“I don’t know why everybody doesn’t make poly aftertouch synths - it’s pretty stupid. In the ‘70s they did it right”: Beyoncé, The Weeknd and Kanye West collaborator Mike Dean cuts loose on his CS-80, Jupiter-8 and Oberheim Four Voice

Mike Dean has such an impressive credit list that it almost sounds implausible. The Weeknd, Beyoncé, Kanye West, Travis Scott, Madonna, Jay-Z and Christine and the Queens have all called on his services at one time or another, and once you’ve seen him at work/play in the studio with his enviable collection of analogue synths, you’ll understand why.

Ahead of a live solo performance at Los Angeles' Wiltern Theatre on 1 March, Dean invited the Reverb cameras into his fabulous facility and proceeded to put on a show, demonstrating his knowledge and mastery of multiple keyboards and creating a huge instrumental track.

Dean begins by taking you on a tour of his favourite analogue synths, which include the MoogMatriarch and Grandmother combo” and the classic Roland Jupiter-8. “I make the same sound on every synth, it’s kind of funny,” Dean comments as he plays, before demonstrating a few stab sounds that he says were used on one of Beyonce’s albums.

Next, it’s on to the mighty Yamaha CS-80. “It’s one of the top two sought-after polysynths in the world,” says Dean, probably accurately, before revealing that “My other CS-80 is supposedly the one they played on Thriller,” which sounds like something that should be on a bumper sticker.

Mike Dean synths

(Image credit: Reverb)

Dean also demonstrates the CS-80’s renowned polyphonic aftertouch capabilities. “It’s the most expressive synth in the world,” he says. “I don’t know why everybody doesn’t make poly aftertouch synths - it’s pretty stupid, you know what I mean? I mean, like, in the ‘70s they did it right.”

Dean says that the Jupiter-8 and CS-80 used to be his two favourite synths, but that was before he got his sweet pair of the Oberheims, the OB-X and Four Voice. In fact, he’s happy to describe the Four Voice as “the best synth in the world”.

After some more Moog action (Subsequent -37CV, Memorymoog and Minimoog) it’s time to make a track. Ableton Live is Dean’s DAW of choice here, using the Step Input Max for Live device so that he can play a part at his own pace and record the notes. There’s a weird pitch change that Dean describes as a “kind of a really cool fuck up,” so he decides to go with it and build on it.

Soon, we’ve got a throbbing bassline and some huge synth pads, and then a solo over the top on the OB-X. 

There’s a lot to take in, but one thing Dean won’t reveal is how he creates his signature guitar sound, so you’ll have to give it a listen and work out for yourself what’s going on there…

Ben Rogerson

I’m the Deputy Editor of MusicRadar, having worked on the site since its launch in 2007. I previously spent eight years working on our sister magazine, Computer Music. I’ve been playing the piano, gigging in bands and failing to finish tracks at home for more than 30 years, 24 of which I’ve also spent writing about music and the ever-changing technology used to make it. 

Get over 70 FREE plugin instruments and effects… image
Get over 70 FREE plugin instruments and effects…
…with the latest issue of Computer Music magazine