IN THE STU­DIO:

Techno trail­blazer Thomas Schu­macher has be­come a pil­lar of the Ger­man elec­tronic scene, push­ing the en­ve­lope with end­less cu­rios­ity. Danny Turner chats to the DJ-pro­ducer about his Nat­u­ral Rhythm EP se­ries

Future Music - - CON­TENTS - WANT TO KNOW MORE? Thomas Schu­macher’s lat­est re­lease Nat­u­ral Rhythm III is avail­able now on Noir Mu­sic. For up­dates and more visit www.thomass­chu­macher.com

Thomas Schu­macher The Ger­man DJ/pro­ducer gives us a glimpse at his stu­dio and tells all about his Nat­u­ral Rhythm EP se­ries

Thomas Schu­macher has long been known for his eclec­tic DJ sets and raw and in­tense techno re­leases stretch­ing back al­most 20 years. Adopt­ing an in­di­vid­u­al­is­tic ap­proach, the ‘Schu­macher style’ has be­come the driv­ing heart­beat for not just his own re­leases but nu­mer­ous high-pro­file remixes in­clud­ing Marc Al­mond, Frankie Goes to Hol­ly­wood, Depeche Mode and Afrika Bam­baataa.

In the stu­dio, Schu­macher stays true to the prin­ci­ple that techno de­mands rein­ven­tion. With its cre­ator’s fin­ger al­ways on the pulse, last year’s

Nat­u­ral Rhythm se­ries of EPs took one step back to move two steps for­ward. Re-em­brac­ing se­quenced 303 mo­tifs, Schu­macher dug deep into his emo­tional core to cre­ate a se­lec­tion of mes­meris­ing acid jour­neys, in­ter­locked with his trade­mark sig­na­ture breaks.

Take us back to your child­hood. We un­der­stand Depeche Mode’s Con­struc­tion Time Again was an in­flu­ence on you?

“It was the first LP I ever bought. I was com­pletely blown away by its sound, be­cause I’d lit­er­ally never heard any­thing like it. Later on, I be­came a huge fan of Depeche Mode be­cause I re­ally liked their in­dus­trial feel­ing and se­quenc­ing. I even pur­chased the Suzuki Melo­dion be­cause Martin Gore used it on Con­struc­tion Time Again and wanted to see what he did with it. It was in­ter­est­ing to dis­cover how he made it sound so cool, be­cause if you play the Melo­dion with­out any ef­fects it sounds more like a toy than a proper in­stru­ment.”

You did a remix for them re­cently?

“I did a trib­ute remix of Ev­ery­thing Counts to­gether with Vic­tor Ruiz at the end of last year and was able to work with all of the orig­i­nal tracks, which was so in­ter­est­ing be­cause I could see how they lay­ered one melody over an­other. Just for fun I tried to recre­ate the fi­nal mix, but it wasn’t easy – they put so much work into it to make it sound per­fect. It was the same as when I did a remix for Frankie Goes to Hol­ly­wood’ s Wel­come To The Plea­sure dome. I got 50 or 60 stems from the orig­i­nal record­ing. On one side, you get a re­ally good idea of the song­writ­ing and what’s re­ally hap­pen­ing, like the lay­er­ing of har­monies and all the in­tri­cate lit­tle sounds, but you also re­alise why they had proper mix­ing en­gi­neers that did noth­ing but bring it all to­gether.”

You re­leased a tril­ogy of EPS in 2017 ti­tled

Nat­u­ral Rhythm. How did you want the tracks to come across to club­go­ers?

“I didn’t start with a con­cept, it de­vel­oped dur­ing the record­ing of the sec­ond EP when I got into a flow and I could see there was a con­nec­tion be­tween the four tracks I had recorded. Right now, rave is com­ing back into the techno scene. There are th­ese orig­i­nal el­e­ments that a new gen­er­a­tion of pro­duc­ers are dis­cov­er­ing but us­ing in a to­tally new way, like th­ese old orches­tral stab sounds. Be­cause I DJ all the time, I hear th­ese tracks and they in­spire me to go back in time and use some of my old­est sam­ple banks to cre­ate some­thing that is rel­e­vant to 2018. I also get a big kick from play­ing th­ese tracks in my DJ set af­ter they’ve been re­leased.”

That’s the ben­e­fit of be­ing a DJ and pro­ducer…

“It’s the big­gest ben­e­fit. Not only can you test the tracks but you get the re­ward of play­ing a track out and get­ting a re­ac­tion. That re­ally in­spires me and I al­ways come back from a week­end of do­ing DJ sets into the stu­dio full of ideas.”

The EPs are full of mas­sive-sound­ing synth sound­scapes. Is this your mod­ern take on how techno can evolve past typ­i­cal bound­aries?

“Def­i­nitely. For the track Stella, which is the A-side of Nat­u­ralRhyth­mIII, there’s this mas­sive lead sound com­ing in the main break that de­vel­ops over 16 bars. I played around with the os­cil­la­tors com­ing from the Moog Sub 37, which is my favourite synth for this kind of lead sound. You would not have heard that in ’90s techno, be­cause it was all four bar loops with lots of fil­ter­ing and ef­fects, but th­ese days so much more is pos­si­ble.”

Do you build the track around melody or do you find it eas­ier to get rhythms bed­ded in first?

“I al­ways start with what I think will be the key el­e­ment of the song and then I build the beats and the groove around that. I’m al­ready work­ing on the break for what will likely be the fol­low-up to Nat­u­ral

Rhyth­mIII, which is the main part of the track. The track will prob­a­bly be around eight min­utes long, but I’ll lock the break in at around 3:30 and then it just flows. I don’t like do­ing it the other way around be­cause oth­er­wise you’re run­ning out of fuel.”

Do you find that se­quen­tial loop­ing can get a bit stale and pre­dictable?

“I do be­lieve that loop-based ar­rang­ing is not that help­ful. Some­times pro­duc­ers for­get to think out­side of the box, ‘play’ a lit­tle bit more or use MIDI. With loops there’s only that much you can ac­tu­ally do. For ex­am­ple, when I bought the Sub 37, I in­stalled the soft­ware that came with it and started to do all the au­to­ma­tion with soft synths and plug­ins but re­alised it’s not ac­tu­ally why I bought this ma­chine. Now, when­ever I use the Sub 37, I play it live, straight into Logic with­out any ma­jor edit­ing. I find that re­ally makes a dif­fer­ence, not just sound-wise but the feel­ing you can project. It’s not per­fectly au­to­mated or edited, but oozes char­ac­ter – and that lights me up!”

Do you be­lieve that some el­e­ment of your sound needs to link to techno’s core. And for you, is that the sound of the 303?

“I know I have my own style – the Schu­macher style. Hav­ing said that, I don’t like that to be a spe­cific sound or in­stru­ment, it’s more of a feel­ing. I’ve never been a fan of clas­sic loop-based techno with

min­i­mal changes; I like my tracks to have bold­ness with lots of drama in the ar­range­ment. I’ve re­ally en­joyed us­ing the 303 again – it’s on al­most ev­ery track. I used to own an orig­i­nal, and through­out the ’90s it was the Holy Grail, but now I re­ally en­joy us­ing the soft synth.”

The mu­sic sounds very ana­logue-driven, not just from the sounds cho­sen, but its sense of depth and power. Is that the case?

“It’s in­ter­est­ing that you no­tice that be­cause it’s not a con­scious de­ci­sion. But now I’m think­ing about it… yes. The main soft synths that I use are em­u­la­tions of the ana­logue ones. I still use the Ar­turia Mini V a lot, but I’m also a huge fan of u-he, which does fan­tas­tic soft synth em­u­la­tions. In 2004, I did an A/B test with my eyes closed be­tween an orig­i­nal Min­i­moog and the Ar­turia Mini V and couldn’t tell the dif­fer­ence. I re­alised from that mo­ment that the lines are so blurred, which is lib­er­at­ing if you don’t have the bud­get or can’t find the orig­i­nal gear.”

But you still find dig­i­tal sounds have some­thing to of­fer?

“If you gave me one to play around with, I would prob­a­bly love to have a Yamaha DX7, but my Roland Su­per JD-990 is a good ex­am­ple of a clas­sic dig­i­tal syn­the­siser that I still use ev­ery now and then, es­pe­cially when I’m look­ing for dig­i­tally dis­torted bass sounds. I wouldn’t be sur­prised if a lot of drum & bass pro­duc­ers used it a lot, be­cause the bot­tom end is still there and it’s still a re­ally good synth.”

You have a fairly sparse stu­dio with some well-cho­sen pieces of gear lit­tered around…

“I still use the Clavia Nord Rack 2 a lot in my pro­duc­tions for a very spe­cific rea­son; it does th­ese amaz­ing bell sounds that re­ally make my tracks stand out. If you solo the sounds, they’re just okay, but within a mix they bring ev­ery­thing to­gether beau­ti­fully. I love the feel­ing of the knobs, and that’s so im­por­tant. It’s the same with the Sub 37 and the old Wal­dorf Pulse Plus, which is hard to pro­gramme but the bass sound is so unique. Th­ese ma­chines help me feel very com­fort­able and get me in a su­per-cre­ative zone where things can flow.”

The Wal­dorf Pulse Plus is one of the few pieces of out­board you rely on?

“It’s my se­cret weapon when it comes to the ul­tra-low end. It’s hard to de­scribe, as any proper synth can do ul­tra-low fre­quen­cies well th­ese days, but the Wal­dorf has a cer­tain punch that I feel is dif­fer­ent. It has so much to do with psy­chol­ogy and that goes for so many pro­duc­ers and in­stru­ments. I saw this piece on YouTube about Óla­fur Ar­nalds who has so many syn­the­sis­ers, but he of­ten only uses one sound and never changes it be­cause it’s so good he doesn’t want any­thing else. If he needs to change the EQ he’ll do it on the mixer. That’s how I like to use out­board too, al­though I do like to pro­gramme sounds on soft synths as well.”

What other key hard­ware are you us­ing?

“One thing I use ev­ery now and then is the Mi­croKorg be­cause it comes with this re­ally cheap mi­cro­phone that you can do vocoder ef­fects on, whether for vo­cals or run­ning drums through it. I also still like to work with the Korg MS-20 – the minia­ture ver­sion they re­leased. The Korg MS-10 was the first synth I ever owned and, again, what is fun is that you have all the knobs and can do the patch­ing your­self. I still find it quite tricky to use, but that’s when the magic hap­pens.”

You’re not in­ter­ested in ex­tend­ing your knowl­edge of mod­u­lar be­yond that rel­a­tively small de­vice?

“I think a pro would say the MS-20 is ba­sic, but it’s com­plex enough for me. Mod­u­lar is a step too far. I’ll check out videos and I’ve tried them in shops, but they don’t ex­cite me. I went to a stu­dio the other day that had all th­ese cus­tom-made sum­ming mix­ers from ra­dio sta­tions. They sound amaz­ing be­cause you can run them through lots of chan­nels, do your sum­ming and bring ev­ery­thing back into the DAW. At that pre­cise mo­ment I had to have it, but an hour later I de­cided, thanks but no thanks.”

You pre­fer soft­ware for ef­fects pro­cess­ing?

“That’s right. Early on, I de­cided to use Waves plug­ins. They were the first plug­ins I felt com­fort­able with be­cause the sound qual­ity is great.

“I like my tracks to have bold­ness with lots of drama in the ar­range­ment”

I’ve con­tin­ued to work with Waves, but over the years I’ve added some more to my col­lec­tion. I am ac­tu­ally con­sid­er­ing buy­ing a UAD card this year. For years, I’ve been work­ing with an RME Fireface 400 sound­card, which sounds amaz­ing, but tech­nol­ogy has moved on. I’m work­ing with the lat­est MacBook Pro but need three adapters to al­low ev­ery­thing to talk to each other, which is not ideal. I‘ve seen the plug­ins that come with the UAD cards, which are, again, em­u­la­tions of old gear, and they sound pretty good. So that’s on my shop­ping list.”

You pre­fer to use Logic’s DAW?

“Be­fore Logic I used C-Lab Cre­ator on my Atari com­puter. Later on, they started Logic and I’ve been us­ing it ever since. When Ableton in­tro­duced th­ese great ways of ma­nip­u­lat­ing au­dio, I quickly got my head around it and started record­ing a cou­ple of tracks. At that point, Logic had fallen be­hind for quite some time, but al­though the au­dio ma­nip­u­la­tion on Ableton was much more fun and in­tu­itive, I re­ally strug­gled when us­ing it for ar­range­ment and the au­to­ma­tion was not up to par.”

So you switched back to Logic?

“I used Ableton in slave mode for a while, then Logic re­alised they had to do some­thing and caught up. But I’m a cu­ri­ous per­son, so if some­one tells me you can do some­thing new on a DAW I will cer­tainly check it out. It used to an­noy me that when you loaded an au­dio track into Logic, it did not know the tempo, but that’s changed now with Logic ver­sion 10.4.”

I’ve heard you’ve re­cently or­dered a SubPac?

“Yes, it’s some­thing that you strap to your chair and you can feel the vi­bra­tions of the bass in the mix. It’s the idea of you stand­ing in a club and lit­er­ally feel­ing the bass in your bones. In the last cou­ple of months I’ve talked to two fel­low pro­duc­ers and both told me that it changed the way they do their mixes, and the bot­tom-end on their tracks sounds re­ally good. As a DJ, you stand in the DJ booth and are so used to feel­ing the mu­sic, so it makes sense to be able to sit in the stu­dio and get th­ese vi­bra­tions. It ei­ther works for you or it doesn’t, but I’m cu­ri­ous.”

What tips would you give to get a pow­er­ful, loud bass with­out dis­tor­tion or los­ing clar­ity?

“First, I try to re­mem­ber not to crank up the vol­ume too much dur­ing the record­ing process and work at a level that’s not too harsh. I’m a big fan of tak­ing all the vol­ume faders down dur­ing mix­ing then bring­ing them back up. Es­pe­cially when it comes to hi-hats, be­cause when you un­der­stand how your ears start to shut down when lis­ten­ing to high fre­quen­cies it’s so much eas­ier to cre­ate a great mix. I don’t use many com­pres­sors dur­ing record­ing any­way and try to be care­ful with equal­i­sa­tion. In­stead of push­ing fre­quen­cies, try to find ones that you can re­duce a lit­tle bit, be­cause that al­most al­ways works. If you hear your mix and there is a sound that is a lit­tle bit un­der­rep­re­sented on a cer­tain fre­quency spec­trum, then just look for the other sounds that share the same fre­quency and re­duce them a lit­tle bit. Oth­er­wise, you quickly get into prob­lems be­cause you push and push and push and even­tu­ally it’s too much.”

Is there any­thing else you’ve learned that you wish you knew from day one?

“Know­ing what I know now, with the money I saved to buy my first com­puter, syn­the­siser or ef­fects rack, I would have ac­tu­ally in­vested in sound­proof­ing my stu­dio. It’s so im­por­tant, es­pe­cially with dance mu­sic and bass. Start with bass traps. Buy those guys, put them in the room and you’ll be so much bet­ter off, be­cause if you can’t iden­tify the ul­tra-low end or dif­fer­en­ti­ate be­tween when the kick starts and the bass comes in, it’s a real strug­gle.”

“If some­one tells me you can do some­thing new on a DAW I will cer­tainly check it out”

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