What was the inspiration/is there a story behind your track?
The main inspiration and motivation behind creating ‘Dystopia’ was actually a frustrating creative block I encountered after completing my second year at BIMM Bristol. After years of regularly having material to release, not successfully completing a new song in months had got me down. I felt the need to push myself to create something similar to what I had done before, but approach it in a slightly different way. I booked myself a studio session and set up a new Logic Pro project with a time signature of 6/4 to try working out a riff to fit around it.
The bass riff in the chorus is where it all started; once that came about, I knew I could create a song from there. I recorded and performed all of the drums and bass tracks in about two studio sessions, with no initial plan of how or what I would play. I think it’s great to be able to go into a studio with no initial plan or ideas and come out with something you’re really excited to keep working on. After these recording sessions, I built up a basic mix at home to write lyrics and work out some vocal melodies.
Lyrically and story-wise, it’s based on the rather overused concept of someone existing in a dystopian society and (obviously) being unhappy with it. I think this came about because at the time of writing it, I felt quite lost and was in a bit of a dark place myself. The people in the story are angry that they exist in a world devoid of hope, no one in charge cares and they can’t really do anything to fix it. That’s probably a mirror of how I felt during this time, in some way. So unfortunately, like most of my music, it’s all quite dark and hopeless as a concept. I try not to make any of my music too personal or blatant, but no matter how hard I try, it’s usually still in there somewhere.
What did your process involve?
I like to think of myself as a bit of a songwriter/artist, but I usually create music thinking very much from a production standpoint (which is probably helped by the fact I’m studying the Music Production course). In this track, I really wanted to improve on the quality and impact of drums in the mix, as I’ve often received criticism that the drums sound a bit lifeless/hollow (which was probably more down to mixing with plug-ins I didn’t know how to use). So, this time it was all about focusing on a big sound with a lot of weight, aided by a stereo pair at the other end of the room getting the whole picture of the kit (using this mainly for the cymbals and the hi-hat in the mix).
The main focus for this track was to attempt to use a single bass as my only instrument alongside the drums – the most obvious influence here being Royal Blood (although they definitely aren’t the only ones doing it). I originally split up Studio A into two halves using some acoustic insulation walls, making sure the amps wouldn’t feed into each other too much during recording. I split the bass signal into two using a DI box and an XLR to jack adapter. I sent one bass signal via the control room into a bass amp set only to output a warm bass heavy tone with some mid frequencies. I then sent another signal to the Laney guitar amp (which has a lovely distorted tone when you push the gain) and set it to fill more of the mid-high frequencies. I then set up to close mic these two sources. The sound was pretty great as is, but in the mix I added some fuzz distortion to the Laney audio tracks and stereo spread them slightly for good measure. I ended up using sidechain compression on the bass in the chorus to make sure the drums could still poke through during the chorus sections. This meant I could push it even harder.
The vocals were recorded in Studio B. I had the idea in my head that I wouldn’t use as much layering as the other tracks I had previously made, to make the vocals seem lonely and separate in the mix.
I performed all of the instrumental and vocal parts in both studios at BIMM Bristol, and they have a great selection of microphones and give you the creative freedom to try out all manner of set-ups. I mixed and mastered everything using Studio B, plus a bit of time in the new mixing suite and my home set-up, which is headphones and a MacBook (for now at least). This time though, I really only used Logic Pro plug-ins and some extras here and there, so that I knew how to easily achieve the sound I wanted.
Do you have a favourite line/section of the song?
I think the chorus is my favourite part of the song vocally, although I’ll admit I’ve never been the biggest fan of my own vocals. The bass riff sounds pretty heavy, so fills a lot of space in the track, and the drums work well in that section. The best part to play when recording it all was the outro, where I just went a bit crazy and let the open notes come out for a standard ‘rock jam’ outro.
Can you describe your sound in three words?
I would say I generally aim for my sound to fit the words ‘conceptual, heavy and fuzzy’, although I’m sure it changes from song to song. I’ve made songs which range from very bare acoustic/vocal pieces to dark experimental electronic pieces. I just make what I feel like making. People don’t usually have a hard time working out my influences though.
What’s the best thing about studying at BIMM?
The best thing for me is being handed the creative freedom in some pretty decent studio environments. To be able to try things out and experiment with the technology without your hand being held is great.
I enjoy how we get to try things out in many different areas of the Music Production world, which I may not have done by myself, and these can often really challenge you. I created my own Guitarduino project in my second year (basically bespoke effects controls on a guitar body for some max4live built plug-ins) and I would never have thought this possible before trying it out for one of the modules.
Hearing people’s creative work on a daily basis has been really interesting. I would say I have come from a background where I don’t know many others who make music, so being surrounded by some great tutors and like-minded people has been really beneficial to both me and my practice.