“If you’re a drum ‘n’ bass producer you just become familiar with the varieties of Amen”: Sub Focus on his love of the classic break and how he uses it

“If you’re a drum ‘n’ bass producer you just become familiar with the varieties of Amen,” says Sub Focus, recognising that, not only is this classic break a cornerstone of the genre, but also that it comes in all manner of different flavours.

Sub Focus - aka Nick Douwma - made the observation in a recent episode of the Tape Notes podcast, in which he discussed some of the ways he likes to process the Amen break in Ableton Live.

When asked if he’s working with the original loop - sampled from the Winstons’ 1969 B-side Amen Brother and originally played by drummer Gregory Sylvester “GC” Coleman - Sub Focus says: “Sometimes I will take an original break and process it, but often I will be using a sort of ‘second generation’ break that I’ve either found online or sampled from another record.”

He admits that he can’t remember where this particular ‘Amen’ came from, but suggests that it may have been downloaded from a forum.

“It’s one of those breakbeats that’s got hundreds of different versions of,” he notes. “It kind of lends itself to different sounds, depending on how you pitch it. Some people distort it; some people compress it a lot.”

Confirming that he remains “completely fascinated” by the Amen break, Sub Focus goes on to say: “It’s so distorted and unusual sounding that it’s almost like a guitar in terms of the excitement you get from it.”

Discussing some of the different varieties of the break, Sub Focus explains: “There’s the ‘Compton Amen’, which I think is from [NWA’s] Straight Outta Compton, the rap song, and there are various different ones with different pseudonyms. People do process their own ones as well and I’ve done that in the past, but quite a lot of the time it’s just about having a repertoire of them that you might draw on.”

Sub Focus goes on to discuss how he processed the Amen Break in recent single Fine Day, a track that clocks in at the producer’s usual tempo of 174 bpm. Using a sampler, he used the “old-school” technique of pitching it up and down at various points to add variety.

Check out the Tape Notes interview above and the finished track below. Sub Focus's new album Evolve is out now via EMI Records.

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. 

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