i really like the old odd future instrumentals. reminds me of how grime was, full of presets and dodgy mixing with all the focus on making sumit differentsoronery wrote:
In the first episode of Inside the Beat we explore the sonic imaginations of Earl Sweatshirt and Vince Staples. Earl explores the trippy possibilities of producing sound, while Vince takes us on a lyrical journey of inspiration through his hometown, Long Beach, CA.
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The Milanese production duo invite us into their analog-heavy lair.
Hunter/Game is the latest project of Martino Bertola and Emmanuele Nicosia, two Milanese friends and established producers in their own right who are quickly developing a reputation for their beautiful blend of deep, dark, and enchanting techno beats. Their musical origins lie in their infamous Just This events, a much-sought-after party series hosted in secret locations around Milan that started in 2010 and quickly became a compulsory stop for the leading acts in electronic music, including the likes of Mano Le Tough, Seth Troxler and Tale of Us.
The duo’s first release came in 2011 with "Touch Me," a blissful slow-burner on Diynamic's 053 EP that quickly climbed the deep-house charts and brought the pair acclaim via its hypnotic vocals and seductive bassline. Since then, Bertola and Nicosia have gradually refined their sound into a sultry blend of ambient house and techno that has seen them performing at some of the world’s leading clubs and releasing on some of the most in-demand labels in electronic music, including Jamie Jones's Hot Creations, Dixon and Âme’s Innervisions, and the Cologne-based Kompakt.
As befits their growing stature, Hunter/Game have recently started their own vinyl label entitled Just This, and settled into a beautiful studio in the centre of Milan. And now there's Genesis, their latest EP on Just This; many more releases are scheduled before the year is out.
Though continuing to evolve, Hunter/Game’s sound today is a thing of great beauty, and their method of production is similarly dramatic. Nestled in the loft of a tall office building brimming with creatives, their studio has become the focal point of the duo’s development—and as many of their contemporaries become seduced by the cold precision of digital production, Bertola and Nicosia remain convinced that an almost entirely analogue studio set-up best compliments their musical development and self-expression.
How long have you been making music, and how has the way you produce changed over the years?
Nicosia:We have been friends since 2005 but Hunter/Game was a project that we started four years ago. Before that we had been making music individually. We came out with our first track which was a good success and so decided to continue our collaboration together. Over time our sound has evolved and we now use lots more analogue stuff than at the start. At the beginning we didn’t have the money to afford a proper studio so we started with a VST of the most popular synths. Then when we started to gig, and had some pocket money to build our studio. We started to buy the real versions and we really understood the difference between the dynamics of sound from an analogue synth to a VST. It completely changed our style, and our music and now we are working fully analog.
Bertola: We use the software just as sequencers or just to mix down the tracks. That’s it. We’ll record audio files and we’ll normally sample those through Ableton. We don’t use MIDI controllers because we’re focused on analog.
Nicosia: Buying new gear has also really inspired us to produce new stuff so it is not just that our techniques for production have developed over time, but the equipment has opened up new opportunities and inspired us to try new things with our music. Every new machine gives us new possibilities and more inspiration, for sure.
So your production process is clearly far more organic than digital. Talk me through the equipment.
Nicosia: We have too much. We’ll have to give you a list!
And what software do you use?
Bertola: We use both Ableton and Logic. Sometimes Ableton is more useful for sequences and samples, but we always use Logic for the mix down.
Would you say that the unpredictability of all your analogue gear has led to some surprises?
Bertola: Yes—this is a really special thing. Every time you use the equipment you find new, strange sounds.
Nicosia: Weird sounds will come out all the time, but it’s cool and we will use them. For example, one time we were using a pad but the audio part crashed, and it created a totally distorted but incredible sound. We were not able to stop Ableton or the recording so it was recording like ten minutes of this fucked up distortion, but it was totally incredible.
Bertola: Also, analog delay will give you weird patterns and sounds.
So going back to the start, why do you choose to base yourself in Milan?
Nicosia: We’ve always been based in Milan. I think you this romantic techno is a real product of this city and it’s quite an interesting scene here, so we haven’t moved to Berlin or other cities like almost everyone else. We feel very inspired by what is going on in Milan so we want to stay here.
Bertola: The underground scene is really growing here in Milan and that helps our creativity. It is important for us to work with our friends and build a collective here, so we have our studio here in the loft, right next door to the office for our Just This label and parties. The building is actually owned by Pisetzky, our label partner and best friend.
When did you move into this studio, and why?
Nicosia: We moved into this studio just over two years ago. It’s important for us to have a place where we can meet each other, where we can speak, connect and share our inspirations. We also manage two clubs and we normally bring every guest DJ to the studio which helps and inspires us. It is a lot of energy and creativity merging in one space and that opens our minds, pushing us to create.
Where were you producing beforehand?
Nicosia: Before we were producing at home—we had a couple of synths like the Moog, but our production was a lot more digitally-based. But now we have built a complete analogue studio. We cut off a pre-amplifier from a Marshall guitar amplifier and we pass many things through that which makes the sound really dirty. We also have a tape recorder which helps us to create a dirty background sound.
Do you feel that having a studio separate from your own home affects the creative process of your music?
Bertola: Not really, because we still produce at home a lot. We both have Moog at home so we can do it there too. If you have a good idea at your house then you have to capture it!
Nicosia: The studio is more about joining a collective; the studio is the place of our crew and our label. It has now given our us space for our analogue production, but it is important that we can also produce at home too because sometimes you will be dreaming and you will wake up with an idea - and you have to write it down.
So, talk me briefly through your production process.
Bartola: First of all, we try to create a sequence, or the melody, with the analog synth, normally using our new PolySix. Then we create the drums and everything else afterwards - but we always focus on the melody first. We record the instruments then we cut and work Ableton or Logic to create the loops.
Nicosia: The first step is trigger the synths with some drums machines, like the SH-11 or the PolySix, in order to try and build the melody. From there the track will gradually develop.
Is there a formula for a track, or do you just go to the studio and play around, hoping for inspiration?
Bertola Both. Sometimes we just play, but sometimes we have a very clear idea of what we want to produce. For the important EPs, we always have the idea beforehand and then we go and produce it.
Nicosia: For us, I think it is more of a process. We spend a lot of days in the studio where we just experiment, without producing an EP or a track. We just play around and we just learn how to use all the equipment. Then when we do have to work on an EP or a track, we will have some clear idea in mind and we just focus on it. Because we have been experimenting a lot before, we have lots of new skills that we can then use to produce a new EP or track.
Bertola: Very often we will learn a new technique and we will then use it in a new EP. Every time that we buy a new synth, we have something new to learn and understand. We will try every kind of possibility with that gear and we will often use that new sequence or sound in our new music.
Do you try and keep a clear divide between production inside the studio and normal life outside of it, or does the production process go around the clock?
Nicosia: Definitely, we always think about music! Most of the time I will be in bed and before falling asleep I will have an idea in mind and I will record it in my iPhone, just through vocals. And then the morning after we will go to the studio with this idea fresh in my mind.
Bertola: The process is definitely 24-hour hour, because the night is our most creative time. Every night we will listen to the track we are working on before we go to sleep to give us a clear mind for the next day in the studio, so I can then think the next day of what I want to change in the studio.
Nicosia: Sometimes I will listen to other music before I go to bed too. The night time is when your mind is completely free because listening to music can inspire you. When your mind is relaxed, you can spot things in your music that you can’t spot when your mind is focused on other things and this is the most creative part of the day. The day after is a new day and then you can work on these thoughts.
So how much time do you spend in the studio? Do you approach it like any other regular nine-to-five job?
Bertola: No - it’s not like a nine-to-five. Our production starts from the first moment we wake up and sometimes we will stay all night in the studio. It just depends on our creativity that particular day.
Nicosia: Sometimes we will spend the whole day and night in the studio just playing around, without even producing anything for an EP or new track —but in the end all that time will result in a positive ending when we produce something new. If you spend time in the studio just experimenting then when you do try to produce a track it will come more easily and more naturally.
You can’t be recording all day and night in the studio. Tell me about a normal day when you’re there.
Nicosia: Yep, that’s right. We also spend a lot of time in the studio listening to music, chatting and just looking for inspiration. But when we do have a creative idea or a vision we will become very focused and will work really hard to produce the sound we want.
What do you do when you get a production block?
Bertola: In these cases we will have to spend time outside of the studio!
Nicosia: If we are stuck on a production, there is an easy way to get out of that. It’s called "Command; Shift; Cancel." And marijuana. So I guess just time and pot!
Has your growing profile influenced how you feel when you’re in the studio—do you feel more pressure?
Nicosia: Not really. To be honest, we have just decided to do what we like, and the studio has helped to evolve and improve our sound. Thanks to the analog approach, we have been releasing on a lot of strong labels. I think it is a natural process because when you are free to express yourself without boundaries and restrictions, it becomes a lot easier.
So let’s chat about the Genesis EP. Did you guys make one track at a time, or were there several in the works simultaneously?
Bertola: We did that EP in three days—we gave one day to each track. We used an SH-101 and a Roland 707, then we used the Moog with Ableton. The drum we did with an analog delay. All three tracks we did in the same style and with the same gear.
One day seems like a very short space of time to produce a track. Is this always the case?
Bertola: Not every track takes a day - but the creative part of the track, the melody and the synth, can be done in a day. We will record, and then maybe the days or the weeks after we will just clean and build the structure of the track.
Nicosia: We are really focused in the studio. I know lots of producers who will take months to close a track but when we come up with an idea and are very fast.
You guys have been working together for years at this point. Would you say that you both now have set roles in the studio?
Nicosia: It depends each day. One of us can have a good idea on the synth or a good melody in mind, but we always try to be flexible. We have known each other for many years so we are in the same state of mine and we have a connection.
Looking forward, what’s next for you? Is there any gear or musical equipment that you’re lusting after?
Bertola: It is hard to say, but we eventually want to start using a modular synth—but this is a completely different world.
Nicosia: We also want a Vermona drum machine!
How do you know when your songs are done? Do you show them to anyone else before you release them?
Nicosia: I think there is a stream of melodic techno coming our of Milan, and we are closely connected with the other artists who have come from here. We will share our music with them and they will share their music with us, but we also know that we are doing our own thing and we need to focus on that.
Bertola: We know inside that it is good—if it is. But obviously we will share with our friends and we will listen to it together in the studio a lot before we send it out. We really believe in our music and like to keep things quite private because it is important to release only when it is the right time.
Do you ever have trouble "letting them go?"
Nicosia: No, not really. Once it is closed, it is closed. We don’t normally change a track after one month. If it is good, we know it is good. We make a track in one day because we are inspired by something, but the next week we might lose this inspiration. This is the best way to do it.
Bertola: When a track is finished, the track is finished. Of course, we will sometimes change something into the mixing, or the percussion—but these are only the smaller details.
zoronery frees the realness
BIG UP YOSELF HAN SORO
Richie Hawtin's CNTRL tour is a college campus tour of the USA based around individuality and creativity in technology-based music. The tour features performances and lectures from some of the top names in electronic music including Chris Leibing, Dubfire, Matrixxman, and the man in question here, Matthew Dear. On the tour's first stop at the Berkley College of Music, the artist also known as Audion gives a 30 minute, in-depth masterclass touching on everything from his sound design approach to how he arranges his tracks, his workflow and studio tips, and how his hit 'Mouth To Mouth' was made.
zoronery frees the realness
BIG UP YOSELF HAN SORO
I don’t have a computer in my studio, but I do have a basketball signed by Kareem Abdul Jabbar.
Mixer & Units
The mixer is a Mackie Onyx 24×4. I like the analogue-style mixers.
Above the mixer you can see the Future Retro Revolution. It’s a 303-style hybrid with circular step sequencing. Nice.
The Jomox Xbase 999 on the right has that old Roland feel and punchiness to match.
On the desk there’s also a Teenage Engineering OP-1. It took a second to get my head around the controls, but it gives much enjoyment using it in hotel rooms and on the plane. Those ideas often turn into nice jams in the studio.
Behind the OP-1 you can see the new Korg Volca Sample, which is a fun little piece. Lovely step control and portability. I used it on my new EP, coming out on Doin’ Work.
EMU XL-Z and Akai MPC4000
I love this EMU unit – I have all the colours! Each track has sixteen parts that are individually mutable. Great bass, keys and drum kits. I used it on ‘Radio’ on Om and on ‘Dream Machine’ as well.
I’m an old school MPC guy. I love these. As well as the MPC4000 I have a 2500 and a 500, and my old MPC2000 too. I used to just make everything on that, like my Landscape EP on Panhandle.
Korg MicroSampler & Outboard Gear
The Korg MicroSampler is a little sampling keyboard with nice loop breakdown features and on-board sequencing. It’s a different feel than the MPCs entirely.
I have a MOTU 828 and MIDI Express but lately I’ve been in the outboard gear analogue mode.
The Dave Smith Tempest is one of my newer additions. Very complex sound control. Drum machines have come a long way.
I was so happy when I got the Roland TR-8, and I’m still happy. Spot on drums with easy control. I’m enjoying the new 707 expansion sounds!
The Elektron Machinedrum has great sounds and feel. I use it all the time. I enjoy the control of individual sounds.
Compressors & Effects
Various compressors and effects including two Alesis Midiverb IIs and a Midiverb 4, an HHB Radius 5 Fatman 2, Vestax graphic EQ, Alesis 3630 and TC Helicon Voice Prism.
DJ area 1
The first of two DJ areas. This one includes Pioneer CDJ2000s and a DJM2000 mixer.
2nd DJ Setup
The second DJ setup has a Rane MP2015 mixer. I love this mixer!
Meet Dexter, the studio cat.
zoronery frees the realness
BIG UP YOSELF HAN SORO
In this video I explain how I make and process my Mid-Range basses.
This is my first tutorial and shows my entire process from capturing the raw sample to the finished result.
I hope you enjoy and find this video informative.
The intro track is by myself (Leon Switch) and is currently a dubplate.
Zoom H1 Handy Recorder
Babyliss (for men) Electric Beard Trimmer
PC with Ableton 9.1
Evolution MK-149 midi controller
Native Instruments Kontakt 5
Slate Digital Virtual Console Collection
zoronery frees the realness
BIG UP YOSELF HAN SORO
Directed by Scott Carthy, Hitters looks at the world of New York b-boy culture, from the godfathers of the movement to the current faces on the street dancing scene, tracing how it came about and examining the issues which could be bringing it to its demise. The soundtrack comes courtesy of Lex Records’ BADBADNOTGOOD and Ghostface Killah album, Sour Soul.
Watch the doc above, and scroll down for our Q&A with Scott.
What’s Hitters about?
It’s a look into a branch of New Yorks street performing culture, specifically the groups of b-boys who perform shows at various spots throughout the city. It’s an insight into how it came about, and the issues which could potentially be bringing it to its demise. It shows the developments from the early days of b-boying, how the godfathers of the movement began to use dance as a way of making money from the streets, and how this over the years was developed by certain dancers into a refined show with a clear beginning, middle and end, supported by a talk show to add to the whole performance.
Why did you decide to make the film?
The film was a natural progression from my previous work covering New York’s subway dancers. I spent quite a bit of time in the city working with various dancers so I became aware that there was a difference between these realms of street and subway performing. Personally, I felt it was important to define the difference between them, out of respect for the dancers but also to educate everyone else who classifies them all as the same thing. They’re very different and come from completely different roots. After slowly becoming acquainted with various dancers it seemed like a good opportunity to cover the story in more depth.
Did you have to gain acceptance from the dancers to film them or were they pretty easy going?
I think with any subject you have to slowly build a relationship that will allow you access to the truth. I couldn’t just sit down with the guys and expect them to be completely honest or to allow me to go back to their place to do an interview, etc. This tends to work in my favour, this initiation period gives you time to understand what type of narrative is evolving, and how to best position questions while interviewing them. I think this is also where there are advantages in working alone, situations like these just aren’t suited to a team of more than one person – a completely different atmosphere would be created, one white guy’s enough. It didn’t take long before there was a mutual respect and we were all just chilling and shooting on a regular basis.
Is the film what you expected it to be when you were making it?
I think I’ve learned to accept that you just can’t predict what films like these are going to become. It’s only in the editing stages where your really able to construct a cohesive story so until then I only have a vague idea of the what’s evolving. Similarly, shooting in New York city on the street on a daily basis you can’t predict what may happen. The characters at the start of the film came out of the blue. I was sitting on the subway heading to meet the dancers when I saw this kid doing card tricks. I thought I’d shoot some footage, potential filler shots, you know, city of hustlers all that, it just felt appropriate. To then find that this kid’s dad was second generation of one of the most prevalent b-boy groups in the ’80s was crazy. I then met his dad and he drove me to the park where the movement started for him, and from there he linked me with Kid Freeze, first generation from the opposing team which was held in similarly high regards. Shit like that you can’t predict, I could have just sat there and said nothing. New York’s crazy like that.
Generally though, I just wanted to get more of an insight into an aspect of the city’s street performing/busking culture. I’d seen how the crackdown was being carried out on the trains, so I wanted to see if anything similar was happening above ground. These days Times Square is so packed with people in movie character costumes, often in multiples of the same character, it’s so irrelevant to the location and makes no sense – why would want to get a picture with some idiot in a costume while you’re in Times Square? I wanted to understand where all the genuine street performers had ‘disappeared’ to, and despite the hustle, these dancers seemed like some of the last ones.
What was the most challenging aspect of making it?
Taking into consideration the city this is happening in and the nature of what’s being done, you have to be very street smart. It’s something which I’m lucky to have from a childhood in the Irish countryside where things are moving 100mph. Due to the nature of the show there’s an obvious hustle going on so again you have to be careful with when and how you film as you don’t want to piss anyone off. The dancers are always subconsciously analysing what’s going on in the show and around them so you have to be on your toes.
zoronery frees the realness
BIG UP YOSELF HAN SORO
Over the course of an hour or so in conversation, much of what Commodo says is prefixed with a drifting “I don’t know…” or affixed with a searching “do y’know what I mean?”, but these conversational tics belie a confidence in his own direction as a producer. Or rather – and this is absolutely key – his lack of direction.
Commodo channels dubstep’s - and for that matter grime’s - early spirit; not in a self-referential way that relies on borrowing now-nostalgic sound palettes and introducing them to a generation too young to have been in the clubs in the genres’ so-called golden days, but rather in the sense of creative, borderless freedom that made these scenes so exciting in the first place. He’s clear on the utmost importance of originality and leaving his own impression on a listener, and he’s genuinely humble in his own successful achievement of it too. That desire to leave a recognisable stamp on a record is, if anything, about as close as Commodo comes to a sense of direction. He’s refreshingly frank about everything, from his views on depressingly-formulaic dubstep records (“neurofunk drum & bass shit at a different tempo”) to the need to keep testing his own approach (“I’m pretty riff-based these days, I might have to switch it up”). In his own words, Commodo is almost actively “not trying to join any particular scene,” so it’s perhaps a testament to this that he should make his fabric Room One debut on a lineup dominated by artists who have consistently pushed the envelope in terms of how their music can be defined.
Despite the grime association that will no doubt (and however unfairly) follow the Butterz tag, April 10th’s main room is packed with pioneering talent. Joker, Darq E Freaker, Dusk + Blackdown, Royal-T: these are all people who historically have cast off the shackles of genre definitions almost as quickly as music journalists and fans alike have been able to squeeze them into a pigeonhole. So despite the lack of label mates on the bill, it should be far from surprising to see Commodo’s name up there too.
By way of introduction, what’s your name, where are you from, and how would you describe your sound?
Yep, I’m Commodo; from Sheffield originally, and then recently I’m based kind of half here and half elsewhere. I really don’t know how to call the whole ‘sound’ thing, man: it all kind of gets a bit, y’know… as soon as you start saying anything but ‘dubstep’, people look at you like ‘come on, mate’ – y’know what I mean? [laughs] I’ll try and do it in the least fruity way possible… I like to think of it as exploring 140[bpm] – fuck it, I’ll use dubstep: exploring the dubstep template and UK underground bass music in general and incorporating my own influences, the music that I was listening to growing up, like hip-hop, you know, sample heavy boom bap hip-hop kind of shit, into that.
It’s funny how you want to avoid using the word ‘dubstep’ to describe what you do, perhaps because a lot of people’s idea of what it is doesn’t actually align that closely with how you see it yourself? In many ways, your music seems most representative of dubstep in terms of a sense of creative freedom within a fairly broad template.
Sure man – not even necessarily this, but for the most part it’s just about whatever ideas you want to explore, brought together under a couple rules. Most often that’s a deep bassline and a tempo that swings around 140bpm.
Yeah, that’s key: from when it was very, very early days and people didn’t really know what to call it, or how to define it necessarily. It was the very fact that it couldn’t be easily defined easily that kind of made it what it was, if that makes sense?
Well yeah exactly, so if you want to go by that then I am absolutely making dubstep, you know what I mean? But I’m sure you can understand why I avoid saying it too often; I mean, I’ll probably look like a knob in a couple of years when everyone starts using it again and thinks it’s cool, but what are you supposed to do? The name has been tainted.
"I never had the status to begin with so that gave me the opportunity to just grow for a couple of years with no pressure, no expectations..."
I think this is maybe a problem that a lot of people have had, well not necessarily a problem but…
Oh no, for sure… there’s been a big exodus. Well not big, but a lot of heads went off in different directions when shit wasn’t working out for them.
This is maybe where you’re different; the way I see it is you’re releasing a lot of stuff on a label like Deep Medi and if they were to say ‘what type of label are we?’ it essentially is a dubstep label…
Yeah, but you’d never catch Mala saying that… [laughs] probably for the same reasons we already discussed.
How much free reign do you have when it comes to planning releases with Deep Medi?
Absolute free reign for the most part. It’s lovely. That’s definitely the main advantage to a label like Deep Medi, is that I can literally do what I like, and that’s nice. I mean, schedule permitting, and things like that, I could literally say ‘here, what do you reckon to this?’ and we could do it. But obviously the scheduling side of things and the manufacturing is the bane of these kind of record labels’ existence. It’s an absolute nightmare, so…
How important is it, scheduling/manufacturing issues aside, for you to be releasing on vinyl?
Right now I can say I have no interest in doing a digital-only release. I mean, I like digital to be available with it but there does need to be that physical aspect for it to feel like the real thing, y’know?
Like, I did a record with [Bristol record label] Hotline and they’re very much into keeping it on the physical formats. They did a cassette recently essentially because they wanted to release their back catalogue to date digitally, but they couldn’t justify just doing digital downloads. It’s just the way they like to do it: they like to have a physical aspect in there somewhere so they throw you a cassette, with artwork and everything and it’s very nicely designed and stuff, and then you also get the codes to the digital downloads.
I mean I don’t even play records when I’m DJing anymore, I still buy records but it’s more for my own enjoyment and there’s plenty of other people that do that as well. People have been complaining about the state of the whole record industry and sales falling; it’s kind of true, but I think it’s just that people are less eager to part with their money now. When I was buying records to DJ with I’d end up buying five or six at a time, and two or three of those I might be sort of sat on the fence about and thinking ‘oh I‘ll give it a go,’ or whatever. But now, people are only going to really buy the one that they have to own, so it basically means that as long as labels are going to try and keep the quality of their releases high, people are going to keep buying them. It’s fine. Especially over the last year, there’s been a lot of hype around physical copies of certain records: shit’s been selling out in a day flat.
And labels are repressing as well...
…which is nice, because that’s something I never really got: why would you limit it? It’s available, it’s not like it’s a dubplate anymore, there’s no point keeping it exclusive when you’re selling it to people. Stock should be there to buy if they want to buy it.
In terms of some of these sought-after releases, there seems to be a healthy group of producers coming through and developing together now; I think it would be fair to say that the whole dubstep thing got quite… stagnant? For a while…
Yeah, completely. But yeah, there’s a few of us who were lucky. I mean, if you really look at it, I actually came into the thing at precisely the wrong time: I joined one of the biggest labels in the scene [Deep Medi] just as dubstep was about to fucking remortgage it’s house, you know what I mean? It was a bad time. But it also meant that I just kind of cracked on and kept doing my thing and I never really had any status, because a lot of people in the dubstep scene got status because they were in the right place at the right time – you know, there were people that just came along for the ride and they were lucky to have the run that they did; but obviously, when it’s not fashionable anymore, you’re left in the shit. Whereas, I never had the status to begin with so that gave me the opportunity to just grow for a couple of years with no pressure, no expectations, y'know, it was just natural. Small growth, but still something, you know what I mean? So it didn’t necessarily turn out as a bad thing.
So how far do you think that the proliferation of digital has contributed to that stagnation across certain genres? I mean, if you’ve got a laptop, some production software and an Internet connection you could technically make a track, start your own label and release it in a weekend…
…Without any overheads or any real costs. So what you get is that the quality - for the most part - is absolutely piss poor.
So the vinyl thing, how much is it an indication of quality?
Well not always, but at least it tells you for sure that the people running the label have confidence in the music they’re releasing. It might not always be to my taste, but it tells you that they’re willing to potentially lose money on manufacturing it, which is a lot better than someone doing a digital release just for the fucking sake of it because there was no real risk involved.
Am I right in thinking that your first forays into music production were with grime?
Yeah it was, maybe when I first illegally downloaded Fruity Loops in, what, maybe 2006? Fucking hell, that’s a long time ago now…
Nearly ten years!
Fucking hell, yeah, would have been about 2006 I think, In Sheffield at the time there was a healthy, a surprisingly healthy scene. No one else would have known about it because everything was so London-centric, even places like Birmingham wouldn’t have known, they wouldn’t give it a look in either, it was totally insular. But yeah, there really was a healthy scene of local grime people, a whole bunch of producers: loads of different crews.
The thing is, if YouTube had been what it is now back then then these people would have had a lot more of a platform. You look on channels like SB.TV and shit like that now, it doesn’t so much matter where a person’s from anymore they’ll still get checked out, and as long as they’re half decent they’ll get what they deserve. It’s a lot less cut off like that now. If there were platforms like that around back then, then it might have been a different story.
But yeah, in a nutshell it was just a lot of local heads just doing independent music like that and I thought, ‘well, fucking hell, that’s cool: I’ll have a go.’ Literally just banging out grime instrumentals, and in fact the way I happened upon dubstep was through that; stuff like Plastician tracks and ‘Midnight Request Line’ being played in grime sets, and local people vocalling them.
"if you play something and half the fucking dancefloor clears then you’re like ‘right, maybe no more of that’ – but apart from that I’ll mostly just play what I want..."
And now you’ve got a tune with JME! How did that come about?
That was finished a long, long time before it came out – it was a nightmare keeping it under wraps, it really was [laughs]. In terms of how it came about, I said to Mala, ‘I’ve made this beat, I know you’ve known JME for a few years, do you want to shoot it over to him?’ and it was literally just that. He [JME] was like ‘yeah cool’ and within a month or two I got it back and that was it. It really was that simple, it was nice.
Were you at all worried then about putting out a grime tune – well, a tune with a prominent grime MC on it – at a time when grime seems to be enjoying something of a renewed surge in popularity, particularly in terms of how it’s crossing over into other genres?
Well the only worry for me was that it might come across as a really contrived move when really it absolutely wasn’t. But, nah, it was received well and I’m happy with it, man. And of course it also means that just through that I get to play on lineups like this one on the 10th. Elijah, Skilliam, Royal-T, D Double, P Money, Joker, Big Narstie, Darq E Freaker, Dusk & Blackdown: see, that’s an interesting lineup to me.
Will you be likely drawing for a slightly different selection of tunes than usual?
Yeah I’ll probably play a few more grime type tunes, but to be honest I’ll mostly end up playing what I usually do in my sets.
So none of those 2006 fruity loops Sheffield grime bits then?
[Laughs] Nah, I don’t play any of that stuff at all, man – partly because half the files don’t exist anymore, but also they’re like 128[kbps] mp3s and stuff like that. But if I’m really being honest with myself I mostly play a similar kind of set no matter where I’m playing. A lot of DJs like to say they’re ‘reading the crowd’ and all this kind of shit. I mean, yeah, to an extent, if you play something and half the fucking dancefloor clears then you’re like ‘right, maybe no more of that’ – but apart from that I’ll mostly just play what I want: not taking anyone on any ‘journeys’ or anything as special as that, y'know what I mean?
What are your ‘go-to’ tunes at the moment?
You mean to rescue a dancefloor, yeah? [Laughs] It’d probably be something by Kahn, if I’m being honest. Something by Kahn or one of my older bits maybe, or just one of the more aggy bits I’ve made probably. Or a classic! Like a Mala classic, or a big Deep Medi record from a couple years ago or something.
There are a lot of dubs flying around at the moment that not many people have got, which is nice, so I always draw for them. A few years ago, as soon as tracks had come out I’d just stop playing them; I don’t know why, you just had that whole fucking mentality drilled into you, you know what I mean, about playing exclusive music whenever possible. But the truth is, crowds don’t always want to hear just stuff they haven’t heard. When I used to go out to listen to music I would definitely be wanting to hear stuff that I knew as well as new stuff that I didn’t know, because a lot of the time your only experience of a track is on your laptop at home and it really does bring new dimensions to the music when you get to hear it out, so I don’t see the point in keeping it totally exclusive, like totally dubplate-based. There’s a Kahn & Neek track that came out about month or so ago called ‘Got My Ting’ – they put it out on Bandulu – I’m still playing that out man, I fucking love it.
There’s going to be plenty of MCs around on the 10th; is that something that you’re looking forward to? What’s your take on having MCs about on a set?
It can go both ways man, but in this situation it’s definitely a good thing because, you know: they’re real MCs. The difference is when you’re playing somewhere and there’s some ‘biddabiddabidda’ guy who’s off his tits and thinks it’s all about him. It can be a bit iffy with MCs, man, sometimes it’s just like ‘leave the fucking crowd alone and give ‘em a break’. If you’re actually doing something, you’re actually spraying bars, then it’s cool – as long as you’re on the right vibe – but if it’s just someone hosting then I prefer it to be very minimal. It’s very hard to get the balance right, but I do think it’s necessary though. There are a few guys who really know how to do it, for sure.
Not everyone else gets the need for an MC – when you’re playing in other countries for instance – but to me there does need to be an MC there to just communicate and connect with the crowd. A big part of our underground dance music culture comes through stuff like jungle and garage, and a lot of it has its roots in imported Jamaican culture too; I’m guessing that’s where the whole concept came from.
zoronery frees the realness
BIG UP YOSELF HAN SORO
It's pretty hard to pin down the one defining sound inherent in Steve Bug's output. His imperative label, Poker Flat, may have a reputation for deploying transmissions from the skewed end of the minimal techno world, but if you pay attention and listen closer, Bug shakes things up pretty frequently, employing new sound pallets and vibes both in his production and the label's output. His productions can go from wrapping you up in warm toned synths like 2014's Pelican Glide to taking you right back to the jack of the acid house heydays with his This Is Acid release from 2012. To be fair though, with a recording history as long as The General's is there's undoubtedly going to be a wealth of productions that are impossible to condense to any one ‘sound’ and that’s a massive part of his appeal. So with Bug’s return to Room One impending this Saturday night (14th February) we took the opportunity to find out what goes into creating the many sounds that get made in his studio...
The General aka Steve Bug may have carved out a reputation for deploying minimal skewed his imperative Poker Flat imprint but he still likes to kick things up frequently in the sound pallets and vibes he depoys in his production. Just in the last few years he's helmed releases looking back to the acid house heydey as well as. He may be DJing this Saturday night but
Can you start off by giving us a verbal your of your studio?
The center piece of the studio is my console, an Allen & Heath GL 4800. Behind it I have two pair of speakers, my main monitors are PMC IB2s and, as a near field, a pair of Klein & Hummel O400. On the right from the mixer is my main workplace, that’s where I have the computer, a master keyboard, a patch bay, another pair of NEA field monitors and a few synths within reach - as well as a turntable to sample bits and pieces. On the left of the mixer I have three racks loaded with compressors, EQs, outboard effects and a few rack mount synths. I am just updating the whole section, so it looks more empty and chaotic than what it usually looks like. On top of these racks I have placed a few smaller synths, like the Roland SH101, the TB303 a Yamaha DX100 and the Moog Sub 37. At the back wall I have my keyboard stand with bigger keyboards, like the Junos for example. There is also a free space waiting to be filled at the moment, but I already have a piece in mind...
What’s your favourite and most essential item?
That’s hard to say, in the past years I used the Juno 60 and the Juno 106 a lot, also the studio electronics SE1X was present in all of my tracks, but lately I am mostly working on the studio electronics Omega 8 and the Moog Sub 37 - a new addition to the family. Also the Roland TR8 is fun to play with. Usually new pieces inspire me more than stuff I’ve had for a long time though, but I love pretty much all of my gear. Mostly it really depends on what you want to do; each piece is good at a certain thing, so you might not use a synth for quite a while, but then you need it for this particular sound and you’re happy you kept it.
It’s always interesting when a producer like yourself started making music in the 90’s, technology has changed so much now, how would you say that your production has developed over time?
When I started I only had a Roland JD 800 and a mixer, even my beats were coming out of the JD. Soon after I bought an Akai S950 for my beats and I started to sample a lot of records. Back then you definitely needed some hardware to make music, nowadays a laptop and some software is all you need. But I still use a lot of hardware though, mostly stuff without menus. I like to have all functions on the surface. Of course I am using plug ins as well, but in the process of creating new ideas, I usually use hardware. I was using samplers for my beats since the beginning, almost, so nowadays I use an internal sampler plug in but I still play my drums on the keyboard, instead of programming it in the DAW.
How much is the computer part of what you do now, what would you say its best at?
It’s mostly a sequencer and a sampler, also an audio recorder and sometimes even a soundsource thanks to all those amazing plug ins. I think what I like it the most for is being able to arrange my tracks. So recording midi and audio and arranging tracks is probably what I need the most of a computer.
Is there anything a computer can’t do for you though? Like what would you say it could never replace hardware at?
Creating ideas and sounds. As I said, I’m not a big fan of menus, or mouse clicks, I even tried using controllers for the software synths, but it is not the same though.
How long is your process from conceiving a track to the final version? Can you talk us through it a bit?
The main idea is usually written in a few hours. I usually go to the studio after lunch, before I am doing stuff for the labels. So let’s say I arrive at the studio around 1.30pm. A lot of times I start with creating a groove (using drum samples) then I start trying out different synth until I come up with something that seems to be worthwhile. Sometimes I just try things out and never come to the point where I feel there is something interesting enough to continue to work on – but if I came up with something that I feel, I add more sounds and adjust the drums and around 6pm I have the basic of the tune, sometimes even a simple, first arrangement. First thing I do when I come back the next day is to check if I still feel it. If so, I keep on adjusting sounds and grooves and maybe add some other sounds effects or so on. This sometimes can take days until I am happy with the results. Once I have a full arrangement and all sounds in place I mix the track down. Nowadays I mix the track down at another studio with a sound engineer, I figured a second pair of ears, another opinion and maybe the better gear to mix down tracks with is very pleasing for the final result, sound quality wise. A great side effect is, that not having to think about the mix down in the creative process makes it easier for me to stay on focus and I clearly come quicker to results that I am happy with.
Whose sound do you most admire?
There are productions here and there that are outstanding, but it’s no secret that I always was a big fan of Carl Craig’s productions. They sound great and they have a story to tell. Always with a touch of classic Detroit sound. That’s exactly where a big part of my heart is.
You often revisit certain eras like with your Jack is back and This is Acid releases - how much does the way you select your equipment part of replicating these iconic sounds?
Well, for many years synths from the '70s and '80s were the only hardware options if you wanted an analog sound. So over the years I bought plenty of them. Luckily there are a few new synths coming out right now, that still have a classic feel, look and sound, but they also offer new, never found possibilities in analogue gear. But in general we have a problem when it comes to new sounds, because there are only these few waveforms.
Will you be testing out a few dubs this Saturday night? What kind of stuff are you working on right now?
I have a new Traffic Signs coming up next month for which Jake The Rapper did some crazy vocals. I also have a remix for Manuel Tur on Freerange coming out this month and I am working on a new project with my mate Cle, as well as on a new solo EP.
And finally, if money was limitless what’s your ultimate studio object of desire?
Hmm, I am usually a person who is happy with what he has. but if I really want something I try to find a way to get it. Stealing is not an option though [laughs].
I always wanted an P-Five, which is a Prophet 5 in a rack built by studio electronics, there were only a few made, so they are hard to get in a good shape and they are expensive, but since Dave Smith announced the sequential circuits Prophet 6 that problem is solved. The Prophet 6 only has to be out and available. Maybe a Memorymoog Namm would be great to have, or a Yamaha CS80. But If money wasn’t an issue I would probably have someone build a synth just for me!
zoronery frees the realness
BIG UP YOSELF HAN SORO
What's culpably interesting about the Belfast based creator, Phil Kieran's work is that it can take on many forms. Alongside his club focused work you can find him making atmospheric film scores in collaboration with fellow local hero David Holmes, being handpicked by Depeche Mode as a remixer or making music under his Le Carousel guise - an outlet which allows him to shape shift musical form, bringing in some of his homeland's finest musicians to realise a whole new approach to creating. Isolating himself in the Irish countryside, Kieran used the time working on Le Carousel to hone in on his emotions, crafting melodies as the starting blocks for the resulting songs that make up the critically revered and Andrew Weatherall endorsed self-titled album.
In short, Phil Kieran is able to do things that you wouldn’t expect. But he’s able to do so whilst all the while remaining a consistent force in techno.
When it comes to the Northern Irishman’s dancefloor productions, they’re consistently brought together with the sort of compelling and solid grounding that shows he’s spent his time studying the form. And as such it comes as no surprise that Kieran’s recent cut, ‘Hells Bells’, was selected by Joseph Capriati on his newly released fabric 80 album - the very same compilation that Kieran will be helping launch with a rare live set in Room Two this coming Saturday (21st February). With the treat of a live show hanging heavy over us, from an artist for whom we hold so much esteem, it goes without saying that we physically jumped at the opportunity to gain some vital insight into Phil Kieran's work processes for the latest instalment of our studio focused feature…
So firstly can you give us a verbal tour of your studio?
At the heart of my studio is my 36 channel Midas Venice desk. I run a Mac desktop G5 and Cubase 7 as my main DAW, I have all the usual plug-ins and soft synths but these days I get more excited about the outboard gear. I seem to get more creative when I'm jamming with outboard stuff. I have a rack of gear on my right that has all synths and sound sources, then on my left I have a rack of equipment that I use to process the sound with - various filters, EQ, compressors, tape machines and effects. I love this part of the process the best I think.
What’s your favourite and most essential item?
I love my Universal Audio LA610 compressor/limiter and mic preamp. Its so subtle but just adds a really professional sound to things.
What is it you’re performing on when you play live exactly?
I am using a new MacBook pro I just got and am running Ableton live. Then all my own plug ins and effects. I use an MPC40 to control the settings and I have just added the TR8 Roland drum machine. I will also consider some outboard effects and possibly some other bits but I'm still playing around with the finished result.
How often do you change things up in your live set?
I try to adjust what I play for each set - a bit like DJing - so I will load enough music to last for more than three hours and just select one hour to suit the night. I actually haven't played a live set in nearly 2 or 3 years. I don't like doing too many so they feel special when I do do them.
How much of it is new unreleased material? Do you find live sets double up as testing grounds for new tracks?
I would say it could be almost all either unreleased or else only released in the last year. I want it to feel new and feel excited about what I'm playing.
Can you run us through why you’re working in this set up and what creative freedom it allows you?
I think you can give your self too many options so its good to find the balance between being creative and not getting lost with too much gear on stage. I like to focus on just getting the best results and sound to come out the speakers. You have to be able to respond to what’s happening in the room, real time and move with the vibe in the room. If you can do that then it feels live, otherwise its just pressing play on a track.
How different is it from what you produce with in the studio?
My studio is a lot more complicated in a way, a lot of it is older gear but I like my live set up to be simple and just focus on getting a great sound that organically moves with the audience.
How would you say your production's developed over time?
I'm not sure what the answer to that is... I just try to do my best all the time. I think I have got better at writing melody and layering musical things.
You’ve been pretty active with your band Le Carousel recently with a new release – can you tell us a bit about the new record?
It’s a track I plan to out on the second album and I thought it would be a good idea to give [people] a snippet of what’s to come. I have a name and concept planned for the next album but I just thought it was a cool idea to give people a feel of what’s coming.
What’s your role within the unit instrument and technical wise?
The Le Carousel project is really my music but I generally work with some great musicians to help me with it. Roisin was the biggest feature of the last album as she was singing on every track and also Tara and Robyn as well. You could say I’m the director and main writer of the project. I plan to do something similar with the next album but hopefully have a slight development of sound.
What’s the creating process like with the group I bet it’s a bit different writing for the project compared to your solo PK work?
I generally start with an emotion and no drums then add the drums last, sometimes with techno its the other way around. I try not to have a process to how I work, just roll with an idea or feeling and develop it into a finished song.
What’s next on your agenda in general – what’s next for PKR?
I have a really cool duo coming up on PKR. Its very techno and I’m really excited about it though I can’t say too much just yet.
And finally, if money was limitless what’s your ultimate studio object of desire?
A Prophet 5 and an EMS Synth.
zoronery frees the realness
BIG UP YOSELF HAN SORO
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