It's hard to argue that Joy Division was one of the most influential bands of their time, and helped shape rock and punk as we know it today. To this day, you still see countless people with the 'Unknown Pleasures' on their shirts, cars, any other surface they can think of putting it on. For Canadian artist Groj, their seminal track Transmission was such a massive influence that he decided to pay it tribute via Microcastle. It's always a big risk to remix, cover, or edit a classic such as this, but we think he did a bang up job. We were curious about the process behind the track, so we caught up with him to see exactly how it all came together for this edition of How It Was Made.
Words by Groj
The first test was to see if the track was compatible with 120 BPM tempo and would fit with my current sound. So, I drew out the harmonic progression first and sketched out an arrangement.
I have been working a lot with polyrhythms these days and give a lot of importance to 3 by 4 ratios, so I checked to see if I could make the arpeggio this way. It connected very well right away because the “Dance, dance, dance, dance, dance to the radio” chorus is mostly a 3 by 4 polyrhythm. So, this made the main elements of the track adhere well together.
However, the 9-bar cycles were sounding too long dreamy and I wanted something driving still, something four-to-the-floor punky that’s closer to the original. So, I kept the arpeggios rolling as a 3 by 4 polyrhythm but changed the chord progression every 8 bars manually, so it feels like the track is in 8 bars instead of 9.
Then I needed to nail down the texture of the track. I used a Les Paul guitar and ran it through a few guitar effects, a nice custom distortion pedal I got in Berlin and through an old Tascam mixer. This helped to give the 80’s punk sound. Then I decorated the mix with some synth sounds, bassline and added modern 80’s sounding organic kick, snare, hats, and toms.
The scene was now set to test the vocals. I tried out many microphones and pre-amps that I rented out until I got the right fit, which was, in the end, Warm Audio WA47 with a Focusrite ISA One pre-amp. I’ve been using that since it just fits nicely with my voice.
The arrangement I had sketched out at first was pretty fluid already. I didn’t want the vocals to take too much space, just enough to have an impact. I stretched out the instrumentation so that it builds suspense for when the vocal-hooks come back in.
So that’s it!
Be sure to grab your copy of Transmission here.