Vinyl Life: Analog Assasins

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If you tagged Vinyl Life as “old-school,” chances are the NYC-based trio wouldn’t be insulted.

Though they might prefer to be called “authentic,” the guys in Vinyl Life—producer Butcha, MC Phaze Future and keyboardist Richie Roxx—know what kind of sound they want to push—one that grooves with whopping analog warmth.

Using a vintage approach in the studio and onstage, Vinyl Life bangs a party that recalls the classic feel of Afrika Bambaataa—that is, an urban take on taut Kraftwerk-ian sounds. Vinyl Life’s self-titled debut (on their Tape Theory imprint) includes infectious hip-housers like “Hi Tops” and “Hot Sauce,” so there’s plenty for the dancefloor.

We caught up with Butcha and Richie Roxx—Vinyl Life’s two DJs—to talk tech and the wonders of analog.

DJ Times: Is there more interest in the old-school sounds now?
Richie Roxx: Definitely. We’ve moved so far ahead with technology that listening to music created with a different set of recourses now seems charming and counterbalances our digitally enhanced ears. Just think back to the days when songs where recorded in mono. And what did bass sound like in 1968?

DJ Times: Do you think most listeners can tell the difference between analog and digital sounds?
Butcha: They may not know what to call it, but they can probably feel it.

DJ Times: How deep does your vintage analog freakdom go?
Butcha: Considering that most people have gone software, my studio has become purgatory for vintage gear. My 808 is really on permanent loan from a friend and my 909 was once used and signed by techno legend Jeff Mills. I was also given my Oberheim OB-XA in return for a remix, and it’s like a money pit for me. I’ve spent over $1,200 to fix it and it still needs work. It reminds me of my first Cadillac in both size and maintenance.

DJ Times: Your most essential studio piece?
Butcha: My Allen & Heath GL2400 mixing board. It sounds incredible, while enabling me to connect, record, and mix all of my hardware instruments. I use Pro Tools with RME converters as my tape machine and mostly hardware effects during mixing and recording. I have a sick drum-machine and synth collection. And I rarely go a day without using my Technics 1200s.

DJ Times: What’s your take on analog-emulation plug-ins?
Butcha: Close, but no cigar, especially when the filters are open. After you develop an ear for the warmth and realness of analog, it’s hard to use plug-ins. Also, I think it’s important to note that when using hardware, you are making a recording. When doing an internal bounce of a sequenced soft synth, it’s just some math simulating what a synth might sound like. It’s a case of convenience traded for quality. There are certain things in everyone’s budget that are not worth the money to buy a physical unit.

DJ Times: So why the analog route for you?
Butcha: For me, I’d rather have hardware synths primarily because they work with my sound, but I’m willing to compromise on software compressors because it isn’t worth the thousands of dollars it would cost to get multiple instances of vintage ones. Case in point: I still run the same G4 with Pro Tools 5.2 that I got eight years ago because every time I get some money for gear, I get another instrument.

DJ Times: When you DJ, what do you play?
Butcha: House, hip-hop, classics, funk and reggae are always in my crate—I love it all.
Roxx: A mix of old-school and new. From the jacking Chicago to the New Beat and rave gems from Belgium and U.K. Can’t leave out our love for hip-house, dubstep, and techno as well. The classics never die, while the new cuts are always fly.

DJ Times: For young producers who want to go the analog route, what’s your advice to them?
Butcha: Start with one piece that you can really learn thoroughly and then build from there. For keyboards, get a nice, simple polyphonic synth, like the Juno 106. I think if everyone was given a Juno for their 12th birthday, the world would be a much better place.

 – Jim Tremayne
Published in the March 2010 issue of DJ Times magazine