The Swiss deep house maestro talks about vintage inspiration, digital tools, and how he keeps his drum tracks in check.
Noted for deep and dubbed-out productions that encompass the whole house and techno landscape, Agnes has compiled an enviable back catalogue on a host of deeper-leaning labels including Drumpoet Community, Einmaleins Musik, Plak and his own much-vaunted Sthlmaudio. A talented musician, a lover of both analogue and digital, and a self-confessed perfectionist, Agnes spared us twenty minutes for a quickfire S2S Q&A session:
What is the prognosis for the music industry: terminal decline or steady recovery?
I don’t know. Personally, I sometimes find it a battle to stay interested in the whole scene. As a DJ there is an avalanche of new music being issued every day and it’s a huge effort to trawl through it all to find the music you want. Lately, when looking for records to play at gigs I’ve found myself digging on Discogs as much as the big download sites: what that says about the industry I’m not sure.
Who’s currently rocking your world as a producer and why?
There is one track that has been blowing me me away lately. It’s Vintage Hunter by STL. It’s the shit!
What one piece of kit or plug-in can you not live without?
My weapon of choice is BPM by Mark Of The Unicorn. It’s a drum machine-like plugin that I couldn’t live without – it just sounds so fat. You can also really melt and mash things together to the point where you have something that sounds awesome but nothing like the samples you started with. Couple it with an Akai MPD18 (which you can get pretty cheaply) and you’re all set. I decided to get it when Maschine came out. I thought: “Everybody will get Maschine. I want to sound different, I’m getting BPM”. It was a wise choice.
I also use the Kontakt sampler from Native Instruments. It offers so many creative possibilities. What I like most about it is its flexible output buses on which you can apply any effect combinations – EQ, limiting, whatever. The convolution reverb also produces some amazing sounds.
When building a track how do you normally work? Do you start with the drums and build from that?
It depends on the project I’m working on, but I tend to start with drums when making house – aiming to get them as bright and fat as possible early in the writing process. I like to keep things simple and streamlined – having drums well balanced over four neat channels appears more sensible to me than spread over 10 messy channels.
I never really use loops. Instead I prefer to make beats with single hits so I have complete creative control over every aspect of the rhythm. This approach can have its down sides though. Because it takes so long to generate the initial drum beat, I often tire of the track before I’ve got much further than a single loop. The tracks that end up getting finished tend to come together very quickly. The ones that take a long time end up as casualties on my hard drive.
Any advice on monitoring? Quiet? Loud? Do you prefer flat and boring speakers, headphones or big, phat and chunky monitors?
I’m primarily working with Yamaha NS-10M studio monitors. I’ve had them for about 15 years and they’re still going strong. I’m so used to them that I don’t think I could do without them. If something sounds great on the NS-10s then it will typically sound great on any system. I also have a pair of Sennheiser HD25 headphones which get used quite a lot. I tend to monitor at very low volumes: I only bump it up for short listening bursts.
What are the biggest barriers new producers face?
The biggest challenge is originality – breaking away from the over-use of pre-programmed loops and being confident in both your taste and sound design abilities when working with samples.
Samples are the raw ingredients of electronic music making. Your choice of which original samples to use, and how to treat them, will dictate the particular brand of music you make – will formulate your unique *sound*. That initial choice is hugely important – and more so than many people realise.
What three pieces of kit / software could you not mix without?
1. Alpha Juno-1: cheap and great sounding.
2. Akai MPC-1000. I love it. No matter what you throw in, something great (nearly) always comes out.
3. Samples! My music is 95% samples, I love them, but it’s important to use them in an original way.
If you could give one piece of advice to yourself when you started out in music, what would it be?
Trust yourself and don’t pay too much attention to other peoples’ opinions.
What do you find hardest to get right when making a track?
Getting a great mixdown. Sometimes you can’t hear all the frequencies that a synth or sample is hitting so it’s important to use a spectrum analyser tool like the cool – and free Voxengo Span – which I prefer to the one bundled with my DAW.
Sometimes I feel bad when I listen to older records – something like Alice Coltrane’s Journey in Satchidananda, for example – and compare that to the kind of mix I get out of my sequencer. Comparing the two I’ll think: “There’s a world of brightness, space and clarity between this and that”. Some periods of music production have been characterised by mixes with incredible depth and richness. I’m not sure our whole digital approach will allow that kind of sound again.
Mastering: do you go to a professional mastering house or do you do it yourself?
I always use a professional mastering service. It’s a must for me. A mastering engineer has all the compression and high-end analogue audio weaponry you’d ever need. On top of that there is no plugin that will replace a skilled engineer’s ears.
My engineer gives me advice on tracks, like: “Hey, drop that bassline by 3dB and I could get way more out of the whole track,” and such tips are invaluable.
When considering whether to master a track it’s also worth thinking about the lifespan of your track. What you release today will (hopefully) be around for a long time, so it’s worth ensuring you’ve done everything you can to get it sounding perfect.
words courtesy of: http://www.soundstosample.com
Djaimin - Open The Door (DJ Shorty's Zanzibar Stomper Mix) [Slip 'n' Slide]
Ly - Back 2 Zanzibar (King Street Mix) [Nite Grooves]
Agnès - Got To Be Strong [Ornate Music / Unreleased]
Blakkat - Faux (Agnès - South London Boro Mixx) [Variance Recordings]
Inner Soul Feat. E Scott - I'm In Need 4 U [Power Music Records]
Le Loup - Sistaaa (Brother Agnès Slightly Kickedclappedhat'd Up Edit) [Wolf + Lamb / Unreleased]
Makam - La Fem [Sushitech Purple]
Lisa Shaw - Let It Ride (Herberts Strength Inside Dub) [Naked Music]
Zoë Xenia - Cravin [Bass Culture Records]
R.I.P. Productions - Bugsy's Theme [4th Floor Records]
Agnès - Hudd Traxx Demo V0999.999? [Hudd Traxx / Unreleased]
Cavalier - Drumpoet Demo V0987.654? [Drumpoet Community / Unreleased]
Agnès - Got That Music In My Mind [Hudd Traxx / Unreleased]