There’s a paradox at the core of Krust’s production philosophy. Reading the manual and honing your craft is important, sure – but true inspiration lies somewhere beyond. “If I think too much I don’t produce anything of substance,” explains the drum ‘n’ bass maestro, whose 2020 album The Edge of Everything marked a cinematic return to the cutting-edge. “On that album, there’s no thought, it’s all instinct.” Krust’s method relies on a super-flexible setup and a list of hard rules to push him into the flow zone. This is sketching without stabilisers.
As one of the original Bristol junglists, Krust propelled the scene into the mainstream in the ‘90s, releasing anthems like ‘Warhead’, running the genre-defining label Full Cycle, and winning a Mercury Prize with Roni Size & Reprazent. But in the mid-00s, after years of non-stop producing and touring, he jacked it all in to rebuild himself. After learning about psychology and meditation and launching a new career as a creative coach, he eventually returned to music with a different way of working. “I was in a slump, trying to make the same tunes when my publisher asked me to do a library sampler,” he remembers. “I said, ‘Wait, do you mean you can just make sounds?’ That was so liberating. For the next three months I sat in a studio and never tried to make any music.”
Download the stems from Krust’s sketch here, then remix, re-use, and repurpose them any way you like.
Krust now organises his studio to help him switch off the conscious mind. All his gear (including an Arp Odyssey, Minimoog Model D, Korg MS-20, Akai MPC and Roland V-Synth) is connected to ProTools via various pedals, with the idea that “anywhere I look, something is on, I can press a button.” He works to a set of rules that encourage him to record everything he does, not judge the results, and leave all the mistakes in: “If I’m constantly editing and trying to make it perfect, it takes longer to get there.”
His two-minute Sketch expands on the nervous, auteurish energy of The Edge of Everything. Skittering percussion, warped tonality and a heavy drone fuse into something more like a gritty Trent Reznor soundtrack than the beginning of a D&B anthem – no big drop or breakbeats here. He began with ARKHIS, Straylight and Pharlight to lay out a tense atmosphere with plenty of depth and movement. “I experimented with these three for a while to build up the sound, trying to imagine what a broken Death Star would sound like,” he says. “I added about 10 layers and then bounced them all down as a stereo track.”
The blasted subbass from ARKHIS was distorted through Driver, then a rack of twitchy percussion from Evolve was chosen for its resemblance to an oil drum: “I just added a bit of grit and let the loop run.” The next move was totally relatable: splashing around in Massive X until something exciting appeared. Even a maestro like Krust admits he likes “not knowing something at first, so I can make mistakes and do things I wouldn’t normally do.”
He generated an array of background sounds through Analog Dreams and created an FX chain with Raum and Mod Pack for extra flavour, adding another FX flourish by putting Reaktor Prism through Guitar Rig 6, which provided some suitably heavy presets. Finally he automated Replika to vary the time signatures throughout the duration of the Sketch.
It’s certainly one of the most dense and finely tuned Sketches we’ve come across so far. “That’s kind of how I work, I love to explore everything to its depth,” he says. But the deeper lesson for Krust is that no amount of tools or techniques will deliver a moment of inspiration – it’s about letting the unconscious mind run free. “Knowledge keeps us to what we already know,” he says, “but imagination creates anything.”