Welcome back to our newest feature, The Director's Cut, where our favorite artists give us an unprecedented play by play into their latest works. Much like our 'How It Was Made' series, but with a much more personal touch, and with more focus on the creative and inspirational aspects of their process. Stepping up to the plate are two of Drum & Bass's biggest players, Viper Recordings bosses Matrix & Future Bound. Their new album, Mystery Machine, released on April 12th, was a milestone for the duo, and below, we will learn exactly how and why it all came to be.
How to listen: There are a couple of ways to proceed. First, you can listen to the whole album, which you will find below, and then read the notes. Or, read the notes as you listen to each track. This will completely change your perspective on the whole release itself and bring you closer to the artist and their work.
Lots of Drum & Bass tracks are 100% focused on the big drop moment and once that moment has happened, there's nothing left. We usually aim to try and keep our tracks evolving and growing the whole way through and the best moments can often be towards the end rather than 32 bars in. This was the mindset with Follow Me and we tried to create a nice sonic journey with it, all designed to set up for the last forty-five seconds of the track which you enter via a superb ad lib from Ayak on the second drop. The ingredients are actually pretty simple: Apart from Ayak’s huge power vocal, the dominant sound in it is the arpeggiated synth line that opens the track. It runs almost the whole way through but is constantly automated to give variation in the tone and the melody. It's also got huge amounts of enormous reverb and the sub-bass is quite low down in the frequency range so it was a challenge getting the mixdown right. ‘Follow Me’ was one of the most time-consuming tracks on the album to get finished but it is one of our favourites.
Got You There
This track started life in a writing session with Becky Hill. We just threw down some chords and an old breakbeat really quickly and Becky vibe-ed over it and within an hour or two the basic song was complete. They say all the best ideas come together quickly.
The goal with the production was really to let the song and the vocal take the limelight. We decided early on to try and keep it more organic sounding than a lot of the stuff that we do so the obvious choice was to build it around a piano and keep the drums more towards the breakbeat side of things. Simplicity is the key here -no gimmicks!
Because of the simplicity, this was one of the easier tracks to get right in the production department but matching the right song to the right voice is so important. Sometimes that’s easy and sometimes not. We recorded this particular song with several great singers but none of them was a good fit so the track very nearly didn't make the final cut of the album. It was only in the final days before our deadline that our manager played us some songs by Zelah and we loved the tone of her voice. We invited her down to the studio to record and it was immediately obvious Zelah was perfect for this record.
This is one of the instrumental tracks on the album and it’s a good contrast against some of the other more musical tracks. The opening synth line has got a nicely unsettling quality about it which is probably due to the disjointed rhythm we used. This is the opposite approach to a track like ‘Got You There’ in that ‘Ear Drum’ is more about interesting sonics and rhythms whereas ‘Got You There’ is much more about putting the right chords and melodies to back up the vocals without too much fussy stuff going on.
Like many producers, we tend to spend a huge amount of time tweaking mixdowns and can easily end up on version 50 of a track before it is finished. We call this part of the process 'mixdown hell'. The session files for Ear Drum became corrupted at version 7 so we had to declare it finished but actually listening now, away from the pressure cooker of making an album, it's one of the nicer sounding mixdowns on the album. There is almost certainly a valuable lesson there!
We wanted to step outside the Drum & Bass format for some tracks on the album and this is one of them. It is important to have a sonic fingerprint to your productions and this still feels to us like it has the same DNA as our Drum & Bass records. We wanted the intro to have a very cinematic feel to it and it is in fact built partially with some samples from a film soundtrack but they are heavily processed, edited and re-pitched so they are not at all recognisable. That sometimes gives you a sound that you would never get from a synthesiser. We then build to a vague trap style drop followed by some nice old school break flavours in the second verse so there’s a good combination of stuff going on.
Of course, we had to then do a Drum & Bass remix of it too. Would have been rude not to!
The starting point for this was the guitar riff that you hear at the beginning of the track. It has that perfect balance of bitter/sweet feeling that we love and Polina’s vocal compliments it beautifully. An A&R guy once told us too much of our music has a similar 'melancholy' feel running through it but we actually spent years trying to work out how to get it to feel that way. There’s a certain power in music when it makes you feel happy and sad at the same time and that’s a good zone to be in as far as we’re concerned.
We've always been big fans of Garry Newman and we took a leaf out of his book with the synth line that comes in after the chorus, which you could say is reminiscent of some of his tracks such as ‘Are Friends Electric’. It locks in with the half time drums really nicely so all the elements are working as a team.
Let It Go
We often listen to house music from the likes of Eric Prydz and Camelphat. A lot of their tracks are really focused on the breakdown and not too much is given away before that. The breakdown is the key moment of ‘Let It Go’ so the first two or three minutes are really all about setting the scene for the breakdown. It’s all based on a simple chord progression and like a good Eric Prydz track, we try and take a very simple ingredient and build it and build it to extract the maximum possible power from it. We didn’t want this to be a proper vocal track but the ‘Let It Go’ vocal loop gives it that human feel against all the synthetic sounds. We always try and add some organic sounding elements, even if they are very much in the background.
Happy Alone (M&F Cheap Thrills Mix)
This is actually a remix that we did of one of our previous singles. The original version was a full vocal record from start to finish so we wanted to create a version that was more sparse vocally and with more of a club focus. It’s supposed to be a tale of two halves. The first few minutes are quite stripped back and deliberately unmelodic and are really all about good old fashioned drums and bass. We could have easily rolled out the whole track in that vein but then halfway through, the track breaks down to just a long tape delay and it switches to a much more epic and melodic vocal track. In a way, this is vocal drum & bass by stealth -it’s like one track sandwiched inside another! It’s the longest track on ‘Mystery Machine’. It’s the sort of track you can do on an album that you might not do as a single because you can’t package this kind of arrangement into just three minutes.
This was one of those tracks that started life a couple of years ago and developed over time. The instrumental is really emotive and we wrote it with a vocal in mind and after trying a number of vocal sessions we nailed it bang on when we got in with Talia. She brought the perfect balance between cool, emotive & interesting lyrics. We’re not into obvious lyrics and whether it’s a love story or something more twisted we always push to get down lyrics that stick in the mind.
It’s really cool writing albums because it gives you the chance as artists to tell a story and switch up tempo’s and we think this 140bpm number slots into the project perfectly.
Live Another Day (M&F’s Smoke & Mirrors Mix)
The original version was a slower breakbeat affair and as it was planned to be a single we always said we’d do a DnB version with a different vibe. This has been a great set opener & finisher for us and the reaction has been great every time. Switching Alex Hepburn's vocals up to 174bpm worked perfectly and it turned out to be a refreshing take on the original.
When we make melodic bangers we’re always conscious of making them nice and weighty for the floor and we make sure there’s a nice dose of twisted bass action to sit alongside the melodics. This one definitely has all those ingredients and we particularly love the uplifting vibes of the midsection which elevate to the second drop.
Grab your copy of Mystery Machine here.