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Disclosure

Producing Energy By Tom Doyle
Published November 2020

DisclosurePhoto: Roman Park

We speak to Disclosure’s tech guru Guy Lawrence about their journey from bedroom production to working with top‑flight stars in some of the biggest studios in the world.

It’s been 10 years since Surrey‑born brothers Guy and Howard Lawrence first began working together as Disclosure, blending dubstep and UK garage influences with classic house beats to create their own distinctive and very successful dance music. During that decade they’ve had two UK number‑one albums (2013’s Settle and 2015’s Caracal), been nominated for two Grammys and worked with vocalists as varied as Sam Smith, Lorde, the Weeknd, Kelis and slowthai. Their third album, Energy, arrived this summer, adding African rhythms and flavours to the mix.

Unlike other famous musical brothers (Liam and Noel Gallagher, Ray and Dave Davies...), the Lawrences get on very well, even when spending so much time in one another’s pockets. “Yeah we do,” says Guy. “Me and Howard are very different and I think we’re so different that it doesn’t lead to much disagreeing. Even in the band, we have very separate roles. Howard is lyrics, melody, concept, chords. The theory kind of side of it, the actual makeup of the music. Whereas I’m drums, the sounds of what Howard plays, structure, all the production and then the mix.

“So, we don’t really step on each other’s toes with that. We trust in each other to do the best job we can with those two roles, and we’ve definitely settled into that more over the last two albums. If one of us left the band, it would be screwed. It’s a yin and yang‑type thing.”

Family Values

Both of the Lawrences’ parents were musicians — their dad a guitarist and singer in rock bands, their mum a pianist and singer in jazz and function groups — so it was perhaps highly likely that they would be inspired to follow them. Guy, the elder brother by three years, started playing drums at three, while Howard later picked up the bass. Both eventually learned guitar and keyboards and studied music and music technology at college.

“Our music tech course was pretty much a crash course in Logic,” says Guy. “So, that’s why I still use Logic today because it’s just what we started out with first. It was like, ‘Here’s an EQ, here’s a compressor, here’s what they’re for. Go work out the rest yourselves.’”

Initially, the pair were motivated by the advances in dance music being made by the likes of James Blake, Burial and Joy Orbison. “That’s really what inspired us to get working on our laptops and start messing around,” Lawrence says. “’Cause before that, I just had the intention of being a drummer in someone’s band. But I kind of stopped playing and started producing.

“For the first year we were literally making tunes living at our mum’s house, in the lounge ‑ laptop, headphones, Logic 7. It was a case of how many plug‑ins could you run before it crashed. It was very basic. All the early Disclosure stuff is all Logic stock plug‑ins.”

Gaining attention for a run of highly accomplished singles and EPs, the brothers made most of their Settle debut album in the loft above their father’s auction house in Reigate. They’d borrowed a pair of small Tannoy monitors from their godfather (who used to be in their dad’s band), along with his Roland Juno‑106, which was gathering dust up in his attic.

“The big monitors we had in the studio were a massive pair of Cerwin Vegas,” Lawrence remembers. “They were just so bassy, and so toppy, it was like being in a club. So, I used to pump it really loud through those when we were making tunes, and then use the Tannoys for actual mixing. The Cerwin Vegas came from the auction downstairs. I got ‘em for 40 quid with a free DAB radio or something [laughs].

“We had a crappy AKG microphone, 50 quid, I think, and an M‑Audio interface. So, it was all super low‑budget, very bedroom. But at that time, we were in just a good flow of ideas. Everything we were making was pretty good for the standard that we wanted to be hitting at that time.”

Beats‑wise, at the time Guy Lawrence was almost exclusively working with Logic’s Ultrabeat. “I didn’t have Battery at that time,” he says. “I pretty much switched from Ultrabeat to Battery. I remember my manager giving me a couple of sample pack CDs with all the Roland drum machines on. So, there’d be just folders of WAVs of 808, 909, 707. They were all recorded nicely, that was the difference.

“I found the Ultrabeat samples a bit crushy and just not that vibey. Whereas the sample pack he gave me of all the Roland stuff had been recorded through a nice Neve...

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Published November 2020