Attack’s dance music theory guru Oliver Curry breaks down one of the biggest underground house hits of the year to figure out what makes it tick.

The Breakdown is a series in which we deconstruct well-known tracks, showing what makes them so effective. Unlike our Passing Notes series, the emphasis isn’t on practical tips. We’re not trying to show you how to copy these tracks, but simply examining them to find out what makes them so special.

This time around we’re looking at Julio Bashmore’s ‘Au Seve’ – a flexing, bass-heavy roller of an underground house track which has been virtually inescapable throughout 2012.

Call and Response

One of the most immediately recognisable features of ‘Au Seve’ is the call and response structure employed in the riffs.

Call and response is a technique employed in many genres of music, perhaps most noticeably gospel. For a great example of how it usually works, check out Sister Rosetta Tharpe’s fantastic version of ‘Down By The Riverside’, in which the choir responds at the end of each of Tharpe’s phrases:

The similarities between Sister Rosetta and Julio Bashmore may not be immediately obvious, but things become a bit clearer when we consider what’s going on with the main bass part in ‘Au Seve’. Call and response describes a song structure where non-overlapping phrases alternate with each other. Traditionally this usually meant two instruments trading melodies, but in electronic music the definition is slightly looser. Call and response in dance music can mean alternating between different synth sounds, different processing effects (such as one clean phrase then one distorted) or even just different styles of playing (staccato then legato, for example).

We can quite clearly break ‘Au Seve”s bassline down and think of it as two distinct sections. The first is the ‘call’ (click the images to enlarge):

Which sounds like this:

And the second is the ‘response’, which operates in a higher octave and plays a slightly busier pattern, especially at the end of the four bar section:

Put them together and they sound like this:

Note that the descending synth melody only plays at the same time as the call part of the bassline. As such, it could also be seen as part of the call and response.

Call and response is one of the most simple structural techniques to employ, but it can be hugely effective. ‘Au Seve’ perfectly demonstrates how it can add movement and continuity to dance music.

29th November, 2012

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