Obsession: 4 DJs, Producers, Share What Keeps Them Up At Night
Obsession is a level of passion that can change how a person creates, performs, and releases music. In this piece four world-touring DJs and producers out of Piknic Électronik share with us their personal obsession.
Guest post by Leticia Trandafir of Landr
What’s an obsession?
It’s an idea, thing, or feeling that pushes you to do your best. Obsession is passion with a cranked-up overdrive on it.
Obsessions in music keep you going. They’re what gets you back to the studio or on stage every night. It can be a lifelong feeling, or a short-lived flame. But no matter what, an obsession is a discovery that changes the way you make, play and release music.
We talked to four world-touring DJs and producers at Piknic Électronik and asked them all the same question: what’s your obsession?
As a DJ, I’m really into rolling out a mix—really long mixing between two, sometimes three tracks. That’s why I play on three or even four CDJs at times.
Of course, it’s nice to play out a whole entire track. But it’s more fun and interesting for me to be constantly working behind the decks. I don’t use turntables anymore—having to constantly touch up a turntable is work. With CDJs you don’t have to, so I take the opportunity to do as much as possible.
I really try to enhance the mix and let tracks breathe. It’s also about enjoying the music a bit more. Short mixes are good when you need them, but I’m loving 2-3 minute long mixes. It makes each record sound a little bit different than if you were to just listen to it without mixing.
As a producer, I’m working on re-learning how to balance my tracks. I come from a drum’n’bass background. Back then it was all about getting that really loud mixdown and master—making sure that you master a few dB higher than everything else. Now I’m teaching myself to let my tracks breathe. I avoid constantly pushing for volume. It should all be sitting nicely, rather than trying to max everything out.
I’m pulling back on levels and leaving headroom so that my tracks sound good in a live environment.
When I master a track, I send it off to someone else. I’m often used to getting the loudest mix possible. But recently, I’ve been going back into my mix and trying to get everything to balance better. I don’t want the kick so distorted and so in your face.
I’m pulling back on levels and leaving headroom so that my tracks sound good in a live environment. That’s where I want people to experience my music. It’s all good, making your record really mid rangey and loaded with high end if you’re gonna play it through laptop speakers. But the way I want you to listen to my music is in a club environment, on a sound system. If I’m playing on a Funktion One, the bass is actually going to cut through really nicely, and I don’t have to completely max it out. So I’m now approaching mixing in a totally different way.
I’m working on a new live set for an album I’m putting out in October.I decided to do everything with hardware, no computer. I usually mix old vintage instruments with plugins, but this time my obsession is to do everything in hardware. I like the challenge—it takes more time but in the end it’s more creative.
When I’m producing music in my studio, I always question my setup. I integrate new instruments, I try new machines.
When I’m producing music in my studio, I always question my setup. I integrate new instruments, I try new machines. I’ve recently purchased a new analog drum machine, the Vermona DRM-1. I really like the feeling of turning knobs—it’s more intuitive.
I’ve also been integrating guitar pedals in my electronic setup. It gives it a particular sound and it’s fun. It’s also easy to switch them up once I get tired of a sound.
I also have by own label, it’s called Lumière Noire. I put out artists like Sutja Gutierrez, Il Est Vilaine, Inigo Vontier and others. This label allows me to put out music by producers that I meet during my trips. Whether they’re well known or not, I don’t care. If I like the music, that’s what counts. I put out my own music too, but that doesn’t mean I won’t put out music on other labels too. It’s really a nice tool and it’s like a little family. It’s my way of recentering what I do.
Obsession is quite vast… Passion quickly turns into obsession. I’m obsessed with quality—to improve and do better. I want to make things more challenging, more interesting, and be more curious.
Right now I’m obsessed with a synthesizer called the Korg PolySix—and getting it to sync it with Ableton Live. The sound is really close to everything I like, soundtracks from the 70s and 80s, a Depeche Mode kind of atmosphere, and electro.
As a DJ I spend a lot of time trying to find how to start. I think it’s very important because that’s how you present what will happen for the next two or three hours.
When it comes to DJing, I’m obsessed with intros. I always prepare the 2-3 first records. It’s a way for me to feel more comfortable. I have many intros, and I adapt depending on where I play. It gives me a ground—for 15 minutes, I set the atmosphere and meanwhile I think about how to change the story and where to go from there. As a DJ I spend a lot of time trying to find how to start. I think it’s very important because that’s how you present what will happen for the next two or three hours.
Lately, I also started going back into the studio again. I started to be obsessed with machines again. It’s an obsession that’s quite intense, because it takes a lot of time. You have to deal with failure and take the time to find exactly what you want.
For DJing, my obsession is to give people an experience. To tell a story, to have epic momentums during the night that people are gonna remember.
I work during the week to plan that—I make a selection of records I’ll play at key moments during the night, and make transitions to bring the crowd there. So when I finish the night and I have a feeling that the crowd enjoyed and understood what we did—that’s my obsession.
In the studio it’s very different. At the club you have the reward of the crowd. In the studio you’re by yourself—you don’t have that feedback of the people. In the studio, I focus more on the techniques.
The Prophet 6 is the best sounding synth I’ve ever owned, along with the Moog Voyager. Analog synths and compressors (like the API 2500, the Avalon, the SSL 4000, or Neve tape emulators) give me that 20% extra that I can’t get with plugins. I’m not saying that you can’t make a good track only with plugins—in fact I do that most of the time.
I believe that the secret to getting an exceptional sound nowadays is to have a hybrid studio.
I believe that the secret to getting an exceptional sound nowadays is to have a hybrid studio. I do 85% of my work with plugins, then I’ll use analog gear in the last stage of production. Last year, I got almost 300 plugins!
My favorites are made by Plugin Alliance. I also love the FabFilter Pro Q2 EQ, it’s fantastic. One of my favorite compressors is the Sonalksis SV-315 Mk2 compressor, it’s a bit old now but it sounds almost analog. I use the API 2500 compressor on all my drums, I have both the software and hardware version. I’m a big fan of the Soundtoysplugins too, for delays—the Crystallizer is great.
I have so many plugins, and I use them all!
I don’t like to master my own tracks. The person who mixes shouldn’t be the person who masters the track. The mastering should be a second pair of ears—whether it’s a person or an algorithm. At some point when you’re mixing and you’ve listened to the track so many times, you lose the sense of the final details. Mastering your track outside of your studio is the way to go.