Filmed in late 2011 and taken from Future Music Magazine issue 243, hit play on the video above to check out the epic, two hour, In The Studio session with Fred Falke. Below is the interview taken from the same issue in August 2011.
Cool, casual and modest, Fred Falke began his career as a bass player until a collaboration with Alan Braxe resulted in the club smash Intro/Running. Further releases followed and Fred's interest in production spiralled into a large collection of classic synthesizers, outboard and an impressive studio. Now he's a solo producer, remixer and writer in his own right, occasionally working alongside UK hit makers Xenomania and the biggest Pop acts in the world. Based in Toulouse, France, Fred's studio is a sixth-floor apartment, with a balcony and one of the sunniest studio settings we've seen.
Previously his home as well as his studio, Falke's success has enabled him to move his accommodation up to another apartment on the 10th floor of the same building, leaving plenty of room for a kick-ass synth collection. Walking in to the studio the first thing you see is the mint condition Yamaha CS-80, Falke's pride and joy. To the left, more synths are stacked alongside a small collection of bass guitars, while at the front of the studio Falke has begun to amass some serious bits of outboard. After a quick cold drink and a play on the CS-80 we get to the serious business and find out just how Falke's career has grown, and what the future holds for him.
"Disco House really caught my attention...they were sampling Funk and had these Jazz chords and melodies."
You started in this business as a bass player?
"I started as a bass player and I was aiming my career at being a first-call session player really. I started here in Toulouse playing in Jazz bands. I met a friend who was a saxophone player and he told me he was going to move to Hong Kong to work. While he was there he wrote me a letter – there was no internet then, God I'm old [laughs]. Anyway, he wrote me a letter to tell me there was a lot of opportunities for session work over in HongKong. So I moved to Hong Kong and over there I was playing all the time. I mean, I'd just left school and as a bass player I was at the top of my technical ability. Jazz artists from the US would tour without their band, and just use the local musicians in Hong Kong, so I really got the opportunity to play with some amazing people.
"Then, I started to record some demos and such for singers in Hong Kong. This was really the first time I was in the studio and I really wanted to learn the process and became really interested in recording, the console, outboard etc. Before that, my knowledge of recording really ended at the end of the lead from my bass guitar.
"When I moved back to France I bought myself a Tascam Portastudio, Roland [TR-]606 drum machine and the Micromoog synth. I loved all of the Thriller sounds so I really wanted a Moog, but the Micromoog was the only one I could afford at the time. This was really how I started to understand production as I made my own demos. Then I began to meet other people in the area such as Alan Braxe."
When you met Alan, was he already producing?
"When I met him it was probably just after he did Music Sounds Better With You with Thomas Bangalter and Benjamin Diamond. He was living here in Toulouse at the time, I bumped into him and he said I should come over to his place. I think he was looking for people that played instruments because he had all these machines and equipment."
When did it feel like you were programming more?
"The change came really naturally for me – I didn't really notice it. I just began to do more and more programming and recording."
Were you still doing session work?
"No, not really. The schedule became too crazy. I'd love to do it more but it's finding the time."
How did the collaboration work with you and Alan?
"It was different because he had the sequencers and drum machines where I could play and had keyboards and instruments. So it was a true collaboration at that time."
Most Jazz players don't end up producing and remixing cool, hip acts on the indie club scene...
"Yes, but I'm very open-minded when it comes to music. I don't listen to Jazz any more, and I haven't really for a long time. But Jazz is a one of those things you have to do when you're learning your instruments, because you learn techniques and lessons about harmony beyond everything else. When you do it, you get the keys to the door that opens to many more things in music – suddenly you are able to do anything with your instrument.It was Disco House that really caught my attention because they were sampling Funk and they had these Jazz chords and melodies. The modern Jazz world is very narrow-minded and for me it became so boring because music is endless."
At first you didn't have a computer?
"Yes, my first sequencer was the MPC60. I actually went to the bank and got a loan to buy the next set of equipment. I got the MPC, a Minimoog, because I wanted one for so long, the Roland S-760 samplers and the [E-mu] SP-1200 that I still have now. That was roughly the core stuff and I was recording them to cassette. I actually still have all those cassettes – maybe they'll sound cool againnow? The system just evolved then, it was just a case of experience and money. At that time, you had to know so many machines and learn them. You had to learn how to sequence on different machines, learn how to sync them and get everything working together. Now, if you learn Logic, you can use so many synths and effects all from within Logic."
How did it change things when you got a computer?
"Everything became more accessible with the computer. It's a bit like when I finished my school of music and I was a bit of a monster Jazz freak, but I really didn't know what to do with all my skills. You end up playing fast and using every technique you know all at the same time. It took me time to learn how to use these skills properly and really make some nice music. I think the computer was the same, because now with the computer you can layer millions of kick drums and millions of effects and tracks. But I think somehow limitations can inspire creativity. Step-by-step, I reintroduced the outboard, because initially I only wanted the computer as a multi-track tape machine. I got Logic for that reason and it was amazing and another step for me."
Did you find yourself programming more once you had the computer.
"Yes of course, and the way of making music has evolved that way. Now I think it's the perfect balance. I'm in Ableton now and I handle the software very fast so I'm sticking with it. Ideas are so quick to get down. I think at the beginning I was into only Logic, then I got Ableton and used that alongside Logic, but now I'm mainly Ableton. They are just tools and toys though, not something you have to commit to. You can make a great track with a guitar and a drum machine."
How was remixing without a computer?
I did one remix without the computer for Kris Menace's label called Missile Test. He sent me the stems on CD and I had to sample them and chop them in the MPC. It felt easy at the time, but aftergetting the computer, you suddenly think 'Oh my God, how did I do it that other way?You went from the ability to have a six-second sample in hardware to the computer with full sampling and editing."
"The beauty of being at work in the music business that I can get up every day and it never really feels like real work."
What was the breakthrough for your solo remixes?
"The Golden Cage remix was probably when the phone started ringing and I started to get known for remixing more. I was really happy because the brief for the remix was really open and it came really naturally, so it gave me confidence. I'm not naturally confident and I always worry about it being the best that it can be."
How was the DJing and live show when it started?
"The DJing was hard because I didn't have any booking agent or management. Then I got this email through MySpace from a guy in Australia asking me to come out and play. I had no idea, but he was really nice and sorted some clubs to play at and I thought, 'OK, let's try it'."
Did you know how to DJ at this point?
"No I had to learn. I didn't want to DJ really, I wanted to get the feeling back of performing and being on that edge where you can miss notes and not just play records. So I met with a friend who was really good at coming up with these live solutions with Ableton Live. We came up with a system with a controller for Live and playing bass live."
Are you running the bass through the club mixer or through Ableton?
"I plug the bass into a Radial D.I. then the Duet. I have a record channel open in live for this with EQ, filters and compression. Some tracks I have all the stems so I just mute the bass stem and play, but I have to be aware that the stems have been produced so I'll sidechain my bass input live and add a bit of EQ and compression."
Do you record bass loops and re-trigger them?
"No, I would need a foot pedal for that to start and stop recording. I'd like to do all that and even start bringing synths too, but it means a bigger suitcase when travelling, which isn't always possible."
You're obviously happy with everything right now...
"The beauty of being at work in the music business that I can get up every day and it never really feels like real work. I could spend days locked up here in my studio."
How do you choose which remixes to do?
"With remixes the first filter is my management, because they are really clever at deciding what might suit me, then I listen to everything that comes through the filter. I always choose based on the record, not on the artist."
Why do you think people come to you?
"I suppose it's for the Disco, bassline thing with the big synths. I never wanted to ever compromise with my music and spoil it. But, on the other hand youhave the labels that know me for a certain sound, and even the fans that expect a certain sound. I might try and move direction slightly, but you have to be sure that you still fulfil what people want."
You've been working with Xenomania and doing a lot more mainstream remixes...
"Yes, I went to the Xenomania base in Kent in the UK to meet Brian Higgins and it was amazing. There were all these amazing producers and writers all working together. I think when you're making Electronic music you can often be working alone most of the time so to have this sort of environment was amazing. I'm an open guy and I love to share experiences and work with other people, because I think this is how you achieve the next level. But, I think this is because of my history as a player in bands and you have to work as a team."
What was your role there?
"I might be writing backing tracks, working with backing tracks that need changing or adapting, or even mixing exciting tracks like I did recently for Florrie. It's really interesting because you get to be involved in all parts of the production. It properly makes you see the bigger picture and offers youmuch more humility working this way. You learn so much from other people, older and younger."The young guys are fantastic because with experience comes routine in the way you do things, the rules whereas the young guys will just say 'Why don't we just turn the bass up into the red if it sounds good?' But then the older guys will be able to go into detail about mic techniques, using classic gear and recording to tape, so everyone is bringing some of their knowledge. I go there for a week and work from time to time and I'll send Brian tracks occasionally too."
What did you first work on?
"Probably the first track I worked on there was for Mini Viva, the track I Left My Heart In Tokyo. They gave me the vocal and I went from there."
How does that work? Where did the vocal come from? Was there a backing track that was scrapped?
"Maybe, I don't know. It might not have been scrapped, just they were searching for a new idea. Maybe they wrote the vocal on a pre-existing track and then when they get the vocal, they think that that track could be better, or different. When you're working on tracks it's always worth changing whenyou discover a new part. For instance I might start with some chords and build a track, then as you start layering other musical elements, you might scrap those chords and start again, but the other parts spark other tracks and even better ideas. You can get stuck like this when you are working alone, because you just don't have that second opinion. Working with Xenomania has made me spot these moments even faster and taught me not to over-think things.
"Sometimes I buy things because I feel like I'm missing a certain sound and sometimes it's because I just love to switch up what I'm using."
"When it gets to the eleventh or twelfth take they are thinking about previous mistakes and how to correct them and you lose all the soul of the vocal. It's the same with writing, it's so much better to just get ideas down when they're fresh. Usually with a remix, I'll take two or three days but the first day is finding the music, the second is getting the sounds and the third day is mixing. I have to be happy and excited when I'm making the tracks, otherwise something isn't right."
How do you find mixing in your room, because it's not really a treated studio...
"Yeah, I mean I've been here so long and used the NS10s for so long that it's OK. I never really paid much attention to all this stuff really, I used to mix on an old ghetto blaster ten years ago. It's only when I tried something better that I realised that there was a difference. It's the same with outboard, I used to have an Alesis 3630 and I thought it was fantastic, now I have the SSL and it's amazing, but then I try the Alan Smart and that's amazing, but different. So I keep both and it goes on and on!"
"[laughs] Ha! Well sometimes I buy things because I feel like I'm missing a certain sound and sometimes it's because I just love to switch up what I'm using. For instance I bought the ARP Solina because I was working on a project that used a Solina sample in it, I heard it and thought that sounded really cool. I love to switch equipment up too because I have the room here to store things too. I think I'll probably buy the new Dave Smith and Roger Linn drum machine but mainly it's about the combination of old and new. I love the CS-80 but I think if I use it too much it's going to sound too retro. I actually use the Access Virus a lot. I'm just after the sound I love and it doesn't always have to be this retro thing. I'm really not bothered if things have MIDI, are software, hardware or anything like that they are just ways to create the music I like to make."
Plans for the rest of the year?
"I'm doing an American tour which should be good because I've done a lot of American Pop remixes. Hopefully it'll help build a profile there. Also in September there's a compilation of my remixes coming out which is really cool because I've done so many different tracks from Indie artists like Annie and Lykke Li to Ke$ha and Nicole Scherzinger."