The EDM revolution has been either mute or a little mushy. Skrillex’s bass aggression is largely wordless. Zedd, Swedish House Mafia and Calvin Harris have scored massive hits with sentimental songs about love, be it romantic or filial. The growing trap movement swaggers with hip-hop’s beats but not its verses.
Enter Krewella. The Chicago-based trio — singer/songwriter sisters Jahan and Yasmine Yousaf and producer Rain Man — hits hard, and not just its sonic-boom beats. The band’s debut album, “Get Wet” (Columbia, Sept. 24), taps the outlaw spirit of rave, capturing the desperation, defiance and community that EDM has until now lacked — through sweet and sour melodies, delivered with pop-rock bite by the sisters. That they’re the only live band currently attacking the EDM circuit is just the icing.
“We had fans come up to us one by one after gigs: ‘I feel like a loser in school, nobody likes me, and I hear your music and I don’t feel alone,'” Jahan says. “We’ve all had those awkward phases, and we’re completely aligned with those kids who feel like misfits. A lot of those kids who go to raves go on their own. That was a huge inspiration for us.”
Krewella got buzzy behind unexpected radio hit “Alive,” a love song of sorts, but not necessarily for a person: “All alone/Just the beat inside my soul/Come on make me feel alive.” It hit No. 1 on Billboard’s Dance/Mix Show Airplay and spent 82 weeks on the Billboard Hot 100, peaking at No. 32. It was originally self-released on Krewella’s 2012 EP “Play Hard,” but a flurry of label interest later brought it to Columbia.
“We felt Columbia stood for legacy, and had longevity to it,” says manager Jake Udell of Th3rd Brain. “And they were so persistent.” According to Udell, Columbia A&R rep Andrew Keller attended all five of Krewella’s West Coast showcase gigs in February 2012, prior to the EP release, which made an impression on the band. “He had so much passion. He really believed Krewella could be the next major act,” Udell says.
The 12 tracks on “Get Wet,” all co-written by the group, rally the EDM troupes with dubstep and hardstyle’s high-speed bass; the vocal conceits of punk, reggae and even pop balladry (“Enjoy the Ride,” co-written by “Like a Virgin” lyricist Billy Steinberg); as well as ample use of the word “we.” Tracks like “We Go Down” (“If we go down/We all go down together”) and “Dancing With the Devil” (“We are louder than your bullshit”) reassert rave as an act of unified resistance. Even the band was surprised by how aggressive the music came out, especially in the wake of the feel-good dance-pop of “Alive.”
“I thought it was going to be a very poppy, melodic feeling, but looking at the whole album I realized how hard we ended up going,” Jahan says.
Rock’n’roll badassery is a big part of Krewella’s history: Jahan says one of her favorite concert experiences was seeing art-metal band Tool in 2006, one of the only solo girls in the crowd. All three Krewella members have “6-8-10” tattoos, the date they committed to making music. For Jahan, that meant dropping out of college; for Yasmine, moving out of their parents’ house.
But the band has strong ties to EDM culture as well, cutting one-off collaborations with internationally recognized DJs like Nicky Romero (“Legacy”), Tiësto, Armin van Buuren, Gareth Emery and Headhunterz (those tracks are forthcoming). These function to keep them close to the act’s core audience, and according to Udell, broaden its reach as well.
“We came up so fast, we couldn’t do 40 different remixes, so the collaborations are an opportunity to appeal to a genre that we might not be able to hit on our own: Gareth for trance, Nicky for progressive house and electro, Headhunterz for hardstyle,” he says. “Krewella has been largely an American entity to this point, and we want to have a global following. Those are all genres with international fan bases.”
The band has been touring primarily as a DJ act since “Play Hard” arrived, with Rain Man consistently at the decks and the girls periodically rushing downstage to sing. Former Swedish House Mafia manager Amy Thomson tapped the group as a resident at her new Las Vegas nightclub Light even before “Alive” hit. (Thomson also locked in Baauer prior to his “Harlem Shake” exploding on YouTube.) Krewella’s tent-packing sets at festivals like Ultra and Electric Zoo signaled that its music was resonating, buoyed by the strong radio showing and high-performing video of “Alive.” The group had approximately 20,000 Facebook fans and less than 300,000 YouTube video views on first “Play Hard” single “Killin’ It” when it came to Columbia in January, according to senior VP of marketing Scott Greer. The act now boasts more than 600,000 Facebook fans and 40 million-plus YouTube/Vevo plays.
For its upcoming 55-date North American tour, launching Sept. 5 in Austin, the band will debut an entirely new production, designed by EDM show specialist V Squared Labs. The stage plays off the “Play Hard” cover: Dubbed “the volcano,” it actually looks and behaves like a cracked geode, with crystal spikes fabricated from two-way mirrors reflecting aqua and fuchsia LED lights.
“My dream is to have people come to a show and have their jaws drop,” Jahan says. “Ten years later, I want them to say, ‘My favorite concert ever, my best show, was Krewella.'”