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The Beautiful People: If 60s Were 90s... | The Beautiful People

Article from Sound On Sound, July 1993


Take two musicians and sundry helpful friends, an Akai S1000, a bunch of synths, and permission to sample anything from Jimi Hendrix's back catalogue and what do you get? Debbie Poyser finds out.


It was the best of times, it was the worst of times; an epoch of invention, an epoch of excess; young talent exploded onto the scene and often exited with equal rapidity — not always by natural causes. Amongst the rock and roll casualties of this extraordinary era, the 1960s, was the man acclaimed by many as the greatest rock guitarist ever, Jimi Hendrix. Such was his talent that his influence still permeates popular music, echoing through innumerable records and resurfacing in the remodelled images of such pop incumbents as Lenny Kravitz and Terence Trent D'Arby.

Though Hendrix's music still makes its influence felt as we approach the 21st century, it's taken two musicians from rural Surrey to really drag Jimi into the age of technology. With scant regard for traditionalists who would surely consider it the ultimate blasphemy, they've introduced Hendrix to that tool of musical democratisation, the sampler, in this case an Akai S1000, producing not one track but a whole album which skilfully weaves synth textures with vintage and '90s rhythms, liberally sprinkling the whole with gems sampled from Hendrix recordings. It's a tribute par excellence, not only to Hendrix, but to the whole summer of love ambience, and a testament to what musicians with sensitivity and judgement can do with the oft-abused sampler.

IF 60S WERE 90S



Legal wrangles over unauthorised sample use have become commonplace news — but don't expect to see The Beautiful People defending any breach of copyright cases. Unusually, and surprisingly, the CD release we're here to talk about, If '60s Were '90s was completed not only with the permission of the Hendrix estate but also with their blessing. The right to sample from any Jimi Hendrix recording must surely be something that many musicians would kill for, yet keyboard player and programmer Luke Baldry and DJ, vocalist and occasional guitarist Du Kane (Dunc to his friends) seem to have obtained it almost by accident. Sitting in the cosy surroundings of Luke's recently-completed studio, Du Kane takes up the story of how they got permission to sample the Hendrix material:

"Alex Paterson (of The Orb) was DJing at my club, and he came in one night and played me a Hendrix sample track. I thought it was a great idea, but the track was terrible." Having been into Jimi Hendrix's music and rock in general for some time, Du Kane thought that he and Luke could do better.

"So we came up with a track, 'The Experience', that had a lot of Hendrix in it — guitar, vocals, speaking — which we had pressed up as a white label. There was also some Eric Clapton speech on it, from the South Bank Show, I think, where he was talking about Jimi, saying something like 'Yeah, I wish he was still here'. So I dropped a copy off at Eric Clapton's house with a note [Clapton happened to live just down the road from Dunc at the time]. Then I had a phone call from his nephew, who said 'Yeah, uncle Eric really likes that track'. So I said 'Can I have his number?', and the guy just gave me his number, and I phoned him and said 'What do you think? Do you like the track?' And he said 'Yeah, I think it's fantastic'." Clapton thought it was so fantastic, in fact, that he agreed to release it. But it wasn't as easy as expected.

"Clapton's manager got involved, and he said they couldn't release it. When I asked why, he replied that we'd never get permission from the Hendrix estate to use the samples. I said 'If I get the permission, will you release it?' He said 'Yes', and he gave us a contact for the Hendrix estate."

Dunc and Luke went ahead and sent the track to the representatives of the Hendrix estate in America. The unbelievable happened: not only did Alan Douglas, the man in charge, like the track, he also asked if the team would like to do an album full of similar material. Thus was If 60s Were 90s born. Though this all happened around the end of 1989, it's taken until relatively recently for the project to really come together, the physical composition of the nine tracks on the album taking upwards of six months of painstaking and laborious work. Though the album project had been under way for quite some time before the current '60s and '70s revival really caught the popular imagination, current trends had something to do with the timing of the release. Both Luke and Dunc are pragmatic about it, and admit that if the musical climate hadn't been appropriate, they probably wouldn't have undertaken the album. "It wouldn't have been... relevant," says Luke. "But it comes from genuine interest and enthusiasm for the music," adds Dunc. "It's not just a cash-in." A listen to the album reveals the truth of the statement; far from constructing appropriate dance tracks and simply grafting the odd Hendrix sample on top, the pair have taken great pains to integrate the new and old material smoothly and tastefully, taking samples from numerous Hendrix recordings and bringing them together in new ways — guitar from 'Love Of Confusion', sung vocals from 'Voodoo Chile', spoken vocals from 'Radio EXP', perhaps — so that no track, with the possible exception of the album title track, is merely a reworking of a Hendrix song. So that the listener knows exactly what he or she is hearing, they've even included a sample chart in the CD booklet.

Luke Baldry (left) and Du Kane, at home in the studio.

If 60s Were 90s is widely available in record shops, released on the Castle Communications label, better known for reissues and compilations than for breaking new talent. The label seems a strange choice for the project. Luke comments: "It was all connected with the Hendrix estate, though you're right in saying that it was an unusual choice of label. They had been involved with previous Hendrix and Experience releases, and maybe they didn't know what they were getting, I don't know! But they are a worldwide operation. Apparently we're pretty big in Finland at the moment."

Though the band is not exactly a household name in the UK, regular airtime and commercials on MTV have helped establish them as a name to watch in Europe.

MANAGING THE SAMPLES



The writing and recording of the nine tracks on If 60s Were 90s took around six months. As you might expect, the selection and manipulation of the samples consumed much of the time.

Luke: "We had to go through loads of stuff, picking out what was appropriate. Usually we started with a drum loop, trying it out with different guitar samples, shifting them against each other to try to make them work. Then the ones that sounded best, we'd set aside to work on. Listening to the original material was hard. It's very difficult trying to work out if something will fit with your track when it's in the wrong key, or wrong timing. We just had to find bits we thought were in the right area and try them out."

Keeping company with Luke's beloved Lexicon PCM70 are effects from Alesis and ART and an Ibanez digital delay - "just for fun."

Dunc: "Hendrix's song-writing fell loosely into several categories — the rock stuff, the funky rock stuff, the softer ballads — so we tried to use samples from each style in the same style of track on the album, so that nothing sticks out as being wrong."

Melding samples with brand new tracks brought its own problems — and solutions. Listening carefully to the album, it seems that there are odd guitar parts that don't sound exactly like Hendrix — though they are close, especially in terms of the match of sounds. To whom was the task of matching 'that' guitar sound entrusted?

Luke: "That was Dave Maskrey, our guitarist. He played the odd bridging bit for us." And it seems that there was nothing special about his gear. "He had a Peavey Rat combo, just a Boss compressor, I think, and a Tokai Strat copy. It was the way he played it that made it sound right."

Not to be ignored was the contribution of Alan Douglas of the Hendrix estate, who, as each track from the album was submitted for approval, responded with his thoughts, often suggesting that more Hendrix be added to a given track.

THE STUDIO



The Allen & Heath Sabre desk is the centrepiece of the studio: "it was love at first sight."

Luke's 24-track studio, Kiln 1, is on the upper floor of a converted agricultural building surrounded by trees. Before work on the studio started, the upper floor was a cavernous space; Luke did much of the construction himself, with a little help in the acoustic stages from "a friend of mine who had done a course in sound engineering, Simon Hawkes. He suggested I offset the walls so that I had no parallel walls, and that helped enormously."

A compact but comfortable control room looks through the ubiquitous control room window into a live room where vocal performances take place and drum kits are set up. Asked about his drum miking preferences, Luke responds: "I did the best with what I had at the time. The bass drum was done with the AKG D112 — pretty standard. The snare, nine times out of ten, was miked with an SM57, but sometimes we could get a better sound out of a '58, for some reason. Overheads were EV308s, which are not really designed for it but sounded good. They're dynamics, but they seemed to have a good enough frequency response. For toms, we were using whatever we had really, '57s and '58s. All toms were top miked. Same with the snares. We did a bit of borrowing, really, to do the drums. I'm very much a believer of positioning mics where they look right and then moving them around until they sound right. There's not too much science involved, in my view."

It seems that modern music is moving further and further away from traditional engineering skills — such as miking drum kits. What are Luke's views on this shift in recording style?

Roland Juno 106 (top right): "That's probably the most useful synth in here. Certainly the cheapest."

"I don't think the word 'traditional' is the important bit; I think the word 'skills' is the important bit. And I think at the end of the day if it sounds good and people like it, that's alright with me, however it's been recorded. Generally, though most people might not know why something sounds good or bad, they know if something is missing. Nine times out of ten they're right. It doesn't matter if the guy doing the recording has formal training or if he did it all on a computer if people like it."

Though not a lavish setup, Kiln 1 is certainly a professional and workable one, which Luke is currently attempting to make pay its own way. Its equipment list is similarly sensible and well chosen. Enquiries about how the studio was paid for elicit the reply that most of the money came from Castle Communications' advance. Don't ran away with the idea that mega-buck deals were on offer to the Beautiful People — by major label standards the advance was a modest one — but it was enough to equip the MSR24S-based studio, with the addition of supplementary gear that Luke and Dunc already owned.

Dominating the control room is the mixing desk, an Allen & Heath Sabre 32:16:24 with MIDI muting. Though the desk used for the album project was a 24-channel Soundtracs PC MIDI, Luke admits to having fallen in love with the Sabre at first sight. He had actually gone to the shop to get a bigger version of the PC-MIDI but couldn't resist the Sabre.

The Roland Octapad II (right) was almost as essential as the sampler during the making of the CD.

"As soon as I walked in to Tony Larking's, I wanted it. Couldn't afford it really, so I went and fixed up a bit more finance so I could have it. I prefer a split console [the PC MIDI has an in-line configuration]. With the Sabre, everything is on faders; you don't have to think about another input on a little pot. I use the MIDI muting a lot on the Sabre. It's not as fast as the Soundtracs — you could do a 24-channel mute on the Soundtracs and it would be instant. With the Sabre, I use the muting to clean up — line noise, effects, anything that might be running live. I used to do whole arrangements with mutes! Now I arrange totally in Cubase."

Taking recording duties is the Tascam MSR24S analogue 24-track with Dolby S noise reduction. Luke is evidently very pleased with its performance: "The Dolby S noise reduction works really well. And I'm totally confident that what I put onto tape, I'll get back."

Would he consider, say, three of the new 8-track digital machines, Alesis or Tascam, to replace the analogue multitrack? Luke faces a similar dilemma to most people currently using analogue multitrack: "I'd certainly consider it. But having just bought the MSR24S, I'd like to get a bit more use out of it first! Also, there are so many new formats; I think I'd rather wait and see what happens, though I must say that the ADAT looks like a big Quadraverb. The Tascam looks really professional, like it will last ten years."

Monitoring is taken care of via a pair of Yamaha NS10Ms for near field, and a pair of Tannoy System 10s. The Yamaha monitors are there "because they're a standard, really. I find them a bit toppy and hard in the mid range. But if you know a pair of speakers, you can use them. You can use anything as long as you know what it sounds like." A pair of decidedly non-standard hi-fi speakers was spotted high up near the ceiling and pointing down to the console listening position on brackets. Luke comments:

"They're like most hi-fi speakers, boosted in the bass and the top. They're good for checking a mix, though, because if, say, the hi-hats are too loud, they jump out, and if there's too much bass, they honk."

KEY SOUNDS



In the keyboard corner of the studio is a Roland Juno 106: "That's probably the most useful synth in here. Certainly the cheapest. I use that when I can't find the sound I want anywhere else. It's got sliders and knobs, and I remember it from when I first got into synths years ago. New synths aren't really very exciting, are they?"

If 60s were 90s sample chart new tracks on the right, original Hendrix tracks along the bottom - the total key to the album source material.
(Click image for higher resolution version)


Having said that, Luke does use one or two new keyboard instruments. A Roland U20, for example: "I mostly use that live. There's some good electric pianos on it; I used one of them on 'Happiness On the Wind' on the album.

"The Korg T3 is a bit long in the tooth now but still sounding great. I believe the samples are 12-bit and I really like that. The newer machines tend to have 16-bit samples, and they always seem to make sounds so unusable, too bright. I never took up the sample RAM option for the T3 — if it had 32-note polyphony and separate outs, I would have thought about it, though. My idea of the perfect synth is something that would look like a JD800, with knobs and faders, that you could load anything into, but which would sound better than the JD800. I like the idea of reworking samples, resynthesising them — but it's got to be instant."

Sequencing for the album project was done with C-Lab's Notator running on an Atari ST: "I used this for the album — doing everything in patterns — but it got too confusing with all these patterns, trying to remember where everything was. So now I'm trying Cubase — I like the way it lets you see everything all stretched out, as an arrangement. It's like seeing the tape — of course, you can't see what's on the tape — but it's like seeing the tape tracks going past."

The Tascam MSR24S: analogue with Dolby S for "total confidence!"

The rack of processors under the desk includes that studio favourite, the Lexicon PCM70, plus an Alesis Quadraverb and MIDIVerb, and an ART Multiverb Alpha.

"The PCM70 is great. I use it all the time. It's the clarity really. The Quadraverb is very good, but it's still got that kind of grainy blur; it kind of tends to push the vocals back into the mix, and you keep wanting to add loads of top. With the PCM70, you can put loads of reverb on and it doesn't muddy the vocals. It sounds great on everything. Having said all that, the Quadraverb and the ART stuff is great for the money. You can put it on drums and stuff like that."

Taking pride of place next to the desk is a trio of Drawmer gates and compressors, plus a Urei 1178 compressor. When asked what he couldn't live without, Luke responds: "The Urei 1178, definitely. You can get so much gain reduction without making the sound squashed. The design is about ten years old, but it's much better than most of the other compressors about. And the Octapad. We used that all the time when we were doing the album, replacing drum sounds from loops."

The Urei 1178 compressor racked next to the desk with Drawmer gates and compressor/limiter.

Luke mentions the album's title track by way of illustrating how the Octapad was used. As usual, the track began with a drum loop. "We started with a Soul II Soul-type loop. We replaced the original drum sounds, playing the Octapad along with the loop into the sequencer to generate MIDI events. Then we replaced the bass drum with our own sample. We wanted the bass drum to have a really deep, thumping sound, so we had these drums set up in someone's living room, and we held the bass drum up in the air and hit it with all sorts of things, whatever was in the room. In the end, I think it was a cushion that made the right sound." Luke then recorded the sound and sampled it later to replace the bass drum in the loop.

One item the album certainly couldn't have been made without is the Akai S1000. At the time it was purchased, Luke's two possible candidates were the Akai and the Roland S750. One of his reasons for choosing the Akai was that "there weren't as many good deals going on the S750 at the time." But the real clincher was that the S750 didn't come with time stretching. "That was essential. That excluded the S750.

"I've been very happy with the S1000 — it's been reliable, and the updates have been well suited to the problems that occurred. I did have terrible problems running it with a DAC drive, but that was fixed eventually. Now it's like the drive was meant for it. I even use it live now — nice one Akai. It's easy to learn too — but when you're deleting a sample from the memory, for some reason it takes a long time to throw it out. You have to wait ages. It can be really annoying, but it's a small gripe."

If Luke had unlimited money, what would he spend it on? "A lovely apartment in Los Angeles! No seriously, I'm fairly happy with what I've got, though I could do with something to edit on. The new digital editing thing on the Falcon looks good, though I never buy things when they've just come out. Ideally I'd like a Mac with Soundtools. And I'd like more analogue synths — Prophet 5, Minimoog, Jupiter 8, VCS3 — that would be something I would get excited about. I will be looking to go digital when things sort themselves out. When Tascam bring out a 1-inch 32-track digital machine for under ten grand, I'll be out there buying."

KILN 1: EQUIPMENT LIST

Allen & Heath Sabre 32:16:24 MIDI Mute Desk
Tascam MSR24S 1" 24-track with Dolby S
Tannoy System 10, Yamaha NS10M and JBL Control 1 Monitors
Akai S1000 sampler with 10MB RAM and 45MB removable hard disk
Korg T3 synth
Roland U20 keyboard
Juno 106 synth
Roland Octapad II Percussion controller
Tascam M1016 keyboard mixer
Atari ST computer with Unitor
C-Lab Notator
Steinberg Cubase

OUTBOARD PROCESSING
Lexicon PCM70
Yamaha Multi-effects
ART Multiverb Alpha/Proverb 200
Alesis Quadraverb/MIDIVerb
Urei 1178 compressor
Drawmer Compressor and Gates
Ibanez Digital Delay
Panasonic 3700 DAT
TEAC DAT

MICROPHONES
AKG 414 (pair)
AKG D112
Electrovoice EV308 (pair)
Shure SM57 (pair)
Shure SM58 (pair)
Beyer Pencil Microphone
AKGC451 +CK1

Studio rates for Kiln 1 are from £15 per hour. For a modest extra fee, Luke's engineering services are available. Previous Kiln clients include Caron Wheeler, Are You Experienced? (Hendrix Estate), and record labels EMI and Big Life. Kiln 1 (Contact Details).

Partner Dunc's working base is Incandescence, a 16-track studio based around a Fostex E16, and with an equipment list which includes:

Akai S1000
Roland U220
Yamaha TG33
Roland R5 drums
Juno 60
A list of outboard featuring Yamaha SPX900, Lexicon PCM70, Drawmer gates and compressors and Boss, ART and Alesis effects.

Rates for Incandescence are from £12 per hour. (Contact Details).


'RILLY GROOVY': THE MAKING OF THE SINGLE

The first single to be released from If 60s Were 90s is 'Rilly Groovy' (expected release end of June), a happy, infectious groove laced with sparkling rhythm guitar samples and a catchy vocal hook from Dunc. An explanation of exactly how the track was constructed serves to illuminate the working method for the whole album.

Luke: "It started with a drum loop, like the others, and some guitar that I was determined to use. It came off a Reference Library of CDs which the Hendrix estate put out, with bits of Jimi from different places. Somehow they had got hold of the multitrack, and this bit had rhythm on one track, wah on another. We thought we'd stumbled across some unreleased guitar, but a couple of months later we heard 'Bleeding Heart' and that's where the guitar part had come from. It was also one of the few parts that was alone, with no other music around it. In the end, I had about 40 samples mapped across the keyboard, trying to make it all work."

Dunc: "Luke must have been days in front of the computer on that track."

One of the most difficult aspects of making the album must have been syncing up loosely-played samples of old tracks with today's very tight, precise dance rhythms. Both Luke and Dunc confirm that this was the case. There seems to have been little that was magical about the procedure, however; their success in syncing the Hendrix samples so precisely can be put down simply to sheer hard work, cutting passages into blocks that were as small as necessary in the S1000 and then painstakingly arranging them to sound seamless. Luke: "We did stretch and squash some samples — but not too much."

Dunc: "Noel Redding went from about 119 bpm to 134bpm in one track. People just didn't play with a click in those days."

Luke: "We spent a long time trying to get the rhythm section groovy — I usually go from the rhythm first, for this type of material. We demo'd everything first, so that we already knew exactly what we wanted. Robin Goodridge, the drummer, wasn't allowed much room for his own interpretation on that one; we were really trying to pin it down to the demo. The rhythm track to 'Rilly Groovy' is actually a loop of a real drummer playing along to a sampled loop, but for 'Happiness On The Wind', it's such a tight feel that we just couldn't get it right with a real drummer, so that has totally programmed drums".

To the fluid, funky Hendrix samples of 'Rilly Groovy', the team added a bassline. Luke: "First, we sat around the keyboard fighting over it and eventually came up with something we liked. Then we got the bass player, Gavin George, to reproduce it on his original Music Man bass; we just took the programmed bass part out of the sequence and he played his part on top of the rhythm section."

Dunc then came up with a catchy, soulful but wordless vocal hook, which he sang in 3-part harmony. Dunc: "I wanted it to be 'Aah, Aah, really groovy', but you weren't too keen on that, were you [glances at Luke]. The funny thing is, lots of people who've heard it think that's what I am singing.

"We wanted it to be kind of a Monterey tribute. If you've ever seen the film, that gig was one of Jimi's happiest times. He was so happy, he kept saying 'It's really groovy', he said it all the way through."

The projected video to accompany the single is to be a visual analogue of the way 'Rilly Groovy' was composed — slices and clips of Jimi, Monterey, and the band. The band's 30-second MTV commercial (airing frequently, for anyone with MTV) takes a similar approach, with fast cutting between the soloing Hendrix and the Beautiful People live.


More with this artist



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Digidesign Session 8 Digital Studio

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Sound Bites


Publisher: Sound On Sound - SOS Publications Ltd.
The contents of this magazine are re-published here with the kind permission of SOS Publications Ltd.


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Sound On Sound - Jul 1993

Interview by Debbie Poyser

Previous article in this issue:

> Digidesign Session 8 Digital...

Next article in this issue:

> Sound Bites


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