Instep Today

It takes two to EDM

September 10, 2018
By Ahmed Sarym

Krewella, an EDM duo (featuring Jahan and Yasmine Yousaf) - who made their Coke Studio debut this season - spoke to Instep from Los Angeles about their experience of being on the music series and whether they’re open to working with local artists.

Born to a Pakistani father and European-American mother, Jahan and Yasmine Yousaf, with their combined powers form the electronic dance music (EDM) duo, Krewella - a word that has been created by Jahan herself.

 “There’s no real story behind it and it doesn’t have a meaning,” she clarifies. “Looking back, the name feels very feminine and powerful, though I wasn’t aware of it at that time.

” Having completed over a decade in the business, Krewella - originally a trio - rose to prominence with their debut album, Get Wet, that charted in the Top 10 Billboard’s Hot 200 in its very first week. And there has been no looking back.

 As Kris Trindl exited the group, the duo continued to produce EDM by releasing two more albums, among other things.

 Making their debut on Coke Studio 11 this year with co-producers Ali Hamza and Zohaib Kazi onboard, they performed a track called ‘Runaway’ on which they collaborated with Riaz Qadri and Ghulam Qadri. And in doing so connected to their Pakistani roots.

 Speaking to Instep from Los Angeles, the Yousaf sisters opened up about growing up with Pakistani values, diversity in Hollywood and their Coke Studio experience.

 Instep: When were you first introduced to Coke Studio and tell us a little about how you reworked an already-released dance track, ‘Runaway’ with folk music? 

Yasmine and Jahan Yousaf, who form the EDM duo, Krewella.

Jahan Yousaf (JY): Well, we were first introduced to Coke Studio by our abbu (father) and I think it was the eighth season. But we’ve been following it since and it was a fantasy to be featured on it. ‘Runaway’, on the other hand, was a finished song to begin with. We sent stems over to Ali Hamza and Zohaib Kazi. They selected which original elements they wanted to keep, but for most part, they overhauled it. And we ourselves wanted traditional Pakistani elements; it was important for us to go there. I think it’s the perfect fusion that represents our upbringing.

 Yasmine Yousaf (YY): When you spend so long creating a song, which we did with the original ‘Runaway’, it would’ve been disappointing to do the exact same thing for Coke Studio. I think the reimagination of it creates an entirely different world and it feels more authentic for the Pakistani viewer(s). It takes a really creative mind to step outside and re-examine a song that already exists and completely spin it in a new way. That’s what they (co-producers) did, taking it on a wild journey (laughs).

 Instep: Do you plan to work on more Pakistani assignments and collaborate with local artistes? 

YY: I think we definitely want to come back and work on more music. Our first experience with music in Pakistan (with Coke Studio) really set us up for understanding that this is a beautiful and thriving place to make music. There are so many amazing collaborators and talented musicians to work with. When we were on the Coke Studio set, I felt like I was working with some of the top musicians in the world. They were so talented and it would be a dream to come back and do more with Coke, but even otherwise, to work with indigenous Pakistani artists – whatever it may be.

 Instep: Considering you’ve worked in several industries around the world, what was your experience like in Pakistan, particularly with a platform that’s had its fair share of criticism?

 JY: Well, our experience was very limited because it was only for a few days and specifically with the Coke Studio enterprise. The entire team, I think there were dozens of people on-set. A crew of 35 was very professional and it was all a very streamlined operation. Ali Hamza and Zohaib Kazi were incredibly meticulous with the project and you could tell they were handling it with a lot of care.

 That meant a lot to us because it was inspiring to see other artists wanting to get the sound and the overall product right and authentic. Everything from the arrangement to how certain musicians are playing certain parts, to how Yasmine and I are singing, particularly in Urdu. A lot of the times, producers are a little removed, but they were immersed in every single element of the production.

 Instep: Prior to Coke Studio 11, what is your earliest memories of visiting Pakistan? 

YY: Jahan and I both visited Pakistan as young children and I went back with abbu when I was 12, and so that was the last time I’d been there before this past April. But I have very strong memories of when I went last. Our father still goes every now and then, so he has a current outlook on what’s going on in Pakistan, so we knew what to expect.

 Especially, since we’ve been traveling the world, touring for about seven years now. We’ve been to South East Asia, Eastern Asia, just never Pakistan. I think when you go to a place after so long, something does shock you about it, but we were also very happy to be immersed in our roots.

 Instep: Has it been easier to own up to your roots now that the entertainment industry in the USA, particularly Hollywood, is opening up to diversity?

 JY: The reaction has been between neutral to positive, actually. Yasmine and I have matured and progressed and as we look back, in hindsight, on our upbringing, we realize the importance of our multicultural years and how the eastern values affect us – whether it’s the togetherness of our family or being raised as Muslims. We’ve incorporated that, figuring out what we identify with now. We’re very proud. When you think about entertainment in Hollywood, there’s a lot of focus on the face and the look of someone.