Roll.’ It’s literally rock and roll meets electronic.”
Then, after talking about their next single “Water Gun,” he followed that with, “Moving forward, we’re really focusing on bringing a lot of rock and roll elements to the dance floor.”
“Bad Habits” got attention back in 2012, but their current trajectory begins with their recent collaboration with The Cataracs. The track, “Crack,” dropped in May 2014, with its popularity only continuing to grow.
During their live set, “Crack” surfaced in the first half – and created the night’s true hands-in-the-air moment, with the crowd in the small club moving toward the DJ booth. But the track itself, another aggressive take full of pitch distortion, chromatic elements, and a bit of hip-hop thrown in, resulted from the two production acts meeting through Borgeous in Los Angeles, with both hitting it off. “It was just a great experience working with them,” said Pisano.
More recently, Brass Knuckles put out a remix of Dada Life’s “One Smile,” giving the original a bass-ier, more percussive interpretation, which emerged a bit harder and rougher in the night’s expansive set.
“We got to meet Dada Life recently in California when they did their Dada Land festival,” said D’Brito about this collaboration. “Great Guys. We’ve always been huge fans of theirs and they’re great friends of ours. They’re mutual people we work with. We got the opportunity to remix their new single, and as soon as we heard their new single, specifically the vocals, we fell in love immediately. We had inspiration. We knocked it out in a couple of days. It was so fluid, and we’re really happy about it.”
But with just a handful of tracks composing their official back catalog, much of the night’s set involved remixes – and further exemplified how a progressive house set should be done. With mainstream artists getting flack for just simply pulling from the top of the Beatport charts for remixes, with countless of one-hour festival setlists reusing the same material, Brass Knuckles kept the same bombast of sizzling synth chords, big four-to-the-floor beats, and grandiose sounds punctuated with the occasional rhythmic variation intact, without resorting to the easy way out.
And while this approach made you focus on the actual musical aspects more – for instance, a shift to triple time at one point, and then to an off-the-beat 16th note rhythm, and at several points to syncopated synth melodies – it allowed them to introduce new material, as well.
Past the halfway point during the night, the trio announced new material – without giving the title away. Sonically, it appeared to suspend high-pitched female vocals over big synth chords before segueing into a syncopated rhythm and some guitar chords. But save for the opening, most of it seemed instrumental.
But this unnamed (for now) material aside, the group’s preparing for new single “Water Gun” – a track they say will reflect several EDM elements. As well, when the interview shifted to the topic of this new track, they compared it to something by Gorillaz, with its choir-like melody.
“Water gun, again, it’s definitely an eclectic track that embodies everything aggressive we’ve incorporated. Real, bright pianos that shows our musicianship but also has an aggressive drop,” D’Brito explained. “It reflects on today’s music environment – big room house music, electronic house music that would work in a festival setting but also be something very melodic and feel good, and something that people could actually sing along with.”
The track emerged toward the end of the setlist, and essentially followed up nearly precisely on their description.
But they’re not going to stop with their recent output, and two more tracks are already in the works. “They’re impressive,” D’Brito explained. “We’re gearing toward the festivals on our next two releases, but I could say that both tracks have rock and roll elements – guitar-based rock meets electronic.”