Polish duo Catz 'N Dogz are no strangers to DJ Mag readers. Rising to underground recognition over the past five years through their association with Claude VonStroke's Dirtybird and two albums for his Mothership label, the Pets Recordings bosses have rocked our parties (from Miami to Ibiza) as DJs and put out the likes of Eats Everything, KiNK and Tom Demac as label owners. But they're not just a pair of fun-loving house heads who know how to move a dancefloor, they're exceptionally creative too.
The first full-length on their prized label is by them — 'Basic Colour Theory' (out now) — and it's an album in the truest sense. A mosaic of separate, self-produced musical ideas, it not only takes the art of sampling to another level, it challenges the limitations of the dance LP formula as a whole.
Growing a tad disillusioned by the disposability of modern house music, the duo set about gathering the most talented musicians and vocalists they could find (Eglé Sirvydyte, Green Velvet, Peter, Bjorn & John, Tanika, Javeon) to record an extensive database of musical sketches, sampled it like crazy and mixed it all down to form a collection of tracks into a narrative.
On first listen, the album is instantly more catchy than anything they've done before — at times funky, others heartfelt — an easy, vibrant collection of textured tracks with a pop sensibility that defies the rigorously complex creative process plied into it.
On closer inspection, however, it's nothing short of a masterpiece. A kaleidoscopic beacon of classily produced electronic music — expertly polished — as experimental as it is accessible. We snagged the duo in Miami to find out more...
The new album is still groove-based but a little more poppy than usual. There are a lot of ideas on there!
Wojciech: “The whole concept of the album... we did a lot of preparation before making any music even. We recorded a lot of different vocalists for the album, like about 10, I think. We worked on finding some instruments and some instrumentalists.”
Grzegorz: “We recorded samples to create a huge database. We also bought a lot of hardware, we upgraded our studio. We bought some synthesisers and invited a lot of people to do, like, a large sample bank. That was the idea. To invite a lot of vocalists, so they create a lot of samples. We told them what words we would like to have and how we would like them to sing them. So, they didn't know what they were singing and for what track, and we just had this huge database of sounds...”
W: “That's why the name of the album is 'Basic Colour Theory'. We started with it as just basic, separate stuff and mixed it together at the end to make something really colourful. I know it's kind of like a mistake because nowadays, the sounds that people like are very simple. Techno is very popular. The album is kind of going upstream...”
G: “We really wanted to do that with our sound. It's our third album so we wanted to, like, get all our experience together and do something we have always wanted to do. So this is all our inspirations from when we went to all the rave parties and doing our own parties — we wanted to do our own sound and create something new from it.”
How is that different to the approach you had to making music before?
W: “Specifically, I guess all our albums were a bit more just a mixture of everything, and with this album we knew what we wanted to do. You know, like start from the beginning.”
G: “We had a concept and we decided that with the album we wanted to tell a story, so from the beginning to the end, everything would fit together. That's why we had this big database of different samples because we wanted it to sound similar throughout.”
W: “On previous albums we were just writing tracks, but on this album we wrote a bunch of stuff and put it together one piece at a time; one record to another to make a different record, you know...”
Like a mosaic...
W: “Yeah, so the album is like a series of remixes of tracks that didn't exist before. Also, if you want to compare it to something; it's like when a photographer takes a lot of photographs, like thousands of them, and when putting them out to an exhibition, they don't use certain photos, but just crop as part of a bigger picture...”
G: “You take a special moment, a special place, you crop it and use it. That was our idea.”
It wasn't just a case of coming up with a formula for a track and saying, 'Right, that's finished'. You came up with lots and lots of ideas and picked and chose different elements.
W: “That's why it took us so long! When people were asking us, 'How much of the album is finished?' and we were like 'fucking zero!' (laughs). Because there were no tracks. Then for the last three weeks of the deadline, we went to work and finished everything. And, like, in one week everything was finished.”
Because you already had the material. How did you go about the sampling and collaboration with vocalists and musicians?
W:” We basically recorded all the stuff in a studio in Warsaw, like a string quartet, harp...”
G: “We really wanted to work with people from Poland because they are really talented, and we know a lot of people so...”
W: “But we never really worked with them.”
G: “So finally we had the opportunity to work in the best studio in the world with our friend and we also invited some famous composers to write notes for one or two of our tracks. We were working with a really good harpist and string quartet.”
W: “There's Green Velvet. Eglé, a really talented vocalist from Lithuania.”
G: “Tanika from UK.”
W: “Javeon... and there are other vocalists who we sample bits from, who are not featuring. There is this one record we did, it's called 'Killing With Kindness'. First we did a hip-hop record. There was this guy who was working with J Dilla called Phat Kat, he's from Detroit. We did a track that was featuring him, but then we were like, 'It's not really what we wanted' and then we recorded another vocalist, a friend of ours that was in Berlin, to do an R&B record. Then we made a techno instrumental and took out the vocals of the R&B record, speeded it up — double — and speeded up the hip-hop record — double — and put it into a house record. So all the tracks are a little bit like that. Just a bunch of shit we didn't know what to do with, and finally we watched a lot of interviews with artists and documentaries about music and creative processes, which was really important for us to get out of the mess!”
It all sounds very musique concrète...
G: “We had a lot of fun in the studio, just like playing with the sounds. We did it on purpose for some of the vocalists, giving them different music while they were recording, and then we'd completely change it (laughs).”
W: “We always warned the vocalist before, 'You are going to record for this, but it's going to completely change'.”
Why did you decide to create an album in this way? It's way more musical than anything you've done before...
W: “Yes, that was the intention. It was a challenge too. We're hoping there might be, like, I dunno, a few thousand people who buy the album, and we're hoping there'll be like 10 people who discover the multi-dimensional aspect of each track. You know, you listen to a record and then after, like, 10 times it sounds different.”
G: “You can actually slow it down and it will sound like a hip-hop record. A lot of the tracks are like this...”
That's amazing. It's like there are hidden messages in the album.
W: “Yeah, exactly, so every track is like a different story but, then, because we went out to glue it all together, hopefully it also works as an album as a whole. That's why we left mixing the colours until the very end. We just had the base for a year or so until the end. We really had a vision from the beginning and that's why the cover is weird...”
G: “We are in uncomfortable positions standing on cabinets!”
Those pics are cool. How did you do that!?
W: “It's not our bodies on there! (laughs)”
You weren't really levitating...
W: “We decided to make it look like we were in a school...”
It's almost like an MC Escher painting, where perspective and perception is warped...
W: “Yeah, and also the picture is multidimensional because it's funny and not funny. We are not really smiling and it's weird, you know what I mean?”
G: “We wanted it to fit our name because our name is also like that. It's fun but we are also grumpy sometimes (laughs). We hope people feel our message.”
But I don't get the impression from the album you are trying to get serious...
W: “No, no. In general, the whole idea of the album was that there was no real track that goes off, like a house record. It's also just happy music, where you have a really nice time, that's the idea behind it. It's multidimensional but when you just listen to it once it also works. You know, they are just like songs, you can listen to it and only 1% of people will notice anything different.”
Experimental but not to the point of obscurity...
W: “Now there is a tendency towards very orthodox albums that are very raw, '90s, that go into the fundamentals of techno and house. We wanted to do the opposite. Something that goes into a mix of everything.”
It's not ambient or weird. Instead it's playful...
G: “We did different versions of every track, so each one has a different version that we're keeping for something later.”
Do you play them in your sets?
W: “We have club edits of each track. Like bands, they don't always play original album versions in their sets at a festival because, it will be too quiet.”
G: “We love DJing and we love creating an atmosphere, that's why we've made different versions.”
Contrary to belief, you're not just two guys who mix it up and have fun. That's not the full story?
W: “No, definitely the full story is that really there is a lot of meaning in this album for us and we have never put so much thought into anything before in our life. My boyfriend and Gregor's girlfriend were going nuts with us, it was like we were on our period everyday (laughs). Just going crazy.”
G: “Like, 'Oh my god, what am I going to do!”
W: “Yes, because when you have a vision that's so far away but so vivid you try to grab it, but then it is like trying to fight with yourself all the time.”
And also quite inspiring at the same time, right?
W: “We are trying to keep our vision, but going to our record collection for inspiration too and watching documentaries about the rave scene.”
G: “We saw lots of documentaries made in the UK during the early '90s, MDMA...”
W: “To try to remember the spirit.”
Do you think that's getting lost a little bit?
W: “Yes, of course, yeah.”
G: “I think in the UK it's the best time since the '90s.”
W: “It's just different, yeah.”
G: “I see young people and they are having a lot of fun and we have a lot of fun playing in the UK, we've played almost every city, even the small ones and usually the parties are amazing.”
W: “The UK scene is really strong right now.”
Now is the right time for bringing back and reintroducing people to the essence of rave, then?
W: “Yeah, that's true. The only difference is that sometimes nowadays it matters more at the party what you do. There is more the VIP vibe, but in the '90s it was very pure and people just wanted to take drugs.
Nowadays it's more about business and brands. When it's tough to loosen up and focus on music, we watch documentaries about the origins of the rave scene. Like, about techno records getting made in a house in the middle of a bush in the US back in the '90s. The idea that when making music it actually means something to you.”
A private, personal experience...
W: “Yeah. But that's the thing with the album, we went back to the essence but the production is advanced.”
G: We wanted to make the listening experience the best it could be.”