In­ter­view: Martin Buttrich

Martin Buttrich has grown to be­come one of techno’s most re­spected DJ-pro­duc­ers, renowned for his tech­ni­cal prow­ess. Danny Turner dis­cusses the es­o­teric pro­duc­tion skills hid­den be­hind his unique sound

Future Music - - CONTENTS - want to know more? Enzo Si­ra­gusa and Martin Buttrich’s lat­est re­lease, Three Squared EP, is avail­able on FUSE. Check out Martin’s Face­book page for more info: face­­t­in­but­trich

Launch­ing his ca­reer on the ’90s Ger­man club cir­cuit, Martin Buttrich cut his teeth col­lab­o­rat­ing with for­mer part­ner in crime, DJ-pro­ducer Timo Maas. With more than 100 co-pro­duc­tions un­der their belts, in­clud­ing remixes for Depeche Mode, Fat­boy Slim and Green Vel­vet, the duo bagged a Grammy nom­i­na­tion in 2003 for their remix of Tori Amos’

Don’t Make Me Come To Ve­gas. This ed­u­ca­tion helped Buttrich learn his trade and be­gin build­ing his own discog­ra­phy.

Over the past 15 years, the Ger­man has be­come a highly in­flu­en­tial pro­ducer in his own right, pro­duc­ing a for­mi­da­ble discog­ra­phy of dance mu­sic on nu­mer­ous iconic la­bels in­clud­ing Deso­lat, the Düs­sel­dorf im­print that Buttrich co-founded with Tu­nisian DJ-pro­ducer Loco Dice. With his un­canny abil­ity to ma­nip­u­late beats and pas­sion­ate love of hard­ware, Buttrich’s gritty, era-defin­ing sound is partly at­trib­ut­able to his state-of-the art stu­dio and a 20-year sam­ple col­lec­tion.

Did you learn a lot about pro­duc­tion from do­ing remixes?

“I was mak­ing mu­sic for three or four years be­fore remix­ing came along; I was just a house/techno pro­ducer who had lit­tle idea of song struc­ture or how to deal with vo­cals. So remix­ing a pop song, or some­thing that has that struc­ture, was def­i­nitely a fan­tas­tic way to learn. Analysing the stems taught me to raise my skills a lit­tle when it came to learn­ing the ba­sics about song ar­range­ment, lay­er­ing and how to record dou­ble vo­cals.”

Which remixes stand out for you, ei­ther be­cause they came out well or those artists had once in­flu­enced you?

“The ones that turned out the best were the re­ally painful ones [ laughs]. The remix of Depeche Mode’s

En­joytheSi­lence took me about six weeks to fin­ish be­cause there’s al­ways that pres­sure of ru­in­ing a fa­mous or suc­cess­ful song. That one gave me a few stom­ach pains, but I think the Tori Amos remix of

Don’tMakeMeComeToVe­gas came out pretty good. There are remixes I’m re­ally proud of, but trust me, there’s also a bunch I wish I hadn’t done.”

Like so many pro­duc­ers from your era, you started mak­ing mu­sic with an Atari ST com­puter and Cubase?

“Ex­actly – the Atari com­puter, an Akai MPC1000 se­quencer and my friend had an old Yamaha SY85 that had multi-mode, so you could use eight or 16 dif­fer­ent sounds to­gether. The Atari came with Cubase 1.0, which if I’m not mis­taken only had 16 MIDI channels to trig­ger ex­ter­nal syn­the­sis­ers, but there was no au­dio.”

With the Atari’s lim­i­ta­tions, it’s hard to be­lieve peo­ple made the mu­sic they did back then…

“Well af­ter the Atari there was some­thing called the Fal­con Pro MIDI, which changed ev­ery­thing be­cause for the first time I was able to im­port and record six mono or stereo tracks and move an en­tire vo­cal. That was quite rev­o­lu­tion­ary for me; with­out it we wouldn’t have been able to do the remixes be­cause we were only us­ing an E-mu e6400 sam­pler. Try to imag­ine do­ing a vo­cal remix when you only have a sam­pler. You need to cut the vo­cal sec­tion into lit­tle sam­ples and put it all back to­gether again us­ing MIDI. At this time, the only proper DAW was Pro Tools, which was much too ex­pen­sive.”

Would it be fair to say you couldn’t af­ford hard­ware ei­ther?

“In the be­gin­ning, hard­ware was be­yond my reach, but I moved into a stu­dio with Andy Bolleshon and he had a Roland TB-303, 909 and an SH-101. I used his stuff, which was an­other step to­wards mak­ing my pro­duc­tions bet­ter. He’d also bought a Juno-106 and a Jupiter – in the mid-’90s, peo­ple started throw­ing those syn­the­sis­ers out on the street. You could buy a 303 for cheap, but by then you also had Logic, so it was a bit of a gear revo­lu­tion.”

Did your mu­sic go up a level when you started in­te­grat­ing hard­ware into your process?

“By then I was a writer and pro­ducer and my col­leagues were more into sound en­gi­neer­ing so I could get my stuff pre­mas­tered. That was a good com­bi­na­tion be­cause I learned a lot. We joined a stu­dio col­lec­tive where there were some dif­fer­ent types of pro­duc­ers who were a lit­tle older and be­came my men­tors. When it comes to equip­ment, there are so many dif­fer­ent lev­els, but there’s a limit to what you can achieve when you don’t have the right re­sources or the qual­ity.”

Does that still ap­ply to­day when it comes to dig­i­tal tech­nol­ogy?

“It’s in­cred­i­ble what you can do in the dig­i­tal age, but in 2000 dig­i­tal wasn’t that great yet. RME was start­ing to make in­ter­faces, but by then I was able to use a lit­tle Pro Tools sys­tem, which made a big dif­fer­ence when it came to sound qual­ity. It took me up to eight years to fig­ure out the per­fect way to record a sound into my sys­tem, and also how to record a song. Back then, it was a big mys­tery try­ing to un­der­stand how I could get the sound com­ing from my speak­ers onto an au­dio file. Pro Tools gave me a big ad­van­tage – I was fi­nally able to record live in­stru­ments like gui­tar, Rhodes or an ana­logue synth prop­erly. Of course, dig­i­tal has lev­elled the play­ing field, but mix­ing and mas­ter­ing are fur­ther lev­els that will el­e­vate the qual­ity of your mu­sic.”

You seem to have gone from soft­ware to hard­ware and back in the box again?

“I per­son­ally be­lieve it’s im­por­tant to just de­velop; it doesn’t re­ally mat­ter whether ev­ery­thing is recorded in ana­logue or dig­i­tal. If I’m us­ing a plugin syn­the­siser, I’m usu­ally send­ing it through a Man­ley EQ or some­thing sim­i­lar to give the sound more warmth, so it’s not too clean. For me, it’s more about try­ing to get the best of both worlds.”

“I don’t use drum ma­chines much – I find them a lit­tle bit stress­ful”

You had a stu­dio in Han­nover, but you’re now liv­ing in Barcelona?

“I spent a year in New York, took some equip­ment with me and wrote quite a lot of mu­sic with Loco Dice. Then I re­turned to Han­nover be­fore de­cid­ing to move to Los An­ge­les. I left all my ana­logue equip­ment in Ger­many and only took the stuff that was a lit­tle more sta­ble.”

Why Los An­ge­les?

“I spent five years in LA be­cause I had a nice dream about div­ing into the world of sound­track, ad­ver­tise­ments and movies, but in the end I am a man of rou­tine. I felt a bit iso­lated there and my rou­tine was com­pletely in­ter­rupted. Barcelona is an amaz­ing city, I have lots of friends here and, be­cause I DJ so much, it seemed a log­i­cal move. I was also lucky enough to find a stu­dio that was big enough to ship ev­ery­thing that was left in Han­nover.”

These days, you’re quite a big fan of us­ing Na­tive In­stru­ments’ Mas­chine in your pro­duc­tion process?

“Yes, I re­ally do like us­ing Mas­chine. Na­tive In­stru­ments has a lot of fan­tas­tic in­stru­ments that are nice to han­dle and I can fill them up with all my sounds. The prob­lem is that I do many ses­sions with other peo­ple and still work a lot with the Logic EXS24 sam­pler con­nected to Pro Tools, but other mu­si­cians don’t al­ways have that com­pat­i­bil­ity. A lot of them use Able­ton, which I also use for a lit­tle bit of sound de­sign, but hav­ing Mas­chine is an en­vi­ron­ment I know and it’s much eas­ier to take to a ses­sion be­cause Na­tive is one of the few com­pa­nies whose prod­ucts work across all sys­tems.”

Do you tend to use it just as a sam­ple library or for pro­gram­ming?

“Mainly for mak­ing beats, but I also have a lot of lit­tle sam­ples from the past that I col­lected over 20 years. So if I have snip­pets that I sam­pled from a hip-hop song, I can put them in the library and it’s su­per-easy to play around with. Un­for­tu­nately, Logic’s EXS sam­pler is pretty much out­dated, but I’ve been us­ing it for al­most 20 years and it’s quite im­por­tant for me to work with things I re­ally know be­cause I can do it much faster.”

So is Mas­chine the first tool you’ll go to when con­cep­tu­al­is­ing a new track or project?

“I never make a track the same way, I just do what I feel, but Mas­chine ob­vi­ously helps me to make mu­sic while I’m on the road, in planes or ho­tel rooms. I might start from there be­cause it’s a nice tool, but ev­ery­thing al­ways ends up in the box on my big com­puter. If we talk about drum sounds, for ex­am­ple, I don’t use drum ma­chines much – I find them a lit­tle bit stress­ful. Over the years, I’ve sam­pled ev­ery­thing I need and I’ll live off those grooves. Maybe I’m a lit­tle bit old-school, or was never re­ally into drum ma­chines, but I’ll sam­ple from vinyl then go through the sam­ple li­braries on the EXS sam­pler or Mas­chine and move them into the se­quencer as an au­dio file.”

At what point do you com­mit to au­dio?

“Oh my god, this is like the worst ques­tion you could ask. Over the years I’ve learned that you’ll lose too many sounds and songs if you don’t con­vert to au­dio early. I try to make ev­ery­thing sound as good as I can – not too ex­treme – and then I’ll sam­ple it as au­dio. Oth­er­wise, I’ll record 500 ver­sions and never de­cide which one I want to use or move some­thing on a syn­the­siser and the whole sound is gone. This es­pe­cially ap­plies to drums or bass sounds, I’ll sam­ple them once I’ve found the right qual­ity or pro­duc­tion chain and then just leave a lit­tle back­door open.”

Does the rhyth­mic side take prece­dence over har­monic or melodic el­e­ments?

“In the main, I would say yes. I’ll start with a lit­tle groove then maybe add a bass or melody. I never know ex­actly how it will hap­pen, be­cause there are also mo­ments where I have a nice pad sound or sam­ple and I’ll build some­thing around that, but usu­ally there’s at least a groove or rhythm un­der­neath it.”

Where do you de­rive bass sounds from?

“For me, bass sounds have a dif­fer­ent di­men­sion when they come from or go through ana­logue. My two favourite synths for bass sounds are the Roland

SH-1 and the Moog Voy­ager. I also have to ad­mit to us­ing the TAL-BassLine-101 quite a lot, which is a free plugin. I’ll typ­i­cally send it through a GML EQ and a Man­ley com­pres­sor to give it a lit­tle more raw­ness be­fore it goes through my ana­logue mixer.”

So all sounds go through an ana­logue chain be­fore end­ing up on your Pro Tools rig?

“Yes, there is al­ways this ana­logue chain that I’m adding to the bass sounds. If I use a plugin synth sound, I’ll go out of Pro Tools and into a Neve 1073 preamp. From there it will go into a com­pres­sor if needed, and maybe an­other ana­logue EQ to bal­ance ev­ery­thing out. That goes di­rectly into the mixer be­fore I record it into a con­verter and back into Pro Tools. It’s quite a long chain, but I al­ways like to use enough out­board to fill up the synth sounds with ana­logue fre­quen­cies.”

Why did you de­cide to set­tle on that par­tic­u­lar out­board chain?

“Well the Neve 1073 is great if you can get it – I find it turns ev­ery­thing into magic. There’s noth­ing you can’t use of course, but I hap­pen to like them be­cause I once used an old AMS Neve 1073 mixer. They take out some­thing from the lower mids and high bass fre­quen­cies that may be mum­bling or sound dis­turb­ing, and what’s left seems to fit im­me­di­ately into a mix. To be hon­est, I can’t al­ways ex­plain it – I’m re­ally not some­one who goes that deeply into what a ma­chine does.”

Is hav­ing a deep knowl­edge of how out­board works a ne­ces­sity, or is it suf­fi­cient to go just by what you hear?

“Of course I un­der­stand what a com­pres­sor does, but I prob­a­bly don’t use some of my equip­ment in the right way. Some su­per pro en­gi­neer might sit next to me and try not to look when I ad­just the com­pres­sor be­cause I al­ways go a lit­tle bit too ex­treme. I’m not re­ally a tech­ni­cian. I know what’s good and I know how to use some­thing go­ing by my own def­i­ni­tion, but if you ask me to speak in-depth about fre­quen­cies or dis­so­nance, I have to ad­mit that some­times I have no idea.”

So you’re not one to pick apart sound fre­quen­cies, for ex­am­ple?

“Well it also de­pends on how good your acous­tic treat­ment is. If you can trust your room, a spec­tral anal­yser is not even nec­es­sary. It’s never a bad thing to check that your fre­quency is sub-har­monic, but that takes a lot of en­ergy and I’m not the sort of per­son who will look and say that a fre­quency ‘looks’ bad be­cause some­thing that ‘looks’ bad can ac­tu­ally sound fan­tas­tic.”

What was the think­ing be­hind your choice of mon­i­tor speak­ers?

“I have a bunch of them. I started us­ing a pair of old Gen­elec 1031s, which I still have, but I al­lowed my­self the lux­ury to get re­ally good amps. I haven’t found an­other ref­er­ence mon­i­tor that gives you all the im­por­tant stuff, es­pe­cially when it comes to vol­ume – they’re un­beat­able, but I was look­ing for some­thing other than my Gen­elecs be­cause if you turn them up too much they start lim­it­ing and when you hear the mas­ter it’s not that thump­ing. So I went to EMES, a Ger­man com­pany, and got the Blue HR and Am­ber HR sub­woofers, turned them into a three-way sys­tem and put them in my wall. I have to say, the speak­ers are not quite big enough for my stu­dio, but to fill out this whole room would blow my bud­get – I don’t have £50k right now.”

Are you us­ing any synths or other hard­ware to gen­er­ate sounds?

“I have a Korg MS-20, a Min­i­moog and I’ll some­times use some per­cus­sion or foot ped­als. Ev­ery now and then I’ll use the Rhodes or bor­row some syn­the­sis­ers from other peo­ple. These days, I’m work­ing a lot with ef­fects, so I’m us­ing Even­tide and Lex­i­con re­verbs, which can turn a very sim­ple sound into some­thing that’s magic. So I’m sampling ef­fects, turn­ing them around and putting them through more ef­fects again.”

You don’t seem to have joined the mod­u­lar crew, yet?

“Don’t laugh, but I’m prob­a­bly the only one who doesn’t have a small mod­u­lar sys­tem in my stu­dio, so my next goal is to get my­self a very sim­ple setup. I’ve seen a lot of peo­ple work­ing on them and I’m quite im­pressed and cu­ri­ous about what can come out of some of the newer mod­els right now.”

Is it a case of try­ing to find new sounds that have not al­ready been cre­ated else­where?

“I re­mem­ber when peo­ple would ask me where I was get­ting my sounds from and I would say, don’t tell any­one but I used a pre­set [ laughs]. It’s of­ten a ques­tion of per­spec­tive, but it’s also a lit­tle weird if your song has the same sound as one you made from the year be­fore. Now it’s a lit­tle dif­fer­ent be­cause there is such a big amount of sounds you can find and 95% of the time I’ll add re­verb to them in my own way. I also have a good friend in Toronto who has a syn­the­siser mu­seum with some unique stuff. If you use a PPG synth, for ex­am­ple, it sounds in­cred­i­ble and very unique, but they’re hard to get hold of. I like to get re­sults and when some­thing sounds good I’ll go with it rather than change ev­ery­thing for the sake of it. I’m slow with my own pro­duc­tions be­cause I try to make things sound ex­tra spe­cial, which is not al­ways good. Some­times I think I need to use a pro­ducer.”

You seem to en­joy col­lab­o­rat­ing quite a lot?

“I en­joy mak­ing mu­sic alone ac­tu­ally, but ev­ery now and then like to spend time in the stu­dio with other peo­ple. Over the last few years it seems as though I didn’t do any­thing other than col­lab­o­rate, even if that’s not how I usu­ally pre­fer to do things, but I also like help­ing other peo­ple to el­e­vate their pro­duc­tions. One of my favourite things to do is ar­rang­ing; cut­ting parts out and adding parts to make things sounds a lit­tle more in­ter­est­ing son­i­cally. I feel that so many songs could be bet­ter if the sounds were just po­si­tioned a lit­tle more gen­tly or ag­gres­sively.”

Are you us­ing much from the soft­ware do­main?

“All the mod­ern stuff that I have is on my lap­top be­cause my main com­puter still uses an old Pro Tools HD192 sys­tem and I’m still work­ing on Pro Tools 7 and Logic 8. Some­one told me, never change a win­ning team, so I’ve left my com­puter as it is for 10 years. I still use Tril­ogy and Om­ni­sphere, be­cause I love all the orig­i­nal synth em­u­la­tions that are on those. I like to use Kom­plete FM8, Moog Mod­u­lar G Force and TAL VST plug­ins, but I’m also work­ing a lot with sam­ple li­braries like Hol­ly­wood Edge and old Gior­gio Moroder li­braries, be­cause they sound a lit­tle more raw and have more weight. Sadly, I have a bunch of plug­ins that now don’t work any­more be­cause I did an up­date or the com­pa­nies went bank­rupt; I should re­ally start to up­date my stu­dio a lit­tle bit.”

What do you do when the ideas aren’t com­ing?

“We all have days when it just doesn’t work at all. I’d say, don’t give up, al­though some­times there are days where it seems ab­so­lutely point­less. When that hap­pens, I find there’s al­ways some­thing else to do, like clean­ing up your sam­ples. I be­lieve that if you’re cre­at­ing some­thing new then you need to be in the right mood, but if you’re fin­ish­ing some­thing up it re­ally helps to just stick with it. But I’m an ex­trem­ist – I love work­ing out prob­lems and try­ing to find dif­fer­ent so­lu­tions, and I can spend hours and hours do­ing that.”

You have an EP com­ing out soon – what can you tell us about it?

“In the sum­mer I fin­ished a record with Enzo Si­ra­gusa on FUSE called the Three­Squared EP. I also did a lot of remixes that are com­ing out soon. Now I’m work­ing on a project with Matthias Tanz­mann and Da­vide Squil­lace called Bet­terLost

ThanS­tupid, which we’ve spent quite some time on and will be re­leased on Skint at the end of the year. Right now, I’m in the mix­ing and fi­nal pro­duc­tion phase – which is three weeks late so every­body hates me right now!”

Do you need to give your­self a dead­line or ask some­one to tell you when to stop? Oth­er­wise, how do you know that you haven’t gone too far on a mix?

“Well, you should al­ways have a backup of an old ver­sion – even if it’s just an au­dio ver­sion. This can hap­pen with elec­tronic mu­sic, where you’re one or two deci­bels out on the bass or the com­pres­sion is bad and ev­ery­thing goes wrong. I’ve worked on a few al­bums where we ended up go­ing back to the demo and just over­dubbed a few sounds. Some­times you need to be hon­est enough to say to your­self, I’ve just wasted three hours – if some­thing’s not work­ing, kick it out.”

You once said that when you play mu­sic in front of some­body else, you can im­me­di­ately hear what’s wrong with it. Is that to do with your own in­se­cu­ri­ties?

“100%. I’m not run­ning around say­ing I have a cer­tain set of skills and knowl­edge; ev­ery day is fresh and some­times ev­ery song feels like my first day mak­ing mu­sic. When you play it to some­one, I wouldn’t say it’s em­bar­rass­ing, but you some­times get the feel­ing that some­thing is not com­ing. That’s why you should al­ways play your mu­sic to some­one you trust. Not just any­one, how­ever, as that might con­fuse you even more.”

At what point will you de­cide to take it to some­body else, so that you can get an ob­jec­tive feel for what you’ve cre­ated?

“When I’m very des­per­ate and don’t know what I’m hear­ing any­more. But if I’m not sure, I’ll just record it, leave it for four or five days and have an­other lis­ten. That seems to give me a dif­fer­ent per­spec­tive and sud­denly I know what parts to cut out. It’s funny, be­cause some­times you feel like a track is a dis­as­ter, but when you come back in a few weeks it sounds amaz­ing – and some­times it’s com­pletely the other way around.”

“Ev­ery day is fresh and some­times ev­ery song feels like my first day mak­ing mu­sic”

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