Stephen Street began his career as a bass player before becoming the in‑house studio engineer at Island Records in the early 1980s, and then a much sought‑after producer. He’s worked with the Smiths, Blur, the Cranberries, the Pretenders, Babyshambles and Kaiser Chiefs, to name but a few, and in 2020 was given the prestigious Outstanding Contribution To UK Music Award by the Music Producers Guild. Here he details how he got his favourite sound on Blur’s ‘Song 2’.
“At the time of recording this track in 1996, I could see in the distance that Pro Tools was coming along and was going to change how we worked. However, I was reluctant to work all day staring at a computer screen and scrolling a mouse. I had heard about this new system called RADAR, which was a hard‑drive recording system that was developed in partnership with Otari. Ergonomically, it felt much more like working on a 24‑track tape machine and I decided to go down this route. I first bought 16 tracks of it and later added another eight to make a full 24‑track system. It was quite a lot of money at the time, £20k or so, but it gave me the ability to record straight onto a hard‑drive system and it sounded superb.
Stephen Street: We had two drum kits set up in the room with Dave Rowntree and Graham Coxon hitting out a rhythm and I captured the sound we wanted just using the room mics.
“I had recorded songs before with Blur using self‑created drum loops, but that necessitated recording the drums, sampling in an outboard sampler, trimming the sample and then recording back into the multitrack. RADAR made the whole process so much easier! On ‘Song 2’ we wanted the drum sound to be lo‑fi and ‘small’ sounding so that when the band entered it would really explode. We had two drum kits set up in the room with Dave Rowntree and Graham Coxon hitting out a rhythm and I captured the sound we wanted just using the room mics: a Neumann U87, and I think I recall a PZM mic which was placed on the wall in the room.
“After I recorded a few bars onto the RADAR I searched for a section where the groove felt good. The RADAR had this big rotary button that was like a nudge button. You could roll it back and forth like running the tape back and forward over the head and you just marked an ‘in’ and an ‘out’ point. Having found the bars that worked well, I then copied, pasted and repeated it until I had my drum loop that ran the duration of the song. It was done so quickly and effortlessly compared to before using RADAR. That’s the loop you hear at the beginning of ‘Song 2’.
“We looped it for about three minutes and then the band went in and just played on top of the loop. Damon had a handheld SM57 in the control room and was jumping up and down singing along while the band were playing in the main playing area, and it just kind of fell into place.
“On the mixdown we most probably EQ’ed and compressed the loop a bit more using the SSL desk channels to make it sound a little bit grainier, but mainly the character of the loop was just the sound of the room mics, which captured that lo‑fi sound. The other main addition at mixdown was running Alex’s bass line through a Big Muff guitar pedal to get that monster bass sound that really drives the track along!”