Dirtyphonics' View from the Booth
Pitchin and Charly—Dirtyphonics’ DJ duo—are poised at the edge of a wobbly table that precariously holds their decks/mixer combo onstage at the Orange County Observatory.
After a few prepping shouts to the suburban SoCal audience, Pitchin flies into the fans’ waiting arms to the pulsing sounds of “Stage Divers,” the group’s collaboration with Steve Aoki, himself a well-known human projectile. A little later on, Charly will do some diving of his own, the crowd fighting for a chance to hold him up.
But it’s been like that for the Paris-based, DIM MAK-signed act for awhile now—live craziness for the two DJs or the full band that also includes Pho. (A fourth member, Thomas—first names only, please—recently departed the group.)
As an electronic-music quartet, Dirtyphonics spent this past spring and summer touring North America and Europe in support of its debut album, Irreverence. Loaded with teeth-grinding party tracks that infuse drum-n-bass and drumstep sounds with Euro-rave rhythms, heavy-metal crunches, and even classical piano, Irreverence roars and rages with whopping drops and electro buzzbombs.
Currently supporting Excision for a 55-date tour, the DJ half of Dirtyphonics comes armed with four Pioneer CDJ-2000NXS and two DJM-900NXS mixers. The setup allows the pair to maintain a musical dialogue. They can play all four decks simultaneously, while employing double drops, quick mixing and effects. Of course, they can also swap time on the decks—one mixing, the other hyping the crowd.
The two take cues from each other, but also from other DJs. The inspiration comes from jocks of many genres—Andy C, Laurent Garnier, Marky and especially Sasha. “The way he manages to have this buildup go on and on for three minutes,” says Pitchin of Sasha’s famed extended mixing, “maybe we can find a way in bass music to recreate this.”
In the studio, the group employs a mixture of hardware and software, plus traditional instruments. Some of the pieces used on Irreverence include Ampeg SVT bass-amp emulation (via IK Multimedia’s AmpliTube 2 plug-in), Native Instruments’ Massive soft-synth, and mono analog synths like Korg’s MS-20, Novation’s UltraNova, and particularly, Access’ Virus TI. Tons of samples are taken from hip-hop snares, Toontrack EZdrummer, and combustion-reverb noise recordings, which are natural sounding snares sculpted with EQ. On top of all this, details are added with distortion plug-ins and layering over the basic sounds.
Of course, DJing helps form the structure of their tracks, as Pitchin and Charly test the material to a live audience. “Bass music’s evolution—how DJs play a tiny little portion of each track and mixing goes way faster with the help of technology and the different genres of music that have emerged—has changed the way we see the structure of the song,” says Charly. “There is what feels right when you listen to the song at home or in your headphones and what you expect the energy of the track to be at a gig.”
Adds Pitchin: “Even if we do what we want, so many DJs edit the tracks. We pretty much re-edit all the tracks—even our own. Four or five years ago, especially for drum-n-bass, you had to keep the crowd dancing and play without a breakdown for a good 10-15 minutes, then have a huge breakdown and buildup again. Now, you better have another breakdown and another buildup soon to keep them interested. Your selection has to be like a rollercoaster, on and on and on.”
This is what can be expected from a Dirtyphonics remix as well. The group has put its stamp on tracks from Marilyn Manson, The Crystal Method, Linkin Park, Krewella, Nero, and Kaskade, to mention just a few. “So many remixes take a tiny bit of the vocal in the intro,” says Charly, “and then drop into a track that feels like it was written before the artist even knew they were going to do this remix. The whole point about remixing a track is having a vibe that you originally like and can grab some of the melody or vocals. Then we’ll put our heavy basses, throw a hook in, we’ll even change the key if we feel like the track needs it. We always try to keep a lot of the original, so if you listen to the original and the remix, it makes sense.”