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Banx & Ranx: International Hitmakers Take Flight

The highly in-demand production duo on bringing the sound of Montreal to the world - and vice versa. 

by Ben Boddez

Photo by Neil Mota

The production duo of Banx & Ranx are not only some of the most sought-after hitmakers in their home country, but have already brought their trademark Caribbean-inflected sound to international superstars as diverse as their own multicultural backgrounds – from Gorillaz to BLACKPINK to their childhood idol Sean Paul and hip-hop newcomer Zach Zoya. These days, however, Zacharie Raymond – better known as Soké – and his musical partner Yannick Rastogi – or KNY Factory – are a lot more focused on bringing the world to their adopted hometown of Montreal.

Starting up their own label, 31 East, and signing local electro-pop singer Rêve, who has become a frequent collaborator, and Preston Pablo, the vocalist on their double-platinum smash hit “Flowers Need Rain,” the duo believes the cultural melting pot of a city to be the perfect place to hone their own global sound and attract creative minds to join their movement – in fact, part of the reason behind the label’s creation was to dissuade local talent from trying to find success across the border.

“The mission is to showcase Montreal and Canadian talent across the world, and there’s something special about the city because culturally-wise, it’s a blend between Europe and North America. We speak Creole, French, English, Spanish, so there’s so many inspirations all around us,” Rastogi says.

Banx & Ranx recently teamed up with fellow Montréal multi-talent Zach Zoya to create the irresistible single, “The Birds.” 

“We also want to build a structure here, and contribute in making Montreal a destination to come and create new music. We get inspired from Stockholm, Sweden, what they did over there with pop music, and do our own thing in Montreal. There’s so much talent here,” Raymond adds.

Banx & Ranx don’t have any familial connection to Sweden, but given their diverse backgrounds, it wouldn’t be too much of a surprise if they did. Rastogi is not only of half-Indian descent, but was born in Paris, and grew up on the Caribbean island of Guadeloupe – about 600 kilometres north of Venezuela – after a move when he was only three years old. Raymond is from Gatineau, but his family has Jamaican heritage, a culture which found its way into the duo’s work alongside everything else.

Although the two bonded over their love for dancehall beats and tropical melodies, their fascination for all forms of world music – from Afrobeats to Haitian Copa to yes, Swedish pop music, informs their creative spirit even further. They look to Scandinavian superproducer Max Martin’s hits as a form of catchiness and simplicity that can cross cultural barriers.

“The Swedish language is very musical. They say that the fact English is not their first language is a strength, they have simple lyrics that don’t even really make sense sometimes, but they sound good phonetically,” Raymond says. “Nine years ago, I couldn’t speak English,” Rastogi adds. “If you can sing a chorus of an English song, and you’re not an English-speaking person, you’re winning.”

One of those cross-cultural hit singles actually ended up leading the duo to each other. Love it or hate it, Eiffel 65’s “Blue (Da Ba Dee)” was a top ten hit in 24 countries, and it was the favourite song – and gateway into electronic music – of an 11-year-old Raymond. By chance, Raymond stumbled across a trap remix of the same song that Rastogi had uploaded to SoundCloud later in life.

“It brought me right away to my early days when I started making music,” Raymond says. “I saw that he was from Montreal, so I was blown away. I went on his page, realized that he was doing the same thing I was doing, blending Caribbean music and electronic music, and I was puzzled as to why we didn’t know each other. We planned to meet and immediately decided to create a band.”

While Raymond was always well-versed in Jamaican culture from his parental heritage, Rastogi got his first taste of it while living a couple islands down. He reminisces on a compilation CD bought by his father that contained tracks recorded over the famous reggae staple beat known as the Bam Bam Riddim, at the peak of Jamaican influence spreading across the entire Caribbean. It was just one part of a fully worldly musical education growing up.

“At the same time, my parents went to America and bought that first tape for me of Jamiroquai, so that was funk music as well in there,” Rastogi says. “My mom was friends with a bunch of Cubans, and I learned a bit of congas from a younger age. My sisters were listening to rock music, Daft Punk, techno from Spain. Parents were listening to Indian music in the house and old French classics. And then I discovered Sean Paul with ‘Gimme the Light,’ and it changed my life forever, to be honest.”

Zacharie Raymond aka Soké and his musical partner Yannick Rastogi aka KNY Factory are international hitmakers.

In a full-circle moment, Banx & Ranx scored their first Grammy nomination at the 2023 ceremony for their work on Sean Paul’s Scorcha album. From a young Raymond’s quest to make a song in 100 different electronic subgenres to the duo’s love for all things worldly extending to the culinary arts – if their hit singles were dishes, they name “Flowers Need Rain” a green mango Thai salad and “The Birds” Jamaican curry with Indian spice – it’s easy to see why artists from all across the musical spectrum flock to their studio.

“There’s such magic in every genre. Whether you like it or not, there’s always a little gem you can pick up in any kind of music that you can apply to your own,” Raymond says. “It’s like a child discovering something new. We love to respect the codes and the authenticity of the genre, but we take them and blend the codes. We can’t box ourselves into one specific culture – this is the future of humanity, no more barriers, no more boundaries. This is what being human is.”

It’s not only a wealth of musical knowledge that makes Banx & Ranx the ideal collaborators. They’re also known for creating a relaxed and positive space in the studio, a technique that they hope allows the artists they work with to become more open to suggestions that introduce them to more global influences and venturing out of their stylistic comfort zones. It’s an energy that they credit to their respective Caribbean connections.

“It’s rare that we’re stressed in a session,” Rastogi says. “We’ll take our time, we’ll have tea and speak for an hour. I can leave the room for an hour and come back like ‘Oh cool, that’s recorded?’ We’re not saying that we’re lazy, not at all. But there’s a way of letting each other do our thing with a ‘Cool, I trust you, man.’”

“Caribbean people also enjoy life to the max,” Raymond adds. “Music is obviously important for human beings, but in the Caribbean there’s a little extra step to how music drives life. I’m actually jealous of Yannick for growing up on a Caribbean island. The Caribbean lifestyle is loving life, working super hard but partying hard, joking around and not taking your life or your work too seriously. And Caribbean people don’t trust easily, but when you build a trust, it’s solid gold and it’s for life.”

The kind of collaborative spirit they’re trying to foster in their own artists comes from a full career of participating in behind-the-scenes tasks and gaining a knowledge of how much effort needs to be put into every step of the journey to create a successful song, and although they recently put on a high-profile performance at the Junos with both of their 31 East artists, they still relish in being able to walk around Montreal relatively “incognito,” as Raymond put it.

“A lot of DJs, producers and artists, we admire their career, but don’t necessarily want their lifestyle,” Raymond says. “The artists that we sign on our label, we want them to be bigger than us. We have great aspirations for ourselves as well, but we’ll just keep evolving and make sure we keep learning.”

“Everything we touch, we’re trying to do it as best as we can,” Rastogi adds. “Whether it’s for us or for other artists, it’s for the fans at the end of the day. The biggest compliment is when people come up to us and say ‘You created a memory. When I listen to that song it brings me back to that summer, or brings me back to that wedding.’ So that’s the truth – it’s for these people that we’re doing it.”