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Hysteric Ego talks career, industry and the making of Want Love
With a remix of the club classic by Crazibizaand Jerome Robins rising through the Beatport charts, we catch up with Robert White, aka Hysteric Ego to talk about his career in Dance Music and how he created the original version of Want Love.
It was a different game back in the day and not every DJ or musician could just make Dance music, how did it happen for you?
"Let's look at the demographic of the music industry before the digital revolution. There was no Internet for a start. The only way of getting heard was to write, produce then record a track in a pro studio and that wasn't cheap. You'd master it at a mastering facility, say Tape to Tape or Metropolis, then after they have mastered your track you then you get the acetates which is a copy of your track on a temporary piece of vinyl of which you get about 10 plays before it deteriorates. Commonplace was to send the acetates to Radio 1, selected DJs, specialist radio and the likes whilst you send the plates to a pressing plant and wait to get your pressed vinyl back.
"Now the market is flooded. Anyone with a laptop with a piece of software can create a 'master' and upload a track to an online store and hey presto it's out there"
"The good thing about this process was that it removed the wheat from the chaff - there was no 'give it a go' brigade as it wasn't cheap. There was no guarantee that your track would ever be heard, not to mention if you didn't know what you where doing in a studio in the first place, sonically I mean... It would be all a bit too much for the faint hearted. You had to believe in yourself and you capabilities as an artist / producer. Now the market is flooded. Anyone with a laptop with a piece of software can create a 'master' - and I use this term loosely - and upload a track to an online store and hey presto it's out there. This can be a good thing if you're talented within your chosen field because you can access the masses. If not there's a deluge of tracks to wade through before you can be heard.
"Back in the day you had to record in a studio as I described earlier. Now you still have to spend money but this time to get your head above all the mediocrity of a flooded market. You have to hire a PR company, Agent, Promotional Distributer and Promoter. Has it evolved? I'm not sure. The process is the same it's just the formula has change."
When did you create the Hysteric Ego guise?
"I was in a band called White making dance music in a band environment i.e. using a click from a MPC 60 /ASQ 10 to the drummer and sequencing samples from Akai's S1100 and bass from Juno 106. We had a few minor hits like Purple Haze on Big Wave records...
.... and Promises a Balearic style house track with a mix by Fabi Paras. And Bar-Hoo, more on the Vocal House Pop tip on Dieter Meier from Yello's Solid Pleasure label.
"After the band project and the way the club scene was evolving I thought I'd go more on the house tip, electronically. A friend of mine was working for a clothing company call Hysteric Glamour - I loved the name. On Wednesdays in London I would frequent a club called The Betty Ford Clinic in Convent Garden where I saw a balloon that said "inflate your Ego". As you blew it, the ego would inflate. That same night in the club I was talking to a friend of mine and he asked what my next project was, and before thinking it came out - Hysteric Ego, and it stuck."
Tell us about creating Want Love. How did the track take shape, what gear was used.
"After coming back to the UK from recording tracks in L.A, I decided to start another project. All I had at the time was a Korg M1, Juno 106, Akai S1100, MPC 60 and a MKS 7 and a Soundcraft mixing console. That was pretty much it, but I knew this equipment inside and out. After scouring through sample after sample, I came across The Bucket Heads track, and lifted the drums. I didn't treat the drums much as I remember thinking: I've just lifted this from a mastered track that's doing well in the clubs, what more can I add to the sound? How naïve...
"At this time I wasn't worried too much about the sound as I was going in to a pro studio environment where the engineer could worry about that. I could concentrate more on the writing and production of the track and not worry if the bass was conflicting with the BD. Now you would immediately use your "go to" tools of choice - Compression, EQ, maybe XR727 within the SSL X rack go to a plugin like Waves R Bass or my favourite the Neve 1084 mono 1084 Mic Pre/eq modulefor good frequency separation and be so more analytical."
"The Korg M1 is synonymous with house music. There would probably be 100 tracks we would never have heard of if it wasn't for the M1. The bass line was the M1 Organ backed up by Juno 106 to give it lots of bottom. On the Korg M1, the organ had a slight reverb within the M1 and the delay just to keep the roll and rhythm yet again within the M1 as it did the job. If it's not broken don't fix it. The Bass line. Hmmm… G sharp then chromatically from B back to G sharp. This was a working bass line but ended up staying.
"Whenever I get a session in the studio I say to the client: Let's try this, even if it doesn't stay as the part you have to start somewhere. You never know where it will take you. Working on a MPC 60 - as you may know is a drum machine sequencer – it's not as visual as say working a DAW, so when you copy a section over you would copy bar 33 to bar 37 and put it at 41, whereas in a DAW you would simply highlight your section and place it where you'd like it to be.
"Funny thing is on Want Love [as the track was later called] it didn't copy the three notes before the G sharp. The B / A sharp / A, would have been in bar 32 so it left them being within the previous sequence. So when playing it back, I had the triangle section then the M1 organ and Juno played the B / A sharp / A before the first beat of the bar of the main section creating the infamous drop, so a complete mistake. I was having a deep conservation with a friend of mine once and he said - not talking about music at all - 'In life it's Ok to make mistakes but don't make the same one twice.' Well I have been trying to make that mistake every day since!"
What about the vocal samples?
"The Vocal samples were originally Colonel Abrahams but I had to re-vocal them myself for WEA for release. The promo still has Colonel Abrahams on, sounds a lot better I think. The triangle on the track is so noisy because, well, that's old samples for you. I tried to treat this with all sorts of EQ, De-esser re-sampling at higher bandwidth. Nothing sorted it out, so I left it, as the more I treated it the worse it got.
"As far as the structure of the track is concerned I come from being in bands as a musician/songwriter so I'm a bit of a sucker for drops, middle-eight sections, choruses, peaks and troughs and ill think you can find these traits in all my work. Although now I'm currently on the deep house / deep tech house / nu school disco tip, it's still there."
Were you under any pressure to keep banging out the hits in the same formula when Want Love became a smash?
"If I knew then what I know now, life it would be a totally different story. Back then I wanted to be in total control of what I wanted to do and how I wanted to sound. Controlling is something I later learnt that you can't do all yourself. I spent so much time listening to other people's input and so called advice, and being so pedantic about every little thing I did, that I feel I missed the boat and the scene changed around me. I had a couple of tracks that hit the top 40 after Want love, Ministry of Love and Time to get back.
"Even when I was flying around the world I would receive a call from my agent you have a gig in Beirut / Brazil / The Moon this weekend. I remember saying to a friend: "when I get some success things will be so different". It felt like I was in the centre of the hurricane all calm and serine but outside it was turmoil. Until the phone stops ringing then it hit me. I didn't realise that the success was actually happening until it had gone.
"Now there are platforms to easily release material, there's no need to be so precious and controlling. It's all about momentum. A career in music is not about having one track out every 5 years, you need to be consistent, and consistently good.
You must have some great clubland stories of the 90s? Any bizarre or crazy stories for us?
Sean Penn in Malibu L.A filming 'Get Shorty' in the house in where I was staying in L.A. Dwarfs at Manumission Ibiza. Kylie in Quite Storm London. The Take That video for Relight My Fire. Bobby Gillespie at the Betty ford Clinic club night in London. Michael Hutchence and Helena Christensen in Malibu Stacy, London. Where do you want me to start!?
What gear are you using at the moment and what current work are you most proud of?
"I love the Deep House scene at the moment along with the Nu School Disco and Tech House, but it really depends on what inspires me. Now I'm using Mac pro, running three Mac 30' Cinema displays - I love the luxury of not having to close and open new windows. Plug-ins consist of: Artruria Mini V, Korg Legacy, Lennar Sylenth, NI Komplete 8, Novation Bass station / V station, Rob Papen Sub boom / Predator, REFEX Nexus, Spectrasonics, Ominsphere, Celomony Melodyne, Sugar Bytes Effectrix / Turnado, The Waves Bundle - which I couldn't do without, Flux, Lexicon and Sonnex Oxford.
"UAD Apollo 16 high resolution interface giving me the chance to come out of the Mac using 16 maybe 32 channels - if I buy two. This, into either a summing mixer or go straight to conventional analogue mixer. Problem with this is I want to be able to cherry pick the mic pre's Monitor controller, EQs and the likes, whereas if you go with a mixer, per say, you may like the mic pres then you're stuck with the rest of it, monitor controller, EQs, returns etc ."
"Everything has its sound no matter how small or irrelevant it may seem. If you have too much in the chain it will dramatically changed your sound, as it all adds up. Also remember that if you have a piece of kit that is very subtle i.e. the Obsidian stereo compressor for instance, it maybe subtle on its own but adding this with more subtle kit will change your sound in the chain for the better or worse depending on what you want to achieve."
"Sitting in a small room day in day out talking to oneself. I sometimes think that long-distance lorry drivers have more social interaction than we [producers] do"
"I think monitoring is the most important piece of kit you will purchase and there is no shortcut. Whatever is in your chain of equipment you will be hearing it through your monitors, be it good or bad. In my set up I have tried the Barefoot MM27, which are fantastic monitors, the ATC SCM25A and the Focal SM9. I went for the Focal SM9 as for me they gave a wider spectrum of sonic dimension than the others - I could hear more, especially where I placed the instruments and sounds within the mix.
"So for mic pres I go with Neve 1084 mono, 1084 Mic Pre/eq module for good frequency separation using the Obsidian stereo compressor on I/O inserts, so it can be also imprinted and be used on the stereo mix buss, but imprinting can cause latency problems. It's better to use it on the desk via an insert point. I love the Shadow Hills Dual Vandergraph. It gives a real lush full fat thickness I need for that Deep House sound I'm into at the moment using this on the stereo mix buss chain.
"The Neve Centrepiece although expensive gives the warm sound I'm always trying to emulate and the TUBE-TECH SSA2B another warm bit of kit making it wide and punchy.At the end of the Stereo mix buss chain you also can't beat a stereo EQ. I've chosen the XR727 within the SSL X rack. You can really hear the difference when it's in, more of everything right where you need it, Obsidian stereo compressor and the dual Vandergraph. Then a monitor controller, the Dangerous Music Monitor ST. This doesn't colour the sound not like other monitor controllers I've tried. I should also add a thank you here to Nick and all the guys at KMR Audio for the endless help, support and advice they've given me over the years on the projects I've worked on."
With the 90s sound back in full swing, will you be turning back to some old flavors like MK and many others have, or do you think you've been there done that?
"I'd like to think I like moving forward, pushing what I can do and the tech with maybe a pastiche of nostalgia in there for good measure. Music/fashion is cyclic - to know the past is to know the future so you can always learn from bringing something back with a different angle on it. That's what moves us forward.
One of my new tracks I Can't Find My Lovehas a touch of old school. It's one of the tracks off the three track EP out now on Beatport.
After seeing dance music and production change, how do you think it will progress?
"The technological revolution means we now do everything inside the box having so many applications plug-ins at our disposal. It can become a minefield, especially if you're new to production and writing in the DAW environment. Not to mention sitting in a small room day in day out talking to oneself. I sometimes think that long distance lorry drivers have more social interaction than we do.
"It's just finding what works for you and not to get caught in the spiralling world of tech, because no amount of gear or tech will write the track itself"
"There are plenty of things I love about this chosen path I've taken. One of them is that when you come to the studio in the morning it could be the day that life changes forever. It's like the lottery, you never know if it's going be the day that you pen that track / tune / riff / lyric / hook that will; be the one. The PRS lost ark.
"My equipment list was limited around the time of Want Love for many reasons financial and tech wasn't as cheap and readily available as it is now - Korg M1, Juno 106, Akai S 1100, MPC 60 that was pretty much it. I couldn't tell you how many plug-ins and apps I have at the moment, but even now I'm in the box, I'm screaming to get out. It's weird for me reminiscing about writing Want Love. Knowing I was going into a professional studio used to elevate me from the pressure and I could totally immerse myself into the job I was trying to create from the writing to the production. Although now I'm still in the same writing/ production mode, I'm much more aware of the sonic value and how to create the sonic picture that we are all familiar with.
"I have gone in many circles with the fashion of music tech, more outboard than I could list, out the box, in the box, digital to analogue, SSL Neve Harrison to Amek to Euphonic CS2000 to 2" multi-track back to digital. They all do a fantastic job it's just finding what works for you and not to get caught in the spiralling world of tech, because no amount of gear or tech will write the track itself. Well not at the moment anyway, but I'm sure it's coming, just push play and it will pay your royalties straight in to your account.
"Although I love and get excited about a new bit of kit, it's merely an author's pen. If you don't know your chords and basic music theory, you'll be getting dressed in the dark for a fashion show and you'll get caught up in the drag and drop brigade."
What are your thoughts on the current stop-and-drop EDM scene, do you think that can sustain. It seems like in the US they are having the same superstar DJ culture we had in the UK 20 years ago.
"It's funny because some of the U.S. sites I use to distribute music at promo stage to service the billboard DJs, the EDM tracks I've sent out they're all over, yet sending out Deep House tunes to the same demographic the response is not so positive. It's maybe a bit too soon for them. Sometimes we can be too ahead of ourselves. You have to wait for the market to be in sync. They're just not feeling it at the moment even though the whole deep house sound started in the U.S. Give it another couple of years and it'll be the next big thing. Maybe they don't like the idea of us exporting their own imports."
"One thing I learnt a long time ago is change your surname to rejection because you will hear it again and again! Seriously though, you only fail if you give up"
Who are your current favorite producers of this generation?
"It's evolving all the time. I think now the turn of the label and the roster as much as the Dj passé. If you look at Hot Creation they're on label tours with their roster at festivals which in turn creates a great platform for the roster's DJs to become artists. I'm loving the work of Finnbasson, Miguel Campbell, and Solomon but equally the work of labels like Gruuv, Lower East, Hyper Colour, ModaBlack, One Records, OFF Recordings, Culprit, Droog and many more. They all add so much diversity to the scene."
What's on your studio wish list? What will be your next hardware/software purchases?
"With the tech it all depends on what I'm working on to what tech I lust after. Always the old analogue Synths, like the Roland Jupiter's, Juno's. Sequential Circuits Prophet-5, Oberheim OB-Xa, Yamaha CS80, PPG Wave 2.2/3, Moog Minimoog and Roland 808's 909's. But these are more nostalgic than anything else. I've had pretty much all this equipment at one time or another but you sell it, loose it, lend it. That's how it goes.
"I'm part in part out of the box at present so looking to monopolize on this with coming out of the mac via my UAD Apollo 16 into a SSL AWS 948 or a Neve 88RS desk would be nice. Donations always welcome! A full Pro tools HD package would also be nice. AMS DMX 15-80S Stereo Digital Delay Harmonizer, Eventides H3000. Even an Otari MTR 90 mixing it up with old and the new.
"But saying all this you can't beat a good well acoustic designed room; mixing console and monitoring these are fundamental. I would love a big live room something I could get an orchestra and bands in and get back to that whole studio experience and interaction.
Any advice for new producers and DJs?
"One thing I learnt a long time ago is change your surname to rejection because you will hear it again and again! Seriously though, you only fail if you give up. Believe in yourself and your abilities and work with as many different people, studios, and locations and gain as much experience as you can. Be humble, polite and you will get asked back to studios when sitting in on sessions. If you can't find your way in the industry create yourself a position."
Who's the greatest DJ of all time and why?
"It makes me laugh when I hear bitching online: 'beat match this, beat match that.' If you can't beat match then you're not a DJ. I could teach my Nan to beat match in half an hour. Being a great DJ is about music choice, the tunes you play to a crowd and how you interact with your audience. If you get two shit records in time, WOW, big deal.. That wont make people dance and or entertain them and primarily that's what your there for.
"For me the art of building a set is the same as making a good radio edit, intro, verse, bridge, chorus intro to verse, bridge, chorus, middle eight, bridge, chorus and so on, but over a two-hour set, not three minutes, building, dropping keeping the emotion of the event. Now the tech has moved on and freed up our hands to do more than getting two records in time. We can now perform in such a way that wasn't previously possible. Traktor, Serato to name a few, cue points, samples, being able to jump from one point to another seamlessly. I've tried all sort of set ups, i.e. Traktor with a X1 controller, but I've returned to CDJs the 2000's just because I got fed up with fiddling with cables before a set, so just a dongle for me at the moment, but the tech Its endless so embrace it. So to answer your question the greatest DJ of all time is the one who turned the good night into a great night."
What have you got planned for the rest of the year?
"We have just set up a new label called Courtois [pronounced coo-twar] that's to be launched soon ranging from Deep to Deep-Tech to Nu-School Disco. I'm in the studio constantly writing new tracks and producing new flavours so next year we want to take Courtois on a label tour. We are always looking for new talent to fit our roster as I think it's very important to keep the talent flowing to maintain the equilibrium and to push the boundaries.
"The new EP Touchdown is out now on Beatport which has been received really well with support from the likes of Roger Sanchez, Erick Morillio and Alex Gaudino. After that, my new single Hang On To My Love will land in October."