It’s a work of such meticulous detail and an album that’s certainly benefited from the producer’s stringent and thematic approach to the initial concept: the transformation he encountered starting his production with analogue samplers to the point he's at now, engineering almost everything 'inside the box.' With his album launch a little over a week away (in Room Two on Friday 10th October) and owing to the strength of his vision for it, we asked the label if we could take Mefjus to one side and prod him a little to see if we couldn’t learn a few things about the ways he approached making a record that sounds like such a patchwork of gloriously impossible things happening all at once. But we couldn't. He was on tour. On the other side of the world. So instead we shot him a few extended questions to see if he’d open up in his own time about his processes and, if the truth be told, it probably worked out better this way…
I find both the whole concept behind your new album and the in the box emulation, quite interesting as separate topics - especially as the current trends are for more analogue sounds being used in rough and ready club music. Firstly, what was it that made you decide to synthesize everything in the first place? Did the idea spring from a certain point? Is synthesis something you have a particular interest in?
First of all, I think I should explain the concept of this album a little bit before I answer this question… with this LP I tried to display my transition of coming from a hardware/sampler based, hip hop background to an almost all in the box solution for drum & bass. When I thought about this progression the only word I could use to describe the transformation was emulation. Musically and production-wise I tried to show the listeners where I come from, certain experiences and genres that inspired me to my current state of mind.
That means I used techniques which I usually wouldn't use in today’s production but also tried stuff I’ve never done before, like completely synthesizing every aspect of a song. But the terminology of ‘emulation’ inspired me to cover even more topics then just the classical thinking of a machine or system obtaining the same result as another in a strict industrial/technological way, but think further and associate it with our day to day life.
Some concepts of the tracks are not that obvious in the first place; the track ‘Surrounded’ for example reveals it's meaning just in the outro when the vocal gives the answer for the question of “what are we actually surrounded by...?“ This means the album is not just about my emulation/transition as an artist but also a hint to how all of us are becoming more and more human/machine hybrids saturated by our technological surroundings.
"..to be completely honest this way of writing an album is very exhausting..."
To actually answer the first part of your question, I didn't synthesize everything, no. The album includes one track, the title track ‘Emulation,’ which is 100% synthesized. Every sound you hear in that track was made in the FM8. But as I mentioned above I also applied some more rudimental techniques, like sampling old funk records for a riff, as a part of the explanation of my musical journey over the years coming from hip hop music.
And yes, synthesis is indeed very interesting as in today’s contemporary music everything is about control, as far as I am concerned. To achieve more control about what you do in DAW, to be able to actually create the sound you have got in your mind from scratch, I think it's important to understand what's possible with today’s production technologies so you don't rely on sample packs made by other people.
Your process has given what’s traditionally quite a gnarly sound palette (in terms of drum & bass) a lot of clean edges and it’s definitely given your music its own character – a contained kind of tightness perhaps? Were you super conscious that you wanted to make it sound like current drum & bass to prove a point?
When I started writing down ideas and concepts for tracks for this project I already had a certain idea of how to approach that album mix-wise. I knew that it would take me at least a year to pull this LP off if I commited all my resources to it but I also knew that I’d be still learning and discovering a lot of new techniques or VST's whilst writing so I decided not to finish tracks too soon. That means I kept all the projects ‘alive’ as long as possible to be able to adjust and tighten the mix on every single track as I wanted the album to sound as homogenous as possible.
But to be completely honest this way of writing an album is very exhausting too, as you always revisit your projects and run the danger of losing your initial spark at some point. This way not every track made it on the album but I guess the result is just a natural selection.
Overall I was very conscious that each track sounds as good and powerful as possible as to me the actual production of a track is at least as important as the initial idea. By that I mean that a track which has an amazing hook or idea but a terrible production is as bad as a tune with the best mixdown but no vibes. I know that a lot of people probably won't agree with me on this but it's my subjective opinion…
Do you think the concept of technological emulation or the process of producing in that style came first for you? I’m thinking specifically of where you speak about the role of producer over arranger in your album concept… is that something you’d struggled with? Finding your own voice in a crowded scene maybe?
The technological emulation came first for me as I used to be a programmer for an automation engineering company in Austria. We delivered high speed logistic solutions for modern warehouses which means that tasks which were performed by humans were replaced by such things as conveyors and robots. But this kind of emulation or synthesize-ation is applicable on almost everything surrounding us 24/7 as mentioned above.
To answer your question, I don't see a synthesizing approach to production as an actual style of production, it's more a decision you make or not. A lot of producers engineer their own breaks from scratch using synthesizers and talking about bass sounds, midranges or pads there's almost no way around a synthesizer. But this leads perfectly into the next point you picked up. When I mentioned that producer versus arranger controversy I was exactly talking about this. I mean everybody is entitled to do whatever they want, the way they want, of course, but personally I would find it quite frustrating to be depending on sample packs made by other people to be able to write music.
You could call me a hypocrite now as I said i sampled old funk records for a riff for one of the album tunes, but for me there's a big difference in actually applying the art of sampling, which generated a lot of genres including hip hop, drum & bass and many more, or just using pre-engineered high end sounds from other people. But yeah, everybody should approach their production the way they want but if you call yourself a music producer I just think it's a bit lazy to use those packs.
Drum & bass has always had a really defined and technical aspect to its production in my opinion. There’s often a hell of a lot going on and in some of these tunes on your album there are layers upon layers of things happening. Do you feel more control over the constituent parts when you make them for the wave up? Are you going to carry on producing in this manner?
I agree, drum & bass in general is a very technical kind of music and some of the tracks on this album are indeed pretty filled with sounds, but some of them are also quite stripped back. I always liked both sides of the genre, the really deep rollers but also the over-the-top-percussive-tech-sausages. Back in the day I used to work with vocals a lot so I tried to give this side some attention on this record as well.
Concerning the layering aspect of your question, as mentioned earlier, for me the most important thing about production is having full control. Layering is definitely one way to achieve that and it's an essential part of how I approach my tunes but sometimes it's also great to just let the sound speak for itself in its purest form.
After finishing this album it was great to be able to tour Australia and New Zealand to get some distance from the studio and time to clear my head. I already wrote down some concepts for new tunes and I feel like I’ve never been as inspired and psyched to hit the studio again as right now. I don't think I will change the way of my production by 360 degrees but I’ve learned so much during the process of writing this album and I can't wait to put this new knowledge and inspiration into Cubase as soon as possible.
Read: Mefjus Top 5 Neurofunk Bangers here.