The Yossarians

Erasure

The Heartbreaks

Charlotte OC

The Happy Soul

MiSTOA POLTSA

East India Youth

Locean

Saint Etienne

Ten Mouth Electron

English Heretic

John Foxx

DENA

ILL

Mountain Song

The Lone Taxidermist

Lana Del Rey

NYPC

Holly Johnson

Altar Flowers

Bombay Bicycle Club

Goldblade

How To Make Stuff (Lana Del Rey ‘Video Games’ Remix)

So Ian from Clique sends an email: the people handling Lana Del Rey have decided to let us pitch in a remix for the upcoming big PR fanfare début single launch. Of course, no guarantees of anything whatsoever, least of all money, and can we have it in a week? Any later is too late, zero chance of an extension.

I look at the Calendar. I am currently booked solid every day, Ian’s got the club to deal with, nobody’s had a break in weeks. It boils down to: we could maybe do three evening sessions to a total of about ten hours if we cut back on frivolities like eating and sleeping.

There’s no fucking way, I tell him. It just can not be done.

Later that evening, or rather at 3:50 in the morning, I am sat at the mixing desk playing back what we’ve made. It sounds colossal. It sounds like Stevie Nicks and Kate Bush have collaborated in the construction of a spook-pop android, which has then sucked out both their life forces and fashioned them into this gleaming chrome hover-train of a song. Needs a mix and a tweak and whatnot, but it’s basically done. And, at this slightly deranged been-awake-too-long moment, is sounding absolutely killer.

It’s a funny old business, the creative process. There are lots of ways to not engage with it. “Waiting for inspiration” is useless, it won’t come. “Experimenting” is fairly useless, it’s another word for “screwing around”. “Making sure your studio is a good space for creativity” is a brilliant one. That’s interior decoration, and is about as far away from actually making stuff as you can get. Anything you do to create the right “vibe” is unadulterated procrastination.

Basically, you’re either the kind of person who has good ideas or you’re not, and if you’re not, no amount of eccentrically placed soft furnishings is going to make a blind bit of difference. So you might as well assume the ideas you have are good, and get on and actually make them.

The best way to make something, be it a record, a painting, a meal, whatever, is to set yourself the goal of making something, and then make it. Do it, finish it, move on. If it’s rubbish, you can throw it away and never show it to anybody.

However, the more and more you do this, the less and less rubbish your results will be. Finish it, move on. It’s critically important to finish stuff. 50 half-finished novels are exactly zero percent as valuable as one finished one. In fact, they’re arguably of less value than never having written anything at all. That’s all time you’re never getting back.

That song on your hard drive that you’ve tinkered with for a year, because it’s “not quite right”? It isn’t “not quite right”, it’s crap, or you’d have nailed it ages ago. Delete it, forget about it. Start something else. Decide to finish it in a week. Actually finish it. Move on.

(Big-headed update: Initially, the label went for this as an internet-only promotional thing. However, having racked up a half million plays on YouTube, they bowed to popular demand and it became the lead track on the European remix package. That’ll do me for a few days’ work).

Penguin Prison – Fair Warning (Club Clique ‘Actualité’ Remix)

Here’s one from around June 2011.

Really interesting working process on this one. The Clique guys came to me with the stems for the original track, but had quite specific plans for it. They didn’t want to use any of the the original music, and they had already worked out some edits to the vocal to subtly alter the lyrical thrust of the song. The idea was to de-emphasise the break-up regret aspects of the song, and bring out it’s more ‘I Will Survive’ qualities.

Before we even put down a note, we spent a couple of sessions playing different records and discussing how to create (in their words) “Paradise Garage break-up anthems”.

Key tracks we listened to were Girlfriend by Pebbles, Teardrops by Womack and Womack and I distinctly recall a fairly extensive adventure in the forbidden zone of the Hall and Oates back catalogue. So a very 80s kind of sound, but we also knew we wanted a more modern, very focussed low end on it.

Very pleased with the end result. I also play a ludicrous guitar solo on this one.

Technical notes:

  • Recorded and mixed in Sonar X1 Producer.
  • Guitars recorded through a Pod XT live
  • Rhythm guitars are a Strat, lead is a Variax 700 modelling a Les Paul
  • Bass sound is from the Rapture synth.
  • Most other synths are Dimenson Pro

Sleigh Bells – Rill Rill (Club Clique ‘New Trends’ Remix)

Did the mix for this early in 2011 (can’t recall the exact date). Working in Ableton Live for the first time, which was fairly fun and interesting.

This one came to me more or less complete, so no real involvement in the musical side of things. Tidied up some timing issues and simplified the bass line on the chorus, but other than that, just mixing.

Love Dominic Oliver‘s guitar playing on this one.

Was the most popular track in the world on Hype Machine for about three hours. Heady times :)

Blastian (iPhone game)

Small project, nice little iPhone shoot-em-up. They only required a theme tune and a repeated in-game tune.

My thinking n this one was that shoot-em-up games always use generic moody techno. To me, this doesn’t capture the feeling of a really great shoot em up, which is a lot more “HELL YEAH” than that. So I suggested going total rock / metal with it. It seemed to work out pretty well.

The theme tune is utterly shameless proggy rock. The in-game stuff is a fairly blatant stab at something like the more angular bits of Led Zeppelin’s oeuvre; like something off Presence, maybe. Makes me want to blow stuff up, anyway.

Go Go Rescue Squad (video game)

A really fun project this, everything had a really cartoony feel and I tried to reflect that in the music. Did all the music and sound effects for it, including the voices of the in-game characters, which are all wordless squeaks and grunts; the idea was to create voice effects that wouldn’t need translation. (Credit where it’s due, “Panic Room” and “Pimlico Heights” were co-written with the game’s brilliant animator Rob Noyce).

The squeaky toy style was achieved using the time-honoured cartoon method of speeding up recordings of my own voice to various degrees. Spent a couple of amusing evenings on my balcony confusing the neighbours above and below holding a mic and shouting WHHEEEEE, OWWWW, YAY and so on.

Lots of foley stuff in this one too. There’s a bouncing balloon sound that was actually achieved hitting a plastic Pepsi bottle with a wooden spoon; spent some time dropping various items into the bath; a hairy moment close miking the flame on a gas cooker. Foley is the most ridiculous and brilliant job in the world.

Musically, I made a concious choice to use lots of acoustic sounds; acoustic guitars, sitar, piano, banjo, steel drums, upright bass and so on. I think this is still unusual in games, which tend to go for either orchestral or techno, and gives the end result a really distinctive flavour.

One of my favourites is “Danger Room” which was for these super tricky bonus levels. Really pleased to have got something so atonal and abstract in there.

My one regret about this project was that I didn’t push to get a budget for recording real brass. The synth brass sounds are kind of okay in the cartoony context, but it would have been so much cooler with a real brass section.

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