Predominantly based in Harlem, New York, RATKING are a hip hop trio unlike any other. Forging their way around stages all across the globe, they’ve taken their brand of energetic and passive hip hop to many crowds over the last year or so.
Harnessing a sound that one may perceive as holding elements of punk, the daring trio have solidified their convention-defying sound in their debut self-titled LP which was only put out last year. They recorded the LP in their practice space in Brooklyn, but had sounds coming in from all over the world. The LP features a few collaborative tracks, most notably being one with KING KRULE.
They’re set to head out here for the first time this February for Laneway Festival. Playing all around the country as well as two of their own sideshows, we here at Purple Sneakers were lucky enough to have a chat to Sporting Life, the producer behind the beats of RATKING.
We spoke about the ideals of hip hop and punk music blending together, their sudden rise to international acclaim and their excitement levels for coming out here in the very near future.
I know a lot of other artists would answer this question differently, but the age old existential question still stands. What do you personally perceive hip hop as?
I think it’s kind of like a rubix cube. Everyday or every few months it kind of turns to a new side and absorbs different things and spits out whatever people consider hip hop to be at the time. I don’t think it is one thing. It’s one of those things that’s constantly changing. But to everybody, it’s something different. It’s a way of life and a way to express yourself.
Do you think that as a producer it’s essential in diversifying your beats in order to stand out from what else is being produced at the time?
Yeah, it’s important for me to diversify for my own interest’s sake. I get bored with things pretty quickly. I like to study things pretty thoroughly and then try to find new music amongst whatever’s out there, so for my own sake, I try to always be looking for things that I might like regardless of what genre it might be in. But having an open mind and being open to whatever sounds may come from me being influenced by other sounds is really important to the beatmaking process I think.
I saw on your Facebook page that you yourself have actually put out a whole lot of unreleased tracks that you’ve been working on on the side. How essential is it for you to continue to make music not only for Ratking, but for yourself as well?
Yeah, that’s just like what I do. Like dolphins swim, birds fly, you know what I mean? I like to make tracks. At this point, certain parts have become really easy to do, so then you move on to stuff with more complexity. And so now, I’ve got this thing where I can use hand motion controls for Ableton Live and orchestrate a beat strictly with my hands. That’s kind of like what I’m into now, using some next technology that I know no one else is using and that is a part of my process.
I read in an interview that you personally tend to confine yourself to the studio or you take your equipment on the road for a few weeks just to make your beats. How important is routine for you? Or do you tend to be a bit more spontaneous when you write tracks?
I try to have a good routine so that I’m comfortable with the things that I can put out spontaneously. If you practice, that means that in the game, the practice and the reflexes are going to come back. I have a daily routine, like when we were kids, wake up every morning, do those things you love and then from there that means that live, you have enough grounding to then be able to throw change-ups and audibles into it and that gives it the spontaneity that I think a lot of people want to see.
You guys have been making music together since you were pretty young, I mean you’re still so young. What has it been like for you guys discovering your talents as a group at such a young age as well as travelling so young?
It’s been different for all of us. We’ve really been experiencing making music professionally after listening to music for a long time. It’s been totally eye-opening not really knowing how they made the albums you love and that you drove to school speeding down the highway listening to and wondering how they even came together and how the artwork came together, so it’s the process of making music professionally that has been really eye-opening. But I think it’s been a positive experience for all of us. Living in New York city, you grow up really fast. We’re all different ages, but we grew up really fast. A person who grew up in New York city who is like 19 might have experienced a lot of stuff that a 30 year old might not have even experienced in another place. So it’s all been a learning experience, but I think we’re enjoying it.
Is there a definitive moment where you guys knew that Ratking was going to be as big and successful as you are now?
I think there’s certain shows where we end with the song ‘Piece of Shit’ and you can just feel the air come out of the room. I can feel that, and that’s when you know you’ve made an impact in a live way. But then in terms of when we first started going when we were in Harlem and we first started making music, our friend Eric Yue who grew up in Queens (he’s a director and an artist) made a video for us for ‘Wikispeaks’. When I saw what he had done with what we sounded like, I was like “Okay, if he can make what we are doing naturally look like this, then that’s a good start”.
That’s really cool because I guess it’s been within the last what, 2 years that you guys have really started to get a huge following. And on that note, you guys are set to come out here to Australia next year. You’ve got 2 solo shows as well as your Laneway Festival sets. Do you think there’s a huge difference between your solo shows and your festival sets?
I think we try to bring a certain amount of energy dependent on the shows we play and who we’re playing with. Maybe it needs to be a little bit more neat and technical and tight in terms of rap, but then at some shows, we play at venues that are going to make it more energetic like new wave-y, or more of a punk energy. I think we try to bring an open mind to every show and just go and have a good time. We’ve been playing together for a while so we can read the crowd and read each other and see what we need to do for that particular set.
You guys have been continuously described in many publications as a punk act. How do you feel about being described as not only hip-hop, but punk too?
I think a lot of those words were put on us as far as our live show goes. We’ve listened to a lot of Bad Brains, but I feel like that leans a little more towards our live show. But ODD is still kind of punk. There’s a lot of punk in hip-hop. If you’re not so stuck on the label of punk, but more of the energy that it’s giving, you could find punk in a lot of different things. And so we don’t necessarily have to directly draw from punk to get that impression.
You guys are coming out here for Laneway Festival. It’s probably one of the biggest boutique touring festivals that Australia has to offer. What was your initial reaction to being included on this tour?
I was like “Oh, that’s cool!” I really wanted to see the energy of Australia, because you hear a lot about it. Everything I know about Australia is strictly from television and the media so to actually dispel some of the myths and actually soak up some of the trueness of the place on Earth you are when you’re over there, I think that will be good. I was super looking forward to that when I heard that we were going.
What are you guys most looking forward to about Australia? You’ve got a pretty big fan base here already.
We’ve met some people on tour with Run The Jewels from Australia who all had really good energy and were all very happy. So to just hear some conversation and meet some people and see what it’s like to have grown up and live over there for a little while will be cool.
Thursday, 29th January – The Basement, Sydney
Tickets: Moshtix | 1300 438 849
Thursday, 5th February 2015 – Ding Dong Lounge, Melbourne
Tickets: Oztix | 1300 762 545
ST. JEROME’S LANEWAY FESTIVAL 2015
Saturday 24 January
SINGAPORE – THE MEADOW, GARDENS BY THE BAY
Monday 26 January
AUCKLAND – SILO PARK
Saturday 31 January
BRISBANE – BRISBANE SHOWGROUNDS, BOWEN HILLS (16+)
Sunday 1 February
SYDNEY – SYDNEY COLLEGE OF THE ARTS (SCA), ROZELLE
Friday 6 February
ADELAIDE – HART’S MILL, PORT ADELAIDE (16+)
Saturday 7 February
MELBOURNE – FOOTSCRAY COMMUNITY ARTS CENTRE (FCAC) AND THE RIVER’S EDGE
Sunday 8 February
FREMANTLE – ESPLANADE RESERVE AND WEST END
Words by Caitlin Medcalf