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Interview | Band By Sam Molineaux
Published November 1999

Apollo Four Forty, 1999 (l‑r): Harry K, Howard Gray, Noko, Trevor Gray (front), Mary Mary (shades & blue T‑shirt)Apollo Four Forty, 1999 (l‑r): Harry K, Howard Gray, Noko, Trevor Gray (front), Mary Mary (shades & blue T‑shirt)

Initially best known for their radical and stylistically diverse remixes of other people's material, Apollo Four Forty have recently notched up their tenth Top 40 single and have been expanding into music for TV, film and computer games. Sam Molineaux investigates the trio behind this feat of multimedia mastery...

After starting out early in the '90s as top remixers and influential producers, Apollo Four Forty (the core trio of which comprises Noko and brothers Howard and Trevor Gray) can now look back on a successful career with their own material. Their third album, Gettin' High On Your Own Supply has recently come out, and the trailer single for the new album, 'Stop The Rock' became the group's tenth Top 40 (and third Top 10) release. A curious blend of hard‑hitting dance, Chuck Berry‑style riffs and Beach Boys‑like scat singing, 'Stop The Rock' cemented them firmly in the consciousness of record‑buyers everywhere. But the group's emergence into the bright light of public recognition has been underway for several years — two years ago they enjoyed their first Top 10 in the UK and across Europe with the Van Halen‑sampling 'Ain't Talkin' 'Bout Dub', last year they wrote the hit theme to the remake of Lost In Space (which charted at number 4 in the UK), and their tracks have been widely used on TV shows and adverts.

Last year their collaboration with keyboard wizard and master of the live synth et lumiére extravaganza Jean‑Michel Jarre produced an official theme for the World Cup, and culminated in an appearance by Apollo Four Forty at Jarre's so‑called Nuit Électronique' concert , by the Eiffel Tower in Paris on Bastille Day (see the 'Jam With Jarre' box on page 166).

Back To The Rock


Somewhat ironically for a group who have had the rare distinction of working with Jarre both live and in the studio, electronic music of this sort was never that much a part of Apollo Four Forty's earliest influences. Instead, they describe themselves as "basically kids who grew up on heavy metal", and it's primarily this lasting affection, as well as their various fascinations with film music, '80s pop and jazz, that set them off on the path to becoming one of dance music's most eclectic groups. As teenagers in Liverpool they witnessed one of Van Halen's very first British dates, and repaid the debt 20 years later with 'Ain't Talkin' 'Bout Dub'.

When the three former schoolfriends first got together in 1990, Trevor Gray was already an accomplished pianist, Noko a guitarist who had formed Luxuria with Howard Devoto, and Howard Gray a young producer/engineer who'd been notching up credits with some of the best‑known UK bands of the '80s, including UB40, Simple Minds, Scritti Politti and The Cure. Initially through their own London‑based label Stealth Sonic Recordings, they released a handful of club cuts which were successful enough to generate interest in them as remixers, and before long they were remixing bands like U2, EMF, Scritti Politti, Shabba Ranks and Deep Forest, their assorted backgrounds and influences putting a unique spin on the remix concept.

Still working on their own music and by '93 signed to major label Epic, the trio continued to alternate remix projects with their original releases: 1995's dance/rock Millennium Fever, 1997's more stylistically diverse Electro Glide In Blue, and now Gettin' High On Your Own Supply. The past couple of years, however, have seen them easing up on the remix side of their musical personality in order to concentrate on promoting their own albums, honing their live shows, and exploring other outlets for their music, such as films, TV, and computer games. The music for Lost In Space is a prime example, but there have also been theme tunes for the BBC's Pop Zone, ITV's Pulling Power, and commercials for Sunkist and Transco.

"A lot of the stuff we do lends itself to picture," says Trevor Gray, acknowledging their mainstream appeal. "Our music is constantly used on the sports channels, and behind news features and music programming. The majority of our album tracks have been requested for movie soundtracks. Film scoring is definitely an area we're hoping to expand upon."

"We also did the Sony PlayStation game Rapid Racer the year before last," continues Noko. "Sony approached us to submit some tracks for it but we actually ended up writing a full soundtrack, treating it like a movie almost. There's a lot of drama in Apollo's music, a lot of dynamics and a very filmy kind of mood and ambience — we've all been obsessed with film soundtracks at one time or another. John Barry, Bernard Hermann and Ennio Morricone are very big influences on our music."

Band Aid


Another big influential factor in the style of the current Gettin' High album has been the expansion of the group. In the two years since their last album, Apollo Four Forty have grown from a threesome to an eight‑piece band, which includes two drummers (Paul Kodish and Cliff Hewitt), a DJ, bass player and vocalist/frontman Mary Mary, formerly of Gaye Bykers On Acid.

"This is very much our band album," explains Noko. "We went out and did 200 gigs around Europe and subsequently came back as a very tight rocking band, so we couldn't help but be influenced by that. I'd say that's the biggest change in direction from the previous album to this one. There's a lot more vocals on this record, too. Mary has basically become the lead singer in Apollo Four Forty which he wasn't previously, he was more just guesting on some tracks. He turned out to be fantastic with an audience — his showmanship as a lead singer, especially doing joint vocal things with our DJ Harry K live, worked brilliantly."

The new album also benefits from having been entirely written, recorded and mixed in the latest incarnation of the group's studio Apollo Control,a spacious environment located on the Kings Cross/Camden border, which used to belong to Madness in the '80s. Its two main rooms accommodate almost identical computer setups, which allow songs to be worked on simultaneously and easily shuttled back and forth. The main Studio 1 control room, where most of the tracking and final mixing takes place, is equipped with a top‑notch AMEK console and high‑end Dynaudio monitor system (see the 'Apollo Control Gear' box elsewhere in this article), while a third, smaller, studio — the so‑called "gimp box" — is DJ Harry K's "hip‑hop research department".

Noko: "The way we construct music is pretty much as a democratic tag team. Somebody invariably starts something, and another of us will plod by and say 'Actually it'd be better if you did this, how about if I do that...', and then the third person will add another perspective and so on, until finally we sign off on it as an Apollo track.

"Although primarily I'm a guitar player, Howard's an engineer, and Trev's a keyboard player, we all play a bit of everything."

"Once we've done our part we send it down the corridor as a 2‑track mix on an ADAT to the gimp box, where Harry K will do a bit of cutting and scratching and messing with it on the other tracks," continues Howard. "And then Mary has a go doing some vocals, or they'll do some vocals between them, and then it comes back up to the main studio and we finish it."

The initial inspiration will vary; it can be a sound, a sample or a rhythm. Howard: "We have two drummers now, one guy plays real drum kit, Paul Kodish, and he's a human breakbeat — he has complete mastery of all the drum & bass and jungle rhythms. So we'll move him around the building until we get a sound we like ready to play on the track. Or we'll use Cliff Hewitt, the other drummer. He plays Clavia's Ddrums, which are great because you can record them via MIDI. The basic drum tracks on the new album are all originated by him or by Paul."

"The writing process might be sparked off by an existing drum loop, but when it comes to the actual finished product it's one of those two drummers or a combination of them," confirms Noko. "We've got two of the best drummers in England at our disposal, and between us we've got a lot of instrumental skills, so we don't really find the need to sample things. Yes, we did sample Eddie Van Halen for 'Ain't Talkin' 'Bout Dub' on the last album, but that cost us a lot of money — and I could have played that riff anyway!"

Trevor: "So everything you hear this time around is actually us. It may sound like a sample because we have so many samplers and Cubase VST and we tend to use stuff in a very scratched way, but none of it now is samples of someone else's record — they're all samples we've created."

Apollo's extensive equipment setup includes two Akai S1000s, two S3000s and an S6000 sampler, as well as a couple of Prophet 2000s and a rare Sequential Studio 440, all of which got roped into sampling duties on the latest album (with varying success rates — they're less than pleased with the performance of their new S6000, which at the time of our interview was inexplicably destroying data on the internal Zip drive).

"Harry also uses the Akai MPC60 and an MPC2000 for his stuff," says Noko. "One vocal he did on the new album, on a track called 'Heart Go Boom' [the new single], is just an SM58 plugged straight into the Prophet 2000, sampled at 8‑bit. It has this crappy 'my first sampler' quality about it, but the tone of it is an absolute killer."

Remixing the Remix


Unsurprisingly, the samplers have seen much use over the years not only on the group's own material, but also in their remix work as Apollo Four Forty and under their adopted alter ego of the Stealth Sonic Orchestra. However, instead of just sampling a few elements from the original multitrack and dropping them over a new breakbeat or track, as many remixers do, the SSO's work is worlds away from the lengthy beat‑driven club cuts usually implied by the term 'remix' — almost a remix of the concept of a remix. Drum loops are swapped for timpani and crash cymbals, while virtually everything but the original vocal is replaced with traditional orchestral backing... with astonishing results. Check out their work for the Manic Street Preachers ('Motorcycle Emptiness', 'Kevin Carter', 'Everything Must Go', 'A Design For Life', and, more recently, 'The Everlasting'), Skunk Anansie ('Weep'), and even Puff Daddy and Jimmy Page ('Come With Me'). Noko explains more about their unique approach to the art of the remix. "There's no reason on earth why remixes should be exclusively the domain of dance music. We just decided we wanted to explore our film music and orchestral influences, and we got the opportunity to do so on the Manic Street Preachers stuff initially, which they really liked. The concept of the Stealth Sonic Orchestra just built up from there, really."

The 'orchestra' is an amalgam of samples from the group's Roland JV1080 (with the additional orchestral board) and real players, arranged in such a way that even the most discerning listener would be hard pushed to distinguish which are which.

"The trick to using orchestral instrument samples and have them sound realistic is knowing how the instruments should be arranged. It's about knowing the believable range of an instrument, which notes you can and can't play, and certain idiosyncrasies about those instruments, such as using glissandi," says Noko. "The difference between moving from one note to another isn't just a matter of going bosh, from one key to the next. Even with pad string parts, it's about using believable changes and inversions from one chord to the next. As a general rule, I usually find that if you use as few changes and as many continuous notes between one chord and the next, that's what makes it sound authentic."

Howard: "How real a synthesized string treatment is or how real it feels is more down to the arrangement than it is about what samples you're using. You can have the most realistic samples but if you're not using them in a convincing fashion, it still won't sound real. On the other hand, the crappiest old string synth can sound surprisingly realistic if you're doing the right things with it."

Since strings are one of the most difficult instrument groups to reproduce synthetically in a realistic way, once the demos are produced the trio invariably get a few real players in to beef up the sound.

"Just putting a couple of real violins behind a JV1080 is all it needs," claims Noko. "We generally just run the melody version of some of the key lines by two or three string players, usually violin and cello, and that makes the whole thing breathe.

"We occasionally use real horn players too, but in general brass instruments are a lot easier to synthesize. It depends what the parts are — if it's a solo line then we'll use a real instrument, but with brass sections you can get away with using samples. Trevor plays flute, so we have his flute playing in there sometimes, and there's a bit of me playing viola on the new album."

The Wrong Effects?

When it comes to processing and outboard, Apollo Four Forty rely heavily on guitar effects — but the band rarely use them on guitars, preferring instead to route synth and drum tracks through them.

"Things that are designed as guitar effects are often really nice for use in a hi‑tech studio environment," explains Howard. "For example, I've never found a phaser or a flanger preset on any other modern digital units that's nearly as good as the '70s or '80s Boss effects or the MXR phaser we use on the Fender Rhodes."

"We've got Mutrons, MXRs, Electroharmonix stuff, the Boss mini‑rack series, and I've got pretty much every flanger anyone's ever made," says Noko. "One of my favourites is the Boss GL100 distortion box which is basically a single rackmount, 2‑channel guitar preamp with sweepable parametric EQ. We've got two of those, and we use them as distortion units for drums a lot. I think they're about 10 years old, and although they're not that great as guitar preamps they're fantastic as controlled distortion units. Companies like TLA brought out their special valve overdrive unit and it's not a patch on this. This thing is designed to be extreme, as it's a guitar effect.

There's no reason on earth why remixes should be exclusively the domain of dance music.

"We use the guitar effects as synths. And you see that more and more. I read an interview with the Chemical Brothers and they were talking about how they put all their drum loops and stuff through guitar distortion pedals. It's kind of obvious when you think about it. The history of guitar electronics has been about creating fake excitement and volume, and it doesn't just work on guitars — it works on everything else. If you put a drum loop through extreme compression or distortion you get that same fake illusion of volume, which a lot of that breakbeat stuff is about. It's about creating an impression that things are more exciting than they really are."

The Real Deal

Vintage keyboards also figure heavily on Gettin' High... and in the Apollo studio, but here the band eschew modern emulations in favour of the original classics (see the gear box, starting on page 162). Indeed, they tend to steer clear of most modern synthesizers generally — the only one Trevor admits to really liking is the Korg Prophecy. Their most recent acquisition, however, is an instrument whose roots go back even further than their treasured Minimoogs.

Noko: "We just bought one of Robert Moog's new reissued Big Briar Theremins, but we haven't been able to use it yet as we're still waiting for the correct power supply! Up until recently we've been using our old Korg MS20 for Theremin‑like noises, but then we decided to use a real one on our remix of the Manic Street Preachers' song 'The Everlasting'. We had an amazing classical Theremin player in to play the melody and it was a real joy to watch her. She was doing incredible things to control the sound and we just totally fell in love with it, so we're looking forward to using a bit more Theremin."

Whether they'll ever be brave enough to use the Theremin in their live show remains to be seen, but as one of the few dance acts who believe in keeping the music totally live, it's not to be ruled out. And as one of the few dance groups with a foot firmly in the past and always an eye on the future, Apollo Four Forty are a curious mix of conventionality with innovation, not to mention a fine example of the continuing tradition of good old rock & roll.

"When punk came out everyone was saying that rock was dead, but in retrospect punk was just one tiny variation of rock. And that's what the best dance music is," claims Noko. "We don't even see ourselves as a dance band, we're just part of a continuum that started with Robert Johnson."

Apollo Control Gear


  • Akai MPC2000 sequencer/sampler.
  • Akai MPC60 sequencer/sampler.
  • ARP Odyssey MkII synth.
  • Big Briar Etherwave Theremin.
  • Bösendorfer Baby Grand Piano.
    Noko: "That's on loan from Madness. They had nowhere to put it, so we're looking after it".
  • Fender Rhodes Stage 73 piano (x2).
  • Hammond XM1 organ (x2) + Korg G4 Leslie simulator.
  • Korg MS20 synth + SQ10 analogue sequencer.
    Noko: "This was my first ever synth, so I know my way around it well. There's a lot of MS20 on the new album making squealy Theremin‑type noises. I run it with a Korg SQ10, a little 12‑note analogue sequencer that you have to tune by hand. A lot of the little acidy loops we've had on tracks right from the beginning have been generated by the SQ10, and just recorded and time‑stretched. It's just a great hands‑on way of creating notes and moves that you'd never do on a software‑based sequencer."
  • Korg Prophecy.
    Trevor: "This was the only decent synth that came out in years. It's hands‑on, and the ribbon controller makes it so much fun to play."
  • Korg VC10 vocoder.
  • Korg X11 pitch‑voltage guitar synth.
  • Moog Liberation synth.
  • Moog Micromoog synth.
  • Moog Minimoog synth.
  • Novation BassStation.
  • Novation BassStation Rack (x2).
  • Oberheim Matrix 1000 module.
  • Oberheim OBMX rack synth.
  • Quasimidi Rave‑O‑Lution 309 synth/sequencer.
  • Roland A33 mother keyboard (x2).
  • Roland D550 synth.
  • Roland GR30 guitar synth.
  • Roland Juno 106 synth (x2).
  • Roland JD800 synth.
  • Roland JD990 synth module.
  • Roland JV1080 synth (x2) with Orchestral + World expansion cards.
    Noko: "We use these as our basic machines. The sound quality of even the basic orchestra is really good, but with the orchestral board it sounds fantastic. We generally demo on these and then get a few string players and brass players in to augment that."
  • Roland RS505 string synth.
  • Roland SH101 synth.
  • Sequential Prophet VS synth.
  • Sequential Studio 440 sequencer/sampler.
    Noko: "When we first started out, and before we got into software sequencing, we were using the Sequential Studio 440. Our first record was made with two of them and virtually nothing else. That's actually where the '440' in our name came from. They were like an early version of an Akai MPC60 — a drum machine sampler with 16 pads, but it had better‑quality VCAs and VCFs and resonant filters, which Akai didn't get around to until many years later. It came out before the MPC but it just wasn't successful — they only made 650 of them before the company went to the wall."
  • Vox Continental dual‑manual organ.
  • Yamaha RM1x dance workstation.
  • Yamaha TG500 synth module.
    Noko: "The TG500 is a machine we use on a few things, especially on the Stealth Sonic remixes. It's quite old so some of the sounds aren't brilliant, but early on I programmed a performance multi using a harpsichord, 12‑string guitar, piano and acoustic bass, in a certain way with velocities and splits and I use that quite frequently as a writing tool. It was intended as a John Barry double bass/harpsichord/piano combination, to give that dulcimer quality sound which he uses on a lot of his film music."
  • Yamaha TX802 synth.



  • Alesis ADAT (x2) plus BRC.
  • Amek Big by Langley 56‑channel console (with Supertrue automation and full virtual dynamics).
  • Dynaudio M3 studio monitor system.
    Noko: "We've just invested in this system — it was an awful lot of money but it's absolutely stunning. Once we'd heard it, we knew that anything else was going to be a compromise. Interestingly, our studio, which was originally built by Madness in the early '80s, was one of the first control rooms designed by Andy Munroe, and he's part of the design team of Dynaudio. So almost 20 years later we actually put his monitors into his room!"
  • MOTU MIDI Time Piece AV.
  • Quad 405MkII amp.
  • Revox B77 tape machine.
  • Tannoy Little Gold monitors.
  • Tascam DA30 DAT.
  • Tascam DA30 MkII DAT.
  • Tascam DA20 MkI DAT.
  • Yamaha NS10 monitors.


  • JBL Control 1 monitors.
  • MOTU MIDI Time Piece AV.
  • Samson Servo 260.
  • Spirit Studio 32:8:2 mixer.
    Howard: "We made all our previous records on the Soundcraft Spirit desk, which I think sounds amazing. It's superior to all the other budget desks. The distortion in particular is lovely, you can overdrive the line amps and it's really musical."
  • Tannoy Little Gold Monitors.



  • Apple Mac 9600.
  • Korg 1212 PCI card (x2).
  • Korg AD880/DA880 A‑D converters.
  • Steinberg Cubase VST v3.05.
  • Steinberg Rebirth.
  • Steinberg Recycle.


  • Apple Mac G3.
  • Korg 1212 card.
  • Korg AD880/DA880 A‑to‑Ds.
  • Steinberg Cubase VST v3.05 (with Antares Auto‑Tune plug‑in).
  • Steinberg Rebirth.
  • Steinberg Recycle.
    Howard: "We were going to go for the Pro Tools system at one point, but we were told by both Steinberg and Digidesign that the actual audio quality of the Cubase VST system with the Korg A‑D converters, the 880s, and a couple of 1212 cards is actually no worse. And because we've got so much outboard gear already, the plug‑in factor of Pro Tools, which is really the only main advantage, is redundant. Besides, we actually prefer to use inserts from the desk, since we have such a nice‑sounding desk anyway, so we've just stuck with Cubase."



  • AKG BX5 Spring Reverb.
  • Alesis Quadraverb+ reverb.
  • Boss GL100 Distortion unit (x2).
  • Boss RBF10 mini‑rack flanger.
  • Boss RPH10 mini‑rack phaser.
  • Boss VT1 voice processor.
    Noko: "The entire vocal on 'Stop The Rock' is processed through this Boss VT1. It's a little orange box with three faders on it for changing the vocal sound, like a primitive vocoder. We just recorded our vocalist Mary Mary performing the lyrics in different ways, with me manipulating the three parameters live and recording it to VST. I think it's the same machine the Beastie Boys use on 'Intergalactic' and that Air used on 'Sexy Boy'".
  • Dbx 160A compressor.
  • Dbx 163 compressors (x4).
  • Digitech Vocalist II voice processor.
  • Drawmer 1960 compressor.
  • Drawmer LX20 expander/compressor.
  • Joemeek voice channel.
  • Klark Teknik DN360 Graphic EQ.
  • Korg SDD1000 effects (x3).
    Noko: "It's a basic delay but I prefer the tone of it to more expensive digital delays. It feels more like a tape delay."
  • Lexicon MPX1 effects (x2).
  • Lexicon LXP1 effects (x2).
    Howard: "There's no substitute for Lexicon reverbs. We have a couple of MPX1s, but I still find myself using two LXP1s; they've got such a beautiful tone and distort quite nicely. They manage to recreate the sound of overdrive in a real EMT plate, which expensive digital reverbs tend not to".
  • Roland SRV330 reverb unit.
  • Roland SDE330 delay unit.
    Noko: "These aren't expensive, but they have some really special sounds in them. There's a fantastic reverse delay in the SDE that we use a lot."
  • SPL Vitalizer enhancer.
  • Urei 546 parametric EQ.
  • Valley People Gatex 8‑channel gate.


  • Focusrite Red 6 preamp/EQ.
  • Korg SDD1000 effects.
  • Lexicon MPX1 effects.


  • Boss BF2 flanger.
  • Boss CE1 chorus.
  • Boss OC2 octave divider.
  • Boss OD1 overdrive.
  • Cry‑baby Wah.
  • Digitech GSP 2112 multi‑effects (x2) + Control One foot controller.
  • Electroharmonix Big Muff fuzz.
  • Electroharmonix Electric Mistress flanger.
  • Electroharmonix Small Stone phaser.
  • Musitronics Mutron III filter.
  • MXR Phase 90 phaser.
  • Roland GP8 multi‑effects.
  • Shaftesbury DuoFuzz.


  • Akai S1000 (x2).
  • Akai S3000XL (x2).
  • Akai S6000.
  • Sequential Prophet 2000 sampler.
  • Sequential Prophet 2002+ sampler.


  • Casio VL‑Tone (drum sounds only).
  • Korg MiniPops rhythm machine.
  • Oberheim DX drum machine.



  • Clavia Ddrum 3 + pads (x2).
  • Clavia Ddrum 4 + pads (x2).
  • Mackie 1604 mixer (for Ddrums).
  • Visulite cymbal triggers.
  • Yamaha RM1x dance workstation.


  • Bells.
  • Custom‑made Paul Kodish Signature Pork Pie acoustic drum kit.
  • Ddrum triggers.
  • Ddrum 4+ pads.
  • Zildjian cymbals.
  • 30‑inch gong.


  • 1964 Burns NuSonic Bass.
  • 1959 Fender Jazzmaster.
  • 1962 Fender Stratocaster.
  • 1962 Fender Stratocaster (Jap Reissue) (x2).
  • 1988 Fender Stratocaster XII 12‑string.
  • 1982 G+L L1000 Bass.
  • 1996 Gibson Chet Atkins Country Gentleman.
  • 1975 Ovation Breadwinner.
  • 1979 Ovation Stereo Classical acoustic.
  • 1996 Parker Fly Deluxe.
  • 1966 Yamaha SG5A 'surf' electric.


  • Vestax PMC102T mixer.
  • Vestax decks.
  • Yamaha RM1x dance workstation.

Jam With Jarre

Many synth‑ or dance‑orientated bands dream of collaborating with the French master of the synth anthem, Jean‑Michel Jarre. Apollo Four Forty have not only worked with him in the studio, but played with him live at one of his spectacular outdoor concerts. Noko is not backwards about coming forwards... "That was amazing," he beams. "We played on Bastille Day, two days after the French won the World Cup, with Jean Michel in front of 1.2 million people and the Eiffel Tower with a million quid's worth of fireworks going off behind us. It was definitely one of our greatest moments!"

Apollo Four Forty's association with Jean‑Michel goes back to '97 when the mighty French one, apparently a big fan of Apollo's second album Electro Glide In Blue, invited the boys to remix 'Oxygene 10' for Epic's Oxygene 10 Remix EP. He was so impressed that when he was asked to come up with an official theme for last year's World Cup he immediately turned to Apollo and requested la même chose. The result was the majestic 'Rendezvous 98' (a remake of JMJ's 'Rendezvous IV') which became the ITV World Cup theme, and when released as a single rocketed straight into the Top 20.

"It was actually an entire remake, we replayed everything and came up with entirely new sounds. But he loved it," explains Noko.

"Jean‑Michel came over at the end and helped us out with the mix. We had a smaller studio then, just a dirty little ramshackle setup in Camden opposite the tube station, and we had Jean‑Michel Jarre sat in there with us for two days! We even took him down the local," remembers Howard.