With the release of their latest LP ‘Social Decay’ on Electric Deluxe, production and DJ duo AnD talk to Native Instruments about their varied approach to sound design, use of plug-ins and REAKTOR BLOCKS, and how they create their distinctive beats.
Over the course of the past eight years, Andrew Bowen and Dimitri Poumplidis’ collaboration, as AnD has evolved dramatically. Rising from the lukewarm waters of 2010 dub techno, AnD’s freestyle approach went from techy UK club music to contemporary, industrial techno, released through the likes of Electric Deluxe and Perc Trax. In a 2011 interview, Bowen recalled a 1997 Dave Clarke set as an epiphany, defining his approach to music. 20 years on, he and his partner Poumplidis are still blasting from this part of the past. “We are from the Dillinja school,” explains Poumplidis, “which says… distort the fuck out of the drums!’”
Poumplidis has always been vocal about his drums, and that fiery statement echoes another quote of his: “harder harder harder.” For a two-year period the pair blazed away with release after release of banging techno, each track’s drums outdoing the last. Having put out 12” releases for Black Sun Records and Repitch, the duo also self-released a couple of white labels, drawing greater attention to their nihilistic style, which Ann Aimee followed up with the release of their rave-referencing Ard Core Krew EP. Electric Deluxe now channels the wrath of AnD’s production, and the label has ramped up the pair’s demolition sound, encouraging the duo to go beyond warehouse annihilation.
“We tend to push sounds as far as we can and trust our ears to tell us when they are right in the mix,” Bowen says. “My favourite tools, that I’ve used the most in the last eight months, are the Euro Reakt Blocks modules by Michael Hetrick,” he reveals. “I studied MaxMSP for a period last year and when Reaktor introduced Blocks, it opened a whole new world for me within Reaktor. There are 140 different modules here that are based on specific hardware Euro Rack gear. I have been building dedicated blocks or modular racks for specific tool purposes. Sometimes it will be a drum machine, sometimes a synth, or sometimes an effects-chain to process and run elements through.”
Although software and computer technology underpins a large aspect of AnD’s aesthetic, it’s the way they use hardware that generates the harsher tones. Integrating the two worlds is something they’ve managed easily, they say, and the two revel in the expanded possibilities of combining physical equipment with software. “You can do so many things,” Poumplidis explains, “like send MIDI sequences to actually manage or tune the oscillators of an NI ensemble or VST, or to match it to tune with the hardware oscillators. It works really well with Blocks in Reaktor,” Bowen adds. “It’s possible to calibrate your VCO in the VST with your hardware gear.”
The pair reminisce over Native Instruments now defunct Pro-53 plug-in, a digital emulation of Sequential Circuits’ tried and trusted retro synth, the Prophet 5. AnD’s first tracks feature the plug-in heavily, with Poumplidis saying “from that moment onwards it was a constant decision to use Native Instrument plug-ins and peripherals in any way we could.” Bowen concurs: “It’s true, the Pro-53 was one of the first VSTs we ever used from Native Instruments. After this we delved further into other pieces like Reaktor, Massive, Battery, and more.” It’s these tools the pair use when searching for what they call “abstract drum palettes”. Poumplidis says: “we have been using many different elements of Native Instruments when we make the drum-side of a track. Battery is just an endless amount of amazing drums that can be programmed in countless ways.”
“With the sound design capabilities within Battery and Kontakt you have the possibility to pull every parameter of each element: velocity, saturation, lo-fi and compression,” Bowen says. As for the power of the drums, “it’s all about stacking and designing your sounds in detail,” says Poumplidis. Layering is the key to “super dense drums”, the duo feel. Enhancing and coloring the sound through processing is also vital, he feels. “We like to completely mangle or destroy the sound though outboard gear, desks, pedals, modular, etc. It is at this point we start to design the actual shape of the drums and how they will fit in the mix. We tend to use compression and EQs from Komplete as they have a neutral sound without coloring too much of what they process.”
AnD’s tendency to crunch, slam, and burn their drums to a crisp has become a trademark, and their music enters the breakneck velocity of gabba, but pushing it to the limit doesn’t work for everybody, Bowen acknowledges. “We work with how it sounds without paying so much attention to the more technical dos and don’ts. We tend to drive the signal and leave in the hiss or the extra artefacts that are created.” AnD’s manipulation of the kick drum does add a brazen effect to their tracks, though the duo still have an ability to craft textures and atmospheres that complement their music.
AnD’s second – and most recent – album, Social Decay, sees the pair given a platform by Speedy J to exercise the more abstract side of their production, naturally opening up their process to more instruments and audio manipulation. “The new Form synth is a great tool for weird soundscapes and abnormal drum processing,” Bowen says. “It’s sort of like a granular synth and tends to create these elongated trippy soundscapes. It tends to bend the sound and manipulate it in quite a unique way.”
Poumplidis also highlights his love for the Carbon 2 and Junatik ensembles, each a powerful REAKTOR based synthesizer. “[Junatik’s] unison sounds lovely and detailed,” he says. “It has some really nice tones and textures.”
Social Decay is the furthest departure from straight-up techno for the collaborators yet. Across three discs, save the pummeling sequence of “Taking Control”, none of the 13 tracks could be described as functional. Instead, experimental noise meets malicious swathes of industrial sound design, racing along at the faster tempos of UK-grade breakbeats.
Aggressively gripping experimentalism and deconstruction, the expansion of Bowen and Poumplidis’ musical boundaries may move at the same rate as the technology they are using, but AnD vigorously cling onto their retrograde roots. “Believe me,” Poumplidis says, “it has always worked for us in order to create something unique with next-level sound design.”