Tony Colman aka London Elektricity has been involved in the DnB scene since the mid-90s and is one of the co-founders of DnB label Hospital Records which boasts an impressive stable of artists including Danny Byrd, High Contrast, Netsky and Nu:tone, to name a few.
Tony recently released a sample pack as part of Loopmasters Artist Series so we caught up with him to get the low down on his production techniques and tools…
Hi Tony, 2011 has been a pretty big year for you with the 15th anniversary of Hospital Records and the release of your fifth artist album ´Yikes´ which takes on a more melodic feel-good style of Drum and Bass – what´s the reaction to this album been like compared to your previous releases?
As the album has only been out a few months I can only report on the immediate reaction which was outstanding. I had a deluge of lovely tweets and comments online as well as some great radio play. Feedback mechanisms have changed over the last 15 years a lot though! Even 3 years ago when I released Syncopated City there was no Twitter and Facebook was a relative infant. In 1999 when we released the 1st LE album you only really got feedback in the post, face to face or on the phone!
How did you and Elsa Emeraldea (the beautiful ethereal-sounding vocalist on Yikes) end up working together?
When I was putting Syncopated City together Elsa hit me up on Myspace cos she liked a remix I´d done for a Japanese act called Nirgilis. I was a fan of Elsa´s voice so I jumped on the opportunity and asked her if she would write a vocal to the instrumental of the remix she liked. She came up with Just One Second which has become something of an anthem since. That was her only track on Sync City, so I wanted to go in deep on Yikes with Elsa. We ended up doing 7 vocal tracks I think for Yikes.
Piano features on many of the album´s tracks, were these true acoustic recordings or did you use virtual pianos?
I used both - I have a Steinway Grand Piano at home which I inherited from my Grandfather via my Mother. It´s about 100 years old and has a fantastic tone. It´s suitable for some recordings, but it´s very mellow. If I need a piano to cut through the mix more I love to use the Pianoteq plugin which is an amazing virtual piano synthesiser developed at Ircam in Paris. I don´t like sample based piano libraries they always lack expression to my ears.
We heard that when you first start work on a new album you tend to have a 6-month pre-production period where you collect and create new sounds from which to work from. How do you normally go about this and do you ever use sample libraries?
I don´t use sample libraries created by anyone else - it´s the long road I choose, for better or for worse. I just hate to think that someone else has used the sounds I’m using in my tunes. There are qualified exceptions to that - I do use 808 kick sounds for basslines and I´m not averse to the odd classic break.
The way I go about creating my sound library for a new project is to spend roughly equal amounts of time creating new drum breaks, new bass sounds using maybe new gear I´ve acquired or approaching old gear in a new way, sound designing synth sounds and noises, and sampling household objects then mangling the resulting sounds using sound processors. Also, I will spend a few days playing guitars and piano and coming up with idea blocks I can use later. I catalogue everything by tempo and key for ease of use later.
In August you released a sample pack as part of Loopmasters Artist Series, when you first set out producing the pack did you have a clear idea about what you wanted to achieve or did you simply ´go with the flow´?
I started building the pack in 2010 while I was making Yikes but I didn´t get down to it properly until after I had finished Yikes. I knew I wanted to make something unique, something rich in melody and harmony with loads of ideas to hopefully inspire some good new tunes.
Other Hospital Acts such as Danny Byrd, KJ Sawka and Nu:Tone have also released sample packs for Loopmasters over the past few years, what made you finally decide to go for it yourself?
I´m a geek and I love organising things so it was a natural thing for me to want to do!
Your DAW of choice is Cubase – why do you choose to use this over and above other recording platforms?
It´s simply a question of what I started with. I started on Steinberg 24 on Atari ST back in the day - 24 was the precursor to Cubase. At that time you either used 24 or Notator, which turned into Logic. I´ve grown up with Cubase and have felt the pain and the pleasure of each new version. Right now Cubase is on fire - it´s stable on Mac, super quick and I never ever run out of processing power. Love it!
Which plug-ins do you find yourself going back to time and again?
For sound processing, these are my faves: SPL Drum xchanger, Sonnox EQ, Transmod and Suppressor, Izotope Ozone and RX, Cytomic The Glue compressor.
For sound creation, my faves are: U-HE ACE synth, XILS LAB synths - XILS 3 is a brilliant EMS synthi recreation, and PolyKB recreates the ultra-rare PolyKobol synth. both are hidden gems.
In addition to iZotope’s RX and Ozone we also heard you use Stutter Edit, what is it about each of these that you find most appealing?
RX is incredible. When I got it I couldn´t believe how good it was at denoising, de-clicking and repairing spectral problems. I went through my sound library and did stuff I´d wished I could do years ago.
Ozone is a great mastering tool but you have to be very very careful not to overuse it. Generally, use the EQ and Limiter - the Limiter is very fast if you play around with the settings and is very suitable for d&b. I don´t tend to use the multiband compressor or distortion on it.
Stutter Edit is a fantastic toy. Toy in a good way! Very creative and fun. You can mess up anything in a very intuitive and musical way. The only way to understand it is to get it!
What would you say has been the biggest technological change for your studio in the last 10 years?
The power and speed of my Mac compared to 10 years ago. back then I was lucky to be able to run 10 tracks of audio with a few FX and it all came out of one output. I did go through a phase back then of using optical cables to run multiple outputs into adat machines then into my big old ADA 112 channel desk but that was, as they say, long. Now I have the luxury of loads of welly in my Mac and I don´t need to worry about overdriving the processor. Love it :)
What else have you got in the pipeline for the rest of 2011?
I just reworked one of my first ever London Elek tunes, Song in the Key of Knife for Hospital´s 15th-anniversary album that´s coming out in November. Finally, I can play it out again and it sounds right in a 2011 set! After that, we´re gearing up for releasing new albums by High Contrast and Netsky and I´m getting involved in the nitty-gritty of those 2 albums.
Finally, we´ve been reading on your blog about the highs and lows of your recent holiday to Sardinia, how´s the nipple doing?
It still hurts. Children bring pain as well as joy!
Thanks for your time Tony!