Inside Track: LF System ‘Afraid To Feel’

Secrets Of The Mix Engineer: Scott Rosser
By Paul Tingen

Sean Finnigan (left) and Conor Larkman, aka LF System.

The ear‑catching tempo changes of LF System’s hit ‘Afraid To Feel’ provided a unique challenge for mix engineer Scott Rosser.

When LF System’s track ‘Afraid To Feel’ went to number one in the UK at the beginning of July 2022, it was declared the first big ‘summer smash’ of the year. At the time of writing, it had sustained its position at the top of the charts for a second weekend. The upbeat track is an unexpected number one, partly because Scottish DJ duo LF System were virtually unknown before ‘Afraid To Feel’ went viral, but also because of the track’s unusual production.

‘Afraid To Feel’ samples a song from 1979 by American funk group Silk called ‘I Can’t Stop (Turning You On)’, and reinvents it for 2022 by immersing it in a house and nu‑disco arrangement. So far, so good. However, what instantly makes the song stand out is that the song starts at 100 bpm, then jumps to 128 bpm, gradually drops down again to 106 bpm, jumps again to 128 bpm, then back down to 100, up to 128, and then ends on 100 bpm.

Clearly, Conor Larkman and Sean Finnigan, the members of LF System, were inspired by their DJ background in programming these dramatic tempo changes, and the tension‑release effect also has echoes of the risers and drops in EDM. It is a large part of the appeal of the song, and the effect is so arresting and unusual that it turns it almost into a novelty hit.

On top of that, Larkman and Finnigan pitched the sample up from Dm by 132 cents, to somewhere between Ebm and Em, which may be jarring for those with perfect pitch. The re‑pitching makes the lead vocal sound very piercing and slightly robotic, and adds to the excited feel of the track. And finally, it turns out that LF System didn’t actually use the above‑mentioned sample in the final recording, but had it replayed. This meant that the mixer had to reference the original 1979 recording.


‘Afraid To Feel’ was mixed and mastered by Scott Rosser, from his ATIK Studio in Nantwich, south of Manchester. Rosser recalls: “Last year I was asked to mix LF System’s first release, ‘Dancing Cliché’, by Anton Powers. He works for Warners, and before that at 3 Beat Records. 3 Beat had remix trio Cahill under contract, of which Anton and I were a part, as well as ex‑3 Beat label manager Tim Condran.

Scott Rosser in his ATIK Studio.

“I mixed ‘Dancing Cliché’ last October, and it got LF System off to a good start as it gained a lot of support from key DJs on UK radio. It also got them quite a following in Scotland. Anton then asked me to mix ‘Afraid To Feel’, and also to create a new radio edit, as the original version was too long. The song was released last May, and I think it blew up partly because of TikTok, but also because of the energy LF System bring to their DJ sets, perfectly exemplified by their Boiler Room appearance.

“The nature of the song definitely posed several challenges. The sample had been recreated by Replay Heaven, so I received stems of that, plus LF System’s programmed parts. I then had to work out what the tempo changes were, and make sure that Logic was working correctly with them, as it obviously impacts delay times and so on. Especially figuring out the slowing down section took a lot of time. I also had to recreate the radio effect at the start, and I did not have the vocal quite that bright in the beginning — but it’s something they wanted.”

There were more mix challenges, but before getting to them, some background on Rosser is in order. Long‑standing readers may remember that Scott featured in SOS in 1998, when he was interviewed as part of the dance trio Dario G, who had a hit with a track called ‘Sunchyme’. It was described as “the unofficial anthem to the summer of ’97”. Rosser clearly is no stranger to summer hits.

“I was born close to Swansea, and started playing piano when I was eight years old,” relates Rosser. “I continued with piano lessons until I was 16 or 17, and then I went to Salford Tech in Manchester, or Salford University as it’s called now, to do a pop music recording course. It also had a MIDI suite, and that’s where I learned production skills on the old Atari STE. This was the late ’80s, early ’90s.

“At Salford I met Paul Spencer, and we started a band. After Stephen Spencer also joined, it became Dario G. Our success started in the late ’90s, and lasted for about five years, after which we decided to go our separate ways. Paul is still doing Dario G today, but I realised the major label deal thing was not for me. I moved south of Manchester, close to Nantwich, and set up a studio with a couple of friends. For about five years we recorded music in many different genres. It was a great education.

“In 2007 I got back in touch with the old management of Dario G, who owned 3 Beat, and started doing remixes. That’s how Cahill began. We had a hit in 2008 with ‘Trippin’ On You’, and we’ve done remixes of all sorts of big artists, like Chris Brown, Rihanna, Calvin Harris, Ellie Goulding, Robbie Williams, and many more. We stayed relevant for a good 10‑12 years, and did almost 300 remixes in total. It’s a market that’s a lot about who is cool at any given time, and there were many new kids coming through, so it’s more or less stopped now. But I still do two to three Cahill remixes a year.

“Around 2014, 3 Beat asked me to mix and do some additional production on a track by one of their artists, and I implemented what I had learned as a remixer. From there, work as a mixer, mastering engineer, remixer and additional producer started to snowball, and it’s what I am still doing today for most of the time.”

In The Attic

Since 2014, Scott Rosser has been conducting his mixing, mastering, production and occasional remix work from his home studio in his attic in his house near Nantwich. ATIK Studio is based around Focal Trio 6BE monitors, a UAD Apollo 8, RME MADI card, Euphonix MA 703 and AM 713 converters, an Emagic Unitor 8 MIDI interface, and an upgraded Mac from 2010 that runs Logic 10.4.8 and Pro Tools 2019.

ATIK Studio is based around a 2010 Mac Pro, with UA, RME and Euphonix interfacing, Focal monitors, a selection of ’90s synths, and some choice analogue outboard including an SSL Fusion and API The Box console.

There’s also a smattering of hardware, consisting of an API The Box Console, SSL Fusion mastering processor, AudioScape G‑Stereo bus compressor, Bettermaker Mastering Limiter, Omnitronic AN‑31XL audio analyser, SSL XLogic Alpha Channel and Focusrite Platinum Voicemaster channel strips, and a TC Electronic Fireworx effects unit. An extensive collection of keyboards and sound sources harks back to Rosser’s ’90s past, and includes an Akai S3000XL sampler, Roland XV‑5050 and Roland JP‑8080, Korg TR‑Rack, Korg X2 and a Roland M‑DC1 Dance module.

“The API desk is great,” elaborates Rosser. “It has 16 buses and four recording channels. I use it mainly for monitoring but also to run my keyboards and some of my outboard through. But my SSL Fusion has more or less overtaken it, because of the type of music I’m doing, which is dance music. I prefer the sound of the Fusion for that.

“The API is great at adding a bit of character to raw stems with not a lot of effects on them. But most of the stuff I get is quite processed, and it doesn’t need any extra desk sound. When I put these processed stems through the Fusion, it just gives it what I need. The AudioScape bus compressor is a copy of the SSL bus compressor and I love it.

“I started out on Cubase, and switched to Logic many years ago when it was a logical extension of Cubase. I’m still on an old version of Logic, because I’m on one of the old cheese‑grater Macs, just because you can get many more expansions in it. I’ve also got a rock‑solid system that hardly ever lets me down, and it’s got the plug‑ins I need. I’m going to stick with it for as long as I can. Every time you change and update a system it can be a headache for a while. You get an update and half the plug‑ins don’t work, and then it takes the developers six months to make it compatible. You can’t work like that.”

Tempo Fugit

LF System’s first release ‘Dancing Cliché’ also features a sped‑up and pitched‑up sample, in this case ‘Party People’, from 1981, by the disco/funk group the Main Ingredient. So when Rosser received the stems in the spring of this year of ‘Afraid To Feel’, he had an idea of what he could expect, apart from the tempo change challenge.

“The brief was simply ‘We need a better mix,’ and the radio edit was 3:25 or something and it needed to be under three minutes. I ended up cutting my mastered final stereo mix down by about 30 seconds. I was sent a rough, which I loaded into my Logic session. It’s channel 16, called ‘LF System’.

“I received two sets of stems, dry and wet, but it wasn’t a matter of the dry one not having reverb. They had various kinds of processing on the wet stems. I have a mix template in Logic, and loaded the stems in and listened to both the dry and wet stems, and compared them with the reference mix, and decided only to use the wet stems.

“The stems were very hot, volume‑wise, so I reduced all of them by about 10dB, using the Logic Gain plug‑in instead of pulling the faders down, so everything was hitting my compressors and other processing a bit tamer. I have to be wary of things being too hot, because the mix bus goes straight into my outboard gear and I don’t want that to be overloaded. So I’m constantly making sure the mix bus isn’t clipping, or I may even have it a few dB below. You can always add the gain back in later on.

While working, I continually refer back to the reference mix, because I want to make sure I keep the artist’s and/or the producer’s vibe. I don’t want to change things drastically, I just want to improve things.

“My template organises everything in different instruments in groups, so the first thing I do is route all audio tracks to these groups. I have a kick group, a drum group, a guitar group, a couple of music buses, a lead vocal bus and a backing vocal bus, and so on. All these groups have my preset plug‑ins, so when everything goes through that, I have a frame of reference that allows me to quickly judge what shape everything is in, and also to get a vibe going. I know what things are going to sound like when they go through some of my effects.

“After that I’ll start adjusting the plug‑ins on the groups, or if necessary also add plug‑ins to the audio tracks. I do most work in the bus section of the session, as opposed to the track section, because I like to process things while they’re grouped. If there are several different audio guitar tracks, I send them to one channel and process them together so they interact with each other.

“I also have seven to eight delay and reverb tracks in my template, and some instrument channels set up, in case I want to add something. In ‘Afraid To Feel’, I felt it needed some padding in the first breakdown, so I added a Fender Rhodes part. While working, I continually refer back to the reference mix, because I want to make sure I keep the artist’s and/or the producer’s vibe. I don’t want to change things drastically, I just want to improve things.”

The Logic Pro X tempo map for ‘Afraid To Feel’.

Maximum Impact

As Rosser was working on the mix, he realised that it wasn’t only the first breakdown that needed some ‘padding’, but also the frequency spectrum in general. “With modern monitors you get really low lows, and very high highs, and with some mixes you don’t get all frequencies. So I injected some more low‑mid frequencies and tightened up the bass. Plus I felt that the lead vocal sounded a bit thin, and added low‑mid frequencies to that as well.

“However, when I sent my first mix back, they gave feedback saying that they wanted the breakdown section to sound as if it had been filtered, with the lows taken out, because they wanted as much impact as possible when the beat kicks in the moment the tempo changes. They also wanted the vocal very bright. The brightness was there in the recording of the vocals, and obviously done for a reason. The way it turned out was agreed on by everyone.

“In the sections later on where the beat slows down again, I used the same EQ plug‑in on my mix bus that also takes all the low frequencies out there, but very gradually, so that when the kick and bass come back in at the end of the section the impact is again maximised.”

With regards to his mix process in general, Rosser explains that he tends to start with the drums, working extensively with his buses, and then, “I’ll get the bass working with the drums. Obviously, with this track the bass is really important. It’s like a French house bass from years ago that really needs those middle frequencies to hit you in the top of your chest, and it really needs to poke out of this track. When I hear the track on the radio now, the bass pops the way I wanted it to.

“After the drums and bass I worked on the piano, because that is what you hear first with the vocal. I tend to work the vocal in last. As I said, I try to get a mix going very quickly, and then I work for maybe two or three hours, at which point I have a listen on different systems. I’ll go for a walk, and listen to it on earbuds, and when I come back I go deeper into fine‑tuning the mix.

“Once again, I don’t want to change the vibe the producer wants, so with this track that meant I also had to mimic the sample. I’ve worked on quite a few of the Replay Heaven re‑recordings, and they already have quite a bit of processing on their stuff. Some of them don’t need a lot of work. In this case they had done a really good job of recreating the sample. But there’s always a lot of A/B’ing. I kept the sound of the vocal more or less the way it was, and the main mix issue was to get a level for it and make it sit well in the track.”


“Because I wanted to fill in the frequency range a bit more and also to add some punch to the kick, I used the T‑RackS EQ PG. I only added 1‑1.5 dB at 63Hz, 125Hz and 250Hz, but this is one of these EQs where adding very little makes a big difference. I also used the Waves NLS, which is something I picked up from Jaycen Joshua in one of the Mix With The Masters series. I think the story was that he put eight of these Waves NLS bus plug‑ins on one track.

“I needed some more bottom end on this, so I tried it, but it was too much. I reduced it to four plug‑ins, set to Spike, and that worked great. The bass goes through it as well. It gives you harmonics that you don’t get from your digital routing. After that I have the JST Clip and the UAD SSL E Channel Strip on one of the drum buses, again adding bottom end.

“All drum buses go through the drum master bus, on which I have the Brainworx BX_townhouse compressor and the Brainworx Modus EQ, as well as the Slate Digital Virtual Mix bus. These push the drums forward. I really like the Townhouse compressor. It lifts everything. The Brainworx EQ just warms up the bottom end a bit.”

Rosser’s processing on the drum bus.


“I did quite a lot on the bass. The first plug‑in is the iZotope Vintage EQ, just adding a bit of general bottom end. I like that EQ because it gives me something different, and it doesn’t sound too digital. That goes straight to the Logic stock compressor, which has got a really good preset on it, ‘E Bass’. The only thing I’ve changed is the threshold, so that works well on real bass recordings. That goes into the Slate Digital Virtual Channel, which also is great on low end.

“I mentioned earlier on that I wanted the bass sound to pop in your chest, and I do that with the next plug‑in, the Slate FG‑N, which boosts at 700Hz. Again, it’s one of those plug‑ins where a little turn on the dial makes a big difference. I finish off with the Brainworx BX_limiter, using just the saturator, adding 12 percent on the XL button.”

With this track the bass is really important. It’s like a French house bass from years ago that really needs those middle frequencies to hit you in the top of your chest, and it really needs to poke out of this track.

Piano & Guitars

“I’m using the Fielding DSP Reviver on the piano. It is brilliant for bringing out mids and low mids, if something is sounding a bit thin. It’s also great on vocals. After that I’ve got the Logic stock compressor, for the side‑chain. I’ve linked it to the kick drum to give that ducking effect. After that there’s the Slate Virtual Channel again, just for a bit of vibe, and then the Slate Revival, which is a great plug‑in that adds a bit of sparkle on the top end here. Finally there’s the Sonalksis multiband compressor. I like this on my music groups, because it lifts things a little bit. It’s not doing anything on the individual frequencies, I only used about 3dB, but it’s enough to bring things forward in the mix.

“The Stillwell Vibe‑EQ works really well on guitars. I add some high shelf. It’s great for adding presence to things. I use that quite a lot on vocals as well, if they need more presence. Then there’s the Mäag EQ2, for its great high air band, and the Logic stock compressor, which is also side‑chained with the kick. So when the kick hits, it ducks the guitars a little.”


“The Fielding DSP Reviver adds some mid to low frequencies to the lead vocal. The Logic stock compressor once again is doing a little side‑chaining. These plug‑ins are on the lead vocal audio track. Then on the vocal bus, I again have the Slate Virtual Mix Bus, as well as the High Lift, which is great for raising your vocals or bringing them forward, if you want them on top of your track. It adds it a bit of bite as well. Then there’s the UAD Pultec EQP‑1A, which is not doing much, just again bringing the vocal bit more forwards.

“On the backing vocals I have the AMT MaxWarm, and the Waves OneKnob Brighter, to add more brightness. I like its one‑knob concept. It is basic, but does what it says it does. I’m taming it with the Slate FG‑S SSL emulation, knocking a bit off 8kHz. The reverb is the Slate LiquidSonics VerbSuite Classics, which is great. It’s good on drums as well. I use it quite a lot and in this case it helped to widen the backing vocals. I just had the plug‑in on the track and then used the dry/wet knob. I like doing that sometimes, because it seems to have a softening effect on some things rather than sending your original signals to a different bus and having the reverb on that.”

On the lead vocals, Rosser used the Fielding DSP Reviver, Logic’s stock compressor plug‑in, Slate Digital’s Virtual Mix Buss, and the UAD Pultec EQP‑1A.

Mix Bus

“I put a very dramatic EQ on the mix bus, track 78, with everything under 240Hz cut off in the intro, which gives that extra‑bright feel. On the track you can see the bypass automation and the frequencies that are affected. This was what LF System wanted, and it works. It’s the payoff of the track. When it enters the musical section again, the bypass goes the opposite way and the EQ kicks back in, filtering and climbing up to that 220 frequency. It’s bypassed again when the entire track kicks in.

“From my mix bus, the stereo mix goes to my outboard. When I did this I did not have the Bettermaker Limiter, which is a recent purchase. Instead I just used the SSL Fusion and the AudioScape G‑Stereo compressor. My settings on the SSL Fusion don’t change much, because you can find a sweet spot, which is about the level that you push into it. For this song, I’ve got a bit of boost on the bass, and getting the Vintage Drive levels correct is important. You get a bit of proper SSL EQ.

“On this song, to tame the high frequencies, I used the HF Compressor section, where you set a threshold and any high frequencies above that will be tamed down. It also adds a little bit of that analogue vibe. I used that on this track because it is very bright‑sounding. I also added some width in the Stereo Image section. I like what this unit does. It just seems to pop the whole song out from your speakers, rather than just widening your top end. After the outboard, the signal comes back into my session, and on this song, the final limiter was the Newfangled Audio Elevate.”

Stereo Mix Treatment

“I had a separate mastering session, in which I did the radio edit. It wasn’t quite straightforward to edit, as one of the cuts was during the slowdown of the tempo. The point where I made the first edit was at a different tempo than where I joined it further on. I had to match the edit to where the vocal crossed over. It was the same in the edit at the end. In all, I ended up knocking about 20‑25 seconds off the track, which is what the label wanted.

“In the mastering session I had the Mastering The Mix Bassroom and Mixroom plug‑ins. It was again a matter of filling in the frequency range. I use the Bassroom a lot on dance music because it gives it an analogue rumble sound that no other plug‑in seems to do. I’m not doing anything down at 20Hz, I’m starting at 40, and you can use it around the 60‑80 Hz levels and it adds something special.

“The Mixroom works great on some things and not so well on others, but it balanced things on this track. I used it very minimally here. I do final gain levels with those two plug‑ins, and the Logic Gain plug‑in and then the Newfangled limiter. I really like the latter because it lifts things as well as makes them loud, and you’ve got a bit of limiter control on the frequencies. The Clipper section also adds a bit of beef. This plug‑in is more than just a limiter.

“Finally, I have several metering plug‑ins, like the Maat DR Meter, Plugin Alliance ADPTR, TR Meter and the Tonal Balance Control 2. With the ADPTR I wanted it to match what I had previously done on ‘Dancing Cliché’, so I have the master of that on B and my current ‘Afraid To Feel’ master on A so I can quickly compare, and adjust levels and EQ if necessary. The Tonal Balance plug‑in is set to an EDM preset. I use this plug‑in in the mix session as well as the mastering session, to make sure the bottom end isn’t too quiet or your top end isn’t too high, and so on.”

Published September 2022

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