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Q & A Aquasky

Bournemouth’s breaks and bassline bruiser Brent from Aquasky spills the beans on everything from beatboxing to bedroom habits.

Bournemouth-based trio Aquasky are as well known on the breaks circuit as they are in fidget circles. Never ones to bow down to cliches, they’ve been nominated for no less than seven awards at the internationally regarded Breakspoll gongs. Their unique sound has been remixed by the mighty Herve & Sinden and appeared on revered imprints such as Talkin’ Loud, Moving Shadow and most recently Kingsize and Lot 49. We catch up with Brent from the trio for a righteous chinwag.

What is the key ingredient for a track? Breakdown? Style of production? Bassline?

Breakdown all the way. A breakdown sets the scene for the carnage that follows and is also a great way of letting the party crew rest for a minute or two. You can get really creative in the breakdown and use strings and pads (which I use at any given opportunity). I’m renowned for saying: “Let’s put a pad line there and then at this point put it up a seventh!” Ask one of the other chaps in Aquasky and they will probably say the bassline or beats are the most important thing. It’s like having a head and not having eyes, ears and a mouth to go with it: it would be pointless. Your track needs an awesome beat and a great bass. But for me it’s all about the breakdown. Strings anyone?

Have you got any advice for aspiring young producers out there?

Don’t listen to the haters and don’t go sending your tracks away until you know they are the best they can be. There is so much crap being given away at the moment. If your track is one of the crap ones then it will weaken your name and the scene you are down with. My second piece of advice would be to do what YOU want to do, and don’t always try to make the hot sound of now, as the hot sound will be out of date by the time your tune is released. Finally, be nice to people on the way up as you will pass the same people on the way back down.

Do you mainly use analogue or digital soft synth sources? Do you think analogue really makes a difference?

We spent years using analogue gear and still have most of the kit (boxed on the roof of our studio). These days though it’s all about digital soft synths. It’s amazing how much space our gear used to take up and these days the studio feels a bit naked. That said, I’m sure one day we’ll dust off the old kit and have fun with it again.

Any arrangement secrets you wish to share with us?

We sometime share a bed on tour…

What do you believe is the secret to your success as a producer?

I think it is about knowing when the time has come to move on and try something new. It’s a pet hate of ours when a producer has success with a tune then spends the rest of their career trying to recreate that success by making tunes that sound the same or even giving an annual remix of their classic tune. That’s when making music is more about the business than the creativity.

For us it’s about being able to have the freedom to create what we want, when we want. We knew when our days producing drum ‘n’ bass were up when Adam Freeland got us into breaks. Then we knew the days of spearheading the bassline breaks scene were over when on entering the studio we already knew what the end track was going to sound like. It started to feel as if we were on a production line. Basically, we got bored wth where we were. Then we hooked up with Meat Katie and did the track ‘Overneath’, which was a huge success. From there we got back into the 4/4 sound, using our trademark bass and our knowledge of old school vibes and mashing it all up. I wouldn’t even know what box you would put our new sound into and I don’t really care either ;-) !

How do you see the dance music industry developing over the next 2-3 years?

Musically it could go any way, and that’s great for us as we love to mash it up and stay out of the boxes that are placed around you like cages in a zoo. “Hey kids,” the PR masters say, “do you want to see the jackin’ house enclosure or go looking at those wild bashment-bassline kids in their reinforced pen?” It’s such an exciting time and there isn’t a hierarchy dictating what you should or shouldn’t be doing (other than the obligatory PR firms and club promoters). You’ve got the DJs playing tracks that make the punters bounce like in the old rave days of time gone by and trust me; we were there for that and that’s what has kept us inspired ever since.

Any advice on monitoring? Quiet? Loud? Do you prefer flat and boring speakers, headphones or big, phat and chunky monitors?

We like to monitor on speakers that give us good mid and top-end clarity. Dave’s [one of the other two members that make up Aquasky] dad made a big bass speaker for us to check the bottom end and that only goes on for a short period at the end of the mixdown otherwise the studio would probably cave in on top of us. We never monitor on headphones and never have the volume loud. It just tires your ears and then you’re fucked: you’re not objective which is not cool when you are doing a mixdown. We always do our final mix at the end of the day and check it the next morning before making the last bounce.

How important do you think it is to have your music mastered commercially? Can you do it yourself as effectively and what tools would you recommend?

We can do digital mastering ourselves as well as most mastering companies. Sometimes we’ll do it better as it’s our own music and we know how it should sound. Vinyl, however, is a different beast altogether. There’s only one person who can handle that for us and that’s Shane at Finyl Tweek. He knows our sound and knows how to make it sit ‘pon de wax!

Describe your typical workflow on a track.

We keep our heads down, the door shut, phone off the hook and a laptop to hand to keep the Tweets up to date. That’s about it really. If at the end of the session we are up on our chairs, shirts off, making boxes and sounding air horns then we know we’re on a good track. If we are sat in the corner, chewing our cheeks, staring at a wall covered in sweat and puke, and slipping into a deep black hole, then it has been a bit of a shit session. Thankfully we don’t end up on that many bad trips.

What sounds do you find are the hardest to create from scratch?

I was never any good at being a human beatbox. So I’d probably say that’s the hardest thing to do from scratch. It aways sounded like I was sneezing.

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