Tom Demac the Welsh pro­ducer serves up his lat­est genre­de­fy­ing oeu­vre; FM in­ves­ti­gates…

Future Music - - CONTENTS -

Born and raised in North Wales, Tom Demac had to travel far and wide for his love of dance mu­sic. Nav­i­gat­ing an as­sault course of muddy raves he set­tled on his first love – gab­ber, the pun­ish­ing sub-genre of hard­core techno. How­ever, by 2004 Demac had be­come trans­fixed by the more sus­tain­able and metic­u­lous craft of elec­tronic pioneers Roni Size and Jeff Mills. Ini­ti­at­ing tracks on his own Elec­tron­ique Au­dio im­print, the Welsh­man later honed his artistry on la­bels such as Mur­mur, liebe*de­tail and Hyper­colour, cap­tur­ing the imag­i­na­tion of his peers.

As Demac’s sound ma­tured with the ad­di­tion of rich, ana­logue tex­tures and crafted sound de­sign, he found him­self in­creas­ingly in de­mand as a pro­ducer, ghost writer and stu­dio en­gi­neer. To­day, Demac has never been more com­fort­able in his own skin, as he con­tin­ues to reel off a steady flow of gut­tural techno floor fillers.

Was techno on your radar grow­ing up?

“It was. I started out in a heavy metal band called Noc­tur­nal Drive: face paint - the works. I used to play bass and growl down the mic badly. There was a record shop in Llan­dudno and I used to hang around there. It was re­ally bad of me, but I was tak­ing my mum’s CDs – the ones I didn’t think she’d lis­ten to, like Michael Bolton – to a sec­ond hand book­shop to get more money to buy records.”

When did you start club­bing?

“When I was about 18 years old, I’d go to Hel­ter Skel­ter raves, Bowlers in Manch­ester and The Void in Stoke-on-Trent in my mate’s lit­tle Fiat Panda. We got into the re­ally hard side of techno – gab­ber and hard­core, and we’d all go en masse to le­gendary techno clubs like The Or­bit in Leeds and Atomic Jam in Birm­ing­ham. From there, I got hugely into Jeff Mills and Un­der­ground Re­sis­tance, but Roni Size’s Reprazent made me chill out a bit.”

Was this be­fore you stud­ied mu­sic tech?

“I went to Sal­ford Uni­ver­sity be­cause I knew some guys that were liv­ing up there. I was do­ing a sound and tech­nol­ogy course, but wasn’t re­ally that in­ter­ested be­cause while they were teach­ing us about acous­tics, I was go­ing home, smok­ing weed and learn­ing Acid Pro. In hind­sight, I’d be more fas­ci­nated in the the­ory, but all my pals were go­ing out on the pull. My mate had a dou­ble-decker garage in his gar­den, com­pletely dis­con­nected from the house, and we’d plug his whole stu­dio in via one plug from the out­side. He had a mas­sive, hor­ri­ble sound sys­tem and a Kit­ten synth. It’s been an un­healthy ob­ses­sion since then.”

Is it true your par­ents pinned you down and told you to get on with mak­ing mu­sic?

“That’s ex­actly what hap­pened. Af­ter uni­ver­sity, I lived in Manch­ester for a cou­ple more years. Then I went to Barcelona for a bit be­cause I had a mate who’s a mas­ter­ing en­gi­neer. I drove my stu­dio and records out there, rinsed my credit card and had to bail out back to Wales. Af­ter a year or two of me con­stantly go­ing at the mu­sic, mum and dad told me to sack my job off and move into their ho­tel, which was on its last legs re­ally. It was like Phoenix

Nights, a sea­side town in Wales with turkey and tin­sel nights. There was a flat down­stairs that no one had been in for years and my par­ents told me to give it six months mak­ing mu­sic in there. All the grannies would be go­ing to the loo and hear­ing boom, boom, boom in the base­ment. It was the start of what I be­came I sup­pose.”

How did you end up in Lon­don?

“I met this girl, fell in love and thought, fuck it. She got me down here, thank­fully. I was do­ing quite well tour­ing, al­though the dif­fer­ence in rent was quite ex­treme, but as soon as I moved to Lon­don I started do­ing pro­duc­tion work with the Hot Cre­ations crew. I’d go to stu­dios as a run­ner and cy­cle DAT tapes around the city, work­ing up to be­com­ing a stu­dio en­gi­neer and ghost writ­ing for peo­ple. Lon­don got me into that, and to this day I still do a lot of pro­duc­tion work along­side my mu­sic as Tom Demac. It gives me a bit of struc­ture and takes me out of my own in­su­lar lit­tle world.”

There are dark, jagged sounds run­ning through your tracks. Where does that come from?

“I don’t know. It’s weird be­cause I grew up leather­ing techno, and most of the records I bought were all Detroit techno. The year be­fore last, I took a back seat from mak­ing bangers and was try­ing to write an al­bum and change from be­ing a dance pro­ducer into some­thing more poppy. At one point, I was on the cusp of sign­ing for Ninja Tune but got dis­heart­ened so I binned the al­bum in the end.”

Did you want to stretch your mu­sic’s ap­peal be­yond the dance­floor into home lis­ten­ing?

“I got wrapped up in want­ing to be on Ninja Tune and bought into this whole idea of go­ing be­yond be­ing a dance guy and want­ing to pro­duce bands. There are only so many bangers you can make, but now I seem to have this darker iden­tity by adding things that you wouldn’t think would nec­es­sar­ily go into a dance track. I’m al­ways try­ing to process some crazy vo­cal or dark, lairy, jolt­ing synth sound that will dom­i­nate the track.”

A track like Bark Or Bite starts off ‘techno’ then gets quite dark, filmic and melodic be­fore re­turn­ing to source. What’s your in­spi­ra­tion for a track like that?

“Are you aware of Matthew John­son? He’s a big in­flu­ence on my melodies and the mod­u­lar synths are quite good for pro­duc­ing a lot of the twin­kling melodies in that track. Years ago, I re­leased a track called Crit­i­calDis­tance, which had the sound of a big mono poly synth bassline on it. Since 2012, that’s been a sig­na­ture sound for me.”

“When you’ve done this a long time, you hear ev­ery room your mu­sic was made in”

You seem to be able to fill the sound spec­trum us­ing quite a lim­ited sound pal­ette. What’s the tech­nique to that?

“I use a lot of ped­als when I’m record­ing the synths to make sure each sound gets pro­cessed slightly dif­fer­ently when I record them in. My Fo­cal speak­ers also pick out the mid-range quite acutely, so I can re­ally hone in on those awk­ward, weird-sound­ing 200-400 Hz mid-fre­quen­cies. I’ll al­ways get rid of those, and then it’s just down to balanc­ing the sounds. If I put a lot of pad sounds to­gether, it’s mostly about find­ing the dom­i­nant fre­quen­cies of each one so they’re singing at dif­fer­ent parts of the fre­quency spec­trum. I find Ableton’s EQ is great for tun­ing and find­ing the right spots.”

Pre­sum­ably, you can de­tect un­wanted fre­quen­cies by ear with the right speak­ers and an ad­e­quately sound­proofed room?

“If you’re us­ing hard­ware and work­ing with ana­logue wave­forms, whether it’s a high fre­quency sound, lead or a bass sound, you’re al­ways go­ing to get fre­quen­cies that you don’t want. You can ob­vi­ously see those on a spec­trum anal­yser, but if your ears are trained and you room’s prop­erly sound­proofed, then you’ll be able to iso­late those fre­quen­cies. It’s funny, but when you’ve been work­ing in this game for a long time, you can hear ev­ery room that your mu­sic’s been made in. In my old place, the nose of my kicks was never com­ing through. It was quite an open room, heav­ily treated, but it wasn’t a tight-sound­ing room. Now I’ve got this smaller room, which is a bit more pokey and there’s a bit of bleed com­ing through the wall from all the other stu­dios, but it sounds fuck­ing great and is prob­a­bly the most hon­est room I’ve had. So yes, speak­ers are im­por­tant, but if your room is treated cor­rectly, that’s just as im­por­tant.”

What gear do you most fre­quently turn to­wards to get the cre­ative juices flow­ing?

“If I’m in the mood to just jam and I’ve got no ideas or ref­er­ence points, I’ll go straight to the mod­u­lar gear just to see what hap­pens. I’ll see what riffs I can come up with or crazy sounds I can get work­ing just as a base. Some­times, it’s quite good to get an old record and start sam­pling some­thing. Even if you don’t use the sam­ple, it still gives you a tone, a key or a scale to build around. I also use the Korg Mono/ Poly quite a bit.”

For basslines pre­sum­ably?

“Yeah, it’s great for tweak­ing them. It’s al­ways here by my side and plugged in, and I know it in­side out so I’ll just try and work out a melody on the Korg or a bassline. I’m quite old school in that way; be­cause I’ve had so many bits of kit that didn’t have MIDI, I’ve al­ways com­mit­ted stuff to au­dio. From that point, I can go in the com­puter, recre­ate it and re­place the sound with some­thing else if I want to.”

Do you use the Korg Mini­logue just as much?

“I just love Korg. A lot of peo­ple love Roland and are Roland stal­warts. It’s pretty con­tro­ver­sial, and ob­vi­ously the 303, 808 and 909 are fun­da­men­tal pieces of gear, but I never re­ally got into them. I pre­fer the sound of Korg – it just sounds a bit more ag­gres­sive and a bit dirt­ier, whereas Roland sounds are a bit too clean and con­sid­ered, and you can tell them a mile off. The MS-20 has a re­ally nice char­ac­ter to it for basslines and leads, and al­though the Mini­logue is an ana­logue polysynth, you can save all your pre­sets.”

Talk­ing of Roland, you have the TR-8. How does it com­pare to the orig­i­nal?

“I got in­vited along with a num­ber of other pro­duc­ers to try it out, along with the TB-3. They were do­ing a video say­ing it was a nod to the 909 and the 808, but I wasn’t im­pressed with it and I was a bit bru­tal in my ap­praisal. I said that ev­ery­one wants ana­logue, so why have you made it dig­i­tal? But of course they sold like hot cakes and I ended up buy­ing one, al­though I mainly use it live be­cause it’s so easy to use. It is a bit clean-sound­ing and it doesn’t have that unique tim­bre that the orig­i­nal 808 has when you turn it on, but if I chuck it through my Elek­tron Ana­log Heat or a UAD Apollo, it will give it some grit and make it sound a bit warmer and more char­ac­ter­ful.”

Do you plug most of your hard­ware through the out­board be­fore go­ing into the DAW?

“It depends on the source. When you’re print­ing to au­dio, which is kind of how I work, it’s of­ten a dou­ble-edged sword. I like to make sure I get a good long record­ing, which makes the edit­ing process a bit more dif­fi­cult, but some­times when you’ve recorded some amaz­ing jam through a bunch of ped­als there’s far too much de­lay and re­verb.

Some­times it’s bet­ter to record things dry, add ef­fects in the box or send them out of the box via the patch bay and into some­thing else so at least you’ve got the dry ver­sion. It’s funny be­cause when you have a hard­ware ver­sion of a com­pres­sor you al­ways want to overdo it, but you’re more sub­tle with the soft­ware be­cause you know there’s al­ways the op­por­tu­nity to do it again.”

What soft­ware are you us­ing th­ese days?

“I started off with Acid Pro, then Ableton was the log­i­cal move and I’ve never looked back. I work most of the time in Ses­sion View and hate ar­rang­ing mu­sic, so un­less some­one’s pay­ing me to do it I’ll stay as long as pos­si­ble record­ing stuff in Ses­sion View and solo­ing dif­fer­ent sounds. I know it’s re­ally counter-pro­duc­tive, be­cause I can dick around in there for a day when I could have made an ar­range­ment in an­other DAW much quicker, but Ableton’s re­ally nice for jam­ming sounds and very easy to record out­board equip­ment into. Plug­in­wise, UAD plug­ins are pretty fun­da­men­tal to what I do and I love Val­halla re­verbs and Na­tive In­stru­ments’ Kon­takt for when I want to get that dif­fer­en­ti­a­tion be­tween the warmth of ana­logue and the clean, pris­tine sound of dig­i­tal.”

You have quite a few gui­tar ped­als too, set up in chains?

“Yeah, I’ll use them in chains, with groups of them go­ing into the patch bay. I just like hav­ing them set up in cer­tain con­fig­u­ra­tions, so if I want to do jams I can put ev­ery­thing through two or three dif­fer­ent ef­fects chains that will have re­verbs and a fil­ter on them. You’ll of­ten find me driv­ing stuff through the Ana­logue Heat, the Mooger­fooger or the Acid­box, which is a clone of the Rus­sian Po­li­voks synth fil­ter.”

When did you start get­ting into mod­u­lar, and specif­i­cally Euro­rack?

“About 18 months ago. It was a bat­tle with my­self re­ally be­cause I was re­fus­ing to play ball and didn’t want to take the plunge, but I’ve got a re­ally old friend based in Wales called Stee­vio who’s on YouTube and is a bit of a mod­u­lar pi­o­neer. He was al­ways say­ing, ‘What you do­ing? Get into bloody mod­u­lar man’, and he’s got walls and walls of the stuff. The old wives tale is that it’s a bit of a rab­bit hole and once you go down it you’ll never come back, but I’ve kept it quite con­trolled. I started off with a small Doepfer sys­tem, which is quite a cheap and generic start­ing point, and grad­u­ally built it up over time. A lot of peo­ple get into it, sell ev­ery­thing they own, build a ten grand sys­tem, and eight months later haven’t made a sin­gle piece of mu­sic.”

Do you have to be self-dis­ci­plined, not just in terms of buy­ing mod­ules, but how you think about in­te­grat­ing them into your work­flow?

“I’ve slowly eased my­self into it. I was late in the game be­cause there was a lot of hype about it and I’d al­ways seen th­ese videos on­line and thought a lot of it sounded like fuck­ing non­sense. I thought that I wouldn’t know what to do with it and would just sit there mak­ing silly sounds. Now, hav­ing built it up and bought some­thing ev­ery cou­ple of months, I’m over that fear of not know­ing if I’m go­ing to get some­thing out of mod­u­lar. So much so, that it’s be­come a sig­na­ture of my sound.”

Do you think you need some form of self­e­d­u­ca­tion be­fore jump­ing into that world, rather than just go­ing with the ‘hype’?

“A lot of peo­ple want to ex­pe­ri­ence mod­u­lar straight away, and you can ob­vi­ously watch tu­to­ri­als on­line and learn about it first, but from a user per­spec­tive it’s bet­ter if you have some­thing that teaches you how a syn­the­siser works so you can get to learn about wave­forms, en­velopes and the rest of it. For ex­am­ple, if you buy an old Roland SH-101 or a Korg MS-20, it’s clear as day be­cause it’s all very eas­ily laid out on the fa­cia where the en­velopes are, the fil­ter sec­tion and each of your os­cil­la­tors. To me, that makes per­fect sense and I think those ma­chines are a great gate­way into mod­u­lar. Even if you look at quite a sim­ple mod­u­lar rack, it’s con­fus­ing to any­body that’s inexperienced.”

Can you pin­point what you most get from the sys­tem you’ve de­signed?

“Well now I know ex­actly what I want to get out of it, whether it’s a lead, a melody, some crazy snare drum or a white noise sound. I want sounds that are go­ing to evolve, not in a ran­dom way, but an in­ter­est­ing way, as I’ve al­ways liked evolv­ing synth sounds. For ex­am­ple, I’ve got this lit­tle in­put module here that means I can bring in ex­ter­nal sounds, whether it’s a sam­ple or other synth sounds from my hard­ware, and run them through all the ef­fects, en­velopes and fil­ters. Now mod­u­lar has be­come a fun­da­men­tal part of my stu­dio be­cause I can af­fect au­dio with it, which makes it a use­ful ef­fects unit.”

What key mod­u­lar pieces do you rec­om­mend?

“Make Noise MATHS module, which you tend to see in every­body’s mod­u­lar set­ups. Again, it was some­thing that I didn’t have a clue about at first and ev­ery video I watched baf­fled the shit out of me, but once you start us­ing it, it makes per­fect sense. It can be used as a sound source as well as be­ing a very strong util­ity for un­lock­ing the func­tion­al­ity of your other noise-gen­er­at­ing mod­ules. The In­tel­li­jel Me­trop­o­lis is a very use­ful pitch and gate se­quencer and the Mutable In­stru­ments’ Clouds module is great for cre­at­ing re­verb-textured syn­the­sis­ers where you can take frag­ments of sound and make th­ese crazy am­bi­ent pads.”

You have a few vin­tage-look­ing synths. Tell us about The Kit­ten, which you men­tioned ear­lier?

“Oc­tave made The Kit­ten and The Cat, which is the big­ger one. In the early days above my mate’s garage, we had The Kit­ten in the stu­dio but couldn’t make it work prop­erly. All we could get was th­ese in­sane, ran­dom noises. It was the first synth I played on and we’d record stuff from it onto a four track. Fun­nily enough, this same guy now works in Lon­don and some­times we share the stu­dio. He brought it back, so here it is again 10-15 years later. Some days it works, some days it

doesn’t, but when it does work it sounds re­ally unique and has a mind of its own.”

You have a few other vin­tage synths too?

“I’ll use the Yamaha CS-5 for stringy por­ta­mento sounds – it’s a bit thin for bass, but still has its uses. The Arp Odyssey, which is ac­tu­ally the mod­ern refaced ver­sion, has a very gnarly, ag­gres­sive sound. It’s re­ally good if you want to cre­ate a crazy lead or some un­set­tling sound that re­ally pokes out in a record. It’s a real beast, but it was hard to get my head around the in­ter­face at first be­cause it has quite a dif­fer­ent ar­chi­tec­ture.”

We un­der­stand you use the Marantz tape recorder in rather a novel way?

“Yes, my Marantz tape ma­chine is ba­si­cally a cas­sette tape ma­chine that’s great for field record­ings and ar­guably one of the best ever made. You al­ways used to see them wheeled into the room dur­ing those ’80s TV court­room dra­mas. If I’m us­ing shak­ers or hi-hats, I’ll run them through the Marantz and they sound in­cred­i­ble. Some­times I’ll even run vo­cals through it to make them wider, be­cause it’s got a great tape com­pres­sor on it and its own lit­tle lim­iter. My reel-to-reel ma­chine has taken a back seat since I got this, but it was quite ex­pen­sive. You can re­ally hear the dif­fer­ence be­tween some­thing that’s been played out of a com­puter and some­thing that’s been com­mit­ted to reel-to-reel or cas­sette tape.”

You have a cou­ple of spring re­verbs too. Do they bring some­thing unique to sound shap­ing?

“They pro­duce a very spe­cific sound, quite dif­fer­ent to plate re­verbs, which are a lot more ex­pen­sive. Big synth sounds with a touch of spring re­verb sound like noth­ing else. There’s a beau­ti­ful tone to the re­verb and it adds warmth and a bit of noise. If you clat­ter the springs they make quite an amaz­ing sound, es­pe­cially if you can get them amped to the right level or ca­bled up to a Euro­rack module.”

…and fi­nally, are you quite proud of your Fo­cal Twin speak­ers?

“I ac­tu­ally have quite a love/hate re­la­tion­ship with them. They nor­mally cost three grand, but one of them fell off a stand so I ended up get­ting them for £1,000. They had a rat­tling left speaker for about three years and I thought I’d have to send them back to Fo­cal in France, but a dis­trib­u­tor out­side of Lon­don re­placed the whole case for me. They’re fully func­tion­ing now and sound great in here. They’re a bit too big for a small space but are bru­tal in re­veal­ing prob­lems in your mid-range, es­pe­cially the weird hums you get in the low mids when you’re us­ing ana­logue gear.”

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