We catch up with New York’s Walker and Royce ahead of their UK tour

Sam Walker and Gavin Royce AKA Walker & Royce formed in 2011 having known each other in and out of dance music for several years. The New York City based producers having been creating their own groove laden deep house music together since 2011.

The pair got their opening in a memorable way when Crosstown Rebels boss Damian Lazarus noticed one of their very first releases which was a remix of Saarid’s “Future Lately” on Nervous Records. The record became a big track for the Damian Lazarus, and he contacted the duo to find out more about the them. The result was the Crosstown Rebels EP “You’re Not Welcome”, and the rest they say is history.

Around the same time as the aforementioned release on Crosstown Rebels, Walker & Royce released a track on an OFF Recordings compilation titled “Connected” that quickly became a mainstay in performances by Solomun, and went on to be a house anthem. This and subsequent releases on labels such like Moda Black, Pets Recordings, and Glasgow Underground have set the stage for a diverse number of releases and an very promising future in the electronic music scene.

Walker & Royce’s music is regularly supported by the likes of Sasha, Pete Tong, Maceo Plex, James Zabiela, Catz N Dogz, Danny Daze, Tensnake, Jaymo & Andy George, Maxxi Soundsystem, Hector Romero, Jozif, Kolombo, Treasure Fingers, and Waifs & Strays, to name but a few.

Ian French spent a few minutes recently with the duo to talk about their music, life in NYC, upcoming UK dates, and their thoughts on sampling in dance music.

Hi Sam and Gavin. How are you both, and what have you been up to with your day so far?

Gavin: I’m good…. having a typical Brooklyn day, woke up an hour after I wanted to, had a iced coffee, wrote 40 emails, contemplated my life decisions, finished a remix, thought (only thought) about cleaning my apartment… the usual.

Sam: A bit hectic, yeah; finished a remix, reviewed a podcast. Also I’m driving around Brooklyn looking for a bigger place to live.

Can you tell us a bit about your upbringings and how you first became interested in electronic music?

Gavin: I spent the first part of my childhood in Manhattan on W75th and Columbus, I liked to Break Dance and listened to Hip Hop, MJ and Prince. I later moved to Virginia just outside Washington DC where everyone listened to Rock, I hated that and stayed true to my “R&B boogie” style. Then I would visit my family in Northern UK and thats where my cousins first introduced me to “rave music’ when I was about 11… I was hooked and haven’t looked back!

Sam: I was raised in a musical family. Not in the professional sense but my dad and sister played the piano and my mom loves to sing. While eventually finding my way to trombone and going to college for it, along the way I was also heavily into PC gaming. I wanted to replace the music in the games with music I had chosen or written myself. I overheard some KMFDM in a friend’s car one time and thought that that would be great to game to. So that led me into looking for more and similar and that put me on to NIN, The Prodigy, The Chemical Bros, stuff like that. Then I started to like that music without the game the play it to.

You both live in New York which is synonymous with house music as a whole. Can you tell us about some of your early house music influences, and your first experiences of house music in a club?

Gavin: I started going to clubs/raves in DC in the late 90’s, the scene was really really good and all sorts of music would be represented… Trance, Progressive, Industrial, Trip Hop, I was especially into Drum & Bass. Then I saw Doc Martin play a 8 hour set and instantly became a proper “House Head”, I even got turntables a week later and was off to the races. As for influences back then, Doc Martin obviously, Deep Dish, Danny Howells, DJ Feelgood, Mark Farina, Derrick Carter, Onionz, all some of my favorites. The real NYC stuff I learned more about a few years later.

Sam: Only the second time I was ever even in a nightclub was Twilo on a Friday night with Sasha and John Digweed and it was so mind-blowing for me. Like Gavin I went out and got turntables soon after and started buying records. I had friends who were into the same music and they put me onto other things like deep house and techno. I wasn’t really into that stuff at the time because I was really narrow-minded, but I came around after hearing it out and in the right context like at WMC for example.

You have both been friends for a number of years. Can you tell us about how your friendship came about, and what made you decided to start producing as a duo?

Gavin: We met officially at an Internship but then were part of the same group of friends for many years to come. We weren’t always into the same music but a few years back Sam helped me out with a remix and then I helped him with a track, after that it just clicked… We never expected it would go this far when we started.

Sam: What he said!

Your rise in the dance music scene was very quick thanks to a little help from Damian Lazarus. How would you say your lives have changed since the release of that track on Crosstown Rebels?

Gavin: It was really crazy for us because Damian just hit us up when we were working at Nervous Records. He was praising the music we were releasing on the ‘Nervous’ label and mentioned that he was especially into the W&R remix of Future Lately. He asked for demos and we did an EP. It was really great for us and the next thing you know we are in the record boxes of all these DJ’s we had always looked up to (like Sasha). At first we didn’t really know how to capitalise on the attention, however it got other labels to listen to what we would send, so we wouldn’t trade it for anything…

Sam: Exactly, Damian caught us right at the beginning and we were so new to our production habits that we couldn’t immediately follow up the record with something else. But it was a really lucky break for us because as Gavin said, it got people to take us seriously back when we were totally unknown.

Your recent release on Moda Black, “My Dream” is your third release on the label. You appear to have a good working relationship with the label, how did this relationship come about?

Gavin: Jaymo & Andy George were early fans of our music and we actually spoke online for a bit about stuff. We were equally fans of the Moda Black label so really wanted to make something happen. We first released on one of their annual comps but waited until we had the right tracks for an EP, which became Sister.

What is next on the horizon for you guys in terms of releases?

Gavin: We are very excited about an EP with Pets and a remix of Groove Armada on Moda Black, both coming later this year! Other than that we have a few other labels we really love that have hit us up for some tracks, now we just need to write them.

Lets talk about your studio for a few moments. What is your current studio setup, and what are some of your favourite gadgets?

Gavin: For the most part we are in the box, but when we get the chance to use some analogue gear we do.

Sam: We never use a template which I think is important to get away from every song sounding similar. We make almost everything ITB; we use plugins a lot and we sample a lot. We sample from numerous sources, musical and non-musical. We do love to use hardware though; if we get the opportunity we’ll record a whole ton of stuff from a real synth and then mine it for a ton of projects.

When you are both in the studio do you find you both have specific roles? For example is one of you better at drums or grooves?

Gavin: Sam is very much the engineer and I am very much the DJ, its just what our backgrounds are. I do a lot of the arrangement and get vocalists, samples, etc… Sam is a master at production, I am very lucky to have him in my corner to be able to get the sounds that we want.

Sam: Gavin will come up with interesting things to sample and frames the overall direction of the project whereas I am doing the nitty gritty.

When you get out of the studio and behind the decks do you play back to back or does one tend to warm up for the other?

Gavin: It really depends, typically we do 2 and 2 then go B2B at the end. If its an early set or the vibe is more chill we will play longer before we switch.

What is your ideal DJ setup when playing in a club?

Gavin: 3 CDJ’s, Pioneer mixer and our Pioneer RMX 1000… If the club takes care of its turntables we may throw on a few actual records during the set, but its hard to travel overseas with vinyl.

As a duo you have DJed all over the world. How does the New York scene compare to the rest of the globe?

Gavin: When NYC goes off there is no place like it, however it just doesn’t happen as much as people think it does. Its also different being from here, since we have come up here people have a different view of us. Its a very competitive city in general, not just in the DJ scene, it creates a colder vibe. I have always complained that people here don’t support each other enough, even before our success as W&R. It’s like a bad relationship, the sex is great but sometimes you wonder if its the right thing for yourself… But at the end of the day I am extremely proud to be from here and it has ingrained things in me that will stay with me forever.

Can you tell us about some of the upcoming gigs you have planned for the next few weeks?

Gavin: Yeah, we are headed back to the UK for a string of gigs starting off at the Lost Village Festival, then Ministry Of Sound, and Gottwood, Birmingham etc… Really looking forward to being back over there!

Which aspect of dance music do you prefer and why? DJing or producing?

Gavin: For me its DJng! Its my roots, I never set out to be a producer, I only got into that because I was doing edits and wasn’t finding the stuff I wanted to play in my sets.

Sam: It’s a lot of both; production and DJing go hand in hand for me. If I’m feeling uninspired usually all I need to do is go record hunting and that will scare up a whole lot of ideas. And vice versa, if I don’t like what I hear in the stores, I go make something I do.

There has been much talk about producers using samples of other peoples records and not paying what is owed etc. What are your thoughts on sampling and royalty payments to the respective artists?

Gavin: Its such a touchy grey area. A lot of dance music doesn’t really sell much to begin with so the money isn’t really there. However there are some people that have major hits and have heavily sampled at track everyone knows. If the track is popular because the vocal that was used is just a recycled anthem and there was no creativity used in the track then the original artist should get that credit and some of that money.

Sam: I think of it like this – if the result of the sampling made something totally original and completely unlike the source of the sample, then that’s a unique piece of artwork. Also, usually sampling accomplishes a sound character that could not have been made any other way. Now, legally, if it were possible to fairly compensate all artists for ideas sampled/inspired by/stolen/copied etc etc, I’d be all for it! And everyone big and small would owe everyone else lots of money! But there is no such authority who could correctly and fairly apportion derivative works, so I’d rather it be like it is now.

What is your current top 10?

Adesse Versions – Pride
Eli Escobar – The Formula
Tyree – Take Me With You (Catz n’ Dogz Edit)
Quell – Go Away Humans
Prince – Purple Rain
KiNK – Diversion
Claude VonStroke – Barrump
Gemini – On This Planet
Kowton – Glock & Roll
DJ Haus – When U Look At

About the Author

Director and DJ, Ian French (Naif) is passionate about every genre of music from Breakbeat, to Drum & Bass, to Techno and House. A man that lives in a world of beats and bass, and total confusion about life!