Austrian producer DKay needs no introduction to drum & bass fans. He’s had big tracks on labels like Soul:R, Bingo, Renegade Hardware and Barcelona, his 2003 release with Epsilon featuring Stamina MC, even made the UK top 40. He’s currently working on an IllSkillz album with Rawfull and is about to release Shades / Thinner Edge, a collaboration with DJ Intoxicated on A.I.’s Integral label, but he took time out from his busy schedule to explain how he goes about making music…
How do you approach starting a new tune? Do you have a standard workflow of building beats/bass first, or focus on another part to begin with?
Before I even start doing anything in the studio these days I have to have a specific idea of what I want to do. With technology the possibilities are endless and if I don’t know where to start and, especially where I want to go, it’s pretty much pointless. If I know what I want, I get it done very quickly. And I do the building of the elements of the track pretty much in parallel. Maybe get a few drum lines playing, add a bass, change the kick, move the hi-hat, add another bass, mute half the drums and start again… until it’s right.
Do you usually wait until you’re in the right state of mind before starting a track or do you just sit down and see what comes out?
I really need to have a free mind and be in tune with myself and the studio. Even if I have a cool idea I want to work on, but I’m not in the right state of mind, I refrain from working, because it hinders the creative flow. I can’t force myself to be creative, that’s the most important lesson I’ve learned over the years. Sure, I can work on mixdowns or cut up samples for hours, but if I want to make a tune, the vibe has got to be there.
Does your approach differ depending on which genre you are making?
It depends whether I make a track for myself or I’m producing with or for someone else. its nice to collaborate, because you can feed off the ideas of this other person, their views, their tastes, etc. It might spark off new things I haven’t done before. With collaborators I kinda insist that they have a vision of what they want to do, otherwise I could just make a tune on my own.
Out of the tracks you do start, how many get finished? How many get released?
For the first couple of years pretty much every tune got released on vinyl. These days I’m holding back a bit, most of the dnb and dubstep tracks I make are going to be on the IllSkillz album. That’s basically the last two years of tracks. The only exception being the release of Shades / Thinner Edge.
What time of day do you work best?
I prefer the night, but it really doesn’t matter that much. Less phone calls at night though, so it’s easier to concentrate when I know that everyone else is sleeping.
What do you do when you’re not feeling inspired?
Read, watch movies, enjoy nature, eat healthy, sports. Mostly try to forget what I made last week so I can come back fresh to make it perfect.
Where is your studio set up and what does it consist of? Do you use any hardware or are you software only?
I’m running an iMac with more ram, Logic 9 and a small but effective plugin collection. I don’t believe in having every plugin out there, it’s too confusing. Get a couple of essential ones and you’re good. That would be my advice. I also still use some outboard, like Focusrite and SSL compressors but nothing too fancy, just some standard pro audio stuff. Oh and it’s all at home.
What’s your most used plugin?
Logic’s Low Cut. Quick easy, does the job, no weight on the processor, and it’s on every channel except for kick and bass (even there sometimes).
Are you the sort that likes to use old vinyl to get snippets of atmos, FX, melodies, etc or do you use synths mainly for your sounds?
I used to sample a lot, so I have a nice collection of sounds I still haven’t used in tunes. But I do want to go back to the second hand shop now that I’m thinking about it.
How much of your sounds come from random samples, i.e. stuff you’ve recorded yourself etc, rather than sample packs?
It depends on the track I’m making. If it’s a more electronic based tune I keep it synthy, but for the more organic music it’s samples all the way. I’d say it’s about 50/50.
What’s the coolest bit of kit you’ve got?
That would be my Pro One by Sequential Circuits, a really old monophonic and very basic synth, but it’s as fat as yo mamma and sounds amazing. The saw wave on its own is crisp and beautiful.
What’s the best piece of equipment you’ve ever used?
Mixing down my first album on a big Neve desk was pretty cool.
Which sequencer do you use and why?
Logic all the way. They make it the same way I imagined how sequencing would work before I actually learned how to use it. So it’s pretty natural for me to work in Logic. It thinks like me.
Any new studio technology or gear you’re liking at the moment?
Sorry, gotta be lame and say I love my iMac..
What’s your monitoring situation like? What speakers and / or headphones do you use?
I use JBL LSR4238 for monitors. They have built in room correction, it’s quite cool and helps my room which isn’t perfect, but I’ve learned how to run it right. Sometimes I use Sennheiser HD25s for A/B-ing or getting the master right.
Any advice you can give us regarding mixdowns?
Keep comparing, but to similar tunes that have worked in the same genre. It’s all different dynamics and you don’t want to compare apples and oranges. Learn your speakers. I know an engineer who makes top of the line pop music mixdowns on the crappiest speakers but he knows them so well, he’s unbeatable.
Tell us more about your new single…
It’s a nice collabo 12″ with DJ Intoxicated who was living in Vienna at the time. He had a couple of samples he wanted to use and I liked them, so we went in and rolled it out. No animals harmed.
What else have you been working on recently?
Mostly the IllSkillz album with lots of dnb and some dubstep. We also made three tracks with the one and only Dub FX, and I’ve recently started production work for two local house DJs. We’ve already scored a remix for Laidback Luke, so it’s going well.