After success, Milky Chance shapes an organic electronica

Philipp Dausch (R) and Clemens Rehbein of Milky Chance are relatively unknown given the amount of airplay given to their music

Barely out of school, two German friends calling themselves Milky Chance uploaded online a dance track from their makeshift home studio, with a folksy guitar driving an infectious electronic beat.

To the duo's surprise, "Stolen Dance" became a viral hit in 2014, topping singles charts in several countries including France and Ireland and setting the stage for years of well-received live shows.

For its second album, "Blossom," the group could have worked with an enviable range of studios and producers. But Milky Chance decided to record again in its modest-sized hometown of Kassel -- and the sound is even more restrained than before.

"What was important was to make it intimate and to get back to just us and the music and nothing else," said singer and guitarist Clemens Rehbein, mellow in contrast to his forceful, scratchy singing voice.

Despite the band's success among fans of electronic dance music, or EDM, Rehbein said that the group's heart was elsewhere.

"We like this idea of this woody, sandy sound. We are not EDM people. We like house music that actually sounds organic," Rehbein told AFP before an album release show last week in New York.

- Sound effects from nature -

Creating that "organic" approach to dance music is a major priority for bandmate Philipp Dausch, who plays the percussion and the software.

"Of course you can buy a sample pack from Native and use the snap," Dausch said, referring to a leading DJ software manufacturer.

"But you can also just snap, record it and use it," he continued, snapping his own fingers. "It's an organic idea of producing. Just do it yourself."

For "Ego," one of the danciest tracks on the new album, Dausch taped Rehbein walking on stones -- turning the sound into a repetition that is familiar to listeners of electronica, but whose novelty and imperfection begs a double-take.

Another track, "Clouds," samples the crackling from opening a can of Coca-Cola.

Paradoxically, Dausch suggested that the band's debut album, "Sadnecessary," was more electronic because that was simpler for novice artists.

"The first (album) was quite limited because at that time an interface computer and a guitar were all we had and all we knew," he said.

Milky Chance also goes in an entirely different direction on the album with a piano ballad -- simply called "Piano Song."

Giving a fuller live sound, the group has added a third member, the guitarist and harmonica player Antonio Greger, also from Kassel.

- Shying from spotlight -

Milky Chance remains comparatively anonymous considering the heavy airplay of the band's songs.

The group's relationship to fame seemed to be summed up with the video for "Stolen Dance," seen more than 300 million times on YouTube, in which Rehbein simply sits and sings to his guitar as varied landscapes from the world drift by.

A few hours before the sold-out concert at Greenwich Village club (Le) Poisson Rouge, a famished Rehbein walked the streets undetected to fetch a slice of pepperoni pizza, as two nearby bars coincidentally were playing Milky Chance.

Both Rehbein and Dausch are now 24 and acknowledged that "Blossom" was partially a metaphor. The album's title track speaks of maturing and seeking trust with the world.

On "Cocoon," the first single off "Blossom," Rehbein similarly evokes the imagery of nature as he sings of curling up in isolation.

Dausch said it had been important to return to Kassel to concentrate on the high-stakes second album.

"You like to come back to a safe place where it's calmer and you have people that you can trust and you make you feel comfortable," Dausch said.

Rehbein said he still felt excitement and trepidation as he took the stage to perform new songs.

As much as he enjoyed New York and other major cities, he said the duo was not planning to move.

"Maybe we're just not confident enough for those kind of things," Rehbein said.