Aesthetic _ Interview with CTRLS
Now that’s an answer! I must ask about how you approach rhythms… coming from a d’n’b background, do you see a big difference in your approach with techno?
Well for the last few years of my active drum’n’bass career my whole approach was to make drum’n’bass sound as techno as possible (check out “The Beat” by Pyro on Digital Venom) but without it turning into complete gabber. So in a sense there’s not a huge difference since I don’t look at techno as a purely 4 to the floor kind of thing. The Pyro stuff was always known for the hyperactive percussion I used but I was getting a bit frustrated with having to calm things down (in terms of note divisions) in order to do something a bit more complex that wouldn’t become a complete mess. But when I started working around the 120-140 range it was so refreshing because all these options opened up that would’ve just become a mess at drum’n’bass tempos. I also fell in love with polymeters which is a good example of something that becomes a lot more inviting at slower speeds since you don’t have to micromanage everything to avoid rhythmic clutter.
I also noticed I’ve become even more groove obsessed after slowing things down, as cliché as it sounds my house project definitely had something to do with that. Since then I do a lot of exploring of the rhythmic properties of stuff like reverse hits and how different sounds (source and processing) feel playing various rhythms instead of just throwing some cool hits together and hoping it works out. To me fast (130-140ish) techno has the same intensity as faster music like drum’n’bass, sometimes more. It’s probably got something to do with how much bass you can squeeze into faster rhythmic patterns. If you’ve ever tried doing a 16th note machine gun bassline at 170BPM you’ll know what I mean, there’s a limit to how short you can make the notes before they lose all their weight. And that in turn limits the range of notes you can use, as well as timbres. I noticed a lot of the fast metal guys play and tune their instruments so the weight comes more from the harmonics then the fundamental but I like my low end big and dubby, and if you combine that with my love of frantic rhythms my natural environment seems to currently be techno .
But my main trick to get a good rhythm going, which hasn’t changed for a couple of years now, is to look at, well, nature basically. I’ll use velocity assignment and modulation so that I can get some of the same expression controls as you get on an acoustic instrument. I like looking at how drummers play and how they use the materials of the drums to get different sounds and feels. I get really disappointed with electronic dance music sometimes because they don’t do anything to make things feel like they’re alive; it all gets way too functional for me precisely because too many producers are using the same tried and tested rhythms. Sometimes I think the sampling culture is holding things back a little because a lot of people just sample their way to various rhythmic feels without actually understanding them. I make a serious point of exploration because even if you do end up backing off from trying to work heavy metal double kick drums or Steve Reich style rhythmic phasing into techno, or whatever crazy idea you have going, it will still affect you and impact your music.