The Breakdown is a regular series in which we examine the composition and production of some of our favourite tracks in order to discover what makes them so special. In the latest instalment, Ben Westbeech helps us dissect his all-conquering summer hit, ‘Jack’.
‘Jack’ by Breach (the house music alter ego of Ben Westbeech) has emerged as one of the surprise hits of the summer, equally as popular in sweaty basement clubs as it is in giant festival tents. First released on Dirtybird back in April, the track has now been licensed by Atlantic and sees a full release on July 14th.
‘Jack’ came about after Dirtybird boss Claude VonStroke signed Ben’s track ‘Let’s Get Hot’ and, over dinner, requested something “with a sleazier vibe” as a B-side. Just over a week later, after coming up with the rough idea for ‘Jack’, Ben sent a two-minute unmixed demo to VonStroke to check that he liked it. “He made an edit of it straight away to play up at Warehouse Project in Manchester,” Ben recalls via Skype from his home in Amsterdam. “He’s normally really funny about demos and sits on stuff for ages, so I was really surprised he did it. The next day he sent me the edit he’d done and I went straight back in to finish it.”
Ben explains his shock at the track’s success: “I never thought it was going to do as well as it has. It was just thrown together. I’ve written loads of poppier stuff – I wrote Redlight’s ‘Get Out My Head’ – but this was just meant to be an underground track. I wasn’t even thinking about anything commercial or anyone singing along to it, I just thought it sounded sleazy and sexy and that’s what me and Claude had talked about. I suppose that’s probably what people like about it. It hasn’t got that intent – it hasn’t got a sing-along chorus. If you hear something that’s made to be commercial you can hear that it’s a little bit insincere.”
It would be hard to argue that ‘Jack’ is a complex musical composition, but it’s precisely the fact that each simple element is so precisely honed which makes it all work so well. When asked whether it’s the perfection of each part which “I guess that’s right. It’s such a simple track but it’s the simplicity that makes it.”
I never thought it was going to do as well as it has. It was just thrown together.
The commercial appeal of the track undoubtedly stems in large part from the vocal hook. It’s a fiendishly simple retro-inspired lyric – “I want your body, everybody wants your body, so let’s Jack” – which lodges in the listener’s brain the first time they hear it. Ben explains that it came to him in the night: “I had this mad dream one night and in the morning I woke up with that in my head and wrote it into my phone.”
So who’s the vocalist on the track? “It’s me!” Ben laughs. “I was really tempted to say it was some old female Chicago singer – I probably should have done. Later that same day I went to the studio and recorded it in a bit of an American accent, then processed the fuck out of it. I’ve been doing a lot of processing on vocals recently, weird stuff that’s never really made it out on records. I learned a lot of stuff off Redlight – he’s really good at it.”
The vocal chain was resolutely high-end, consisting of Ben’s own Neumann U47 FET into a Neve 1073, then a Steven Slate Audio Dragon and both channels of a custom-built dual-channel LA-2A clone for good measure. “Once it was recorded I put it back through the 1073, a Fatso and then the LA-2A again,” Ben continues. “I think it’s all about resampling and processing again and again. That’s the way you’re going to get a sound that’s hard to find, I think. Just messing with stuff and seeing what works.”
I went to the studio and recorded it in a bit of an American accent, then processed the fuck out of it.
Once the vocal was recorded, even more processing took place in the box to get the unique sound. First the signal was run through a pitch shifter (Ben tells us which one but won’t let us reveal his secret), then Renaissance EQ, CLA Vocals, an L2, then two Renaissance DeEssers (“it took loads of de-essing”). Despite all this effort, Ben seems a little surprised that the vocal has received so much attention. “It was never meant to be the key part,” he explains. Instead, it’s the simple but devastatingly effective jacking drum pattern and the bassline which drive the track’s momentum.