For Lisbon’s batida master DJ Marfox, sketching is fundamental. His off-the-wall kuduro cuts are short, sharp shocks to the dancefloor – dense with quirky details but over in a flash. Those are just the ones that made it from his live sets onto record. “90% of my tracks are sketches,” he confirms. “I choose to keep them like that so I can pick and use them throughout a DJ set. When I feel that one is worth transforming into a full-blown track then I dedicate myself to the construction process, where I can change from a lot or just a few things or just leave it as it is and only add one or a few elements.”
But though he refers to them as sketches, Marfox’s prototypes are always bespoke creations, studded with unusual samples and irregular rhythms. He takes the same approach with his Sketch, customising every available contour and transforming samples beyond recognition. “I felt the need to make little edits in everything, from expansions, loops, samples – even the VST presets were tweaked to my own taste,” he explains, in order that the result would be “100% like the sound of Lisbon ghettos.”
Download the stems from Marfox’s sketch here, then remix, re-use, and repurpose them any way you like.
A shimmering semitonal melody strikes a note of unease in the opening seconds of his Sketch, around which Marfox brings in various elements of percussion, building a central rhythm while adding splashes of unexpected timbre and rhythm. A micro-fragment of yelping vocal adds a human touch, while a single pulsating bass note eventually opens up into a simple chord progression in the breakdown.
Marfox began the composition as he often does, by choosing the kick – in this case, layering the Sonoric and Small Kit kicks from TRK 01, which “made the sound pretty phenomenal.” He built up his dense rhythm section piece by piece, using Memory Fifth 2 for the hi-hat and Rim Swinger 1 and Rim Sway for the snare. “A track by Marfox without a good snare ain’t the real deal,” he points out. “I also favour shakers and a good hidden conga sometimes.” He rounded out the kit with elements from the Gidamba drum ensemble, making explicit his musical connections to West Africa and specifically Angolan kuduro – the basis of the Afro-Portuguese batida sound.
Mixing up vastly different styles from various Native expansion packs, he combined sounds from the EDM-tinged Lucid Mission pack, the vintage synth collection Modular Icons, and the vintage rock kit Abbey Road 70s Drummer. The final percussive touches came with a clap and a pair of simultaneous shakers, Dark Forest and Far East. For extra depth and space, he inserted a short vocal burst into the rhythm and sent the sample through Ice reverb and Beat Delay for maximum character. When working with complex rhythms, his top tip is to double the BPM – a trick he learned from his mentor DJ Nervoso back in 2007. That gave him “a new perspective on the timeline,” he recalls. “Soon after I created ‘Mãe Gorda’, which became one of my most popular tracks.”
With the rhythm of the Sketch figured out, all that’s needed is a sturdy bassline – provided by Cellar Blip from Massive X – and a splash of naive melody, which Marfox built up from samples in Sierra Grove (Combo F Conglomerate 2) and Headland Flow (Lead F RiverRoad).
The result is classic Marfox: a balance of heavyweight rhythm and eerie tonality that’s easy to recognise but hard to imitate. Having mastered his own singular sound, Marfox is still learning and exploring, working with various DAWs and “exploring Maschine Plus so I can pursue presenting a live performance in addition to my regular DJ sets,” he says. The goal one day is to take a course in mixing and mastering: “I make music in an intuitive manner, but I believe that a few rules in post-production could bring something new.”
Words: Chal Ravens