IN the st udio with:

Danny Byrd

Future Music - - CONTENTS -

The UK drum & bass king shows us around his cen­tral Bath stu­dio

Ab­sorb­ing an eclec­tic mix of house, UK garage, R&B and jun­gle in­flu­ences, Danny Byrd is an iconic fig­ure on the drum & bass cir­cuit. Danny Turner chats to the DJ/pro­ducer about the process be­hind his sig­na­ture style

The jewel in Hos­pi­tal Records’ crown, Bath-based drum & bass pioneer Danny Byrd has forged a rep­u­ta­tion for in­fus­ing the genre with a cross mix of generic styles. With a no­to­ri­ous flair for mix­ing and pro­duc­tion, Byrd’s discog­ra­phy is de­fined by hit remixes such as Liq­uid’s Sweet Har­mony and clas­sic dance­floor tracks in­clud­ing Ill Be­hav­iour, which punc­tured the main­stream top 40 in 2010. Al­bums such as Su­per­sized, Rave Dig­ger and

Golden Ticket are a cel­e­bra­tion of Byrd’s unique take on drum & bass. Ear­lier this year, he set the club world ablaze once again with the mono­lithic an­them Devil’s Drop from his lat­est al­bum re­lease

Atomic Funk. Five years in the mak­ing, it’s a 15-track, funk-fu­elled com­pen­dium of drum & bass floor fillers, pay­ing homage to jun­gle’s past with sub-shak­ing rhythms and feel-good vo­cals.

Take us back to Ill Be­hav­iour in 2010, what was it like hav­ing a top 40 hit?

“It was ac­tu­ally mind blow­ing. It was one of my proud­est mo­ments be­cause no­body can take that away from me – even in 100 years’ time. It’s one of those things where a track just takes off. From the mo­ment Annie Mac played it for the first time on a Fri­day night it went crazy. It was one of the hard­est tracks I’d ever made. I think we had the in­tro and vo­cal very early on, but try­ing to match the drop with the vo­cal and all the dif­fer­ent basslines was tough – I re­mem­ber fi­nally crack­ing it on Christ­mas Day [laughs].”

Can you pin­point what ex­act fac­tors make a hit and what doesn’t?

“The la­bel chose it, but I said ‘re­ally?’ – I thought it was a club track rather than a radio track. The only thing you can guar­an­tee when it comes to dance mu­sic is that if it works re­ally well in the clubs then it will work on radio too, but the mo­ment you think you can pre­dict a hit is the mo­ment you’ll never have a hit again. You end up look­ing for a big sam­ple or a gim­mick with­out even real­is­ing it. Go­ing into the stu­dio with a pre­con­ceived no­tion that you’ve got to do some­thing usu­ally only leads one way.”

On the other hand, as much as try­ing to make a hit might not work, you can just as eas­ily cre­ate a hit by not try­ing?

“Ex­actly, and you never know what’s go­ing to take off. This year, we started off with a track called

Devil’sDrop, which was the Hottest Record in the World on Annie Mac. That was a track I wrote on tour in New Zealand the year be­fore. I didn’t hate it, but writ­ing and fin­ish­ing mu­sic on tour is a lot harder than it seems. I was sick of the track, so when the la­bel said they wanted to drop the sin­gle there was that whole thing again of me not un­der­stand­ing what’s go­ing to take off.”

Is the drum & bass scene still thriv­ing or has it taken a back seat to other forms of elec­tronic dance mu­sic?

“It’s re­ally healthy in the UK. At the end of the ‘80s peo­ple said hip-hop was a fad and wouldn’t last, but here we are, and drum & bass has done the same. Bath is not re­ally the epi­cen­tre of the genre, that would be Bris­tol, but if you go down to The Nest on a Fri­day night, drum & bass is al­ways the mu­sic that goes down best. But I went to col­lege in Bris­tol and have strong links. It’s such a cool city that’s birthed a lot of dif­fer­ent mu­si­cal gen­res – as long as it’s bass-heavy.”

Have you ever con­sciously changed your take on the genre over the years – to keep up with the times?

“You pick up on things when you’re DJing week in week out and get to see what’s work­ing. For ex­am­ple, in the last cou­ple of years I’ve no­ticed that stuff is a lit­tle more bass-heavy. Not EDM, but stripped-down stuff with heavy sub bass has been work­ing re­ally well, so I’ve in­cor­po­rated that into what I’ve been do­ing. My style is al­ways go­ing to be my style, but the kicks and snares have got cleaner and tighter and the mix downs are a lot cleaner and a lit­tle less loud, whereas the whole style of the 2000s was to throw trendy breaks on top of each other. So the fre­quen­cies have moved apart a bit. Ten years ago, the snare was a lot lower – a fat, 200Hz – now they’re all pitched up and sharper be­cause that al­lows you to put more bass in.”

Some drum & bass is dark and club-driven, but yours has al­ways been much more up­lift­ing and emo­tive? Does that stem from the rave cul­ture you grew up with?

“I just make what I make. Drum & bass mu­sic has be­come very min­i­mal and bassline-driven – in a good way. Some of the bass noises are crazy, but we’ve maybe lost a bit of the emo­tion. Then you can have tracks that have a lot of emo­tion, but no dance­floor qual­ity, which doesn’t in­ter­est me ei­ther. I’m aim­ing for that per­fect match be­tween the two.”

Your tracks seem more song-ori­ented now than on your de­but al­bum Su­per­sized?

“It’s in­ter­est­ing that you say the tracks are more song-like be­cause to me they’re more cut and paste. The RaveDig­ger al­bum was so suc­cess­ful that I got a lot of writ­ers, ses­sion mu­si­cians, vo­cal­ists and man­agers cir­cling, and I found that quite stress­ful be­cause that’s not very dance mu­sic to me. So I made the new al­bum at home us­ing sam­ples and had them re­done with vo­cal­ists. I also used an amaz­ing multi-in­stru­men­tal­ist called Pete Joseph to redo some of the sam­ples for me. There’s a track called Salute that has live horns on it, but they still sound like sam­ples be­cause I didn’t want them to stand out too ob­vi­ously as a live in­stru­ment. We just re­duced the bit rate to make them sound more like they were sam­pled from YouTube.”

So when you’re writ­ing the track you’re reimag­in­ing how the sam­ples will sound when played by real in­stru­ments?

“At first, I’ll just get the vibe down. If it works per­fectly, then I know that once the track is fin­ished

I’ll be able to sketch some­thing around that. The hard bit is get­ting that ini­tial in­spi­ra­tion. Most sam­ples can be re­placed. If not, we’ll just get them cleared. There’s a Pa­trice Rushen or­ches­tral sam­ple on the al­bum, but there’s no way you could recre­ate that – so we were bet­ter off go­ing for clear­ance. I’m not go­ing to tell you what the orig­i­nal sam­ple is on the track Devil’sDrop, but the re­sam­ple ac­tu­ally sounds a lot bet­ter. It’s sat­is­fy­ing when no one knows the jour­ney you took to get a sound, but those mo­ments are rare.”

Are the vo­cals recorded in per­son or re­motely?

“I don’t trust peo­ple do­ing stuff re­motely and have to have it done in my own stu­dio where I’ve in­vested in a nice vo­cal chain. Part of it’s about the son­ics of the record­ing, but it’s also about the per­for­mance, and no-one can go in­side my head and work out ex­actly what I want. For ex­am­ple, there was one vo­cal on the al­bum that was too hard to do so we re­ferred to a guy called Hal Rit­son of Re­play Heaven who does a lot of the big sam­ple recre­ations. He did the vo­cal for us and the cho­rus sounded amaz­ing but the verse wasn’t quite right. It was 95% there, so I just got on the train to Lon­don be­cause I knew be­ing there would im­me­di­ately make it per­fect. It’s not that I’m some vo­cal ge­nius; I just know how I want it, plus ev­ery­body’s based in Lon­don, and to be re­ally hon­est, no­body re­ally wants to come down to Bath [laughs].”

Talk­ing of vo­cals, we no­tice you have a cou­ple of mic pres in your kit list?

“A few years ago, I was look­ing to up­date my vo­cal sound be­cause I was us­ing the Neu­mann U87s straight into the sound­card, which can be good, but I was more into in­ves­ti­gat­ing big Amer­i­can vo­cal chains at the time. There’s a guy called Niki Melville Rogers who owns a stu­dio shop in Lon­don and he sug­gested the Neve vo­cal chain. So I’ve got a U87 mic go­ing into a Neve 1073N, and that goes into the Neve 1176 for a bit of com­pres­sion.”

You also in­te­grate acous­tic el­e­ments such as pi­ano and gui­tar. Are these tricky el­e­ments to add to a drum & bass track?

“They are, but I get a mas­sive kick out of it when it works. Like you sug­gest, acous­tics in drum & bass make you stand back and think, oh, that’s dif­fer­ent. I think drum & bass can al­ways in­te­grate those el­e­ments. You only have to look at Roni Size’s New

Forms. It was 20 years ago and he used lots of dif­fer­ent ses­sion play­ers, but, ul­ti­mately, those sounds would al­ways be chopped up in the sam­pler to bring them back into the dance mu­sic fold rather than hav­ing loads of crazy live in­stru­men­ta­tion. Some­times you’ve got to be pre­pared to try dif­fer­ent things and throw them at the wall.”

Early on, your beats sounded heav­ier and more sam­ple-based, now they’re a bit more sub­tle and in­te­grated into the mu­sic?

“Def­i­nitely, I’ve al­ways been a fan of Akai MPCs. I bought them with the aim of mak­ing hip-hop but al­ways tried to use them in drum & bass too. I was us­ing the MPC 2000XL back in the 2000s, but it was al­ways hard to in­cor­po­rate that into drum & bass be­cause I’d have to try and MIDI-sync it up to my Atari, which was a night­mare. Then Akai came out with the MPC Re­nais­sance, so you could do it all in the com­puter. I be­came ob­sessed about mak­ing drum & bass with the MPC as much as I could, be­cause it’s such a dif­fer­ent way of do­ing things. This new al­bum is a con­se­quence of that, be­cause a lot of the beats come from the MPC and have a hip-hop in­flu­ence.”

So you build all your beats from scratch now rather than us­ing sam­pled breaks?

“That’s it. Back in the day I’d use a few breaks and add a kick, snare and hi-hat over the top, but it’s more pro­grammed now. I’m build­ing up the beats from scratch and able to add lots of in­tri­cate lay­ers that sound cleaner. I’m not op­posed to us­ing breaks and still do, but every­thing’s tighter-sound­ing now.”

Pre­sum­ably, drum & bass is too fast to record in real-time. If so, what tech­niques do you use to cre­ate beats?

“Well that’s the thing about the MPC 2000XL, I’d try to make drum & bass in that but it was too fid­dly. To do lit­tle in­tri­cate rolls, you’d have to slow every­thing down. Now, with the MPC soft­ware, it’s al­most like

“The mo­ment you think you can pre­dict a hit is the one you’ll never have a hit again”

a lit­tle DAW, so if you mess up a note you can just use the mouse. But I’ll def­i­nitely at­tempt to record a live groove be­cause some­times you hit an off note that ac­tu­ally makes it bet­ter, and as any MPC user knows, it’s con­stantly loop­ing and quan­tis­ing, which is bril­liant for build­ing up beats.”

Can quan­ti­sa­tion make the track too lin­ear­sound­ing, and are there tricks to avoid that?

“I know what you’re say­ing, but that tight quan­ti­sa­tion is also part of the beauty of a break. Ob­vi­ously, drum & bass is so fast that any­thing too loose can sound messy. I was work­ing on a track the other day and every­thing was on the grid and in 4/4 and I was putting ghost notes in off the grid that weren’t quan­tised. That sounded amaz­ing, but, gen­er­ally, most things have to be quan­tised. But it’s an in­ter­est­ing idea; maybe I’ll go back in the stu­dio and try to do some­thing to­tally not quan­tised.”

We no­ticed you have the EMU SP-1200 12-bit drum ma­chine. Do you still use that?

“I bought that in Amer­ica a few years ago when they were a lit­tle bit cheaper. I got mine for about £1,200, which was a good in­vest­ment be­cause after Kanye West started us­ing one they’re up to three or four grand now. I have used it a lit­tle bit, but, again, it’s a lit­tle bit too fid­dly to use for this genre. I quite like the idea of us­ing it to sam­ple disco loops and get­ting that 12-bit crunch. What’s re­ally in­ter­est­ing about the SP-1200 is that if you sam­pled a re­ally fat kick, like a Vengeance kick that’s re­ally over-pro­cessed, and put it into the SP-1200, it doesn’t do the business, but if you take a nor­mal acous­tic kick, sud­denly it be­comes mega-fat. For me, it does some­thing to it that you can’t repli­cate in soft­ware.”

On the track Start­ing it Over, the beat sounds re­ally heav­ily pro­cessed. What was the record­ing tech­nique on that one?

“That was done us­ing breaks in Logic. My friend had given me some jun­gle drums he’d sam­pled from vinyl, so I chopped them up, put a bassline down and put the whole thing through my API 2500 bus com­pres­sor. In­stantly, the bass got so fat. When I came to mix the al­bum, it was a pain hav­ing to take all my hard­ware down to Lon­don, so I bought the plugin ver­sion of the UAD 2500. It’s a good plugin, but it didn’t have the same vibe. It’s hard to de­scribe what the hard­ware does, but it def­i­nitely warms and fat­tens up the bot­tom end. ”

Can you put your finger on what that dif­fer­ence be­tween dig­i­tal and ana­logue ef­fects pro­ces­sors con­sists of?

“Some peo­ple think it’s a myth, un­til you buy some choice bits of ana­logue gear and re­alise, ‘wow’. I bought some SSL strips from Re­cy­cled Au­dio. They chop up bits of the SSL 4000 G and E-se­ries desks and cre­ate strips, and you can’t be­lieve the dif­fer­ence in what those do to kicks and snares. You might be able to get that in soft­ware with a few chains, so you don’t nec­es­sar­ily need it, but I’m look­ing for in­spi­ra­tion and it’s more in­spir­ing when some­thing comes alive in­stantly. Look­ing at Logic is not very

in­spir­ing, so I need my toys. Okay, it may only be a one or two per cent im­prove­ment, but it’s up to you to weigh up whether it’s worth it.”

Where are you head­ing to cre­ate basslines?

“Mainly soft synths like Mas­sive or Serum, which sounds a con­tra­dic­tion, but if you add some ana­logue pro­cess­ing to boost the bass, let that come back in and do some lim­it­ing us­ing FabFil­ter, it’ll sound much warmer and fat­ter. So a lot of my bass sounds come from the soft­ware do­main be­cause hard­ware is too fid­dly to con­trol for me. Other than that, I still have some old-school sam­ples of 808 basses or subs from a Korg MS-20 synth. I’ve al­ways been a sam­ple guy rather than a synth guy, be­cause you can make any­thing with a sam­ple, but I am quite tempted by the Se­quen­tial OB-6. That might be next on the pur­chase list.”

Do you an­a­lyse bass fre­quen­cies on-screen and make ad­just­ments or just go by ear?

“I bought another lit­tle toy a few years ago by SK Sys­tems – the Jel­ly­fish spec­tral anal­yser. It’s a real-time anal­yser that you can plug into an SSL. Although you’ve got all those things in Logic, hav­ing a ded­i­cated hard­ware box al­lows you to switch be­tween what you’re play­ing on any de­vice. My room is very small, so it can be quite hard to judge the bass, so that be­ing the case, the anal­yser can let me know if I’m go­ing overboard or un­der – usu­ally un­der in my case. It does put you in a cer­tain ball­park, but it’s only when you play stuff out in a club that you get a true rep­re­sen­ta­tion and re­alise what’s wrong with the sub. Hav­ing said that, it’s easy to get caught up in the process rather than the cre­ation, so analysing fre­quen­cies is not al­ways as im­por­tant as it looks.”

What else do you have in your out­board rack?

“The Elysia Kar­ac­ter 500 is a nice lit­tle sat­u­ra­tion box. It’s re­ally good for ad­ding a fat bot­tom end to the sub and crush­ing snares. It’s rel­a­tively in­ex­pen­sive, although I know they brought out a plugin ver­sion. I should men­tion Plug & Mix’s Clar­isonix, which is re­ally good at putting ex­tra weight on a sub note.”

You men­tion us­ing Logic as your DAW?

“Yes, I’ve down­loaded Able­ton a few times but I just can’t get with it. I know ev­ery­one says it’s amaz­ing and I worked with a pro­ducer on the al­bum that used Able­ton while I used Logic. When I saw the speed of Able­ton I thought it was amaz­ing but, and I know peo­ple will slaugh­ter me for say­ing this, the sound didn’t sound as crisp to me. I’m also used to the Logic work­flow. It’s about those third-party in­stru­ments, which, although I’m sure peo­ple will tell me oth­er­wise, make us­ing it just as quick as Able­ton. Also, in­te­grat­ing out­board us­ing Logic’s in/ out util­ity plug­ins is so good – it mea­sures the la­tency and just does what it says on the tin. ”

In terms of work­flow, would you say, that it’s ex­tremely im­por­tant for you to be able to record every­thing in­tu­itively?

“Well back in 2000, I used Cubase with the Atari ST and thought that was amaz­ing. Ev­ery­one told me to get a Mac with Logic, so I bought a Mac but couldn’t get used to the MIDI tim­ing com­pared to the Atari. Any­way, I per­se­vered, but be­cause the change was such an up­heaval I ended up not writ­ing any mu­sic for three or four years. I can’t take the risk of do­ing that again with Able­ton.”

You use a Slate RAVEN touch screen, which is quite com­mon in the film sound­track world. What do you like about that?

“I’ve al­ways loved us­ing con­trol sur­faces. I loved the black Mackie Logic Con­trol when it came out, with all the ex­ten­ders, then I had an SSL Nu­cleus. When I saw the Raven MKI, which was touch­screen, I just thought it was too good to be true. I bought one from Gui­tar Cen­ter in San Fran­cisco and smug­gled it back through cus­toms. It’s such a good screen and I love the way it sits on the desk so you have Logic right in front of you. It might sound ridicu­lous, but I re­ally rec­om­mend it. You can se­lect notes, move the oc­taves up or down and cus­tomise every­thing, and it’s got batch com­mands so it’s deep.”

Are any other VSTs in­te­gral to your process?

“Well I’m a sam­ple guy, so that’s still re­ally im­por­tant to me. Logic’s EXS24 is long in the tooth but still works for me, and there’s a new one by Sonic Arts called Nu­ance where you can ba­si­cally drag and drop sam­ples and play them mu­si­cally. With sam­plers like that, you can speed up your work­flow. reFX’s Nexus VST is a lit­tle generic but it’s good for bread and but­ter washes and ef­fects, and I’ll use AIR Mu­sic Tech­nol­ogy’s XPand! VST. Oth­er­wise, I’m us­ing a lot of UAD plug­ins, like the Ge­orge Massen­burg MDW para­met­ric EQ, which is the best soft­ware EQ you’ll ever hear. If I’m in the box, I won’t even use other EQs and it is quite CPU-friendly, but now I’ve got an Octo ex­pan­sion card I can use it on every­thing.”

You have the Gen­elec 8351As and Avan­tone Mix Cube speak­ers?

“The 8351As have been a game changer; I can’t rec­om­mend them highly enough. I used to use Mackie 824s, which were def­i­nitely good for their time, but be­cause this is a small writ­ing room and I mix else­where, I kept on blow­ing them. At one point, I had eight or nine stacked in the hall­way, so I thought it was time to in­vest in some proper mon­i­tor­ing and saw that the Gen­elecs had the DSP built into the route cor­rec­tion. I used to have 1030s and was fa­mil­iar with the sound, so I took a punt on the 8351As with­out even hear­ing them. I got Andy Bens­ley from Source Dis­tri­bu­tion to re-cor­rect the room us­ing sound tech­nol­ogy. Since then, ev­ery time I take a mix to another stu­dio it’s nearly spot-on. The Avan­tones are for when I want to hear what things might sound like on the radio, so it’s good to have that ref­er­enc­ing.”

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