Tech Talk with Octave One

Detroit techno legends on their favourite kit and production techniques

Words: Andy McGirr

“Unlike some producers, we’re big fans of basslines so we spend a lot of time ensuring the bassline and drum timbres gel together really well. We sit and tweak a sound until it fits us, not necessarily if it fits the market or the sounds that are popular at the time.”
 

So say Detroit legends Octave One, who are hitting a string of festivals across Europe this summer with their not-to-be-missed thundering live techno shows. Here, the brothers and 430 West label heads, Lenny and Lawrence Burden, divulge some studio and production insights.
 

What equipment did you use back in the day?
“We started making music around 1987/88 with very minimal equipment. We had two drum machines – a Kawai R50 and Korg DDD-1 – an Akai AX61 synth and an Akai S612 sampler. We later added a Roland TR-909 drum machine. Back then it was all hardware, that’s all there was in those days to make a track.”

What does your main studio consist of now? 
“These days the studio is centred around a Midas mixing console with Pro Tools for recording and loads of plug-ins. We still have lots and lots of hardware, some of it is rack mounted, like the Roland MKS-50 Alpha Juno, plus a vast collection of effect processors, such as the Lexicon Vortex, classic keyboards like the Roland JP-8000, and some newer instruments like the Arturia Microbrute and Novation Bass Station II. It’s a big collection, probably more than 50 pieces of kit.” 

Is your live set-up similar to your studio set-up?
“No, it’s very different actually. We have a completely separate rig for our live shows. Our live set-up is primarily built up around the Akai MPC1000. It runs into the Roland VP-9000 Variphrase, which controls pitch and timing through MIDI. Then we have a tonne of analogue and digital synths, such as the Roland TB-03 and Moog Minitaur, plus lots of effect processors, guitar pedals, modules and mixers to add some grit and control it all.”


What are your go-to instruments?
“Our only go-to instrument is the Roland TR-909. It’s our weapon of choice, it all has been and we just love it! You can’t go wrong when you use a 909.”
 

What’s your process for getting the initial idea or vibe down?
“It could actually be anything; it could be a sound that inspires, a track we already have that inspires a whole project or a group of tracks that start to form a unified idea that inspire us to form an EP or album. Sometimes it’s just a theme we may have that inspires us to want to build a soundtrack around it.”

Using analogue and hardware instruments can often require tweaking or modulation decisions early in the creation of a record in order to capture some magic or any accidental gold moments. What’s your process for recording live or automating these changes?
“We make several passes when recording instruments each with different kinds of takes. This gives us options later on in the writing of the track. Sometimes we automate the parameters of the synths in Pro Tools, but usually we record some live tweaking and tricks and then make a single composition from the various takes.”

 

In terms of insert effect processing, what would you normally apply to your various sub-mixes?
“For bus compression we use a mix of hardware and in-the-box effects, such as the Overstayer Stereo VCA Compressor plus a bit of EQing and sometimes distortion.”

 

Mono compatibility is a major consideration when producing club records. How do you ensure your records will sound great when played back in mono?
“We listen to the mix in mono and stereo during the mixdown process. We also make sure all low-end frequencies are only in mono using Mid/Side EQ.”


Andy McGirr is co-founder of Curate Records.

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