The Knocks are a New York story through and through. They met as 19-year-old college students, late one night in a studio at the New School. Ben Ruttner, known as “B-Roc,” DJed clubs as a PM day job, and James Patterson, known as “JPatt,” played the organ at a church outside the city. Both in need of roommates, they moved into an apartment on Avenue C in The East Village that—in the DIY style that would go on to define their work in the industry—the two of them soon turned into a bootleg studio where rappers and bright-eyed vocalists came in to cut tracks. It was a tiny place, with walls as thin as the bugs were plenty. Their neighbors started banging brooms floor to ceiling, cracking knuckles on the walls. When the music got loudest, B-Roc and JPatt would go into each other rooms and say, “I just got the knocks.”
The newly christened duo soon started gaining attention online. Working out of their bedrooms, The Knocks remixed Jay-Z’s entire American Gangster album in two days, calling it American G-Funk. They put it up in the early days of music virality, and got 60,000 downloads in a week. With remixes for Katy Perry and Passion Pit soon following, the Knocks were declared one of the “20 hottest producers in music” by NME and quickly became synonymous with a certain warm, retro-future, disco-kissed touch. Their remixes filtered every artist’s energy through a late night on the Lower East Side: whatever they made at the studio, they’d test out at the club, translating the heat of underground dance music to the mainstream. Their alchemy worked the other way around, too: future stars like Ellie Goulding and Icona Pop took note of the Knocks, asking them to produce for their own projects.
In 2008, JPatt and B-Roc took out a loan and opened the HeavyRoc studio at 55 Chrystie, in the same broken-down building where the Beastie Boys used to rehearse. From there, in a dance music ecosystem increasingly dominated by reticent bedroom producers or big-tent corporate names, the Knocks stayed on a certain downtown grind. They put our their first big hit in 2010 with the filter-house party anthem “Dancing With the DJ.” The classic New York openformat DJ style suffused every record: this music could work a crowd from all angles, full of pre-dawn tenacity and the energy of a dance-floor crush. Their unerring instinct took the Knocks global: they toured the UK with Sleigh Bells and DJ Shadow, and started playing all around the world.
At the studio, the Knocks developed and managed artists on their own label at the same time that they pushed their musical projects forward. Opening for Ellie Goulding on her US debut tour in 2011 and playing the main stage at Ultra in 2012, B-Roc and JPatt were a bridge between the indie dance world and the mainstream market; they threw parties, booked their own talent, and opened up new territory for their artists that often led to a record deal. Bringing Mandy Lee, now of Misterwives, to their smash 2012 remix for M83’s “Midnight City” and St. Lucia’s Jean-Philip Grobler to 2013’s heater “Modern Hearts,” the Knocks built steady credibility as producers with an ear for up-andcoming talent and party auteurs to boot.
Now, B-Roc and JPatt have moved past being known as ideal collaborators to developing a sound that’s distinctly their own. In 2014, they hit a touchstone with “Classic,” a seductive track that whips up the sun-drenched sense of endless celebration. Fetty Wap jumped on for a guest verse, as befits the way the Knocks style synthesizes anything with energy: hip-hop, soul, house, disco and pop. They’ve been streamed over 12 million times, their audience in search of a particular feeling. It’s a combination of nostalgia and forward propulsion: every song seems to belong to a late night of alchemical proportions, the rush of an anonymous day in New York.
Their new album 55 is a triumph, a resolutely DIY dance album that pulses with the heart of the city. It’s a love letter to the old-school way of making music, and to that classic story of two kids who came to NYC to make it big. It opens with none other than Cam’ron, rapping over uptown piano: gospel voices build in the background, as golden as the light when your plane lands in the outer boroughs, as big as the river when your cab speeds across the bridge. The collaborations on the album are spot-on and electric, with the distinction of being forged artist to artist rather than from label emails sent top down. Wyclef Jean comes out of nowhere to electrify the bump and groove of “Kiss the Sky,“ Carly Rae Jepsen takes a house diva turn on earworm “Love Me Like That,” and Alex Newell aims his high range like a trigger in SPIN’s best-101-of-2015 pick “Collect My Love.” It’s an album laced with disco magic and hiphop flow; it’s built for a crowd, but first it has to pass a bar that’s internal. “Would I spin this?” the Knocks still ask each other, every time they cut a track. They’ll be spinning this one for years.