May 27, 2021
6 min read
“It started with Nik trying to make a combination of a Fatboy Slim song and ‘Face To Face’ by Daft Punk. I had a small demo that I brought to Ryan. It was the first Sponges effort. At that time we were both working on our own music projects. Nik came to me and as a joke said he’s starting a band called The Sponges and asked if I would by his lead singer. Next thing you know we have this [‘Somebody Somebody’] and ‘Make it Juicy.’”
Ryan and Nik of The Sponges have made a name for themselves in recent years with an incredibly unique sound, blending funk, tech house, and bass house in a seamless and fun way. The duo is from Palm Beach, Florida. Growing up outside of Miami, Club Space quickly became one of their favorite venues and helped introduce the two to electronic music. “The sound system is so pristine. I’d want to see Tipper or Eprom… bass acts that make the system really work. We saw Disclosure there and they played ‘You and Me (Flume Remix)’ and it was the only time we’ve ever seen a track under 120 BPM and it was just insane.”
The duo’s influences are wide-ranging, and their discovery of electronic music was less than traditional. Ryan and Nik first met in high school. They were both producing rap beats for their friends and eventually decided to try working together on the project. After some time, the two discovered electronic music. “After attending some raves we knew we wanted to make electronic music. [We saw] Skrillex at Bonnaroo in 2014 and we knew we had to enter the scene.”
Despite Skrillex helping them turn the corner, the earlier years for Ryan and Nik were defined by rock and rap music. Linkin Park, Lil Wayne, and Kid Cudi were major influences. The first time they performed together was long before The Sponges had a true identity. “I [Nik] was in a rap group and we needed to record music before our show. Ryan was the only person we knew with a mic. We were in high school and Ryan ended up performing while I DJed… That was in 2012, it wasn’t until 2019 that we played a bigger show.”
For The Sponges, creating music is a complex process often driven by older samples and two unique production styles that Ryan and Nik bring to the table. “The oldies is what we sample. We’re constantly listening to… James Brown, Stevie Wonder, Earth Wind and Fire. The great disco/funk artists from the 70s and 80s… All of our songs have a different story as far as how they began.” Sometimes the guys will find a sample and build a track around it. Other times the bassline comes first. When producing their track ‘Funked Up,’ the goal was to make an edit for a Rick James song just for fun. Three months later it became a breakthrough release.
Ryan and Nik also take tremendous influence from the world of jam bands. Funky vibes permeate their music and a lifetime of listening to The Grateful Dead, STS9, Lettuce and more has given The Sponges another unique angle to their music. To quote their primary label, Box of Cats, “If James Brown produced tech-house, this is him.”
Two years after truly discovering electronic music, Ryan and Nik were still finding their sound and working on getting their first track out to the world. They started attending a diverse range of music festivals and began seeing a lot of electronic performers, and jam bands. After attending Bonnaroo in 2016, Ryan had the idea to mix the funky sound from Griz and The Floozies with a tech-house sound. Nik had been working on a sample-based four on the floor sound and their combined sonic concepts led to the birth of The Sponges. “We spammed Soundcloud, sending this track [‘Make It Juicy’] to everyone we possibly could. Marc Spence was the one who responded and he asked if he could send it to Box of Cats. After that, Wongo hit us up and since then he’s been such a mentor.”
‘Make It Juicy’ was followed by a run of successful releases with Box Of Cats. After ripping off ‘Space Funk ‘75,’ ‘I Can Dance,’ ‘Funked Up’ and ‘Rachet Express,’ Ryan and Nik felt like they had found a home. “It’s a dream come true. Box Of Cats feels great because Wongo is so open-minded and such a big brother to us. To have made a song with Kyle Watson is amazing. They’ve been supportive and we wouldn’t have had an avenue to share our music without them. A lot of the big labels have such a specific sound that producers cater to. There’s nothing wrong with that but we needed a label that would cater itself to our sound.”
The Box of Cats team has helped Ryan and Nik to the point of getting their music out to other labels as well. One of their recent releases, ‘Feelin Alright’ landed on the iconic Night Bass label with the helping hand of Wongo. Staying true to The Sponges sound, the track is another masterclass in sampling and funky beats. “Nik spends a ton of time sifting through samples, finding what works best for our sound. The Sample we picked [for this one] was because the guy sounded like James Brown. I [Ryan] made a demo right before a show we had, I didn’t tell Nik about it until we were walking on stage and just surprised him with the track… [with samples] we want something memorable that will bring people back.”
A unique sound has led to unique support. A wide variety of artists have shown love to The Sponges, ranging from Zeds Dead and Griz, to Malaa and Destructo. For Ryan and Nik, it’s a sign that they’re doing something right, and that their diverse abilities give them tremendous career flexibility. Whether it’s opening for The Knocks to a pop crowd, playing a small dark club, or opening for Griz, The Sponges bring high energy to their live set no matter where you catch them. Ryan and Nik hope to eventually get into the studio with jam bands in order to fully flesh out their funk sound. On the live side, they have long-term goals of creating a hybrid DJ/live set performance inspired by the likes of Gramatik. The Sponges will be putting out a track with Griz in July, and will hopefully be coming to a city near you soon.