Behind the Groove EP5: Diessa
“I fucking love Ableton for producing. I do wonder how it’s going to age however. I’m definitely producing music in a particular way that utilises Ableton: abusing the warping and clip envelopes generates a lot of my texture. You know how like certain era’s are defined by specific tools that were used at the time? 808’s, 909’s, 303’s, etc. ... I always wonder what kinda things we’re gonna listen back to in a few years time and go: “Shit that sounds distinctly like Ableton?”. Things like in modern beats, you know FL Studio’s 808 slides became genre defining for Drill. Ableton has genre defining features as well that may surface or become prominent in the future.”
For quite some time now I’ve been listening to Diessa, enjoying her tracks and dropping them in a lot of mixes I’ve recorded. The attention to texture, arrangement and rhythm has always really stood out to me personally. In terms of percussive work, Diessa's flare is second to none; almost every dance track she's released is beautifully optimised for club setups and her recent 'Between Rooms' EP is no exception. Today we're breaking down the 3rd track off of this EP ("so long as we believe"), but across the 4 songs available to us is a really exciting, low-tempo adventure through UK bass music influenced sounds. Clever vocal manipulation, rumbling low ends, and blunt, complex percussion makes this EP a real treat for any DJ who dares venture below the 120bpm mark.
This interview provides (what I think is) a great insight into how this UK electronic genre is made and just how much attention to detail is really put into a song which captures the sound of being 'Between Rooms' in a club so perfectly. It's difficult to find YouTube tutorials on an underground genre which is constantly evolving, so for the producers out there (across the dance music spectrum), keep your eyes peeled for some top tips and interesting techniques that can be utilised in many other production contexts. Without any further ado, lets get into the chat:
The Production of so long as we believe
With your other projects in mind, what processes are entirely new to this project, and which processes are ones we have seen / heard from yourself before?
With this project, I was sort of trying to make something which I thought would fit Edited Arts. I had other demos which became different releases, but I had this one tune at 140bpm that I accidentally automated down to 113bpm, and realised it sounded much better. As it evolved, it became me trying to make a style of music that I’d made historically with a focus on texture and timbre, but at a lower tempo. I can’t ever let go of my focus on textural stuff, even when I attempted stepping away from this and making the functional slower dance music for this EP I found textural elements creeping in all the time. To me it’s more interesting to experiment and switch up your style on each release but have a core artistic identity in amongst it all.
So tell us more about your overall workflow with this track. Where do you start and how do you know when you’re done?
I often split my workflow into about 3 or 4 parts, sitting down to write, experiment and mix all inside of different Ableton projects. A lot of it comes down to resampling myself and either super stretching, looping or manipulating all of these ideas and stems that I’ve made with the projects getting neater and enter each time. At the end of this process, I bounce out every stem and mix it all down. It’s nicer to be destructive with the processing: seeing loads of MIDI patterns just bogs me down. I want to keep constantly moving forwards and ride on the momentum of a project, even if I shed some weight in the process. I’ll normally start with some melodic or textural idea as a base layer to build drums on top of. I’ll go through video game samples, whole songs or samples I’ve made myself in other projects or with Akaizier or my Digitone, etc. until something clicks. These get stretched out in Ableton where I’ll then play with the warping modes, stretching and consolidating clips and adjusting pitch. I’ll either delete these ideas as they pile up or use them as an ambient intro or something that will be the base for the rest of the song. If not then they’ll just be sprinkled throughout.
Do the drums come next?
Yeah, this is then when I get to the drums. I don’t pay too much attention to mixing at this point, I’m just trying to get ideas out and into the project. For this track there’s a lot of kicks that I’ve overly distorted with PSP Vintage Warmer, which is a great limiter plugin that I use a lot.
I don’t want any dynamic range in these kicks. I use similar processing for the claps: lots of layers and hits that build texture, in this case a sort of lo-fi sound where I’ve rolled the highs off of these claps and hits. I’ve also got some breaks that have been chopped up and hats that compliment the rhythm. It’s the same process as the textures, where I’ll use the Ableton warping to shape the transients of the break. On this break I’ve used the beats mode with ‘preserve transients’ to get a sort of gated rhythmic sound that responds to the other drums.
My risers are pretty much the same process of resampling, reversing, consolidating, etc. I also use a lot of the envelopes in Ableton to automate pitch or other features on the risers. I use anything to create risers, but generally a white noise sweep layered with a chord, a siren, or something resampled from the rest of the track. I like them to be really loud and present in the track.
Arrangement and Structure
Once the drums are done, what comes next in the process?
Once the drums are done I’ll start thinking about the arrangement and sections where the drums will be bigger or more interesting. You can’t just write three separate parts and stick them together, so I’ll consider what drops will sound like, where the textures will go, and at what point the melodics will work. This track isn’t actually melodically heavy, I’ve got one or two pads where a chord I’ve sampled will come in and ill manipulate and warp it throughout. I like working with samples due to the immediacy, and if I feel the need to use a sound that I haven’t got a preset or sample for, I generally try to step away from the project and figure out the new sound in a separate project, as I find this helps me keep the project focused and not directionless.
I find messing with synths too much really halts my progress inside of a track. For developing my sample library, I’ll spend days watching annoying men on YouTube, other days practising these ideas, saving them into resampling folders, and other days mapping loads of effects to macro’s and resampling existing projects through these long FX chains to make my own loops. This whole process is kept very separate from ‘sitting down and making a track’.
Is there ever any problems with all these samples coming in from different sources?
Part of the process of building my tracks is finding something which fits a certain vibe. I’ll make mental notes or search for sounds that I know I want or sift through samples trying to see if they work or could be relevant to the track. *It’s at this point that Diessa shows me a REALLY long riser made out of a Dua Lipa vocal chop, rinsed in delay that not only sounds incredibly good, but fits the track perfectly.*
So yeah, these sounds can come from anywhere, I made this one in Akaizier. You have to be ruthless and make a conscious effort with sampling. There are no rules to what you can and cant sample... I’ll steal anything. Things like a sample pack drum loop,used as an input for Ableton’s vocoder and a bit crusher can yield unique results.
Tell us more about the vocal on the track? I can see the audio file is called ‘asap_ferg vs. four_tet’ but you’ve clearly manipulated it well beyond the raw audio.
Yeah, I’ve no idea where I got this vocal from! I’m never looking for any particular artist or lyrics; I’m looking for the texture and timbre of the vocal. In this case I just made a 4 bar loop of this vocal that I had in my samples folder. The first thing I’ll do is find a section that I like and warp it to the tempo of the track. I might play about within the warp modes, but generally I use the complex warp mode at this stage, and move between the 8th and 16th note grid to chop up bits that I like the cadence or texture on. I don’t always chop on the bar though, I like chopping across the bar and using repetition to make the random string of chops sound like new words and tones are being created. Again, the vocal chops work within the context of the drums and rhythm.
Once the 4 or 8 bar loop is done, I’ll then add variation using pitch envelopes and warping to make the vocal work in the wider context of the track. I started developing this process after listening to tracks that have really catchy but eally incomprehensible vocals: Joe Craven is really good at this. We actually went to college together but I’ve never asked him about how he did it, I’ve just tried to navigate the sound myself.
Definitely a really interesting way of seeing it, especially with the sound and how you utilise the software. I guess all that's left to cover with the track is the bass and maybe giving us a rundown of some of the effects you’ve used to transform your samples.
The bass is really simple: it’s literally a few really clipped notes run through Fab-Filter Saturn and a ton of distortion.
I’ve automated the filter at various points by small amounts to give it more movement. I wanted it to be very in your face. At the very end I slammed it through the PSP vintage warmer to remove all dynamic range.
Again, I just flattened it, adjusted small things and had the filter open a bit more for the second section of the track. I’ve got a second kick under the 808 working alongside the bass to really fill out the low end. All of my side chaining mostly happens in the final mix down really. I have basic EQ and side chaining in this project but it all gets deleted before I export these stems. I’m all about making shit sound good - not clean - but good.. In terms of effects I’m always using EQ for stylistic reasons in my writing projects, I’ll use EQ more traditionally later in the mixing stage. Here I’m rounding off a lot sounds, generally removing a lot of noise above of 10khz for a lower fidelity kind of sound, which allows my ’brighter’ elements to really poke through the mix. The risers and impacts always sound bigger in the context of the mix with this in mind. One of the pads at 2:45 has the high end really boosted which is so much clearer in the track. I also personally think the claps always sound fucking sick with the high end rolled off them. Things like the hats at the intro have a tiny bit of Echo on them, a lot of the percussion uses mostly dark reverbs with lots of pre-delay with usually a few key elements having a brighter reverb, building off of the same concept explained earlier.
Sometimes I’ll duplicate a sound and have them panned away from each other with different dry/wet levels on their FX and a few cents out of tune to widen and fill out the mix. I do use sends during my mixdowns, although I will keep them fairly basic during writing, and dial them in precisely later. A lot of my effects are tailored to each sound and catering to each element’s sonic space, rather than trying to put my tracks into a cohesive acoustic environment. I always usually have a parallel drum distortion though.
Both Theo and I who interviewed Diessa agreed that this is one of the more interesting approaches to producing that we've seen before. The idea of moving forward constantly, and a lot of the ideology Diessa employs around texture, timbre and how far we can push samples is something that is definitely special and hopefully useful to a lot of producers who are always looking for new ways to improve their sound. What's also noteworthy however, is that these are tools / effects that are stock to many Ableton users. Working with the audio tools already at her disposal and squeezing every last bit of power out of them is what makes Diessa so clinical in her craft, and something that a lot of us could learn from.
Big thanks to Diessa for showing us around her track, and again, go and stream / buy her music. The track we've broken down here is off of her recent Edited Arts EP, but I can wholeheartedly recommend all of her other EP’s; two of my other favourites being the Diessa EP on Furious Style’s 'HI-NRG' imprint or 'Breathe, Repeat' over on her Soundcloud. <3