London Elektricity In The Studio

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Hospital Records have been releasing a series of sample packs on Loopmasters for a few years now. The first five in the series have featured Hospital artists like Danny Byrd, Bop and Total Science but the latest, Drum & Bass Vol 6, features none other than label boss London Elektricity. Find out how he works in the studio and download ten free samples from the pack.

How do approach starting a new tune? Do you have a standard workflow of building beats / bass first, or focus on another part to begin with?
I’m somewhat contrary so my standard workflow is to make sure I start in a different place from before. Which means I never start the same way. This makes it much harder to make tunes, but it hopefully ensures I never repeat myself!

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 set aside months in my diary to make music because I also run Hospital Records, DJ and have a family, so my studio time is very precious. Therefore I don’t have the luxury of ‘making tunes when I feel like it man’ – I work solidly when I have the opportunity to be in the studio.

If I’m not feeling inspired by one thing then I’ll do something dull that doesn’t require inspiration, like hoovering the dust from between the keys on my Wurlitzer or replacing the tape in my Space Echo.

Does your approach differ depending on which genre you are making?
Not at all, it’s all music.

Out of the tracks you do start, how many get finished? How many get released?
I’d say 40 – 50% get finished and of those about 50% get released.

What time of day do you work best?
A perfect studio day for me is to get up at 7am and be in the studio at 8am. I do my best work in the morning. If I’m in the middle of a tune, I make coffee, turn on the studio and listen to yesterday’s work with fresh ears. I jot down notes on the first listen, that makes my work list for the morning and I work from that.

Sometimes I can’t sleep so I go into the studio around 4am – those early morning sessions do produce good ideas sometimes. I can’t work late in the evening though, I’m always too tired by then.

What do you do when you’re not feeling inspired?
A long walk works wonders. Also a train journey is good, but never driving.

Where is your studio set up and what does is consist of? Do you use any hardware or are you software only?
I write my tunes in the top room of my house in Crystal Palace. I did some basic acoustic shaping in the room using home made rockwool panels and bass absorbers. I use a Mac with Cubase. Most ‘is in the box’ but I do have a few ‘real’ toys such as a Roland Space Echo, DBX 166 compressor and a bunch of classic synths and electric pianos. I use a Mackie Onyx desk / interface and Mackie 824 monitors.

What’s your most used plugin, and what makes it so essential?
Sonnox EQ, it’s just a very well specced EQ plugin but it sounds better than anything else I’ve tried.

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 sample from any source including records, YouTube, TV, portable HD recorder to get atmos sounds, you name it.

How much of your sounds come from random samples, i.e. stuff you’ve recorded yourself etc, rather than sample packs?
I tend to create my own sounds as this gives my music an original sonic stamp.

What’s the coolest bit of kit you’ve got and do you actually use it much?
I have an original early 70s voice box. It’s a speaker in a metal box with an input and a thick plastic tube. You put the tube in your mouth and plug a guitar amp into the input. You can put any instrument into it and then shape the sound with your throat and lips recording the results into a mic.

It works best if you ‘deep throat’ the tube but you then have to edit out all the gagging sounds that causes. It’s not fun but it makes great sounds! I don’t use it that often because I’m not that good at deep throating.

What’s the best piece of equipment you’ve ever used?
When I went to Middlesex Polytechnic in 1980 they acquired the second Sequential Circuits Prophet 10 to be imported into the UK. I lived on campus and managed to cut my own set of studio keys. I spent all night every night in the studio for a period of 18 months. I got to know the Prophet 10 like the back of my hand. I miss it so much.

Which sequencer do you use and why?
I use Cubase. The only reason I use it is because I’ve always used it, well ever since the Atari 1040 days and Steinberg 24, Cubase’s ancestor. I love Cubase and whilst I know Logic and Live are really good, I have no cause to switch. I went through a Reason period between 2001 and 2004 but I haven’t touched that for a while now.

Any new studio technology or gear you’re liking at the moment?
I love SPL’s Drum Xchanger – it’s designed for using on multitrack live drum takes, but I use it to enhance old breaks. It’s killer. Also I love Izotope’s software, in particular Ozone, RX and stutter edit.

Whats your monitoring situation like? What speakers and / or headphones do you use?
Mackie HR 824s monitors and I use Senheiser HD650 headphones.

Any advice you can give us regarding mixdowns?
Recently I had an epiphany when it comes to mixdowns. Finally Steinberg have made Wavelab available for Mac, and since I got that last year I have learned so much about mastering and therefore about mixdowns. I subgroup everything into sonic categories in Cubase, that way I can keep control over everything.

A problem I used to have when everything went into the master bus was that as the track built up I’d always end up overdriving the master bus and I’d end up with no headroom. Now I can keep a fine control over that. I keep the subgroup bus faders all down to about -20db so that even when there’s 30 or so of them they don’t max out the master bus.

Strangely enough, this enables me to think more clearly about what it is I’m doing and enables me to keep a much tighter control over frequency levels in a mix.

What about working with vocalists?
I’m known for vocal production and I love working with a good vocalist who has a good sense of humour. For me making a vocal track is about songwriting and spending a lot of time tweaking lyrics and phrasing before recording anything.

Things like the choice of mic and processing shouldn’t matter, and they don’t – it’s all about the quality of singer and the quality of the writing. I am a firm believer that you can’t polish a turd, although these days most people simply roll the turd in glitter using Autotune.

What production technique do you think is really overused / annoying?
1) Autotuning on vocals to make the generic R&B robot voice is utter cack.
2) Sidechain Euro synths are so boring now.
3) Dubstep producers who use the same bass presets with the same synced LFO on the filter changing from 1/8 to 1/4T etc etc yada yada yawn yawn really get on my tits!

What do you know now that you wish you had known when you started out?
I’m very glad I didn’t know what I know now!

Tell us a bit more about how you created the sounds on your new sample pack and what you set out to achieve with it.
I used a number of sources for my sample pack, including my collection of guitars, my Suzuki Omnichord, Space Echo, Yamaha CS20, Roland Juno 106, Wurlitzer EP200, Fender Rhodes as well as presets I’ve designed for various soft synths I love such as the ACE, and the EMS synth recreation by XILS lab. For the beats I went deep into my drum library and tried to steer clear of clichés.

My aim with the pack was to give people the basis to write lots of tunes from scratch. I tried to make building blocks and foundation loops that hopefully inspire and could lead to something very interesting. The coolest thing would be for me to sign a tune made using my sample pack – that would put a big smile on my face.

Got any releases in the pipeline you can tell us about?
I’ve just released my fifth studio album Yikes! and also the Yikes! Remixes!! album featuring S.P.Y, Logistics, Lung, Danny Byrd, Royalston, B Complex, Enei, Unquote, Mutated Forms, Bop and Stray on remix duties. This November we release a 15 years of Hospital album and I’ve reworked a very early London Elektricity tune Song in the Key of Knife for the album.

Anything else you’d like to tell us about?
Hope you enjoy the sample pack, and keep an eye out for more Hospital sample packs to come soon!

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About Author

Colin Steven co-founded Knowledge Magazine in 1994. He also runs a book publishing company called Velocity Press specialising in electronic music and club culture.

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