Wilf Smarties gets the word on remixing from DMC's illustrious Brothers In Rhythm team: Dave Seaman and Steve Anderson.
The illustrious Brothers are one of the top dance music remixing teams in the UK (check out their discography!). Certainly their prestige is sufficiently high for them to have recently shared the BBC Radio 1 New Year's honours with Pete Tong. So how did the Brothers reach these lofty heights? Founder of the DMC label, Tony Prince reveals how they came together.
Tony Prince: "We ran a competition at our annual convention to visit the New Music Seminar, and David [Seaman] won first prize. He was our guest in New York. Even though he was too young to go into clubs, every club we went to he was there before us. He was so on the case and so enthusiastic.
"When we got back we invited him down to our company and asked him if he fancied working for us, and he said 'yeah, I will'. I thought he was going to go into the studio, but one day he looked at what I was doing and said 'I want to do your job; I want to edit Mixmag.'
"For the first three years with DMC Dave built Mixmag into what it is now; he was the first serious editor beyond me and did a wonderful job. Having the studio next door to where he was writing his pieces meant Dave gradually started getting involved. He first of all learned to mix like a DJ in clubs, then started getting his own gigs in clubs. He learned about mixing, which automatically led to the desire to remix. He got into that with Steve Anderson.
"Steve had originally started working for DMC as one half of a team called The Mixbusters, after sending us numerous demo tapes. They were also doing regular megamixes for Jeff Young's Radio 1 show, but it was Steve's own remix of Alexander O'Neal's 'If You Were Here Tonight' that really alerted us to his potential talent. Coincidentally, his partner in The Mixbusters landed a job doing A & R for Champion Records, so we snapped up Steve to work for us full‑time, and all parties have never looked back. Steve is a great producer and a musician. Dave lent him some real virility in terms of sampling ideas, which created Brothers In Rhythm."
These days Brothers In Rhythm are moving more into production and songwriting, though they will not neglect the remixing side. When I caught up with them at DMC studios in Slough, Berkshire, I first asked how the partnership works in practice.
Dave Seaman: "I'll have ideas of how I want things to sound, and I'll convey those to Steve who will make it happen. Two heads are always better than one. Steve can get intensely into something technically, and I can still be sat at the back of the room just listening to the whole picture. To put it into film terms, he's more of a director and I'm more of a producer"
Steve Anderson: "We'll both have ideas, normally along the same lines, but Dave will come out with certain things that I wouldn't obviously think of, DJ‑ing as much as he does. I'm not a clubber, I don't go out every weekend. I gave up DJ‑ing a while ago, which is why this relationship works so well — David is still out there every Friday and Saturday night going for it."
Dave freely admits to being illiterate when it comes to musical technology: "I've threatened to learn for a long time but have never really got around to it. Steve is so proficient anyway, it sometimes seems pointless to compete. I'd still like to learn, though. It would come in particularly useful for songwriting, which is becoming more of a concern for us these days."
Although the Brothers may be moving into songwriting and production these days, it is for the remixing of other artists' records that they are best known. So just how do the duo approach a typical remix?
Steve Anderson: "We get the original artists' multitrack tape here, having listened to a cassette of the tune to be remixed two or three weeks earlier. The first step is to sync all our equipment to the tape (via SMPTE timecode), which can either be very, very easy or a right pain in the arse. With the Americans it's sometimes harder, because they record their timecode at 30 frames per second. Also, different synchronisers have different ways of rounding up when converting SMPTE to MIDI timecodes.
"For example, I've worked out the difference between the Friend Chip SRC and C‑Lab Unitor. It's just a tiny fraction. With some old songs, the classics, it has sometimes taken a day to synchronise. We've had to go through it with the SRC putting in very slight tempo changes, because old LinnDrums were very notorious for drifting out of time, as were the old drummers!"
Couldn't you just use the beat of the bass drum to calculate the tempo?
Steve Anderson: "You can, but sometimes it'll throw your sample loop out if there's any part slightly off‑tempo. So I'd rather have 40 bars at maybe 120.4 bpm and 40 bars at 120.9 bpm or something, but just enough so that the tempo changes are only very slight."
Steve cites 'Wanna Be Starting Something' (Michael Jackson) and 'Temptation' (Heaven 17) as examples of where this was the case: "It was difficult to know what to do with 'Temptation', because it was such a monster groove already. All we did was add new drums, bass, and a few riffs; basically tighten the whole thing up and make sure there was a big build at the end."
Steve explains the next step in the remix: "Once we have agreed the way a remix is going to go, Dave will disappear for a couple of hours whilst I fart around with the piano and Rhodes (actually a Roland MKS20 patch), then I'll come back and do a string line. Then I'll get the bass line sorted. We tend to use a lot of Juno 106 and a couple of bass samples (Minimoog and real bass) layered together. The bass should sound big, fat and warm, and you should be able to hear it at a normal level, not just when the volume's pumped up.
"Then we add the extra frilly bits — strings and brass, which will be virtually all Proteus sounds. You can't beat its strings for dance music, apart from real ones which we have been using recently on productions. Record companies do not like giving remixers big budgets to do strings, although it doesn't cost that much money.
"Brass is usually a three keyboard combination of T3, JD800 and Proteus. The synth riffs will probably be either Juno or M1 — there are some 'kack' sounds with tons of release in the M1, but if you chop them up into really short sounds and compress the f**k out of them, that tightens everything up and they actually sound quite good.
"We usually do two days on a remix here at the DMC studio. On the second day we usually get into the dub section of the track. All the sequences that have been running live are now dubbed onto the multitrack, before the tape is moved to the mixing studio."
Steve and Dave don't cart all their sound modules around; if they need anything from now on they'll hire it in. The next stage is the mix, and the Brothers tend to use Trevor Horn's SSL‑equipped Sarm West studios in London to handle this. Steve Anderson takes up the story...
"On the third day myself, Dave, and our engineer Paul Wright go into Sarm and spend most of the first day there getting everything sounding good. It's very much a case of everything being down on tape already, except..."
Dave Seaman interjects: "We might add live percussion, live piano, guitar parts, or anything like that. At the end of the day we'll put a few ideas down onto cassette, dropping things in and out (using desk mutes), and overnight we'll listen to these."
Dave Seaman: "I'll have ideas of how I want things to sound, and I'll convey those to Steve who will make it happen. To put it into film terms, he's more of a director and I'm more of a producer."
Steve Anderson: "The following day we come in and start mixing. We normally mix in three sections, and everything goes into the SSL mixing desk's own computer. They have just done a new update for the SSL software — it's just fantastic. It's like the Neve I used down at Paul McCartney's place: it has auto takeup. As soon as you move a fader it immediately puts it into write mode.
"Normally most of our mixing is done pretty instinctively. We do a lot of rides to make sure things poke out of the mix. What we end up with is a mass of stuff in there, and we literally just prune it down."
The final 12‑inch arrangement is only ever heard once the mixed sections are edited together on the half‑inch master tape.
Steve Anderson: "Sometimes we'll shove something together to make sure an edit is going to work, but we've been doing it long enough to know how something's going to turn out. Generally it's best to do one main version, and if that version's going to be too poppy for certain clubs, then we'll do an all‑out clubbier dub where most of the chords would get changed. Because I've got a lot of jazz and blues influences, the mix tends to turn automatically towards R & B."
The DMC house sound, I venture?
Steve Anderson: "It is if you're talking about us and Phil [Kelsey] and people like that."
Not all Brothers' mixes are R & B, however; witness those done for David Bowie and New Order.
I asked Dave and Steve to talk us through a remixing example and they chose to talk about Janet Jackson's 'If'. Steve's first task on this remix was to bounce Janet's vocals off the original multitrack and onto a new tape, running at a faster tempo. This obviously meant that the vocals were speeded up, so Steve used an Eventide H3000E Harmonizer to shift the vocals back down to their original pitch whilst keeping them in time with the new track (a trick known as 'time‑stretching'). How did he find pitch‑shifting with the Eventide?
Steve Anderson: "It's fine. I've used it on Janet Jackson, Michael Jackson, Alexander O'Neal — all of our recent things. And if it's gonna glitch on anything, it's gonna glitch on Michael Jackson, because he's the most rhythmic singer I've ever heard. Time‑stretching is difficult if you're speeding things up. If you take it up too much then a voice with a natural vibrato is going to sound very warbly."
Steve next striped the multitrack with fresh SMPTE code (apparently, the SSL console doesn't like timecode that's been speeded up by 17 bpm), then he set about programming in the new tempo and start time.
Steve Anderson: "I got the start time from the first kick of the drums, and then I played the track through for about a minute, and if it went out of sync then I changed the tempo setting. It takes about an hour and a half to do but it's important to get it right, particularly with someone like Janet who sings so meticulously on the beat."
Only the vocals were kept from the original Jam & Lewis‑recorded multitrack. Now it was time for the Brothers to put down the basics of their new drum track.
Steve Anderson: "I use samples I've collected over five years from records and CDs, some of them old, some of them new..."
Dave Seaman: "Some of them borrowed..."
Steve Anderson: "There's a basic set of sounds that makes up what is known as our 'house kit'. And as much as you can try to get away from it, there's nothing like the sound of a [TR]909 snare! On 'If' we used a 909 snare on the beat, and a skippier, acoustic snare on the offbeats [to give a Nile Rogers feel]. Percussion was tambourine, congas, bongos, loops, and triangle."
Steve uses velocity‑switching on his tambourine and triangle samples to facilitate 'feelful' percussion programming. The groove was a swing feel that Steve had programmed into his Steinberg Pro24 sequencer (he has only recently switched to using Cubase). I asked him which voices he quantised.
Steve Anderson: "Everything, basically, to get it sounding tight. Having said that, to get a bit of human feel I'd add live percussion, either recorded live or using sampled loops. We used sequencers for drums, bass, and the main keyboard parts, but a certain amount was played in live. When we were mixing at Sarm, David had the idea to start the whole thing off with the drums and have a kind of piano jam into it — which meant me playing in some last minute piano."
I thought the arrangement was worked out beforehand at DMC?
Steve Anderson: "It is, mainly, but sometimes you get ideas as you're mixing the record. On the dub mix of 'If' the drums and bass are still the same, but it's completely different in most other ways. There are lots of brand new parts that are not on the 12‑inch mix."
How many mixes did you do for the Janet Jackson track?
Dave Seaman: "A swing version, a house mix, and a dub. Three different records, really."
Kylie Minogue's move from the PWL label to De Construction gave Brothers In Rhythm the opportunity to team up with the ex‑soap star, landing them the most sought‑after gig in dance. How did this come about?
Dave Seaman: "We just asked! We had heard the rumour, as everybody did, that De Construction were after her. Even before she had signed I was on the 'phone, so they knew we were interested. When she had done the deal De Construction took her to see various producers, and they brought her down here. We found that we got on well together, and things progressed from there."
So far the Brothers have recorded six tracks with Kylie during the autumn of 1993. They will be doing more this year, eventually producing perhaps more than two‑thirds of Kylie's forthcoming De Con debut album. As usual, writing and pre‑production are being done at DMC in Slough, with mastering at Sarm. Some live guitar and percussion has been used, but perhaps most interestingly, live strings feature profusely — not many dance recording budgets stretch that far.
Steve Anderson: "We were lucky in that De Construction could see what we wanted to do and they let us use the people we wanted. Consequently, we got the record sounding the way it should."
Dave Seaman: "It took the album away from being a synthetic creation and made it sound real. We wanted to get away from what Stock, Aitken and Waterman had done."
One of the reasons why live strings have not been used more often in dance music is because of an existing Musician's Union ruling, which states that each musician must get a repeat fee every time a tune on which he or she features is broadcast. BBC TV's Top Of The Pops now, allegedly, insist that live strings are replaced by machine (or, as Steve says, "plastic strings!") before transmission. This is in order to circumvent paying the repeat fee, which can be a considerable sum where a large orchestra has been employed.
Dave Seaman: "There is a new rule coming whereby you can buy the orchestra out."
Steve Anderson: "All our stuff for the past four years has been mixed in a professional studio — Sarm West in London — but that's not to say that you can't make good records in a 16‑track studio."
Steve Anderson: "Initially the string players will lose money, but in the long run it will benefit them because they should get much more recording work."
Back to the Kylie album, and Steve explains that even the upbeat dance tracks feature live strings: "For 'Where Is The Feeling', an 8‑piece section was used at a cost of around £1,000. On 'Dangerous Game' we used a 30‑piece orchestra with an arranger. That's when the money really starts to go up, but by no more than the song deserved."
Dave Seaman: "Once you've heard real strings, there ain't no going back!"
During the course of the interview I heard one of the new Kylie tracks and commented that Kylie's voice seemed to be deliberately exposed.
Steve Anderson: "That's because there's no double‑tracking on the album at all. The vocals were a joy to do, and Kylie is extremely professional. I think she discovered a lot about her own vocal capabilities on this album."
Dave Seaman: "With SAW, a lot of the time they'd just got her in, recorded one or two takes and then fixed it later. There was no need — the girl really can sing."
What was the extent of Kylie's musical input on this project?
Dave Seaman: "She certainly has lots of ideas, and has co‑written two or three songs on the album. Obviously someone who sang on so many Top 20 records is no musical slouch."
Given that the duo's background and experience is primarily in remixing, I wondered how it felt to be doing production rather than remixing?
Dave Seaman: "Steve's done stuff on his own, but this is the first real production that I've been involved with, and I love it. It's great, 'cause you're in total control. 'Confide In Me' and 'Dangerous Games', which we've written, are very close to us. Seeing them right through from beginning to end gives us a lot of satisfaction."
Steve Anderson: "When you're doing a remix project you have to get several mixes finished relatively quickly, whereas with an album you're concentrating on producing one definitive version of a song."
And of course you've got a much longer run‑in time. When is the album due out?
Steve Anderson retorts: "When it's ready! De Construction will release the record when they feel it's right, and that's how it should be."
Dave Seaman: "Deadlines and records don't go together very well. Sometimes you can't just turn on creativity like a tap."
When trying to pin Steve down on the musical direction of the forthcoming Kylie Minogue album, he described it as "cinematic". I look forward to hearing it...
Sometimes the Brothers grow a little tired of pandering to their clientele, so they let off steam by recording entirely original product. Their most recent platter for Stress (DMC's house label) was 'Ming's Incredible Disco Machine', successor to 'The Mighty Ming' which was released last year. Recorded in Studio 2 at DMC on a Fostex 16‑track, using two Akai S1000s and no automation to speak of, its realisation represents the other extreme of the work of Brothers In Rhythm. In fact, though S1000s are standard fare at DMC, Steve prefers to use his S950 as he never does stereo sampling. (I've heard that he's since succumbed to the temptation of an S3000.) Dave explains how the 'Ming' track was made.
Dave Seaman: "I went through Tony [Prince]'s record library, picked out lots of old disco records, and spent hours on end choosing all the samples that were good. Then I came into the studio and put them down on DAT with Steve. We started taking the best ones out to see if they'd fit with anything else."
Steve Anderson: "Out of all these millions of samples, we picked two."
Dave Seaman: "Once again we'd get the drums up first, so we had something to work around. Loops were very much more prominent on this track, and the whole feel was '70's disco. The bass line was played by the Juno 106 again, but buzzed up and made to sound very '70s. Then it was time to start putting the bits on. We had two sampled guitar parts, one for the 'verse' and one for the 'chorus'."
Steve Anderson: "Mixing down next door was a complete nightmare, because you'd put one section down, get as far as you can, and then have to stop. There must be about 30 or 40 tape edits on it. There were phases when the two of us were huddled over the tiny Soundtracs desk, and we both had things to tweak."
Dave Seaman: "It's a lot more fun when you make a record for yourself, when you can get the microphone out and do some singing!"
Steve Anderson: "Which we did! When you're doing a record like that you don't need an SSL. For song‑based stuff, where there's serious vocals, that's when you can do with that bit extra."
Dave Seaman: "If you're making a 7‑inch mix for the radio, obviously you want it to be perfect. But in clubs people don't care, as long as they're out there on the floor enjoying themselves. They're not bothered about whether there's a slight rise in volume on one particular track."
Like most of the musicians who make today's music, Steve Anderson is not professionally trained, "though I'd probably be better if I was," he professes. My suggestion that, had he been, he might not have been so good at doing dance music raised a quick response.
"Not true," says Steve, citing the example of Eric Kupper. "I'm not having it said that you can't have decent musicians doing dance music, because that's putting dance music down again. There are a lot of very funky people out there... Many of the people I've got a lot of respect for are producers almost outside of the dance music world; people such as Michael J. Powell, who produced the Anita Baker album."
Playing devil's advocate for a moment, I confront the duo with the populist view that dance music is just a case of getting dirty samples and throwing them together.
Steve Anderson rebukes this suggestion: "Absolutely not! Someone who basically likes techno may think everything in dance music should be filthy and horrible‑sounding, but one of the best things about dance music is having tough rhythms with sweet‑sounding vocals on top. That's also the basis of swing as it is at the moment — grungy old drums but with crystal‑clear vocals.
"All our stuff for the past four years has been mixed in a professional studio — Sarm West in London — but that's not to say that you can't make good records in a 16‑track studio. We did 'Such A Good Feeling' in the DMC 16‑track. If you look at the people who I have probably the most respect for in the dance music industry, David Cole (Clivilles & Cole) and David Morales, they both work out of professional SSL studios, and their records sound fantastic."
"Techno may well incorporate some of the most inventive ideas and uses of sound around, but it's not something I'd choose to listen to, except occasionally to find out what's going on. I've got a lot of time for David Holmes, though, but he's probably not classed as 'techno'!"
Finally, I ask Dave how he thinks the UK dance scene is progressing.
"It's killing itself at the moment," he replies, "because it's growing too fast, and not healthily. There are far too many people making records, far too many people trying to run record labels, far too many people just trying to be involved in the scene full stop. It's diluted itself, really. There's no quality control anymore."
DMC's Tony Prince is in favour of the fact that it is so easy nowadays to make a record, and I side with him. If an artist comes along with an innovative product, the A & R people can no longer prevent its release. Dave Seaman disagrees on this final point.
"That's true in an ideal world," he adds, "but we don't live in an ideal world. That accessibility has turned from being dance music's initial attraction, and advantage, into its biggest nightmare. There's such a quick turnover now, it's hard to keep a record in your DJ box for more than two weeks! I sometimes get sent 200 records per week, 85% of which are not worth the vinyl they're pressed on."
- Roland Juno 106
- Roland MKS20
- Emu Systems Proteus 1
- Korg M1
- Korg T3
- Akai S950
- Akai S3000
- Kurzweil K1000
- Bosendorfer Grand Piano
- Hammond B3 Organ
- Real Plate Reverbs
- Tubetech EQ
- Steinberg Cubase
- ...Analogue Tape!
- Janet Jackson If Virgin
- Dina Carroll Special Kind Of Love A & M
- New Order World London
- David Bowie Jump Arista
- Alexander O'Neal Love Makes No Sense A & M
- Pet Shop Boys Go West Parlophone
- Was It Worth It * Parlophone
- Seriously * Parlophone
- DJ Culture We All Feel BetterIn The Dark
- Kid Creole I'm A Wonderful Thing Baby Island
- Inner City Till We Meet Again Virgin
- Heaven 17 Temptation Virgin
- Lulu Independence Dome
- Dina Caroll Ain't No Man A & M
- Michael Jackson Who Is It? Sony
- Wanna Be Starting Something Sony
- Chic Chic Mystique Warner Bros
- Kylie Minogue Finer Feelings PWL
- Love Is Waiting** De Construction
- Most of 1994 LP ** De Construction
- Ce Ce Peniston We Got A Love Thang A & M
- Sabrina Johnston Peace East West
- ABC Love Is Waiting Parlophone
- Judy Cheeks Reach ** Positiva
- Voices of 6th Ave. Call Him Up Stress
- PKA Powergen Stress
* = Co‑Production ** = Production
- Brothers In Rhythm Peace & Harmony Island
- Such A Good Feeling Island
- Forever & A Day White Label
- Brothers Love Dubs The Mighty Ming Stress
- Ming's Incredible Disco Machine Stress
- Creative Thieves Nasty Rhythm Stress
Talk of remixing and sampling always brings up the thorny subject of 'copyright'. So do the Brothers In Rhythm team ever worry about copyright problems?
Dave Seaman: "It's very difficult to prove when you've got three loops going on at the same time — it's creative robbery. If you're gonna steal something and use it as it is, there's a copyright problem. But if you're going to take millions of things and put them all together to make something completely different from what they were originally, then that's being creative — and who's going to ever prove that you stole anything?"