Younger producers might be scared of those limitations. Working in software now you have almost unlimited choices.
Working with a computer is really a challenge. The huge range of plugins on offer and the unlimited options you have are a real problem. One of the best ways to achieve something is to be limited. If you have unlimited access it’s not possible to finish because you’re always experimenting. Even in the computer world it’s good to be limited and not to load too many plugins because you have to learn at some point – you have to stick with a setup and use it to its maximum possibilities.
It’s a good lesson for anyone who’s learning to make music.
Well, I don’t know if I’m in a good position to give lessons. It’s the opposite – when I’m listening to young producers’ music sometimes I wonder, ‘How do they do that?’
But a lot of those guys were copying you! You must have heard so many tracks which reminded you of ‘Music Sounds Better With You’ or ‘Intro’? Even just things like the pumping compression?
What’s interesting is that these young guys are now in the position where people like me and the older generation were in the 90s. We were discovering samplers and mixing and we had no rules in mind. We didn’t care about EQ or the standard way to use compressors. These young kids are doing the same with computers. What matters is just to find the right setup and to be able to achieve something with it, not to be dependant on the marketing or what people say.
As far as sampling goes, you’re using the Elektron Octatrack. Is that used for chopping and reorganising samples in the same way you were using the SP-1200?
No! I bought the Octatrack about five months ago and I’m not in full control of it yet because it’s quite complex. You can do a lot of things but what I find really interesting are the parameter locks on the sequencer. I’m mainly starting to use it as a MIDI sequencer because you can control every parameter of hardware synths with it. In one minute you can build a pattern and control notes, filter settings, decay, attack, MIDI continuous controllers on every step of the bar. It’s really cool.
The other good point is the looper mode where you can loop and overdub. Before, I was working with the Lexicon JamMan delay. Overdubbing loops in real time helps you find the luck. Weird stuff happens that you couldn’t program. The cutting point of the loop gives you weird envelopes, things like that. That’s how I’m working with the Octatrack: it’s intuitive, it’s fast and it helps you get something your brain couldn’t imagine.
And the main synth you’re sequencing with it is the Oberheim Xpander?
I love the Xpander. I also have the Studio Electronics Omega 8 and I’m going to build a modular synthesiser. DJ Falcon has a huge modular synth so he’s giving me some tips. I also think the Moog [MF-104M] delay unit is amazing. There’s a MIDI input on the pedal and the LFO and delay time can be synced in MIDI. When you change the delay time you have this kind of pitch-shifting effect, so you have this kind of synth. With the right settings you can build sequences, so you play one note, you process it through the delay and from a single note you get several notes playing. I love it. If you played the sequence it would sound like shit but when you do it like this it’s really cool.
Looking around the studio you’ve got a really clean, high-end summing and mixing setup: the SSL mixer and compressor, the Clariphonic EQ…
The Clariphonic is really important. I’m very bad at EQing high frequencies and this is just perfect for me. I put it on the master bus and the music shines. It’s just beautiful. Thomas Bangalter gave me the SSL bus compressor three or four years ago and I only just discovered how to use it in a good way for me, which is almost no compression at all, less than 4dB. The SSL desk is cool because it’s clean so it’s very versatile.
But the most important thing is actually the patch bay. I only did this room about four months ago and it’s the first time I’ve had everything patched. It makes it really easy to experiment.
The converter is important too: the Universal Audio 2192. Conversion is the key. If the way you convert your analogue signal to digital isn’t good, you’re losing everything.
And then you reintroduce a little bit of warmth and dirt with things like the Rupert Neve tape emulators?
I bought them last summer and at first I was a bit disappointed. With a specific setting you get some really beautiful bass and high frequencies but they weren’t compressing like tape should. I just discovered last week that you have to overload it to make it compress and overdrive. The cool thing is there’s a blend mixer on the unit itself, so you can make the 100% signal dirty with distortion and then just use 10% of that signal. It’s a very cool effect.
So are you happy with the setup of the studio now?
It’s very clean because I’ve sold quite a lot of equipment. I really wanted to have something simple. It helps me to be focussed on what I’m doing. I still need an API pre-amp and EQ for the lunchbox, then I’ll be OK for one or two years!
Which brings us back to the new project with DJ Falcon. Is it a full-length collaborative album you’re working on?
Yes. We’re gonna form a band. It’s a big project for both of us.
How’s it going so far?
We have a lot of demos which we need to organise and mix. It’s not specifically club music – I don’t know. There’s a lot of synthesiser in it and the drums are quite simple – a mix of real drums and synthesised drums.
Are there vocal tracks or is it instrumental?
Yeah, there are vocals as well. It’s probably going to be 50/50. We’re working with a few different vocalists. We want to be really free with it, we don’t want to format it for the club or whatever. We just want to experiment and get a specific sound with warmth. It’s going to be quite experimental.