Influx UK (Formation)
First of all thanks for taking time out to answer these questions, "Its Love" is smashing its way across dancefloors! How are you feeling about that?
Thanks. It's nice to have a tune that everyone is playing, rather than just a niche style dj. That track is working in small clubs and big raves, from liquid
dj's to jump up, so i'm happy to see that.
So you obviously started Influx Datum back at the start of the millennium. Am I right in thinking that your production partner was based out of Miami? Were you early adopters of working via AIM and the net to get stuff finished or were you both in the studio at the same time?
At the time we were both sharing an apartment in Miami, i'd shipped over my sampler, synth, studiomaster desk, and Marco had a PC and Alesis M1's...
I stayed there till about 2003, then went back to London. We tried doing the AIM thing after that, but it never really worked out.
Can you break down a kit list of some of the various bits in your studio?
PC: AMD Athlon MP 1.2 Dual processor, i built it in 2001.
M-Audio Audiophile 2496 Soundcard
2x UAD-1 with:
Sonalksis TBK + TBK2
Timeworks mastering compressor
Cubase SX 2
Midi controller keyboard
One of the things that impresses me about your productions are your beats! They are crazy! Is the beat usually the start of the tune for you? Do you use a lot of breaks or single hits?
I'll always use single drum-machine kicks, snares and hats for the weight, and often i'll add breakbeats for the funk and shuffle, the feel. At the moment i'm using a lot of the Linn drum hits, they are full-bodied and clean, perfect for the weight i'm looking for, and because they're clean, they're ideal for further processing, compressing, EQ'ing, bussing etc. I don't usually start a track with the drums, i start with a riff or sample, usually something musical that i can latch onto, and then i search through my older drum mixes, to find something that fits the sample/riff. So i re-use and tweak the same drum mixes quite a lot. Whenever i've made a decent track, i export the basic drum mix for future use. It helps the flow of creativity for new ideas, and i usually end up swapping out snares or whatever.
Do you process all your drums via a bus and use a Limiting/Compression which seems so ever popular with D&B producers nowadays?
I group everything out to busses, it makes it so much easier to balance the mix. So, i'll point all my drums to a 'Drum Mix', i'll have other buss groups such as 'Vocals Mix', 'Basses Mix' etc. I've been putting a 2-buss mastering compressor across the drum mix buss for a while now, I like the Timeworks one because it gives me a bit of distortion on the kick rolls which i like. I suppose it's a bit like doing it on an analogue desk, pushing the drum mix buss hot and getting a natural compression from the circuitry. Really, compressing the drum mix just amounts to making the metal-work sound louder, so you could just go and turn up the hats and other metals manually, unless you're looking for a full-on pumping sound. I guess i just use the 2-buss on the drum mix to get a bit of distortion from it, a bit more energy. I don't do it for 'loudness' reasons, i always keep it the same level before/after, just more effected. It's so easy to fall into the 'louder is better' syndrome, it's vital to keep comparing with the bypassed signal and compensating for the change in loudness.
So do you use much in the way of sequencing with Audio? or are you more Instrument based?
Yea everything is audio. I import the kicks, snares etc directly into SX and arrange them there. I use softsynths and samplers if i need to play a sound up and down a scale, like a bassline; for that i use the Short Circuit Free VSTi sampler, it's simple and easy. I just go for the easiest option. I don't like those programs where you have to sit down with the manual, working out key splits and groups just to play a melody. I've always liked the NN19 sampler, quite simple and easy, just rewire it into SX, and those soundbanks are full of useable sounds. Once i'm happy with something from an instrument, i'll usually bounce it into audio, so i can do fades, edits, reverses and so on.
What is a typical studio schedule for Influx then? How is your day usually structured?
No schedule really, i try to keep it to a daytime thing, but with dj'ing i end up doing late nights. It's a bit all over the place.
You mentioned to me that when your last LP for Formation "2 Million and Rising" was mastered you used 24 bit/ 88Khz files! Is this something you feel strongly about working at higher resolutions? Do you feel it makes a huge difference to the sound? I know a lot of recording engineers are now happy working with Pro Tools rather than tape at these higher bit rates.
I made all the album tracks at 32bit/88.2KHz, because i found that most plugins work better at higher resolutions. They sound more analogue, more natural. The aliasing effects get pushed up beyond the 22KHz hearing range. Some VSTi's sound substantially better at 88 or 96K, especially the FM7. The big synth wash in 'Special Black' is the FM7, and it's so much richer sounding at 88K, it's stupid. I took the LP to Stuart at Metropolis for mastering, and I had the 32/88 mixes as well as the same 32/88 mixes dithered to 16/44 on CD-A. He was as eager as me to compare the two, and we could both hear the difference in a blind test. The 32/88 mixes had more depth of field, the 16/44 sounded flatter. Also the 32/88 had a cleaner top end. The difference was audible, but not substantially; it's not a deal-breaker. Remember Stuart has 50,000 quid's worth of PMC-BB5 speakers and Bryston amps! In a loud club, or on my Mackies and home, or on the radio with their 7-band mega-squash limiting, that difference is irrelevant. Still, I prefer to make the original track at 32/88 for the better plugin sound. My PC can't handle 96KHz, in case you were wondering! I'm waiting for it to fry before I build an Intel Core 2 Duo.
How long do you spend on your mixdowns? Is there ever a end to a mixdown? Ha ha
There is only 1 end to a mixdown: the mastering appointment! I'm working on the mixdown at the same time as writing the tune, the two go together for me. But usually the day before, or the day of, getting it mastered, i'll spend that day listening to it again, making sure it's 100% as good as i can get it. I have the advantage of being able to hear my tracks on a lot of systems over a period of time before it gets released, so i'll often have tried out several different mixdowns on dubplate or CD. Sometimes i'll make a tune over a day or two, other tunes have taken years, where i've had a good riff but never the right drums or whatever, so they just sit there waiting. I use a combination of listening quietly on the Mackies at below conversational level (I think they sound like cardboard boxes played loud), and on my Sennheiser HD580 headphones. I play it too loud in the headphones, to get that club vibe of loud SPL's in the ear, and the fletcher-munson curve change in the bass. I've been demo-ing the Pinguin Audio Meter, it's fantastic, much better than any other spectrum analyser i've seen yet.
Name some of your best A/Bing material?
I use whatever i think sounds great at the moment. Taxman's 'Moonraker' is awesome, i think it's the loudest mp3 i've ever heard! Sub Focus's X-Ray is a great mix i think, it's quite toppy but sounds wicked. Also Black Tarantula, but I think the kick and snare are too overpowering and often the music gets drowned out, but it still kills the dance! Dillinja's 'Big Bad Bass' CD is ridiculous! Also High Contrast's 'Green Screen' is sounding awesome. I have a method of balancing the bass, kicks and snares on a spectrum analyser, all in relation to each other and the rest of the mix, so if i'm doubting my ears, i can fall back on that, but there's no 100% scientific way using analysers. So, I just use a range of stuff to compare against. I think it goes through fashions and trends. There's a lot more tops in tracks now compared to pre-2000, I think people are wanting the snares and hats to smack them up more than they did before.
What are some of your fav plug ins? Are you happy with using the Cubase Native Eq's, or do you use a lot of third party stuff like Waves etc?
I never use the native EQ's. I use 99% UAD plugins. My standard EQ is the Cambridge. I mainly use Cambridge, Pultec, LA-2A, 1176LN. The Cambridge has fantastic filter cut-off slopes. I compared it to Waves EQ, and in Waves even with the steepest slope, there's still stuff there at low level after you've filtered it off, but with the Cambridge it's 100% gone, if that's what you want. I put a Waves L2 across my master buss, just to catch the errant peaks, although sometimes I will just push the master out into clipping, sometimes it sounds better than limiting. I'm quite happy with the native Steinberg Reverb A, and also their Delay. There's not a great deal of room for reverb in Drum and Bass, I want my stuff to sound upfront and smacking. I do have the UAD Plate 140 Reverb though, which I used on the vocals for 'The Siren'.. Lately i've been using the Sonalksis TBK filter, it has resonance clamping built-in, so you can crank up the resonance, but it's still manageable, not wild like +20dB resonances, so you don't really have to re-EQ it afterwards. The LA-2A is standard for compressing vocals, i like to really push it.
Which producers do you look up to in D&B and outside?
I like stuff that has that madman/genius vibe, like Jonny L, or Photek's stuff from about 4 years ago. I guess Calibre is there too, is he a genius or simply insane? hahaha. It's not about the mix or engineering quality that i respect, it's the artistry of the music. I'm a big fan of Roni, Krust, Die. During the 90's I had very wide tastes, Prince, Lenny Kravitz, Stanley Jordan. I came up through the whole rare-groove thing, so I have a lot of that in me, Rueben Wilson, James Mason, James Brown, as well as my dad's influences of Pink FLoyd, The Beatles etc. Nowadays I don't listen to music, other than what's on the TV or in a film. It bores me, it's the same old stuff being re-hashed by bright young things that think they're inventing the wheel, hahaha. The people at The Brits are mainly unknown to me! hahaha, quite glad of that too! Dubstep and Grime are the only fresh things around at the moment, no-one's done that before.
What do you think is the future for D&B production? I remember reading interviews with same question back in 1994 and the main thing that was said was D&B would incorporate more live instruments which it has sort of done to an extend with 4 hero and Goldie. Where do you see it heading next?
I have no idea about where it will go style-wise. I know that people want to get together in social groups and have a dance to uptempo music, that's about it! As for production, well i don't think it can get any easier or more accessible, we've gone from 10k outboard studios to 500 quid PC's and software. I'd like to see analogue mixing desk VST's, so you can try your mixdown through different virtual desks, emulations of classics like Neve or SSL, that would be fresh, not revolutionary though.
Finally If you could design a VST Instrument what would it feature?
I have all the tools I need, but you can never have enough fresh sounds, so some kind of sound-making thing. HAHA!
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NEW SEMINAR ANNOUNCED!
Production Tips and Tricks
Date Saturday 12 & Sunday 13 April 2008
Location Central London (Westminster)