It's pretty hard to pin down the one defining sound inherent in Steve Bug's output. His imperative label, Poker Flat, may have a reputation for deploying transmissions from the skewed end of the minimal techno world, but if you pay attention and listen closer, Bug shakes things up pretty frequently, employing new sound pallets and vibes both in his production and the label's output. His productions can go from wrapping you up in warm toned synths like 2014's Pelican Glide to taking you right back to the jack of the acid house heydays with his This Is Acid release from 2012. To be fair though, with a recording history as long as The General's is there's undoubtedly going to be a wealth of productions that are impossible to condense to any one ‘sound’ and that’s a massive part of his appeal. So with Bug’s return to Room One impending this Saturday night (14th February) we took the opportunity to find out what goes into creating the many sounds that get made in his studio...
The General aka Steve Bug may have carved out a reputation for deploying minimal skewed his imperative Poker Flat imprint but he still likes to kick things up frequently in the sound pallets and vibes he depoys in his production. Just in the last few years he's helmed releases looking back to the acid house heydey as well as. He may be DJing this Saturday night but
Can you start off by giving us a verbal your of your studio?
The center piece of the studio is my console, an Allen & Heath GL 4800. Behind it I have two pair of speakers, my main monitors are PMC IB2s and, as a near field, a pair of Klein & Hummel O400. On the right from the mixer is my main workplace, that’s where I have the computer, a master keyboard, a patch bay, another pair of NEA field monitors and a few synths within reach - as well as a turntable to sample bits and pieces. On the left of the mixer I have three racks loaded with compressors, EQs, outboard effects and a few rack mount synths. I am just updating the whole section, so it looks more empty and chaotic than what it usually looks like. On top of these racks I have placed a few smaller synths, like the Roland SH101, the TB303 a Yamaha DX100 and the Moog Sub 37. At the back wall I have my keyboard stand with bigger keyboards, like the Junos for example. There is also a free space waiting to be filled at the moment, but I already have a piece in mind...
What’s your favourite and most essential item?
That’s hard to say, in the past years I used the Juno 60 and the Juno 106 a lot, also the studio electronics SE1X was present in all of my tracks, but lately I am mostly working on the studio electronics Omega 8 and the Moog Sub 37 - a new addition to the family. Also the Roland TR8 is fun to play with. Usually new pieces inspire me more than stuff I’ve had for a long time though, but I love pretty much all of my gear. Mostly it really depends on what you want to do; each piece is good at a certain thing, so you might not use a synth for quite a while, but then you need it for this particular sound and you’re happy you kept it.
It’s always interesting when a producer like yourself started making music in the 90’s, technology has changed so much now, how would you say that your production has developed over time?
When I started I only had a Roland JD 800 and a mixer, even my beats were coming out of the JD. Soon after I bought an Akai S950 for my beats and I started to sample a lot of records. Back then you definitely needed some hardware to make music, nowadays a laptop and some software is all you need. But I still use a lot of hardware though, mostly stuff without menus. I like to have all functions on the surface. Of course I am using plug ins as well, but in the process of creating new ideas, I usually use hardware. I was using samplers for my beats since the beginning, almost, so nowadays I use an internal sampler plug in but I still play my drums on the keyboard, instead of programming it in the DAW.
How much is the computer part of what you do now, what would you say its best at?
It’s mostly a sequencer and a sampler, also an audio recorder and sometimes even a soundsource thanks to all those amazing plug ins. I think what I like it the most for is being able to arrange my tracks. So recording midi and audio and arranging tracks is probably what I need the most of a computer.
Is there anything a computer can’t do for you though? Like what would you say it could never replace hardware at?
Creating ideas and sounds. As I said, I’m not a big fan of menus, or mouse clicks, I even tried using controllers for the software synths, but it is not the same though.
How long is your process from conceiving a track to the final version? Can you talk us through it a bit?
The main idea is usually written in a few hours. I usually go to the studio after lunch, before I am doing stuff for the labels. So let’s say I arrive at the studio around 1.30pm. A lot of times I start with creating a groove (using drum samples) then I start trying out different synth until I come up with something that seems to be worthwhile. Sometimes I just try things out and never come to the point where I feel there is something interesting enough to continue to work on – but if I came up with something that I feel, I add more sounds and adjust the drums and around 6pm I have the basic of the tune, sometimes even a simple, first arrangement. First thing I do when I come back the next day is to check if I still feel it. If so, I keep on adjusting sounds and grooves and maybe add some other sounds effects or so on. This sometimes can take days until I am happy with the results. Once I have a full arrangement and all sounds in place I mix the track down. Nowadays I mix the track down at another studio with a sound engineer, I figured a second pair of ears, another opinion and maybe the better gear to mix down tracks with is very pleasing for the final result, sound quality wise. A great side effect is, that not having to think about the mix down in the creative process makes it easier for me to stay on focus and I clearly come quicker to results that I am happy with.
Whose sound do you most admire?
There are productions here and there that are outstanding, but it’s no secret that I always was a big fan of Carl Craig’s productions. They sound great and they have a story to tell. Always with a touch of classic Detroit sound. That’s exactly where a big part of my heart is.
You often revisit certain eras like with your Jack is back and This is Acid releases - how much does the way you select your equipment part of replicating these iconic sounds?
Well, for many years synths from the '70s and '80s were the only hardware options if you wanted an analog sound. So over the years I bought plenty of them. Luckily there are a few new synths coming out right now, that still have a classic feel, look and sound, but they also offer new, never found possibilities in analogue gear. But in general we have a problem when it comes to new sounds, because there are only these few waveforms.
Will you be testing out a few dubs this Saturday night? What kind of stuff are you working on right now?
I have a new Traffic Signs coming up next month for which Jake The Rapper did some crazy vocals. I also have a remix for Manuel Tur on Freerange coming out this month and I am working on a new project with my mate Cle, as well as on a new solo EP.
And finally, if money was limitless what’s your ultimate studio object of desire?
Hmm, I am usually a person who is happy with what he has. but if I really want something I try to find a way to get it. Stealing is not an option though [laughs].
I always wanted an P-Five, which is a Prophet 5 in a rack built by studio electronics, there were only a few made, so they are hard to get in a good shape and they are expensive, but since Dave Smith announced the sequential circuits Prophet 6 that problem is solved. The Prophet 6 only has to be out and available. Maybe a Memorymoog Namm would be great to have, or a Yamaha CS80. But If money wasn’t an issue I would probably have someone build a synth just for me!