October 1, 2014

In The Studio With... Rudimental

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In electronic-dance music, it’s rare when an artist easily and effectively spans genres, but that’s exactly what Rudimental has done

The British foursome—Amir Amor (producer, keys, guitars), Kesi Dryden (keys, percussion), Piers Aggett (keys, DJ) and Leon Rolle (DJ)—pick a different style and tempo for every song they create. And sometimes, they pick more than one tempo within a song, a particular treat for DJs who are trying to mix one of their tracks into their set.

On the group’s debut album, Home (Asylum), you’ll find drum-n-bass (“Powerless,” “Waiting All Night” and the chart-topping “Feel The Love”), house (“Baby,” “Spoons”), and hip hop (“Hell Could Freeze”). You’ll also find elements of grime, garage and funk. But most of all, you’ll find soul, which is what makes the whole thing work—even if genre purists might beg to differ.

“Pirate radio is a big influence on us,” says Amor, sitting in the dark bowels of Hollywood’s Avalon club. “We come from a soul background and that’s really what dictates the way. A drum-n-bass head wouldn’t call us drum-n-bass and a house head wouldn’t call us house, but they can appreciate us.”

Writing songs starts on instruments at their Major Toms Studio in the Hackney neighborhood of East London. They kick off with a chord progression and a vocal, which they write and sing a guide for—prior to finding a final vocalist. From here an arrangement is built with some rough ideas for tempo and rhythm, a beat is programmed. When it feels like they have something, they’ll deconstruct everything in the Apple Macintosh-Logic-Pro Tools combination.

“That’s when you start hitting difficulties,” chuckles Amor. “One of the key things in becoming a good producer is learning to under-produce. You have to communicate the most music with minimal sounds. The more you put down, the more you’re taking away from the emotion and meaning of the song. We like to keep it organic and simple.”

In keeping with that theme, strings are a notable feature on Home. These are created and arranged on keyboards, then taken to David Gray’s The Church Studios where arranger Sally Herbert translates for an eight-piece string section to perform. “We reversed it, distorted it, chopped it up, made it sound not like strings at times,” says Amor, “because that can make it classical and we wanted to make it more interesting.”

Vocals are featured on every song on Home with performers including Emeli Sandé (“Free,” “More Than Anything”) and Alex Clare (“Not Giving In”). In recording with the album’s 10 vocalists, the signal path remains pretty consistent: an AKG C414 microphone into a Focusrite Sapphire Pro 40 interface, Prism Sound converter and, on occasion, an RME Fireface into the computer. “When I first started at 16, that was the cheapest, best mic,” says Amor of the AKG unit. “It’s not exciting—it’s just clean. I’ve used every other mic. The C414 is the best overall neutral sound you’re going to get from anything. You can record a violin with it or you can record vocals with it.”

When the group plays live, three vocalists represent the multiple voices featured on Home. They are joined by a horn section, a live drummer who also has electronic pads, Amor on guitar and keys, and the other members on a variety of synthesizers, which they use to play sounds rather than trigger samples. With Beanie, the drummer in place, the Rudimental performances are more dynamic and flexible. Even so, at this year’s Glastonbury Festival, Rudimental played four DJ sets in addition to its live set.

Using four Pioneer CDJ decks and Pioneer DJM-2000 mixer, Aggett and Rolle (aka Locksmith)—the DJs of the group—employ USBs and SD cards while their trumpet player Mark Crown plays over the top. The sets, which require a minimum of 90 minutes, start at 120 BPM and end at 180 BPM, running the gamut from disco, house, garage to dub and dubstep, then jungle and drum-n-bass. Plus, they’ll throw in some Marvin Gaye or Ray Charles mash-ups.

“You have to treat each set differently,” says Aggett. “We have quite a wide fan base—from 50-year-old ex-drum-n-bass ravers to 16-year-old kids. Whatever crowd we’re presenting to, it changes slightly.”

Perfectly in keeping with the band’s ethos.

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