OPTICAL Joins The Team!
Few artists are heralded as true pioneers.
That really is an understatement.
In Matt Quinn, however, we have a producer who, without any shadow of doubt, is a bonafide luminary, genre-shaping, trendsetting, legend of the Drum & Bass ecosystem.
‘Optical’ is an alias that evokes immediate respect; his work spans back over 25 years and there isn’t a DJ in the scene who hasn’t hammered his music at some point in this period. Together with Ed Rush, they turned the game on its head, and without question were fundamental in the laying of the path that led to today’s sound – no debate about it.
It is actually impossible to fine down his discography to a ‘top ten’ of any kind, but there are obvious tunes that we all love so much. The main aspect of this music that stands out to the listener is the variety in vibe & style. It all just exudes character and personality, whether it’s the relentless techno carnival that is KERB CRAWLER, or the stone cold jazz-laced killer in WATERMELON, or the rave destroying monster in CHUBRUB – this is vibrant music that always makes you feel things…. and blows your mind in the process.
It’s an enormous honour and a really proud moment in our history to welcome Optical as one of our new team of six.
He will be exclusively supplying our members with fresh production samples and studio tutorial videos. In terms of samples, expect a blend of vintage Optical flavours, combined with the sound design he’s been working on more recently.
>>> We asked Optical a few pre-season questions <<<
Welcome to the team Matt! It’s really great to be working with you. How are you doing and how has the last year been for you? Has this period of staying at home had any kind of positive effect on your creativity? (feel free to be totally honest about that!)1. Welcome to the team Matt! It’s really great to be working with you. How are you doing and how has the last year been for you? Has this period of staying at home had any kind of positive effect on your creativity? (feel free to be totally honest about that!)
I am really excited to be part of this year’s lineup! Honestly, the last 12 months has been the most difficult and stressful year of my life, like most people I’m sure. I have lived for performing as a DJ and experiencing beautiful, loud gnarly music with a bunch of like-minded people, dancing and having fun together since I was 16 years old so it’s been very hard to be shut away. Thankfully we have all survived and we have been working away at new music and also finding some joy with our online streaming events too. Now it looks like we will get back to the life we love soon as things continue to improve here, hopefully.
What’s coming up in regards to Virus nights? You and all the crew must be excited to get back to it – some legendary events you have put on in recent years!
We have always tried to make our club nights really special. Our first Virus night was in 1998 at The End for Wormhole LP Launch party and since then we have so many had sick events including at Fabric, The Scala, The Egg, Cable and Steelyard. Since our move to Steelyard we have put together the best visuals and sound and atmosphere in London and we have been really lucky to have had so many incredible artists perform alongside me and Ed Rush, including special sets from Andy C, Noisia, D-Bridge, Pendulum, Kemal, Audio, BSE, Matrix, Mefjus & InsideInfo, Gridlok, BTK, Gydra, to name a few.
We put together an truly incredible lineup for November 2020 and it was going to be amazing, but then as we all know the lockdown stopped us from going ahead….so we rescheduled for NYE….then for Feb 2021….then it was getting silly so we just held off until things looked more solid. Now that the UK government has given a more positive timetable for clubs to re-open we have finally announced the date for our next Virus night at The Steelyard, 6th November 2021. The tickets went on sale this week and the reaction has been amazing, we only have 200 tickets left today and we have not even started the traditional game of Virus guess the DJ Hangman yet! As always we have put a huge effort into the lineup and the production plans just like all our parties so expect it to be a legendary reunion for all of us!
OK, studio time! How much time do you spend on making music?
Making a song can take 5 hours or 5 days depending on how prepared you are. I spend a lot of time on making stuff…..so not writing a song at all…spending a day or two on collecting ideas or making a digital drum kit to use in a song, or going through synth presets and then customizing them to my tastes and storing them for later. Maybe a few hours of experimenting on one particular technique, like compressing or saturating or distorting or filtering or eq’ing; trying out all the plugs or settings I have available on a single sound or vocal or drumbeat, then bouncing out each variation so I can then go back at the end and compare all the results quickly side by side and see which ones really jump out at me as ‘better’ or ‘clearer’ or more ‘solid’ or with most importantly ‘more character’.
I also spend a couple of days a month (roughly) on listening to as much music and TV as I can with an eye on finding useful samples to take as raw materials for using in a song later on. We always work on anything that is sampled in our music so it becomes something new and not just a copy of someone else’s song, so modulation and manipulation of all our samples and synths is essential to make it something unique.
As an example, ‘To Shape The Future’ was 2 or 3 days of making the drums and bass sounds and all the bleeps and noises and then 36 hours straight of programming and arrangement and mixing to get it finished and recorded. ‘To Shape The Future’ Remix took about 8 or 9 hours in the middle of the night from start to finish because I had already done so much work on the original version and I had heard how it came out on the vinyl so I knew which things I could improve straight away. I just set myself with the goal of being ultra simple and just about the most gnarly bass intro I could get with the best version of that break I could make. Then getting one really distinct stab sound from my Pro-One, which has a very unique way of getting crazy detuned harmonics out of 2 oscillators. I did all the modulations on the bass and stabs live when I set the DAT recording going, so no fancy programming or complex modulations coming from the computer…..just me messing with the filters and effects and eqs live
Your sound, along with Ed Rush, has been one of the biggest influences on the genre. Can you articulate where your sound came from? What were the starting influences and ingredients that led to the conclusion ‘this is how I sound’
That’s very kind of you to say. It’s been a privilege to be part of the journey that DnB has been on for the last nearly 30 years. I think that once you get the basics of music production mastered is the point where you can start to explore your identity and the things that you really love about music in a way that expresses who you are and what you want to say. Music is a universal language that the whole planet speaks naturally so finding your ‘sound’ is really about creating music that speaks to you first and sounds real to you and makes you feel the things you want others to feel when you listen back to it. If you don’t really feel and strongly experience the vibe you are trying to get across then no one else will. Having your own style comes with lots of experimentation and then being able to say to yourself ‘I spent hours making this and it sounds great or hours making this and it sounds shit’…then you start to get an idea of what you are really all about without getting trapped in the ‘I have to use this sound because I worked a long time on it’ downhill spiral. The ability to be free to destroy or completely change anything until you get what you are really looking for is something that you develop with practice.
What is your creative process like, is there a pattern to how you come up with ideas and work them up into a finished track?
I usually start by getting lots of sounds and drums and bass patches together that I have already worked on before we start making an actual track. Then I get a simple drum track as a guide with a basic rhythm to use as a framework and from there I throw as many random ideas or maybe a 1-bar loop or something with a bit of character to get things started. Then from there it’s a process of adding sounds that fit in with the rough ideas and focusing on creating the main parts of the track until they all fit perfectly and add towards the rhythm and tone that you are after. Once you really have got all your parts refined and working nicely we move onto arranging and laying out the track into something that really captures the best way to move through the different vibes and atmospheres and possibilities and combinations of all the tracks we have got together – and then finally moving onto polishing it all up and adding back the human touch with layers of live modulation on key parts for the final recording.
You’re well known to be a lover of hardware, but what’s your current production set-up and what are your favourite pieces of software?
I still have all my hardware gear but it’s not useful in a hybrid setup with a DAW honestly as they are two different worlds so I use a fully ITB setup these days mostly. My audio interface is a MOTU HD192 and I make my own PC’s so my studio computer is constantly being tinkered with but it’s always as clean and fast as I can make it. I love Dynaudio monitors and I have BM15’s and LYD 5’s as my studio speakers with a passive analog volume control so it’s a super clean signal path. As for software, I mostly use Cubase for making songs but I also use Studio One and Ableton sometimes. I love Slate Digital plugs (particularly like VerbSuite Classics, Virtual Mix Rack, Repeater and Virtual Tape Machines) and obvious stuff like Waves and Fabfilter and Izotope, I still use the Sonnox Limiter(Enhance Slider!), Elephant Limiter, Camelphat, and Trash for distortion/saturation even though they are not new plugs. I really like Soothe 2 for removing digital harshness and Steinberg Backbone for new ways to manipulate drum hits really precisely. As for synths I use Serum a lot like most people, I make my own Wavetables from samples I like quite a bit for Serum. I really like U-He’s plugin synths like Retro-One too
In terms of tutorials, can you give some insights into what you might be looking forward to sharing with our gang? What do you think your strengths are?
I think that there is a huge amount of great information and videos and tutorials already out there from so many talented people. I’m hoping to try and cover some approaches on music production that are based on my experiences over the last 30 years and also the way to really make dynamic and expressive sounds and rhythms no matter what software or hardware you have available to you. Music really is a universal language that can be deeply expressive and meaningful to make and to experience as a listener. In my own music I try to make sounds that take on the feeling of the thing I want to say in a song and the technical aspects of getting any one dimensional sound, and making it become alive & three dimensional: to really shine and stand out and be expressive, saying the thing you wanted to say, perfectly, is the key to the best music. It’s not really about the perfect plugins or the most correct settings on an eq or a compressor or having the ultimate 15 plugin chain on one track or being a genius at phase alignment or any other stuff when it comes to the simple question?….”Does it sound good?”.
We’d agree with that! We’re really excited to be serving up our members with some authentic Optical samples. Can you give a hint of what they might be able to expect?
I have a gazillion samples after so many years, many thousands of sounds that I have actually manipulated myself going back to 1992 so I will try and include some very old sound sources from our studio in Soho where we made Wormhole LP, plus some gnarly modulated sounds from the last 20 years and of course some new bass and drum kits I am working on right now.
In terms of Drum & Bass, can you give 5 tracks from other artists that you love to play out? ( Any era) In terms of Non-Drum & Bass can you give 3 tracks from recent times that you really like.
These tracks are probably the ones I have played the most over the years that still always smash it, but honestly, choosing 5 tracks from all the tracks I play is not fair as my top 5 is really about 100 tunes at least on any day you ask me! And it changes everyday!
The Nine mixed with Seizure (BadCompany)
Messiah – Konflict (Noisia Remix)
Rocket Launcher Remix – Sonic & Silver
Pacman – Ram Trilogy Remix
Hell – Gein (Audio Remix)
Choosing 3 songs from what I like from recent times is also very difficult as I love so much new music so this is just a few totally random suggestions you could put into Youtube:
I See Your Ghost – The Lathums
Jarabi – Sona Jobarteh
Hopscotch 2019 Live set – Milford Graves
So you heard it first!
The new season of Sample Genie begins on 1.7.21. More announcements coming soon!
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