Lawrence says that he’s less self‑critical now when it comes to mixing than he was with the first two Disclosure albums. “I would spend ages on them back then because I still had a very high critique and level of how I wanted it to sound, but not much of the expertise of how to get there. Whereas now I think I’m able to achieve a pretty good and finished mix much quicker. It satisfies my ear faster now than it used to.
“I think I’ve also tried to let go of preconceived ideas of what, like, ‘good’ is and ‘finished’ is. I’m much more now about capturing the initial vibe. Whether that’s distorted and rumbly, or super clean and poppy. Whereas with the first two records, trying to achieve a professional sound with limited knowledge and just Logic stock plug‑ins was difficult [laughs].”
Guy Lawrence’s current studio is based in his house in London where he moved five years ago. Everything since Disclosure’s 2018 single ‘Ultimatum’ (their first collaboration with Malian singer Fatoumata Diawara) has been mostly written and mixed there.
“It’s not very professionally set up,” he laughs, illustrating his point via webcam by picking up a loose acoustic foam tile sitting behind his chair. “I just put it on this door when it’s not open, ’cause there’s a toilet there. It was a bit boomy in here, so I just put ’em up where there was a space. There’s no real philosophy to it. I’m sure someone else could’ve done it better and made the sound better.
“But one thing I would say about treating your home studio,” he adds, “is before you stick stuff up, put the speakers in first and sit in different areas of the room. Because the sound will be better in certain pockets in certain areas of the room. That’s why I’m actually right back up against this wall. Right here is the sweet spot. The bass lands here nicely.”
Even if its acoustics haven’t been professionally tweaked, Disclosure’s setup is compact and powerful. In terms of monitors, Guy Lawrence switches between a pair of Neumann KH310s (with a 750 DSP sub), Yamaha NS10s and Avantone Active MixCubes.
“I’ll make tunes on the Neumanns always ’cause it’s the most full sound,” he says. “I also have the Yamaha NS10s powered by a Bryston amp. I think it throws out more lows than some of the other ones, so that’s always good for NS10s. I don’t like working on them, but I’ve found them very useful. I think that’s the way with NS10s, isn’t it? They sound like crap but they’re so useful, low volume, for getting the vocals and the synths all in the right place.
“The Avantones are even more boxy, but good for focusing in on the vocals and the synths. Usually when I’ve got the song in a roughly good place and I want to do a mix, I’ll start on those, get everything sounding good, then move to the NS10s, get everything sounding good on those, and then end up on the big ones. Because each time you change monitor, it just sounds better and better. Whereas, y’know, if you work on the Neumanns, pumping it really loud for a bit and then switch to the Avantones, it’s like, ‘Uh, God, that doesn’t actually sound very good at all [laughs].’ So, if you work in reverse, I seem to be able to knock out a mix quite quickly with this combination.”
In the beats department these days, Lawrence uses Battery (and sometimes percussion loops from Splice) in the box, with his main piece of drum‑machine hardware being the Roland TR‑8S.
“I use that a lot,” he says. “Especially in a session with Howard, ’cause I’ll just get a beat going on there straight away. I’ve got it plugged in with the USB, which is super useful cause it sends all the stems into Logic. You don’t have to capture a stereo output or do one part at a time. You can record all eight things at the same time, which is great. I had the TR‑8 for ages but the TR‑8S is a little better, ’cause you can add your own samples to it, and it also has automation recording, so you can get a lot more movement out of the sounds.”
Lawrence is a big fan of Roland’s Boutique series and has an SH‑01A, TB‑03, D‑05 and SE‑02. “The reason for that mostly is space saving,” he points out. “It’s pretty compact in here, so the fact that I can have four synths on my table right in front of me here, at my fingertips, it’s great. I would say the SH‑01 is my favourite. I think it’s a great copy of the real thing and the fact that it has sliders rather than knobs, even though it’s smaller, it’s not difficult to use.
“Whereas the SE‑02 is all knobs like a Moog and they’re so fiddly and so small that I haven’t been getting on with it very well, to be honest. That’s probably the one I use the least. The D‑05 you don’t have to worry about that, ’cause it’s all just presets, and the TB‑03’s knobs are spread out quite nicely.
“The good thing about all the Boutique stuff is it’s just one USB cable in the back of each one and that’s your MIDI and your audio done at full 24‑bit quality. They all just show up in Logic and you make a little aggregate interface and you’re good to go. So, when I open Logic on my template I have them all there ready. You can play any synth straight away.”
Elsewhere in Disclosure’s hardware synth department, the Juno‑106 is still much‑loved. Guy Lawrence chuckles as he explains that it’s still on long‑term loan from the brothers’ godfather. “That’s been on tour with us,” he says. “I think, to be honest, it’s on, like, permanent loan.” Among Lawrence’s other synths is an Alesis A6 Andromeda. “An absolute beast of a synth,” he says. “I feel like I haven’t scratched the surface with it and I’ve owned it for about five years. It’s a bit intimidating, to be honest. It’s not one of those synths where you just touch a knob and it does something straight away. There’s a lot of under‑the‑hood mapping going on. I just don’t feel like I use it enough. Because you can’t really just go up to it and start playing it. There’s a lot of sound design that needs to be done. But it is a fantastic, very unique synth.”
Far more often used is Guy's Novation Peak. “I absolutely love this thing, man,” Lawrence enthuses. “I’ve had it for about six months and I’m getting on with it very well. I think because it’s laid out very like a Juno. The envelopes are sliders and they react very similarly to a Juno. But then the oscillators and the filter are like a Moog.
“The interesting thing about it is its digital oscillators — which is usually a bad thing in my experience, right? But they’re super‑high‑fidelity digi oscillators going into an analogue filter, analogue distortion, analogue overdrive. So, you get all the advantages of digi presets and CC sends and it’s very reliable. But you still get a nice hit of analogue on the way through the routing of it. For really crunchy, dirty bass lines it’s got a nice 303‑through‑distortion feel. For big, epic, wide pads it’s got three different types of chorus.”
Around the same time as his purchase of the Peak, Lawrence bought an SSL SiX, which he mainly uses to route his hardware synths through. “I would happily track vocals through that,” he says. “It’s got very, very clean preamps on it and a decent bit of EQ. You could just plug a Neumann straight into that and you’d be off. It’s also got the G Bus Compressor, so if you have the 808 jamming, the Peak doing the bassline and then the Juno doing some chords, you whack it through the G Bus and you’re already in a pretty good space. Everything’s kind of gelled together.”
While in his own studio, Lawrence has a Neumann U87 to record singers, typically when he’s in studios he requests a Neumann M49. “That’s kind of my favourite general mic,” he says, “especially for a soft, airy, girl vocal. I don’t love the [Sony] C800. Everyone in LA is using that mic at the moment. I find it just to be too toppy. You have to de‑ess the f**k out of it. Maybe it’s good for rap.”
On ‘My High’, featuring slowthai, from Energy, Lawrence went for a more extreme approach to a rap vocal sound. “That is a [Shure] SM58 going through a real Distressor and then through the UAD Distressor on nuke. Just full blast. Absolutely crushing it. It just did exactly what I wanted it to do. Really bitey, really distorted.”
When it comes to plug‑in processing, Guy Lawrence is a huge fan of the UAD platform. “I really like the API 2500 compressor,” he says. “I use that almost every time on the drum bus. I feel like it does a really good job at gluing stuff together but with a really punchy attack. Ninety percent of my songs are all big 4/4 house kick, and it just does a really good job at letting the transients through but bringing it all together and making it punchy.”
Similarly, UAD’s Studer A800 typically figures when Lawrence is drum bussing. “For me, it does the best job when I go into the red,” he says. “If I’m going for a more subtle saturation thing, I’ll probably use the FabFilter Saturn. You’ve just got more control. With the Studer, you turn up the input, close your eyes and when you hear it doing what you want to do, like squelchy hi‑hats, you’re in a good place.
“One thing I would love is a wet and dry knob on that. I wish they’d put that in so you could really crank it and then just back off like you do with the [Soundtoys] Decapitator or something. That would be a cool move for an update, but it’s great.”
Another key polishing tool for Disclosure tracks is UAD’s Sonnox Oxford Inflator dynamic processor. “Inflator is one of the best plug‑ins ever made,” Guy reckons. “It’s one fader and it just does all the magic for you. Softube do a good one, their [Drawmer] S73 mastering compressor — one knob, turn up the compression. There’s clearly a lot of algorithms and crazy stuff going on behind there. But I love just having the mouse, closing your eyes and just actually listening to what it’s doing. If you’ve got one fader and one knob, then you can listen a lot easier.
“So, I love the Inflator. I’ll put that on a vocal bus, on the master out, on anything. It’s one of those plug‑ins where you don’t hear it doing a lot, but when you have like 10 instances of it in a project, you bypass them all and put them back in and it’s like, woosh... night and day.”
Lawrence also loves UAD’s Capitol Chambers, not least because he was working in the legendary Los Angeles studio at the same time as the plug‑in was being created. “I was actually there the day they were mapping out the chambers downstairs,” he recalls. “I remember a lot of UAD guys going down the ladder and doing it.
“I was lucky enough to get some of the stems to Al Green’s discography,” he adds. “We did a mix one day in Capitol of ‘Let’s Stay Together’ and we were bussing Al Green’s vocal down to the chambers. That was a fun day, man. Listening to the chambers, that was good. The plug‑in compares pretty damn well, I’ve got to say. Especially if you want something a bit boomier and more soulful.”
Energy was completed back in November 2019, with its release delayed to August of this year due to Covid‑19. Twiddling his thumbs during lockdown, Guy Lawrence began live‑streaming music production tutorials, via Twitch, from his home studio.
“I thought, ‘I’ve got no shows, I’m just bored. I want to connect with the fans somehow,’” he explains. “I saw a couple of my mates doing it and I’d already invested in some GoPros and other stuff for doing DJ sets. So, I thought, ‘Why not just put them up in the studio? And then I can show everyone the place as well.’”
Having written a pool of around 200 tracks to cut down and work up for Energy, Lawrence was understandably in no big rush to get back to creating new original material. “I was doing a lot of disco edits, a lot of sampling,” he says. “I wasn’t too fussed for the last three or four months about starting stuff from scratch. I was doing a lot of, like, just dragging in my favourite Brazilian disco tune or African tribal‑y drum loop and just going from there as more of a fun thing. Making tunes to drop in the DJ sets that I was doing over lockdown.
“I quite liked the idea of getting back to a time where you can make a tune and play it to people immediately. Some of the songs on this new album are three years old for me. And I miss that time of when we started out — make a tune, whack it up on SoundCloud, see what happens. ’Cause then you’re as excited as the fans are.”
Lawrence says that the brothers’ pre‑pandemic trip to Kenya in January of this year may point the way forward for the duo musically. “We listened to some wicked music and met some cool people,” he says. “So, I think Africa is somewhere we need to keep going back to. Seventies Nigerian disco, I can’t get enough of that.
“I think exploring African music — Afrobeat especially, and Nigerian disco — definitely loosened my mind to the idea that the mix does not have to be perfect. ’Cause all those tunes were so rough and rugged and not perfect. But then they are in their own way.”
Disclosure’s third album also marks the end of their deal with Island Records, leaving the way open for the Lawrences into a more independent model for making their next releases. “We’re going to be unsigned after this one,” says Guy, “so the power is back in our control after that. The only thing we’ve discussed is that we want to keep music coming out quickly, ’cause we’ve got a lot of songs left over that just weren’t right for this project.
“I don’t know if we’ll aim for an album again straight away,” he concludes. “We’ve been doing it for 10 years now, so maybe we’ll try something else. Dropping singles here and there. Sounds like fun to me.”