UK electronica duo Bent (AKA Simon Mills and Neil Tolliday) rose to prominence with their debut album Programmed to Love in 2000, and since then, they haven’t been afraid to experiment. For each of their projects, they’ve tried something slightly different, and their diversity was celebrated in 2009 with a Best of Bent set. When Future Music recently rolled up to Bent’s studio, Simon Mills (pictured above) gave them the tour.
Bit One and Emulator II
“It’s seen better days,” says Mills of his Crumar Bit One (top), “but you just have to imagine Playschool Circa 1978”. The E-MU Emulator II, meanwhile, is an ‘80s classic. “He’s one spoilt kid, that Ferris Bueller,” points out Simon. “He’s sat at home moaning that he hasn’t got a car, but he’s got an Emulator II! How much were they? Five grand?”
Simon lists the Sequential Circuits Six-Trak (top-left) as one of his favourites: “It’s got loads of silly, daft sounds. It’s quite basic which means that it has a certain charm,” he says. The Korg MS-2000 sitting below is now only used for live work (for bass), while the blue SH-101 has Orbital’s signatures on the bottom in ultraviolet security pen “in case someone nicks it”
Simon also has a Suzuki Omnichord, which is something of a cult classic. When quizzed about other gear he’s owned in the past and now regrets selling, he says: “My Elka Synthex. All the old Bent string synth sounds were Roland RS-505 or Elka Synthex. I saw one the other day and was really tempted to get it again. And I miss my PPG Wave.”
It’s not only vintage synths that you’ll find in Bent’s Studio - Mills is also a fan of the Roland VP-550. “It’s such a beautiful keyboard,” he says. “I use the strings and the choirs, and the vocoder is so good.” There is another older Roland model just out of shot, though - the “unique sounding” D-50, which Simon says he’s “getting back into”.
Like many hardware aficionados, Simon also has an appreciation for today’s music software. “I use Ableton Live, [NI] Reaktor, lots of Arturia stuff, the [Focusrite] Liquid Mix, [NI] Guitar Rig to dirty things up. I have made some stuff in Reaktor, like a sampler that every time you trigger a key it uses a different waveform, but when it starts being ‘ones and noughts’ I stop. [Spectrasonics] Omnisphere is another one I’m using. It’s absolutely fantastic for soundtracks, but a lot of sounds these days are just too big to be used.”
Synths may loom large in the Bent mix, but samples also play a crucial part, and Simon is a committed crate digger. “I’m really getting back into the idea of sampling again because it’s so much fun,” he reports. “I often end up putting a 303 on top of a bossa nova beat. Just making different musical cocktails…”