Total Science In The Studio

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Calling the shots for Drum & Bass Vol. 5, the fifth volume of Hospital Records’ sample pack series for Loopmasters, are none other than Total Science, aka Quiff and Spinback. This duo need no introduction to any drum & bass fan and their sample pack is bound to appeal to drum & bass producers right across the spectrum and beyond. We sat down with Spinback to find out how they approach making music in the studio…

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?
There so many ways we approach starting a new tune. Can be a fresh set of breaks, a fresh sample, a bass sound we have made up or just an idea we have in our heads. It changes every time.

Do you usually wait till you’re in the right state of mind before starting a track or do you just sit down and see what comes out?
We will usually wait until we are in the right state of mind. If we aren’t then we will usually sample for a while and then something will usually come to us from hearing the right sample.

Does your approach differ depending on which genre you are making?
Kinda, we would definitely try and get some breaks going if writing a genre other than dnb just so we have the right groove to start with.

Out of the tracks you do start, how many get finished? How many get released?
Nowadays it’s about 50/50, whereas back in the day it was 90/10. With the old analogue set up we had to finish things or we would lose the mix so we nearly always finished what we were working on.

What time of day do you work best?
Ideas come at anytime of day. Some mornings I will wake up with and idea and then sometimes at night I’ll have ideas in bed (usually to knock one out).

What do you do when you’re not feeling inspired?
Sampling, tweaking synths, making up breaks. You will always find something to inspire you when you’re not pushing to write something

Where is your studio set up and what does is consist of? Do you use any hardware or are you software only?
We both have iMacs now in our home studios. We use Quiff’s for the mixdowns as he is the mix master. We use a mix of hardware and software. Hardware wise we have a Virus Access C, Oberheim Matrix 1000, MicroKorg and a JV2080. Software wise we have too much to mention. Hardware synths win for me though.

What’s your most used plugin, and what makes it so essential?
We love the iZotope Alloy & Ozone, you can get a proper analogue pushed feel to sounds with these.

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?
We source our sounds from every possible place, we both have huge record collections so we can use old vinyls for snippets of sounds or sample CDs. It’s always been our way since we started back in the 60s!

How much of your sounds come from random samples, i.e. stuff you’ve recorded yourself etc, rather than sample packs?
Most of our tunes have come from random samples or fiddling around with sounds until they’re our own, sample packs are great though and a very instant way of having good quality sounds to play around with.

What’s the coolest bit of kit you’ve got and do you actually use it much?

We have a Virus Access C we bought last year which is getting a lot of love at the moment. It’s a great piece of kit which we are using a lot at the moment.

What’s the best piece of equipment you’ve ever used?
We were in the studio with CJ Bolland over Christmas and we got to use the Roland Alpha Juno 1 which he made the original Mentasm sound on. Doesn’t get much better than that!

Which sequencer do you use and why?
We use Ableton Live for writing and Logic for mixdowns. Just love how quick it is to write with Ableton. As soon as S.P.Y showed us how good it was we went out and bought it.

Any new studio technology or gear you’re liking at the moment?
The Maschine looks awesome and will be the next purchase we make. Has that old MPC feel about it but it’s a lot easier to use.

What’s your monitoring situation like? What speakers and / or headphones do you use?
We have Mackie 824s and they are great speakers and work well for us.

What production technique do you think is really overused / annoying?
Sidechain compression on everything

Tell us more about your new sample pack for Loopmasters and how you approached it…
We gave ourselves different parts to do and a timeframe to do it in and went at it like that. I did the majority of the musical loops / basses and Quiff did all the breaks / percussion loops. When we had most of it done we just went through them to see what was missing and both chipped in to get it done. Was a lot of fun to do, hope it’s a success as we’d love to do more.

What else have you been working on recently?
We’re constantly fiddling around in the lab with new track but we’ve just finished an EP with S.P.Y for CIA which has the tracks Ghostrider, Magic Hour, Street Sweeper and Past Lives ft. Kevin King on it plus a bonus 10″. It’s dropping around April / May time.

What do you have coming out soon?
As well as the EP above we have a single on Subtitles with S.P.Y coming out in the next few months. The next 12″ on CIA’s sister label Deep Kut is 8 Bits – Tic Tac Toc / Total Science – Concrete Proof.

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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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