Dark Berlin Techno
The latest of our step by step drum programming tutorials takes inspiration from Berghain, Ostgut Ton and the darker techno sounds of Berlin.
Beat Dissected is a regular series which deconstructs drum patterns, showing you how to program them in any DAW. Just copy the grids in your own software to recreate the loop.
Here’s the complete beat we’ll be making this week:
sounds classic analogue hits & effected noise
The backbone of this beat is a deep, dubby, organic kick paired with a filtered low tom sample which acts almost like a second kick drum. While the kick hits four-to-the-floor, the tom sounds at measures 7 and 15, with a simple variation at the end of the four bar loop.
Our aim when choosing the two sounds is a relentless, sub-heavy backing with the disparate parts playing against each other to deliver an almost bouncy groove. Use a low-pass filter on either or both of the elements to keep them subby and deep. Click the drum grids to embiggen…
The clap part is simple but fundamental to the open, loose groove of this beat. The clap is only triggered on the second kick of each bar, rather than the more common technique of a clap/snare on the second and fourth kick. There’s also an additional clap in the last bar of the loop to add a simple turnaround variation.
The sound itself is more complex. Start with a a classic drum machine clap — an 808 or 909 sample, for example – then treat it liberally with a shortish reverb. Spend a little time auditioning reverb settings — we’re not looking for anything too clean here. For an old-school vibe, try experimenting with dark chamber patches or even spring reverb emulations. Aim for a decay time which allows the tail to ease into the next kick.
A more advanced programming technique is to slightly tweak the sample settings for the alternate clap hits (the one that falls with the sixth on-the-floor kick) – altering the sample’s decay envelope or pitch to generate movement and create a slightly different feel. You might also considering layering an additional subtle snare with alternate claps, again to reinforce the difference.
Now it’s time to add a distinctive noise stab – a distorted organic percussion sound which helps add to the dark industrial feel of the beat. This hit plays on the third kick of each bar and just before the fourth kick in every other bar, creating an interesting interplay with the kick and clap. Again, reverb is used liberally – although with a slightly different reverb choice than that used on the clap.
The choice of raw sound for this noise stab is pivotal to the flavour of the beat. You can experiment with found sound, industrial sample packs and dramatic effects processing to create something full of character that works in the context of the wider beat. If the sound has an obvious pitch then bear in mind you’ll need to consider how other melodic elements will work alongside it.
Finally, a heavily compressed 909 open hi-hat is added to the off-beat, with a subtle variation at the end of every couple of bars. This is reinforced by an organic noise sample with a slow attack (derived from a lo-fi field recording), which is triggered on every second and fourth kick, adding a breathy wave that underpins the groove.
To glue the elements together, send the full drum mix to its own bus and treat with subtle compression. But tread carefully – the lovingly sculpted drum sounds should do the talking here rather than heavy-handed bus processing.