John Dunk, better known under the alias Cameo Blush, is a London-based producer making highly kinetic electronic music: his tracks feel like a spring, tightly coiled and loaded with energy, ready to pop at any moment.
Though luminous synths, fluid drum patterns and deep sub bass form the core of his rhythmically agile productions, it’s the vocals that steal the show. Dunk uses vocal samples the way many producers might use drums: chopped up into minute syllables, they’re coated with a futuristic sheen of processing and arranged into staccato rhythms that accent the groove while lending impact and emotional depth.
Much like his friend and collaborator Ross From Friends - in whose live band he plays saxophone, and has supported on tour - Dunk lifts snippets of inspiration from electronic music’s history, piecing them together to form a singular sound that resists swift categorisation.
His latest EP for Scarlet Tiger, Silkworm, reaches back to the fidgety synths and cyclical rhythms of Kraftwerk’s Tour de France, before closing track “Don’t” channels Massive Attack into a supercharged hybrid of trip-hop and reggaeton that forecasts an embrace of slower tempos and spacious arrangements in the producer’s work to come.
We caught up with Cameo Blush to find out more about the synths, software and studio techniques behind the Silkworm EP.
Could you tell us about the background to this latest EP?
“I really love Kraftwerk, especially the album Tour de France. It’s quite an ambient album, and I tried to apply the way they make the synths, and make them really engaging, to the drums.
“So I tried to make these unusual patterns in the drums - on the main track, Silkworm, that’s how I came to arrive at those drum patterns, basically. I wanted it to be super repetitive, but with all these weird things happening and flying past your head with the panning.
“I was listening to loads of Massive Attack, too. I love Massive Attack, they’re one of my biggest influences. I was listening to that track Safe From Harm when I made Don’t, from the new EP. On that Massive Attack track, the bassline’s fucking amazing, it’s got such a deep vibe. I wanted to do something a bit different, because all my other music’s super fast. I wanted to explore some different tempos.”
What synths were you using for that?
“I’ve got a Prophet-6, and I’ve got one of those Behringer Model D rip-offs. It’s on all of my tunes, it sounds amazing. I use that live. I’ve got a Juno-6 as well, I’ve had that for about ten years. I use that loads for sound design. I’ll have the LFO really high and the noise making these weird sweeps and stuff. I had a Digitone, but I found it a bit menu-divey. I like stuff that has one knob per function, it’s more accessible.”
Do you have any hardware drum machines or are your drums mostly in the box?
“Mostly in the box. I use a lot of samples. I like being able to chuck stuff into Ableton. I’ve really wanted to use drum machines and outboard stuff, and I used to actually have the Digitone going in the live show playing some drums to beef it up a bit more.
“But I prefer Drum Rack - you can just throw stuff in, cycle through a shitload of drums and drop them in super quick. It’s great for capturing something as quickly as possible.”
Have you always used Ableton?
“No, I used to use Logic 9. That was good - I don’t know why I changed, actually. I think I felt like doing something different. Because I was doing a live show, and using Ableton for that while making music in Logic, that’s why I moved. I really miss this cabinet plugin on Logic, the amp simulator. There’s one setting that sounded amazing on vocals. I’ve never been able to recreate that sound in Ableton.”
Are there any other go-to plugins you find yourself using frequently?
“It's not that exciting, but I use the Valhalla Vintage Verb on everything. And the Soundtoys plugins, which are really good. Crystallizer sounds crazy, it’s really nice. It’s proper creative what you can do with the Soundtoys stuff.
“I use quite a lot of soft synths as well. I always use the Korg Mono/Poly emulator, again for capturing an idea super quick, it sounds good. You just open it up and you can get something sounding good really quickly.”
How often are you experimenting with new gear?
“I’m always trying new things. I've got so many unfinished projects in different styles. I hear one thing and then I’ve got to try and do something to create the same atmosphere, when I've heard something that I really like, or seen something that’s inspiring. So there's always these weird little projects going on.
“The way that I make music is, I make something that’s just a loop and then leave it for months, purposefully. It’s proper weird because I get really inspired, I’m making something and I'm like, ‘this is well good’. And then I’m like, right, I can’t do that anymore. I've got to leave it and let it sit on its own for a bit and then come back to it. Then it's more exciting when I come back to it.”
Do you ever struggle to finish projects?
“It’s just about getting into the right headspace with it. That's why I think leaving and coming back is such a good shout, because you get inspired and you pick out things that you didn't even notice before. It’s easy to feel like something’s cheesy. I like taking the time away from it, then coming back - for me, that’s how I finish stuff. It takes a lot longer than it should but I think it’s worth it in the end.”
Have you got any plans to release an album?
“I’ve got an EP coming out next year. All I’ve done previously is three and four-track EPs, but I think this will be a slightly longer release. Then yeah, I really want to do an album because I feel like I’ve explored the sound and tried really hard to get an original sound, but I want to explore it more in a long-form way. Trying slower tempos, and more ambient stuff. I want to create something that has all the different facets of my production.”
Chopped up vocals are a big part of your sound. Could you tell us about your approach to vocal sampling?
“I use Ableton’s Simpler plugin. Again, it’s a really inspiring way of making stuff. Simpler chops it up and makes a MIDI piano roll out of it, then I’ll make a weird melody with one sample, but then if that's not working, I’ll just take it out and drop in a new one - it's like instant inspiration. It’s exciting because you don’t know what it’s gonna sound like.”
Is there anything on your wishlist studio-wise?
“I want to get a good microphone. I play saxophone, and I’ve tried to put the sax in my tracks before, but it never sounded quite right. But I think it's mainly because I've got this awful mic, which sounds really bad. So I want to get a good mic to be able to record saxophone, and I think that would help me explore some ambient stuff.
“Do you know the saxophonist Colin Stetson? I really want to do something like the weird textural stuff that he does with the sax, but try and put it into an electronic music context. I've also been looking at that Moog Mother-32. I just started getting some modular stuff, and the Mother-32 is semi-modular so I can integrate it with that.
Which modules did you get?
“I got Plaits, the Mutable Instruments module, then a Tiptop Audio effects module. The reverb on it sounds absolutely amazing. I haven’t even put that in any of my tunes yet, as they were getting mastered when I bought all this modular stuff. So I’m really excited to do that.
“It’s annoying because you can spend so much on it. I spent like 300 quid, and thought I shouldn’t buy anything else - then I couldn’t even do anything with it. I just had a box with a MIDI input.”
What’s your live set-up looking like?
“I’ve got two MIDI controllers running the drums. And then I've got the Prophet-6, which isn’t taking MIDI. That’s there so I can play little lines and do sweeps and sound design-y bits. But I’ve got a lot of the melodies going into that Behringer Model D clone.
“I think if I get that Mother-32, I might swap that out. It’s hard - the only reason I brought the Prophet along is because we had space in the van. But usually if you’re getting a flight, it’s a nightmare taking a load of stuff.
“So I’ve got a lot of stuff separated in Ableton, and I’ve got some Soundtoys effects on sends. I think that’s a thing with a live set - you want it to be as fun as possible without being too complicated. Having weird little effects on sends is a good way of making it fun and making it feel live for an audience.
“I’ve got an FMR Audio RNC1773 compressor at the end of the chain. That makes it sound pretty banging. When I was playing with Ross From Friends a few years ago, we did a gig with Bicep and they were like, you should definitely get one of those. So Felix [Weatherall] got one, I got one, and now we’re both using them.”
Cameo Blush's three tips for creative production
1. Revisit old projects
“Seeing old ideas in a new light can be really useful. I often make something and intentionally don’t listen to it for a few days, then see how I feel when I come back to it. If I’m still as into it as when I first made it then I know it’s worth continuing. I’m working on a track at the moment which I first used in a live show in January 2019, but then revisited and edited it, and I’m pretty sure it's gonna be on my next release.”
2. Take inspiration from unlikely sources
“Take inspiration from unlikely sources; artworks, films and completely different music. I sometimes like to imagine that what I’m making could work as a soundtrack for a certain genre or a specific film, usually once most of the ideas of the track are finished and I’m looking to create a certain kind of atmosphere. It can also work as a starting point, though. I started a track with the alien sound from the film Annihilation recently, just because it’s such an amazing sound.”
3. Have confidence in your own sound
“If you think it sounds good, then the rules of composition and production don't really matter. It took me a long time to feel confident in my own productions but once I had an idea of what works for me it became easier to ignore the ‘correct’ ways of doing stuff. There’s too many rules to do with mixing especially, which can be quite overwhelming. I think it's important to achieve balance in a mix but there’s so many different ways of getting that, and most of the time the atmosphere of a track is more important than a super clean and shiny mix.”