UK DJ and producer extraordinaire Silverlining has just dropped his superb seven-track album Simulacra. Like all his work it’s characterised by superb sonics, pristine sound, intricate production, and deep, electronic emotion. We got him to talk us through it, Track By Track.
▙ ■ Contracultura
They say you can take the boy out of the rave, but even when sitting by a pool in the Spanish sunshine, squinting at my screen, I ended up coming out with these brooding atmospheres. The electro beats were programmed in Five12’s Numerology Pro, rewired into Ableton Live where I wrote the melodies. The combination of the two is my perfect writing set-up. Live is so easy to get a vibe going and I love Numerology for its quirky modular-style flow for carving out grooves. The music and beats for the first electro half all came together in just a few minutes.
When I returned to London, I patched the Numerology drums out into my Akai S3000XL sampler, which I have upgraded with an SD-card reader and a fresh LCD backlight. Melodies are coming off various synths, such as a Yamaha DX11, Korg Wavestation and Pittsburgh Lifeforms SV-1. I processed individual sounds though outboard gear such as my Universal Audio Twinfinity 710 pre-amp as a subtle warmer; an Orban 674A ‘paragraphic’ EQ for more musical sculpting; a Golden Age Comp-554 for gentle compression. The final stems were mixed down using my Mackie 32-8 desk into Logic via my Bettermaker 502P Pultec-style EQ to round things off. I bought the latter during the final stages of the album to finalise the stems. This was pretty much the process used for the whole album.At the last minute, I decided the track should take a left turn at the end and I developed a second half that was completely different. I wrote this part also pretty quickly in Live and pretty much followed the mixdown process outlined above. Making that transition work smoothly is probably what took the longest.
▚ ■ Aura
This was the second last track that I recorded for the album. I’m a massive fan of Detroit house and I felt the project needed a more direct nod to this area of my taste. This one was all written and mixed quickly in my studio, using Numerology for beats and melodies. The main keys are coming off my Yamaha P-300 stage piano that has a huge sound; the other synths and bleeps were made using the Lifeforms; and the stabs in the middle were done in Kontakt and processed though the Lifeforms and outboard. Final sounds, as above, were processed though the outboard, with stems recorded through the Bettermaker 502P back into Logic.
The 502P’s magic is really audible in this track. Using the classic “Pultec low-end trick” whereby you boost and cut at the same frequency, the slight disparity between the two curves’ midpoints causes a kind of gluing effect between kick and bassline, gently gelling the bottom end together without losing dynamics. As my work involves a lot of bouncing, I work at 88khz through my Apogee Ensemble interface, which has great converters causing minimal AD degradation. I had intended to record a vocal on this, and the sample was thrown in just to get a feel, but it worked so well that I let it be. It didn’t need any more or less than that.
▚ □ Fulcra
I felt the project needed at least one purely instrumental house track that spoke purely through its melodies. Fulcra is that one. Using pretty much the same workflow as Aura, I focused on keeping the DX11 keys understated by still emotive, while underpinning some slightly tougher house drums. The Rhodes chords were off my Yamaha P-300 digital piano going into Mutable Ears to boost the signal to modular level and use my Lifeforms as an envelope filter.
▛ ■ Schema
This probably the most dancefloor track on the whole LP, reflecting the sounds I’ve been playing in London pre-lockdown. I just love the shuffle and subtle randomness you can dial in on Numerology. Its external MIDI triggering is super-tight, which makes it a perfect partner with an Akai sampler for drums. The 90s organ bass is off my old faithful Yamaha DX11, which pretty much has been on for almost half of my life. The flanging keys are off the Korg Wavestation, using a little magic recipe with its internal effects that I used back in the day on old tracks like Pleasures & Treasures and Invisible Ink. The feedback on that synth’s internal flanger/delay effect has a really unique sound.
▛ □ Observa (ft. Ntem)
Probably the most leftfield of all the tracks, Observa was built up by processing stabs through my modular rack. The dubby stab sounds originated from my DX11 and Yamaha piano, running into the Pittsburgh Lifeforms filter (via Ears) with copious amounts of effects from my Erica Fusion Delay/Flanger/Vintage Ensemble and Doepfer A-199 SPRV spring reverb that uses a Belton tank. As before, things are warmed up and sculpted a bit more using the Twin-Finity and Orban EQ. The decision to record Ntem’s vocal on it was really spontaneous, but it counterbalanced the abstraction so well. I recorded her using a Rode NTK via the Twin-Finity. After comping the vocal in Logic, I EQ’ed and compressed the takes using the Orban and Golden Age. As with most of the others, drums are from Numerology triggering the Akai, bass is off the DX11, and all stems were mixed down on the Mackie via the Bettermaker.
▞ ■ Tundra (ft. Saba)
I’m pretty sure the rough idea for Tundra was written on the same day as Contracultura, sweltering in the Spanish heat. I love this way of writing as it’s so carefree with no real goal in mind and things come together really naturally without you getting distracted with mixdowns. I love the sounds of Chicago house from the 80s and this is a little ode, albeit with a modern twist and methodology. I programmed the 707 beats and the bass in Numerology, keys in Live, synced up with rewire, then patched it out into studio hardware on my return. The drums and bass were recorded in a single pass using the faders and modular to arrange, then just edited a little bit. The mad acid section in the middle was done by adding FM CV to the bass melody on the Lifeforms. A few other melodies and were bounced with the Lifeforms, again through the aforementioned outboard to warm and sculpt.
The decision to record a vocal was a last-minute afterthought, as I had intended to keep this instrumental. The main vocal by Saba that you hear was thought up by her and sung in a single take, all in under 10 minutes! It was magical to hear it happening. The overdubs and whispers were added in another session. As before, stems were balanced out using the Bettermaker. As well as being great for gluing bass frequencies, it’s a treat for smoothing out tops by boosting high-mids while gently dipping (but not altogether cutting) at 20k.
▞ □ Recognitia (ft. Ntem & Saba)
As someone who grew up during the ‘golden age’ of hip hop of late ‘80s and early ‘90s, I wanted to make something the referenced this era, but with a twist. The original beats for this was an idea I made in Live about 3-4 years ago. I waited patiently to find the right vocalist for it and got lucky when I met Ntem and Saba at a private afterhours event in London, where we all agreed to get in the studio at some point, although I didn’t imagine we’d record a duet together. When Ntem came back from her home in Miami, we got in the studio and started putting down ad-libs. We called Saba, who jumped in a cab right away and they jammed out this duet in less than 3 hours. Nothing was pre-written, which was a totally new way of recording vocals for me, but it worked out. I love how their voices interact. The swirling oohs in the middle section were overlaid with synths, with heavy chorus and reverb to give it a Spector-esque wall-of-sound effect. The vocal wasn’t actually recorded onto this hip-hop version, but a house mix that’s yet to be released later this year. The LP needed something with a different tempo and I’m really happy I put this one out first.
Silverlining’s ‘Simulacra’ is available on Bandcamp.
Artist photo by Kat Green