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How to design lo-fi beats using found sounds

Although it's easy enough to dirty up your beats by applying distortion and destructive processing to drum loops and drum machines, the true lo-fi noisenik goes one step further in the interest of ensuring unique end results.

Loading your own 'found sounds' and field recordings into a sampler for rhythm track programming sets you off on an already-gritty path ripe for further filthifying via effects plugins and editing. Here's how it's done…

Step 1: All the drums in this dirty 110bpm sketch have been created using only found sounds and field recordings. With a little sub enhancement, this overdriven recording of a car door being slammed is a surprisingly effective kick drum. To create a clunky ghost kick, we’ve then distorted a copy of this sound and placed it at key points.

Step 2: The track’s ‘screaming’ snare was originally a somewhat unremarkable snippet of ambience that’s been pitched up by nine semitones. After coating it with a metallic delay, we’ve distorted the signal to extremes, then forced its attack up with a transient shaper.

Step 3: Three layers of natural ambience sit behind the groove for air and depth: one is the noise made by walking on crunchy leaves, which sounds remarkably like a shaker; one is a bed of ambience containing a weird reversed ‘whip’ noise that embellishes the main snare; the third is a ride-like wash of high-pass filtered, compressed noise.

Step 4: Programming and arrangement is just as important to the lo-fi aesthetic as sound selection. By triggering a click sample with an unclocked arpeggiator, we’ve created a wonky, out-of-time hi-hat rhythm. All of our sounds have been programmed off the grid and put roughly in time by hand.

Step 5: Taking the ‘broken’ vibe of the track further, we’ve messily deleted gaps in the entire drum groove, giving the track an off-kilter joltiness that you’d never achieve with conservative audio editing. We’ve also duplicated the entire groove at certain points to emulate a stuttering, malfunctioning machine.

Step 6: The raw, unprocessed nature of field recordings gives you more scope for heavy-handed processing. After grouping the drums to a bus, we’ve darkened the beats with a low-pass filter to remove shiny treble. Heavy 1176 parallel compression and forceful analogue-style limiting then crunch everything together. Nasty!

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