To correlate with the massive release of “Our Time in Liberty” by Jamie Jones featuring Art Department with the stellar Russ Yallop remix, we thought it was high time we drilled the Hot Creations and Crosstown Rebels DJ/Producer about all things production. We tried to learn more about how he got his start, how he achieves his signature sound and get some advice for people just starting out in the business. Read on to pick Russ’ brain with us as he discusses his studio, how he’s made some of his biggest hits and what’s on the horizon looking forward.
Many people who’ve followed your ascent as a DJ/Producer are aware that you started hanging out with many of your contemporaries (Jamie, Richy, Lee etc) in Ibiza as far back as 2004. At what point did you start consciously making an effort to learn more about music to potentially make it a career? Actually it was 2004 that I decided to pursue it full time. I’d been making music for a couple of years prior, but it was after that ‘04 Ibiza season that I decided to drop everything else and spend everyday making music. Funnily enough we were all friends but the decision was very much independent from Jamie and the guys. This was pre-Amazon after all, I knew Jamie DJed but had never heard any of his music, the only DJ who was part our crew that had any sort of career was Clive Henry.
Who are some of the people who helped teach you about production in the days when you were first starting out? No one! Seriously. As I was saying above although me and Jamie were friends until about 2009 I could probably count on one hand the amount of conversations we had about music production. We’d talk music sure, but talking tech at the kind of parties we used to have was not really possible! For the first few years I just read loads and learnt the hard way ie trial and error. Looking back I could have shaved a few years off the process if I had a mentor, though all the tweaking and fiddling gave me a very good base knowledge how things work.
What DAW do you prefer to use when making records? I now use Logic as it suits my style which I’d say is quite layered with a lot of depth and attention to fine detail. Some of my releases were made using Ableton, some I started in Ableton then transferred to Logic. Although you can achieve any result with any DAW, I find Ableton good for getting something up and running quickly, and Logic good for when things get a bit complex.
Tell us a bit about your studio when you first started out. What do you think are the bare essentials to making your first record have the potential to get signed to a label like Crosstown Rebels or Hot Creations? My studio started as just the bare essentials ie a computer, soundcard, monitors, keyboard, mic & headphones. That’s enough to make a good mix-down which a mastering engineer can then turn into something that sounds like a released track. Technically speaking that’s all that’s required. It’s of course the ability to deliver a good mix-down when first starting out which is your first real challenge. The music is actually the easy part as it comes from the heart, it’s intuitive, when you got a groove on it writes itself. The first bare essential requirement is to actually to be able to arrange your composition so that it translates itself in the best possible way, as a ropey mix will turn killer to filler. Musically speaking to release on a label like HC or Crosstown there’s no trickery involved, no politics, no secret. It’s just as simple as creating a track they really dig and you’re away. You just have to look at their releases to realise that about half are from unknown artists who’ve managed to create some magic. It’s just about the music at the end of the day, which is how it should be, but the competition is intense and you really have to absolutely nail it to stand a chance.
What three pieces of kit would allow you to do even more than you already are? Does that stuff exist or have you gotten a workflow worked out where you can get all the sounds you need? If such kit existed I would have bought it years ago. It’s all about work flow, different producers will use different kit depending on how they work ie their workflow. But workflow is something which gradually develops depending on who you are, therefore introducing a new piece of kit should slow you down at first as you learn how to get the best out of it. I would only disrupt my workflow by introducing a new piece of kit if I was struggling to get the results I was after. As for getting the sounds I need until there exists a synthesizer that can extract the sound you have in mind from your brain you are at the mercy of your knowledge of the synths you have and the sounds that they generate, combined with your ability to manipulate them. Since most synths can generate the majority of sounds you need, eg. a deep bass or a stringy pad, it then just boils down to the colour of the sound that that synth creates. In that sense it can help to have a selection, though this is where minutes turn into hours. I can be painfully particular sometimes, for my Louie Fresco – So Good remix I remember constructing the same kind of sound (a deep ‘woah’ bass) on every synth I had and then chose which I liked best. I think that’s why I’m best working alone!
To those of us who haven’t visited, could you describe your studio? Ok it’s a Mac Pro running Logic 9. I use a Mac pro as it enables me to use 3 screens. I was using an iMac though it only enables use of one external monitor and I was constantly opening and closing the mixer and spectrum analyser. Now I have them permanently open and it’s a real luxury. I use Dynaudio Bm5a monitors and a Focusrite Saffire soundcard along with a midi keyboard. Everything else is software, of which I have quite a lot of. I’ve had hardware in the past though I sold it as I rarely used it, though now I have a few more pennies I’m thinking of re-building that area of my studio.
When making a record that builds upon a sample or loop from a pre-existing piece of music, how do you strike a balance between importing new original sounds of your own design and using pieces of the sample? The balance solely depends on the sample really, but I’ll try and give some tips. Often you’ll need to introduce more drums, especially a kick if it’s a disco sample as most of the kicks used for disco lack the bite required in modern dance tunes. Take care in layering kicks though, nudge them along millisecond by millisecond until you are happy with how they coalesce. If it’s a full sounding sample there’s a good chance it won’t need anything, but if you think there are parts that need filling then a good technique can be to sample other parts from the same track and use them with maybe a bit of processing as they will often sound in tune and fit in with the overall soundscape. If you are certain it needs new sounds then you can sculpt the sample to make way for the new material, either using a side-chained compressor or an EQ, creating space for the new sound. Also something that can prove invaluable when sampling is a transient designer such as Logic’s Enveloper. By setting the tail gain to a negative value this removes some of the tail of your transients therefore removing any unwanted reverb, turning a sloppy distant sounding hook nice and dry and in your face.
Who gets the call when you’re stumped with a hardware or software problem? Back when I was learning Logic it used to be Gavin Herlihy, but nowadays it’s normally a case of googling as the chances are someone else will have had the same problem and it can be a lot quicker than trying to explain it on the phone for them to turn around and say ‘dunno what you’re on about mate’.
What’s your current DJ set up consist of? Are you on traktor? Using usbs and rekordbox or still burning cds? I use Traktor with control cds. I moved to Traktor from CDs and am happy with it as I use the loop and move functions all the time, though Recordbox seems like the future as setting up a laptop is incredibly tedious.
What headphones do you use when you’re DJing? It really doesn’t matter for me as I wear earplugs to DJ so sound quality is totally irrelevant I just need them to pick out the tempo. I just bought some Sennheisers though they are not in my possession at the moment as we all use them and no one knows who’s is who’s! I think I’m gonna buy some wack cheapos next time so no one ever wants to borrow them.
What’s the best advice you’ve been given, music related or otherwise? Hmm, a good DJ friend once told me to never go on any music forums or take any notice of any internet hate and its served me very well. The internet can have a strange effect on people’s opinions, it seems to cause well balanced people to voice unbalanced opinions, as well as providing a natural filter for balanced opinion since if your opinion is neither one way or the other then there doesn’t seem to be much point in commenting. My outlook is to only follow what you know to be true and only take feedback from people who’s opinion you respect and who know what they are talking about. And never underestimate how wrong some people can get things.
How were you selected as the only one to remix Jamie Jones Feat. Art Department, were you keen to do it beforehand or did it come as a complete surprise? It came as a complete surprise as Damian just phoned me out the blue and asked me, which my answer was obviously YES PLEASE. As for how it came about I knew Damian had been supporting my Louie Fresco remix quite a bit, also I remember a few months earlier playing the original and saying to Jamie ‘I’d love to remix this’, but as for actually who’s idea it was to ask me I’m not sure.
Describe the remix for us and how it came to be what it is.
If it was a guy at a party it’d be wearing the loudest shirt in the room, talking the loudest. As for how it came to be it was actually a ‘Plan B’ as I spent about a week on a completely different idea which wasn’t working out. Sometimes you have to make ruthless, bold decisions and I just decided to scrap what I’d done and start again from scratch. Any other project I would have moved on but I wasn’t going to waste the opportunity. Looking back it was definitely the hardest project I’ve ever managed to finish.
When you turn in a remix of two A-list artists such as Jamie Jones and Art Department to a label run by another A-list artist like Damian Lazarus, who are you the most worried about liking it? I suppose I was most concerned about Damian as it was coming out on Crosstown therefore if he didn’t like it then it would have been a straight no go, but if he did like it and Jamie didn’t I don’t think J would be cruel enough to block it still born! As for Kenny I used some audio that had originally been discarded so it was funny to see his reaction to hearing his voice singing material which I’m sure he forgot even. Thankfully it got a three-way nod.
An interesting situation that is not often spoken about is the way that getting chosen to provide a remix provides an artist with carte blanche to submit their best work. Whereas when DJing a newer, or lesser-known artist is careful not to eclipse the headliner, in the case of a remix you’ve got the potential to steal the show. As someone who’s made a name for himself with both original works and remixes, what are your thoughts on this key difference to DJing. Have you ever begun a remix, and reigned yourself in to not outshine the original? Hmm…. Ok so broadly speaking the reason a warm up DJ ‘warms up’ is not so much not to eclipse the headliner but more because that’s what that stage of the night requires. That is people are there to see the headliner, and therefore saving the peak of the night to the main event makes sense. When it comes to making music you really should be always working with a blank canvas with no kind of reverence at all, but of course the reality is it’s hard to ignore the premise you’re working from. In this case it was actually the reverse to the DJ example, as in I felt I had to go all out and pull out all the stops. Making something subtle and stripped down, trying to ‘out-cool’ Jamie Jones if you like, I almost felt would be disrespectful. I knew I just had seize the opportunity and put my all into it, in a statement it would be something like ‘right lads you’ve given me this opportunity which I’m grateful for therefore I’m gonna put my best effort in and create something as loud and ambitious as I can’.
How did you get together with The Wildkats to make System Crank? Who’s studio were you primarily working out of? All the collaborations I’ve done have been separate work in separate studios. They played me a rough version of the track and I was like ‘dudes I know exactly what this track needs, mind if I take over’.
As it becomes easier and easier to launch a digital label these days, the market is becoming increasingly saturated with both garbage and some notable upstarts that have found a way to define their own sound and start to make names for themselves. What smaller labels, have been impressing you of late? Due to the nature of how I receive music ie usually straight from the artist, I don’t really think in terms of labels these days I just think of artists. So when thinking about it I’m drawing a blank. Plus I’m very very fussy about what I play and therefore a lot of the time will have only played one or two tracks from a label, so when it comes to endorsing a label it doesn’t really feel right as 90%of the stuff they put out I won’t be into. That’s certainly the case with small ones anyway.
What producers are making solid records that you’re supporting that we may not have heard of? OK I’ll pick a big gun and a freshman. The next big guns to watch out for are Infinity Ink. Comprised of two hardened pros in the shape of Luca C and Ali Love, two great guys making some seriously huge records. As for a freshman I have to give props to HNQO, hailing from Brazil this guy has given me some cheeky bombs that I’ve been hammering the last few months.
Who really impressed you in Miami this year? What was your favourite party to play? Jamie vs Cajmere at the Hot Natured party @Shine was really special, ask anyone who was there I’m sure they’d agree. They played some mental stuff, was quality. As for my favourite set it’s tough as Get Lost is such a phenomenal party, but I also played the first set at the Hot Natured party which just had such an electric vibe as people had just got in the club and were so excited, unlike the poor troopers at Get Lost which had been open for 12 hours already. So boringly and predictably I’m gonna sit on the fence between those two.
We read in an earlier interview you played a Circo Loco party in Dubai with Clive Henry. Dubai doesn’t seem like the most welcoming place for the Circo Loco vibe. How would you describe the party in 3 sentences or less? Ha ha a few hundred veteran Circo Locoers at the front going mental, a few hundred virgin Circo Locoers round the sides looking very confused!
Aside from your “Our Time in Liberty” remix, what is forthcoming from Russ Yallop on the production tip in 2012? From now on I’m concentrating on solo material. The last year all I did were collaborations and remixes so it’s high time I worked on some original productions and am really excited about the prospect!