Once we got over the disappointment of realising that his name’s not Steve and he doesn’t even strip, we persuaded the fresh-faced Boysnoize Records producer to give us a guided tour of his studio.
My Studio — Strip Steve
My studio’s in my flat in the north-east side of Berlin. I moved to this flat about two years ago and split the top floor of it into two so I could have a proper room to work in. I’ve grown to love spaces dedicated to creation – if I could, I would have a few of them around Berlin and other cities, and the countryside… So this is my cave, my cockpit. I sound-proofed it as well as I could with another layer of ceiling and wool in the walls. The amazing thing is that none of my neighbours realise I’m making music. I made the whole Micro Mega album in here, most of it at night time, and at quite high volume. Some of you saw glimpses of it in my video for ‘Mega’, and a lot of the machines I have here are already quite famous for their distinctive sounds, but we’re gonna go into nerdy details about some of them here…
This one was offered to me by a promoter I became close with. It took me a while to get into it I must say – probably because I didn’t pick it personally, when I come to think of it – but once I did I became a bit obsessed with it. It can be CV linked with the rimshot of certain drum machines (like the 707 or 909) to play a pattern of notes you programmed into the synth. It’s so much fun to jam like that. That’s how I did the remix for Surkin and Bobmo’s ‘Harry’, live recorded in one take with just the original loop playing in the back, a bit of arrangement afterwards, but it was wrapped in just a couple of hours and I think you can totally feel it when you hear it, which is something I love. You’ll notice that I’m generally pretty fond of the Roland brand…
This drum machine is kind of a big deal for me. It had a huge role in a lot of tracks that made me love house and techno. Back then I thought those guys making beats like that were wizards – Paul Johnson, to name one that has recognisable shuffly beats – and for the first two years I was trying to recreate those beats manually by moving little slices of sounds on an audio channel. Ha! One day while touring in Japan I went to that famous synth store in Tokyo called FiveG, I switched on a 909 and made a beat in two minutes. It sounded so special, full of life and violence, like all those tracks I adored… It even made me blush to realise I had this power in my hands, and from that day on I started seeing my heroes as talented artists, and not as wizards full of unexplained magical powers ahaha. I tried many of the clones that are on the market, and even if they all have interesting sounding features it’s the only old drum machine where I find no clone to be remotely close to the power and personality of the original. I like how the sounds phase and naturally compress themselves when played on top of each other with different velocity. If you recorded each output separately and played back the whole beat on your computer it would have an entirely different feeling. I recorded a lot of jams like that, just playing with the decay, muting and fading the different sounds. Maybe one day I’ll release an EP made only like that.
Fostex PM0.5 mkII
They’re not especially good. They tend to over-emphasise bass and they’re not especially precise, but they’re the ones I got after making my first two EPs on a hi-fi system, so it was already a good step up for me! I’ve been thinking of getting good monitors for a year now, like Genelecs or those new Neumann, but it’s an investment I always have trouble making when I start thinking about what synths or drum machines I could get with the same money… Also, I always said to myself I should get proper acoustic treatment first to get the most out of good speakers, which I didn’t do yet, so… yeah, I might stick with these for a bit as I’m used to them.
Roland Juno-106 & Yamaha DX7
The Juno is the very first synth I bought after getting my first gig paycheck in 2007. It’s still my favourite, a great workhorse which taught me the hands-on basics of synthesis. Every time I turn it on I know it’s gonna be fun and easy (though sometimes you wanna struggle with a synth – that’s also part of the fun depending on the machine). It’s really like an old friend that you know you’ll always feel at ease with and have a good time. I always recommend it to people searching for their first synth. I’m so in love with its white noise and filter that a friend and I even made a whole track based only around it called ‘Calcium’. It’s also the main core and inspiration for both ‘Micro’ (the intro of my album) and ‘Mega’ (the last track), the bass in ‘Money Trouble Funk’, and it’s everywhere on my remixes for Moullinex, Mika and Owlle to name a few. The Juno is most of the time the first synth I would turn on when searching for first ideas, so yeah, it’s pretty much on everything, even if it’s just FX in the background…
I got the DX7 about three years ago maybe. It’s pretty cheap (they produced a lot of them back then) and a lot of its presets are used in classic songs that I love, whether it’s house, funk, new jack swing or pop in general. It’s very heavily used – if I played you a couple of notes it’d bring so many songs to mind. So yeah, I bought it originally for its ‘classic’ sounds, not really to fuck with it – it’s notoriously known for being a pain to program – but then I discovered FM synthesis is actually super interesting and weird compared to analogue. When you go to the very low keys it does a very strange kind of saturation, and if you switch the algorithms you can get surprising and inspiring results… This synth was the main inspiration for ‘One Thing’ featuring Robert Owens, and I used it in other tracks which are not released yet (especially a new R&B project I have where I wanted to use those typical DX7 chords contrasted with modern structures and atmospheres). The little box you see at the top right corner is a patch bank I got recently with 700 more presets. It costs as much as the synth itself but I fell in love with the DX7 so much that I felt it would be useful.
Audio Technica ATH-M50
I worked for years on the classic Sony MDR headphones, but after they broke I started comparing with other pairs and I found these, which for me are amazing. They are really precise, clearer both in the high and low end than a lot of other headphones in my opinion, so I wouldn’t need to turn them up as loud as other headphones when I mix. Depending on what machine I’m recording, or what frequency I wanna put the focus on in a track, I’d start recording with headphones or monitors, and then switch more and more regularly between the two the closer I get to a final mixdown. What I liked with these is that I barely had any surprises in my mix when I check on the monitors, even in the first few weeks after I got them. It’s always a very subjective thing, but these are definitely the ones for me.
This is a clone of the famous TB-303, the acid machine. It’s about a quarter of the real 303 price and to me the best sounding clone there is on the market. You can buy the separate components and build it yourself, but it can be tricky to tune certain parameters so I chose to buy it already made by a guy that looked like he knew what he was doing. He named it ‘The Beast’ and engraved it on, so that’s obviously why I chose to name the acid track I made for the BNR compilation like that… I must have done half a dozen unreleased tracks with the x0xb0x synced with my 707 alone, but nowadays I try to include it in more surprising ways than just retro acid house tools…
Ron Hardy Shirt
Ron Hardy is like the patron saint of this place. He looks over everything going on here and when I’m lost I just have to turn and look into his eyes to find inspiration.
This is the microscope used for the cover of Micro Mega. I like to have it around the studio – it’s a nice souvenir and makes me feel as though I’m in a science lab.
Patchbay, MOTU Soundcard, Alesis 3630, Ensoniq DP/4
The whole studio is hooked through this patchbay and the 8-input soundcard which makes it super easy to record a lot of stuff on different channels at the same time. It also allows me to switch very quickly every time I turn on another synth to try another idea. I used to have a 16 channel mixer which was great because it had great EQs and you could saturate sounds beautifully before recording, but I would need a huge one now given how many machines I have and use at all times… Instead of finding the right sound and recording it with pre-written MIDI notes, I usually record very long takes of audio and edit through them, keeping some glitches, flicking through presets or manual modulation. I find it more lively-sounding and natural, more naive.
In this photo you can also see the Alesis 3630 compressor and the Ensoniq DP/4 multi effects processor: both very cheap racks that can have very drastic and creative effects. I regularly patch sounds through the DP/4 to find a sort of colour or atmosphere to set the track in. What’s great is that you can chain the effects in any order you want within the unit, like flange a reversed reverb that would then go through a distorted envelope filter, or the opposite. If I do an all-hardware live show one day this rack will definitely play a big role.
Philips PMC100 Composer
Funny little box I found for dirt cheap in a vintage store not far from my place. It’s a monophonic FM synth with a kind of sequencer and tape to save takes or data. All the sounds are pretty much the same with a kind of predictable modulation to make them sound supposedly like ‘brass’, ‘piano’ or ‘bell’, but what’s funny is that it has a very distinctive sound when you transpose the octave really low, which I added into a track called ‘Metal Slug’, a bonus track on the Japanese edition of Micro Mega. Its sequencer is also funny ’cause you can record a sequence note by note, then play it back adding some notes on top of it. Every time you hit a note, the whole pre-recorded sequence moves to follow the scale you’re now hitting. That’s the principle I used to record the interlude of Micro Mega called ‘Music For The Ringtone Generation’ – I plugged it into a chain of chorus, delay and reverb pedals, and recorded a ‘solo freestyle’ for about four minute. I then just took the best two minutes and added one or two pad sounds on top and that was it!
Akai 4000 DS MK-II
A very cool reel-to-reel tape machine I bought fairly recently. Of course my dream was to find a Revox in a garage sale like everyone else, but one day I found this one in a shop in Bordeaux (my home town) and the guy was asking about 100 bucks for it so I decided to get it. It’s not as good as the bigger models of tape machine as you can only use 7-inch reels of ¼-inch tape, so you have to record at a slower speed, producing a lesser quality, but I didn’t care as I wanted a tape machine to dirty stuff up anyway, not to record radio hits on it. It’s still the best kind of domestic, semi-professional reel-to-reel you can find. You can overdub recordings on a single tape and monitor either the source or the tape, which means you can easily create crazy feedbacks and tape delay. I’ve only experimented with it so far, but I’m starting to use it in new tracks to saturate elements like hats, whole beats or samples.
Endangered Audio Research AD4096 Analogue Delay
My favourite delay pedal. It’s pretty rare and unknown. Mine is around the 34th one produced (it was hand written on the packaging, which I can’t find any more in this mess). It’s supposed to recreate tape echo on top of doing regular delay, which makes it sound incredibly grainy and sometimes unpredictable. It also self-oscillates in the most freakish fashion – I already made my floor rumble at different speeds without even plugging anything into the input. I’m certain that’s how they made a lot of futuristic FX in the 80s movies; like in Total Recall for the flying cars accelerating and taking off. It sounds exactly like that. That, and Death parting the sky…
Beers, Drill, Fan
Always a couple of beers lying around, and a drill which I used to build those shelves on the wall and recorded once to add as percussion. On the right you can see my fan which is crucial in the long days of work in the summer. Berlin can get very hot and as there’s wool in the walls of the studio and all those old machines producing heat, the temperature can get critically high…