The Knocks (photo: Ian Young)
Interview with The Knocks: Brittany O’Brien
Wordsmith/Writer: Melanie Mazza
Photos by Ian Young
Portraits by Brittany O’Brien
Many a love story has been set in New York City. This one, the tale of two star-crossed roommates that would one day produce some of the world’s favorite dance singles and Hypemachine-topping hits, is no exception. Meet James Patterson (JPatt) and Ben Ruttner (B-Roc), the two faces, voices, and long-time DJs behind The Knocks. These two fated DJs met through mutual friends in a search for housing, and they both set up their own hip-hop studios within their apartment. The two then went on to contribute to the City that Never Sleeps’ sleeplessness, starting with the other residents in their building.
“We’d each be playing music loud in our rooms” explains Patterson, “and the neighbors would knock on the walls and we’d call it getting ‘the knocks.’”
And thus, The Knocks were born.
The Knocks’ path to success has been certain, but rather winding. The duo began with a funk/disco remix of Jay-Z’s American Gangster, titled American G-Funk. It was “pretty sick,” in the words of Ruttner, and he wasn’t the only one who thought so. The 50,000 downloads in the first week of the release told the two they should pursue what the people were loving. People, I assume, not including those who shared the apartment building and helped to give the band its name.
They took their passion and talent for beats and hit the City of Angels, working with artists such as Katy Perry, Marina & the Diamonds, Ellie Goulding, and Flo Rida. “It wasn’t where our heart was” they acknowledge, but they did their best to stay true to their art. To keep themselves engaged with a project closer to their passion, they released singles “Blackout” and “Can’t Shake Your Love” just for fun. However, these hits flew to the top of Hypemachine charts “before Hypemachine was even a thing,” says Patterson.
This got the two thinking. “We’re trying to write all these songs for these pop artists,” explains Patterson, “and, like, it’s not working but then we’re making all this weird cool music on our own and people are liking it so why don’t we just do this?”
And what a great idea that was. After leaving the pop world of Los Angeles, the two decided to focus strictly on their remixes and then gradually incorporate their own original work. As their songs were catching fire online, like instant party hit “Dancing with the DJ,” they caught the attention of Neon Gold Records. Neon Gold was, at the time, “the shit” says Patterson. Think Ellie Goulding, Marina & the Diamonds, and Passion Pit.
They worked with Neon Gold to release several singles and their debut EP Magic in 2011. These releases were sampled by other artists, put into commercials, and worked into collaborations with artists such as St. Lucia and X-Ambassadors. This commercial success launched them on a period of live shows all around the United States and Europe, gradually building up their fan base. “San Francisco’s like, a really good place for us,” says Patterson, explaining that they have come back to San Francisco many times during their gradual rise and that they’ve managed to create a very solid fanbase here. The first time they played in San Francisco was at Popscene, opening for Ellie Goulding’s very first US tour. Picture the now-famous songstress of electronic playing to a room of 300 people with The Knocks in tow.
Now The Knocks are excitedly releasing their debut album 55 with Atlantic Records. Although this is technically their debut album, it is obviously not their debut into the music scene. They laugh about this, saying that most artists that have been around half the time as them have more albums out, but that The Knocks have focused more on their EP and numerous singles. The long-awaited 55 brings with it the anticipation of collaborations with Wyclef Jean, Justin Tranter, Fetty Wap, Walk the Moon and more.
The excitement among fans for the upcoming release has shown in the overwhelming responses to upcoming live shows. The duo not only booked 2 nights at The Independent but sold them out long in advance. As an extra treat while in the Bay Area this past November, they also held an underground house show in The Armory. For those of you who don’t know it, it’s the infamous porn-warehouse-turned-haunted-house-slash-music-venue in the Mission District of San Francisco. The group may have drifted a bit into pop, but they certainly haven’t lost their edge.
And what’s next for The Knocks? After the completion of their national headlining tour, they are hoping to arrange some shows in Europe. And after that? Their years of faithful service to the world of dance, house, and pop as well as their willingness to work in many different genres while always bringing their signature flare leaves us certain that they will continue to release unique, interesting, and creative pieces to will keep our hips shaking and heads nodding for years to come.
Find The Knocks hits such as “Blackout,” “Dancing with the DJ,” “Magic” and many others online while you await the upcoming album, slated for release on March 4, 2016.