Counterculture – Roland drum samples and ominous basslines with the UK techno producer
Joseph Thomas Price AKA Third Son is a purveyor of dark, pounding house and techno. With releases on Cajual and Selador he’s clearly impressed some big names, so FM’s roving reporters took a trip to exotic Lower Clapton, London, to find out more about the production techniques behind his recent techno freakout Counterculture.
What was the inspiration behind Counterculture?
“There are two ways these sort of tracks come about: it’s either by jamming or by trying to replicate something that’s in your head.
Counterculture was probably a case of just jamming. Jamming usually leads to some sort of catalyst at least, and for me that’s the best way to make music because it tends to be more fresh. Just rolling with the punches rather than trying to squeeze something out. I think it’s better to not think too much!
“Counterculture probably would have started with the kick which is quite galloping in a way. So it’s all centred around that simple rhythm, and then I think from that came the percussive elements, which are almost a bit Latin in style. Then came the Moog idea which is that sort of grumbling sawtooth wave.”
Will you usually start with the low-end elements?
“It’s maybe better to start with the low end and make something really solid, than making something with keys or a thematic idea and then working backwards. There have been plenty of times where I’ve started with a little melody or something and then built the track that way, but you’re right, often it will start with the lower end for me.”
You find playing with hardware inspirational?
“For me there always has to be that hardware element, that sort of playable element. I really like recording in, as opposed to using MIDI, it adds a human element rather than just keeping it all really robotic and regimented. I think it’s definitely better to have that
human touch, because those little mistakes add a little bit of humanity to it I guess.”
Do you use swing quantisation?
“Yeah definitely... well, I’ll do it by hand. Depending on the element I will shift it myself. If it’s like 16ths or something I’ll shift it slightly to the right, so it’s got that swing. If you’re using 16th hi-hats you always want to shift them very slightly, certainly if the track’s quite straight and techno. Or, if it’s something housey and looser, then I have it swinging almost all the way! It depends on the track, but you always want to add that little human element.”
In terms of atmospherics, will you quickly get an idea of what you’re trying to head towards?
“Yeah, I think the track generally comes together pretty quickly in terms of atmosphere and what it’s headed towards. I think within a couple of hours there should be a good idea of what the track should sound like, or what it wants to sound like eventually. Weirdly my best tracks seem to be the ones that come together quickest. I wonder if you hear that a lot?”
Yes, all the time.
“I really like recording in, as opposed to using MIDI, it adds a human element rather than just keeping it all really robotic and regimented. I think it’s definitely better to have that human touch, because those little mistakes add a bit of humanity to it”
“More often than not with better tracks, I’ll spend more time mixing them down and tweaking the very fine elements. But yeah, I think the atmosphere should come together pretty quickly based on the first few ideas. Counterculture is quite heavy, with the way the kick is sequenced and then that bass comes in… as soon as I played around with that I thought, ‘OK, this is going to be quite a peak-time, heavy one’. It became obvious quite quickly.”
Managing the interaction between the kick and the bass is really important in dance music. Do you have any special techniques?
“I think the most important thing is getting a groove that works nicely. The easiest way to do that is to just make a bassline that completely avoids the kick. So keeping everything short and snappy is usually a good way to do it. If you do have bass that overlaps with the kick, just use sidechain compression. For that, I just use the basic Live Compressor which is good for that.
“Once you’ve made the groove, I think it’s worth putting the kick and the bass through their own bus. That way, you can glue them so it does sound almost like a single element and they’re really bouncing off each other nicely. So for that I tend to use an API 2500 from Waves. It’s just a VST plugin but it sounds great… and I think that’s pretty much it. I try to not to over-process everything!”