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Welsh-born electronic musician, DJ and producer Lincoln Barrett – better known as High Contrast – has been one of the drum ‘n’ bass scene’s biggest trailblazers for nearly two decades now. Following a slew of remix singles from heavyweight drum ‘n’ bass figures such as Camo & Krooked, Mefjus, and Pola & Bryson, High Contrast’s highly-anticipated remix album celebrating the 20th anniversary of his iconic 2002 breakthrough project ‘True Colours’ has finally arrived.
To celebrate the release of the new project, we got the electronic music maverick to reveal his best pieces of advice for producers and DJs across the board. Whether you’re just starting out in music, or simply looking for ways to improve your workflow, this professional masterclass has everything you need to take your music to the next level.
1. Every track should have something wrong in it
“This is a classic bit of studio production / engineering advice that goes back to at least the 70s. It’s the idea that perfection is not the ultimate goal of a mix, and is in fact impossible. And that sometimes beauty lies within the imperfections. Like at one point in a track you might have accidentally muted the bassline and your instinct is to unmute it right away but actually that might make for a really good moment in the track. Or it could mean something as simple as not quantising some part of the drum tracks, having that natural ‘wrongness’ giving some much needed life to a track.
2. Protect your initial burst of creativity
“One of the many great things I learnt from working with Underworld was that the most precious part of the creative process is your initial attempt at a track idea and that you need to protect that, often from your own meddling. It’s about that initial burst of inspiration you have when you are ‘in the zone’ and laying down the core idea of whatever it is you’re coming up with. Once that session is over and you come back the next day or whenever, you have to be really careful not to tamper with that initial creation and kill it in the process of ‘making it better’ or over-production. Because your conscious mind will never be as good as what you do instinctively, when your subconscious has you in that zone. Of course, ideas need editing and development but do it carefully, you have to protect the thing you created in that initial session.”
3. Never throw out an idea
“I am just constantly generating ideas for tracks and have done for the last 25 years or so. And I’ve never thrown any of these sketches out. Occasionally I will dip in to the folders and listen to old ideas and suddenly find a way to crack an unfinished track. For example I started ‘Remind Me’ around 2008 but couldn’t develop the idea so shelved it until 2015 when I listened again and found a way to finish the track.”
4. No piece of gear is a magic bullet
“The temptation of music producers is to think ‘if I just get THIS particular bit of hardware / software, THEN my tracks will sound great’. But the fact is, no one piece of equipment will suddenly make your music great. You probably already sound great. And if you dont, the gear isn’t going to make a difference anyway. Music technology is just there to support you the artist, YOU make IT sound good, not the other way around. If a certain bit of gear like a Moog synth makes you enjoy the creative process more, then cool but don’t think you can’t make good stuff without it.”
5. Keep it simple
“Try to do the most you can with the least amount of elements. ‘Simplicity’ is the hardest thing to do well but should be the ultimate goal of every artist.”
6. Nothing is sacred
“You want to do a bootleg remix of a classic track? You want to sample an uncool pop song? Do it, if you feel truly inspired to do so. If it’s bad it will be forgotten, if it’s good then people will be happy you took the risk. (Not legal advice haha.)”
7. Put emotion into your work
“The emotional vibe of your track is far, far more important than the technical proficiency of your track. I think ‘production’ can be leaned on like a crutch because it can make a producer feel like they are doing ‘right’, that the track is good because it sounds technically accomplished. But this can be used to cover up the fact the track is not emotionally resonant. Anyone can learn production technique but you can’t learn how to make a deeply affecting work of art and that can be scary to an artist.”
8. Only play records you love
“It sounds obvious but a good bit of DJing advice I heard from John B was only ‘only play good records in your sets’. I think you really should only play tracks that you love or at least really like in your DJ sets, which I would hope is the default approach DJs have to putting a set together but I get the feeling sometimes people play tracks just because it gets a certain reaction from an audience and not because they really believe in the music themselves.”
9. Learn your craft on budget equipment
“Learn to DJ on the crappest equipment you can and on as many different setups as you can. If you learn using only the best, industry standard gear then you wont be prepared for random little gigs that had to use replacement, second-rate decks at the last minute.”
10. Play to an audience
“When you start out as a bedroom DJ, try to get out and DJing in clubs or at least house parties as soon as possible. It doesn’t matter if you are playing an early or really late set when not many people are there. Real world experience of DJing for a live audience, however small, is invaluable and cannot be prepared for by DJing alone at home. You also need to get used to the acoustics of DJing at a venue with a monitor, it’s very different to your home setup.”
Stream ‘True Colours’ (20th Anniversary Edition + Remixes) below: