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Commix in the Studio

Extreme technical prowess and drum & bass usually go hand-in-hand, but Commix aren’t too bothered with any of that. Comprised of old friends George Levings and Guy Brewer, the Cambridge, U.K.-based duo has a laid-back production style that focuses on old-school basics: creative sampling and good ideas. It’s an approach that seems almost too intuitive given their scene, but it allows the two to avoid many of the clichés that have hounded drum & bass since pirated plug-ins became the norm.

On Commix’s new album, Call to Mind, standouts like “Be True” are seemingly effortless, borrowing from the immediacy of minimal techno and Philly soul without sounding like a creative stretch. Released on Goldie’s legendary Metalheadz imprint, the album is a perfect example of the label’s classically timeless vibe–the tracks are less like tracks and more like songs. We talked with self-described “non-tech-y record collector” Guy Brewer to see how they achieved that effect.

XLR8R: Is there anything you can do, production-wise, to give a track more shelf life?

Guy Brewer: Maybe not on a strictly [technical] level–it’s more about making sure the idea of the track is what comes through most. There’s a lot of music out there that, to me, seems like an exercise in engineering. Like a tune where you’ve got this bass sound that’s going to do this or that, and it’s all you’re focusing on–I think those tunes have less of a shelf life. The simple tunes, the ones put together in a few hours with a sort of vibe around them… those seem to stand the test of time.

Have you been able to finish tracks in just a few hours?

Yeah! Most our songs are usually rolled out in three or four hours. We work mostly during the day, so we turn up to the studio around noon and work until eight or nine in the evening. We’ll start on a few ideas, then take the best ones and tidy them up the next day. Most of the things that make the grade come out fluidly like that. If we spend any longer, we end up ruining stuff. Like, there have been times where we’d set out an entire arrangement and realized it was shit. So we take all the same sounds and make something totally different.

Do you usually work with samples or synthesized material?

We sample all the time: pad sounds, bass sounds, everything. Not from drum & bass, obviously, but pretty much everywhere else. If we hear a little bleep or a fuckin’… kick drum or whatever off a techno record, we have no qualms with taking it straightaway. Pretty much all our sounds are sampled like that–even things like drum-machine sounds. If you sample a drum machine off an old Miami bass record, it’s gonna sound much better than a drum machine in [Propellerheads] Reason or a plug-in. It’s got that engineered, kind of old-school analog sound to it, which is something we’re very keen on.

Is Reason your sequencer of choice?

We use Reason for all our arrangements, sequencing, and general production. Pretty much everything is sampled or processed before we put it in there, though. The only time we use something like Cubase is when we’ve got a big vocal or a solo musical part where it’s too much hassle to chop it up. It’s easier and more flexible to [work with] it as audio. We also use Cubase when we’ve got a new plug-in synth–most of the time, we’ll make some noises with the synth or whatever, and export the audio into Reason and treat it like another sample. It’s a real seamless way for us to work. We like to do stuff like put a tune on the turntable, and just cut out all the bass and play stuff in Reason over top of it. We’ve ended up with a lot of great little accidents like that.

Has dubstep and grime affected the way drum & bass is produced?

Well, we named the album Call to Mind as a sort of nod... as in, we have to look back into [drum & bass] to remind us of what made it so interesting in the first place–the age of experimentation, doing other tempos on an album, having more of a story. It’s like, you can make something musical and experimental that has an artistic edge to it, and it can still be playable on the dancefloor. You can see that with dubstep and grime, for example. It’s half the tempo, and it’s still packing clubs. There’s a good vibe there, and it’s making people dance. And I think [drum & bass] is picking up on that.

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