Soundgas in London (inc. Floating Points Studio Tour)
WRITTEN BY: Tony Miln
UPLOADED: 25th Sep 2019
Jo and I had a whirlwind multi-stop studio tour in London on Monday, catching up with friends old and new. This included a trip into the depths of Sam “Floating Points” Shepherd’s studio to discuss some of the making of the new album and live show (video below!), and hearing about the mighty Dap Kings’ studio and some monster tracks from the new Leon Vynehall album from Ben Baptie. All of that, and more, below; but first we head into Shoreditch…
First stop was Strongroom (of course) to catch up with Technical Manager Jake Murray and meet Brendan Harding (who’s joined as Studio Manager form Red Bull). We had lots to discuss: watch out for news of future Soundgas/Strongroom collaborations soon.
Word had got out that we were in town with the prototype Type 636 and our schedule suddenly looked a great deal busier. First up was Grammy Award winning producer/engineer, Matt Wiggins (Adele/everyone!), who has been making extensive use of the Soundgas RE-201 that we presented when Strongroom won their MPG Award for Studio Of The Year). I was very taken with Matt’s original WEM Audiomaster mixer – something that has eluded me to date, and the first time I’ve seen one in the flesh – as well as his lovely EMT broadcast mixer.
Next up was Iggy in the Bella Union studio, who swiftly put the 636 through its paces, declaring it ‘a monster!’. It was great to catch up with Iggy, whose RE-501 we serviced earlier this year (“sounding great!”), and he grabbed this quick snippet of the Type 636 in action:
Just along the corridor from Iggy is Nathan Boddy’s new room: he’d told Jake he was keen to say hi, and it turned out that we have a few friends in common from Nottingham – turns out that as a teenager he used to come to a night I DJed at back in the mid 90s… We managed to cram a good deal of reminiscing in, along with plenty of gear/music talk before our tour guides ushered us downstairs to see Ben Baptie in the room he shares with Leon Vynehall.
It’s always a pleasure to chat to Ben: not only is his room full of Soundgas favourites, but we seem very aligned on music and recording, not least a desire to keep things simple and get recordings right on the way in rather than ‘fixing it in the mix’. He set about demoing the Type 636 with some extracts from the new Leon Vynehall album, which sounds incredible (special mention to the extreme low end courtesy of the Moog Grandmother). We only grabbed this quick shot of the man in action, but that silhouette is unmistakable 🙂
Next up were recordings he made during a four-day visit to New York to the Dap Kings’ Daptone studio in Brooklyn, tracking everything live to their eight-track Ampex machine. This had me nearly falling off the sofa with joy – the most immense, powerful and utterly right-sounding tracks that just oozed effortless soul and groove. Sonically exceptional across the board – the first track’s bass guitar sounding like the heyday of Motown – but to single one instrument out is grossly unjust as they all sounded glorious. It makes me embarassingly happy to hear people still making and recording music this good: incredible players in a good room tracking together (lots of lovely spill) through great vintage gear onto wide bands of tape. The insane levels of drive/saturation on one track were revealing: it just sounded wonderfully dirty – impossible to make good tape sound bad (don’t try that in the box). The drummer was making incredible beats using a humble Pearl Export kit: I’d never have called it had Ben not told me. Everything from these sessions sounded so good through the Type 636 – these parts were perfect for it – the guitar dirtied up perfectly with just the right amount of gritty warmth and heft and the smooth Gibbs tank never sounded anything other than just right. Sadly this project is as yet unreleased, so we couldn’t record/share any of these amazing sounds. Safe to say that Ben was very taken with the 636 and one may well be joining him soon.
Too soon we had to say farewell to our friends at Strongroom and make a short taxi journey across soggy London to David Wrench’s new studio space where he was in the middle of preparing for a week-long Audiobooks tour of France with Metronomy. David spent a great deal of time with a Grampian Type 636 at Bryn Derwen Studio putting all sorts of sources through it, (especially on one memorable Caribou remix) and lamented that he didn’t have £450 to spare when they sold it a few years ago. He liked the sound of the prototype, though it’s brighter than the one at Bryn Derwen – of course, every Grampian sounds different; it very much depends on how they’ve aged and what components have been replaced.
Our intention had been to bring the full production prototype Soundgas Type 636 with us, but Ben and Dr Huw (our men in brown coats) couldn’t quite get it ready in time for this trip, so the original prototype stood in. We’ve made a few small but significant changes since this version, and I’ve grown used to the new mic preamp section which overdrives with even more extra rich harmonic goodness. I’ll be doing some A/B testing later this week to compare the two machines – the original prototype was almost indistinguishable from a well-preserved example, but we’ve been tweaking and ‘improving’ the production version to sound as close as possible to our favourite units. (Stop Press: I’ve just heard the full production prototype on the bench for the first time – it’s sounding spectacular – quite a step up from our original prototype).
By the time we reached Floating Points’ studio, it was evening and we had precious little time to catch up with Sam Shepherd as he prepared for his latest solo tour. His studio is a joyous collection of some of the most desirable (and unusual) pieces, all working perfectly thanks to Radiohead tech ‘Poodle’, and ready for instant action via Dante hook up. There are many pieces of gear from Soundgas, including some of my favourites – the late 60s Ampeg bass amp that was used for the Stax Volt Tour – a trio of Binsons, Rhodes Chroma – plus his EMS Synthi A and there are Buchlas seemingly everywhere. The lovely ex-Cassius Yamaha CS-70M that we supplied last year has played a big part on the new album; one track alluringly-entitled “Requiem for CS70 and Strings”.
Not one for something as simple as a laptop replay, he’s brought together an eccentric blend of the everyday and exotic to create a sound that is unmistakably Floating Points. The beats are processed and created by a couple of Buchla systems, in conjunction with a MAM ADX-1 and Roland TR-8S with everything passing through the Overstayer Saturator and his incredible compact Swiss Sonosax SX-ST broadcast mixer. The Therevox providing live keyboard action alongside his trusty Yamaha Reface CS while he uses Abeleton for sync and live sampling/looping. As you will see from the video I managed to grab below, this is truly exciting seat of the pants live electronic music and the brief time we spent as Sam whizzed around his rig had Jo and I wanting to leap about the studio, in spite of it being the end of a very long day.
Sam’s latest album, Crush, is released on 18th October. https://www.floatingpoints.co.uk/
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