Krewella charts own course in EDM, pop

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If you go

What: Krewella, in concert.

When: 7 p.m. Sept. 27.

Where: Roseland Theater, 8 N.W. Sixth Ave., Portland.

Cost: $30 for those 18 and older, through TicketsWest, 800-992-8499 or ticketswest.com

Information: roselandpdx.com

When Krewella first started talking about signing to major label Columbia Records, the group left no room for confusion on its demand for creative control over its music.

"That was a huge priority," said Yasmine Yousaf, one of Krewella's two singers, in an early September phone interview. "When we signed to Columbia, it was one of the first things we said. It was like 'Guys, we're really headstrong.' … We are completely in control, and that's that. We put our foot down. And they've been so respectful. They didn't even think of stepping on our toes. They were like, 'Guys, you do your thing and we just back you. You have our full support.'"

That kind of independent streak has shown up throughout Krewella's career in much of what the trio from Chicago has done, from how they've made their EPs and albums to how they've carved their own stylistic path, to how the group plans to change the typical electronic music game this fall as a live act.

The three members of Krewella — Yasmine Yousaf, 21, her sister, Jahan, 24, and Kris "Rain Man" Trindl, 25 — met while Jahan and Trindl were attending high school in the Chicago suburb of Northbrook. Discovering a shared love for early electronic acts such as Chromeo and MSTRKRFT, they formed the group, and in 2010 rented a loft in Chicago where they built their own studio setup and started making music by their own rules.

Early on, Trindl served as mentor/producer, helping the Yousaf sisters assume their roles as songwriters in Krewella.

Trindl was quite a taskmaster, frequently being harsh in his criticism, as he relentlessly pushed them to step up their skills. Somehow, Yasmine and Jahan put up with it all, despite some resentment. Today, Yasmine appreciates the tough love approach of Trindl.

"I think back to those times about seven years ago, I think about how much I sucked as a catchy songwriter, not even a pop writer, not a rock writer, but as a songwriter in general," she said. "I was just writing on a whim. I thought I was pretty OK and I thought I knew what I was doing, but I'm so thankful that he was an a--hole because I wouldn't write the same way I do today."

In particular, Yasmine said, Trindl changed how she thought about songwriting.

"He wanted me to think about every melody I was making," she said. "He wanted me to think about every note in correspondence to the next note. And I never had thought of melody that way."

The song-centric approach to Krewella's music has helped the group create a sound that separates it from other electronic acts. As much as Krewella has been associated with the electronic dance music scene -- and has signatures of the genre with its reliance on programmed beats and pumped-up synthetic instrumentation -- the music on their album "Get Wet" sounds like it could fit in with top 40 radio (think Lady Gaga or Rihanna). The group's music features choruses, strong vocal melodies and pop song structures to go with the kind of amped-up synthetic instrumentation and driving dance beats that are common in EDM.

The first single from the album, "Live For The Night," as well as tracks like "Come & Get It" and "Enjoy The Ride," are prime examples of Krewella's catchy, high-energy sound. What helps the album is some songs, such as "Ring Of Fire," "Pass The Love Around" and "Human," vary intensities quite a bit, and this provides breathers from the relentlessly big sound of songs like "Live For The Night."

The quality and catchiness of the music, coupled with the group's lively approach to performing, has helped Krewella quickly rise through the EDM ranks, moving up from shows around Chicago beginning in 2011 to touring nationally and internationally -- landing slots at such major festivals as Australia's Stereosonic in 2012 and Miami's Ultra Festival this spring. Along the way, the group released its debut EP, "Play Hard," in 2012, followed by a remix EP, "Play Harder."

It was at Stereosonic and Ultra that Krewella first introduced live vocals by the Yousaf sisters into its performances -- a rarity in the EDM world, where even if DJs have vocal songs, they almost always perform only to recorded tracks. Now Krewella is stepping up its live vocal show on its fall headlining tour.

"It's actually taken a lot to get into it (live vocals) just because nobody else has really done it before," said Yasmine, who said the group will also bring out an elaborate stage set it calls the "Volcano" on its current tour. "So we had no one to emulate, no one to go off of. There was no model for this. We had to create the model ourselves. And it's been really hard to kind of figure out how to incorporate the vocals into a DJ set, still keep it very much in the DJ world, yet still have the live vocals come through and have it feel right, not awkward or random."

Yasmine is proud that Krewella may have created a sound that bridges the gap between top 40 and edgy EDM.

"I know people will try to compare us to dance artists and then will try to compare us to pop artists," she said. "But I think straddling the line is the most beautiful thing we've ever accomplished, and I don't mind that. I think it's so cool that we can have underground dance fans and then also the average listener who doesn't even know who Skrillex is."

She also isn't letting herself worry about whether EDM fans might be upset if Krewella does break through to the mainstream and reach a mass audience.

"In the end I just want to make music and reach as many people as possible, touch as many people as possible," Yasmine said. "That's what it's all about."