There are lots of points of interest here, not least the way distortion allows the lead
vocals to maintain some presence in the face of the backing track’s full-frequency
assault — a long-standing trick in heavy rock music, which is equally applicable to
slab-like saturated synth textures like this. I also love the way the arrangement is
constantly evolving through time. Take the first verse (0:27-0:55) for instance. It starts
by dropping the drums with a low-end ‘boom’ one-shot and a sizzly HF transition
effect. The first vocal phrase follows shortly after, by the end of which the backing has
already thinned out and become more muted, to give the sonic details of the voice, high
synth riff, and their delay effects a few moments in the spotlight. By the time the second
vocal phrase has finished, though, the synth bed is already becoming edgier and more
filter-modulated, leading towards the vocal delay spin on the word ‘I’ at 0:40.
Then the tambourine/shaker subtly increase the rhythmic drive and a hint of low
bass appears as the synths begin to fade in and open their filters. At 0:48, a siren sound
emerges from somewhere below 200Hz and slowly slides upwards to connect with the strong
658Hz fundamental of the vocal ‘Ho!’ at 0:53, while the shadowy low end fades out
again in preparation for the main chorus bass part. It’s this kind of continual ebb and
flow that seems to typify a lot of the most commercially successful dance music, and Chase
& Status exemplify a wide variety of techniques here which you can readily adapt to
enhance your own electronica tracks.
Here’s what the sub-80Hz frequency
region of Chase & Status’s ‘Blind Faith’ looks like on a vectorscope display.
The oval shape shows that there are out-of-phase bass components in the mix, something
that can cause problems in real-world playback situations. The second vectorscope shows
the much better-behaved sub-80Hz region of Pendulum’s ‘Watercolour’, which delivers
a much more consistent bass sound.
The drums and bass are worthy of attention
too. The snare has a good chunk of low end to it (another connection with classic rock
records), specifically a strong pitched component at 172Hz. Try notching out that
frequency with EQ and you’ll quickly realise how significantly it affects the drum’s
subjective power. By giving more low end to the snare like this, it doesn’t need to
fight as much with the synths and vocals in the 3-5kHz presence region, which helps avoid
harshness creeping into the overall mix tonality. It’s also worth noting that 172Hz is
an ‘F’, a note which works pretty well with all the main chords of the song: a 7th of
G-Major, the third of D-minor, and the root of F-major. By virtue of this, the 172Hz
component sinks into the track, contributing power without drawing too much attention to
its pitched nature.
The kick rolls off pretty rapidly below 60Hz, as you can
hear easily at 0:13, leaving a clear window for the 35-50Hz bass-line fundamentals.
Despite this, the low end of this record is not as solid and powerful as it could be, for
two reasons. The first is that the levels of the bass fundamentals are quite inconsistent.
Compare the ‘D’ notes at 0:57 and 1:04, for example. The fundamental of the latter is
considerably stronger (to the tune of about 6dB, judging by my spectrum analysers).
Compressing the low frequencies is no remedy, though, because of another problem: the left
and right LF channels aren’t well matched, either in terms of level or phase. In other
words, in a stereo speaker system, the combined bass output of the speakers will suffer
because one of the woofers is usually producing less fundamental than the other; while on
a mono system, partial phase-cancellation adds further variability in the combined bass
You can easily identify low-end phase mismatch by sending a steeply
low-pass-filtered version of the mix to a stereo vectorscope. In ‘Blind Faith’ you get
an oval trace, whereas a production that’s better behaved in this regard (Pendulum’s
‘Watercolour’, say) exhibits something close to a straight vertical line with a filter
cutoff of 80Hz or so. To hear what I’m talking about, listen to the ‘F’ bass note at
3:09. It starts off with the channels partially out of phase, then drifts into phase
towards the middle of the note’s duration, before sliding back out of alignment again.
The result in mono is a noticeable low-end swell (maybe 3dB) towards the middle of the
note, and this is the kind of instability that’s present right through the track.
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