Why Manchester is the new creative epicentre of neo-soul and hip-hop
David Corney AKA Hyetal: I wanted this to be the first track on the album as a sort of curveball. There’s nothing else that sounds like this on there really. I was going for something like Neu with the drums, really propulsive and mechanical. It was the only track that I started when I was away, I ended up effecting a lot of stuff in hardware when I got home. The
drums were distorted through my desk, there’s also a layer of my headphones mic’d up and recorded. Most of the delays are from a Boss RE20 space echo clone which I used a lot on the record.
James Ginzburg: More than anything when we mixed the album we were looking to create a cohesive sound across all the tracks. What Dave brings in to mix is already very full of character and well engineered, so we were mostly focused on finding processes that both enhanced what was already there and tied the tracks together sonically.
After we finished mixing this track we felt it still lacked a little something, so we ran the entire mix through a couple of boss distortion pedals and mixed that back behind the original mixdown.
City Is Ours
Hyetal: City Is Ours is one of the more minimal arrangements on the album. Distorted Linn drum samples, two very digital-sounding soft synths, a few tracks of live percussion and vocals. We recorded it at my studio, which had recently been upgraded from my bedroom to the dining room in the house I rent. It took some convincing for Alison (Garner) to do the high octave layer in the chorus. It’s at the very top of her range and a real stretch for her but I somehow managed to convince her it would sound cool layered up. I was shooting for a sort of dream pop thing with industrial-ish drums.
James Ginzburg: I thought we processed the “guitars” Dave recorded with the Culture Vulture and a 1081 clone on this one, but Dave just told me that they weren’t actually guitars, they were synths run through an amp simulator. Oh well. The 1081 clone came from china and sounds pretty close to the real deal, but they are decidedly low quality in build.
All the synths went through my legit Neve 1073, which gave them a bit of extra life, and after this track we ended up using it on the mid range synths on most tracks.
“There are layers of ambient sound and noise mixed underneath each track on the album. For me that helps set it all in a world outside of the computer.” – Hyetal
Playing the Game
Hyetal: This one is really densely layered up with synths and lots of sound design type stuff. As a continuation of ‘Broadcast’, there are layers of ambient sound and noise mixed underneath each track on the album. For me that helps set it all in a world outside of the computer. I’m really into the sound of acoustic space in old recordings, so techniques like that generally make everything work better for me.
Drums were a kit I’d made from a few different samples but they went through loads of processing. I recorded some stuff into the Casio SK1 which is a toy keyboard with an 8bit sampler. The dog barks are off of there, it reminds me of my old school music room.
James Ginzburg: We spent hours getting the dog barks right on this one, but rest assured we compressed them humanely.
Hyetal: This is the first thing I wrote after buying an Oberheim DX drum machine. The whole thing really was balancing the glossy sounds like the Korg M1 choir and some FM bells with the low bit stuff; All the drums being off the DX apart from a ride cymbal sampled off an old punk record. The marimba is from the SK1 again, that ended up
featuring on a few tracks on the album.
James Ginzburg: As a parallel process on the drums we used a custom distortion box
that my friend Mat Sampson made for me. It’s a recreation of the gain stage of a crappy 1970s tape player I had laying around, except he’s built it in stereo. I had been using this tape player for its distortion for years but had to distort the left and right on separate passes to get stereo. It’s amazing for drums, in terms of sound it’s somewhere between an 1176 with all 4 buttons pushed in and a valve saturation sound, though it only cost £60 to make and full of crap components. We used a TL eq2 to eq the kick and snares before the drum bus got an overall eq.
Hyetal: This one was mainly DX drums, some heavily processed samples I’d found, 2 synths and Gwilym [Gold]‘s vocal. Offsetting atmospheric sound design/ synth bits with very raw drum machines was kind of the blueprint for quite a bit of the album. A few of my friends were playing it out as an instrumental and I hadn’t really considered a vocal on it, it does work in a club sense in a weird way, but when I started working with Gwilym we decided to try some stuff. He sent me back this choral kind of harmony which took it into a different place.
James Ginzburg: On the vocals we used my Great British Spring reverb that was saved from a friend’s attic who had no idea what it was. It was in desperate need of recapping at the time of the mix so it had a pretty dark and somewhat crunchy sound to it but that worked well to counterpoint the lovely digital reverb (a 1980s digital Roland Dep-5) Dave had.
Hyetal:* This was sent to Gwil as what I thought was a nearly finished track. He asked for the stems to record with and when he sent his demo back – he’d added the Rhodes/verse sections which I really loved. The whole thing got completely overhauled and we recorded what we thought was another demo at his house but the takes were so good we ended up running with them. Knowing when to draw the line on recording and put character over conventional “quality” were kind of rules for the record.
“Knowing when to draw the line on recording and put character over conventional ‘quality’ were kind of rules for the record.” – Hyetal
James Ginzburg: There was a bit of corrective compression needed on the Rhodes and vox on this track. Dave and I locked horns on this drum sound on this one, which led to a four hour argument tediously exploring the line between lo-fi and bad production. Riveting stuff.
Hyetal: A basic version of this track came together really quickly sequencing an 808 I’d borrowed off a friend with the DX shaker and recording a melody line played live from a soft synth over the top. It got fleshed out with loads of layers of atmospheric sound, some M1 choir again, SK1 marimba and quite a bit of live percussion. I put some of the sequenced audio a bit out of time and theres a lot of unquantized live stuff on there too which helps give that weird groove. I’m singing at the end, it was pretty heavily auto-tuned.
James Ginzburg: This track had really harsh treble spikes in the lead synth so we had
to aggressively notch certain frequencies out. In the end we used a octave pitch shift to full the sound out, and then delayed the right channel by a few milliseconds to give the sound a really wide feel. The bass at the end got processed with the Culture Vulture so that the chicks would know what time it is. Or they could consult the original 24 bit .aiff file which would tell them the time was November 17th, 10:46:17 PM (GMT).
Hyetal: Another DX tune, the basic structure was written with that and an organ sound off my Roland Alpha Juno. There’s a few layers in the verse sections and about 100 in the chorus, it’s a sort of rock band dynamic I guess. I built it up with samples from all over the place, records, tapes, Youtube. There’s a sample of a Japanese voice which I cut up into individual syllables and programmed as a percussion part, that ended up getting used on a couple of other tracks too. It’s my dulcet tones you can hear in the second section, I’m doing my best Beach Boys impression.
James Ginzburg: I accidentally sent the synths on this track through the parallel compression and distortion on the drum bus, but it sounded interesting so we ran with it, or I kept it to myself and hoped Dave didn’t notice the mistake. I wheeled out my Aphex exciter for the vocals on this one, though I only have one of the more modern crap ones, the original units are much better. The guitars on this one went through a Choralush chorus pedal I bought in Montréal a few years ago.
Jam the Network
Hyetal: It’s the 808 I’d borrowed again on this track but the kick and snare got really processed. They were recorded into my mpc2000xl then resampled at a low bit rate, it’s a pretty tedious technique but it gives a nice distortion to the sound. The whole bass line was played live in one take, it came off my Roland sh09, the timing is pretty shocking at places if you listen closely but I wanted that loose feel. A held chord going though 100% wet through a roland DEP5 reverb is the most prominent layer in the atsmopheric stuff.
James Ginzburg: Tom Bugs lent me a prototype of his new Bugbrand PEQ mono eq to test, and I used it on the synth bass line on this track. It’s a really awesome and useful eq to have around, I ended up buying it to use for studio and live situations. Dave fills up a lot of the space in a mix with analogue synths, samples and noise, which creates a lovely colorful texture to his records, so we ended up using loads of stereo spreaders to give them a touch of their own space in the stereo image.
Hyetal: The first song I wrote for Alison after ‘Broadcast’. It’s the only track on the album where the vocals were recorded with any professional studio stuff. I wanted a bit more of a conventional high quality sound on this, it’s kind of an over the top Hollywood-inspired love song, so recording it a bit cleaner seemed fitting. A Siel orchestra backs up her vocal line on the chorus which is an old 70s string machine I picked up really cheap. Bass was sh09 again I think. Everything else came together on the computer.
“I wanted a bit more of a conventional high quality sound on this, it’s kind of an over the top Hollywood-inspired love song”- Hyetal
James Ginzburg: I think this was the only track we re-recorded the vocals for at Multiverse. Alison’s voice is super breathy and sibilant, which was exaggerated even further by using a Neumann m147 valve Mic, which is a really beautiful microphone, but ultra sensitive to hi frequencies. I used the de-esser on my BSS DPR402 aggressively on the vocal before it went through a limiter and a compressor. The BSS is more common in live sound applications, but its one of the most powerful and definitely the most configurable compressors I’ve used. The limiter that followed is set just to catch the peaks so that the compressor is reacting to the dynamics of the vocal rather than rogue peaks. Even with the deessing, we had to cut all the esses out of the vocal and turn them down manually anywhere from 2 to 6 db.
Hyetal: The main melody sound is a sampler instrument I made from recording a very small part of a tone off an old soundtrack record. Lots of different atmospherics layered up as usual.
James Ginzburg: We sent this whole track through the spring reverb unit and then
compressed it a few times rather than actually do a track by track mixdown.
Hyetal: This started off as an instrumental tune. It was the first thing I sent to Gwil and it ended up getting completely reworked into Four Walls. I’ll probably still do something with the original at some point as they became 2 very different tunes.
It’s the 808 again, I think a few different soft synths a lot of stuff put through the Roland DEP-5. I was listening to a lot of jerk stuff at the time so that was a big influence on the drum programming. I wanted to make a really cinematic jerk track.
The noise swell at the end was actually done in mastering with Matt Colten at Alchemy, we still made quite a few creative decisions at that stage.
James Ginzburg: Gwilym send over this vocal in stems, so we compressed each stem
separately with the waves rvox plugin, which is more or less totally transparent before compressing the whole vox with the Compex limiter. The transformers in the Compex make it a really characterful box that seems to really compliment vocals… though it sounds amazing on most things… I would put one on the master bus if it wasn’t so noisy. We ended up using the same process, a Drawmer 1961 eq and a modified Drawmer 1968, on the master bus on every track and mixed into it and a digital limiter so there would be no unpleasant surprises in mastering particularly in terms of snare volume.