Dubstep 2012: High Rankin

High Rankin: he has the warmest ears in dubstep.
High Rankin: he has the warmest ears in dubstep.

In the first of a series of producer interviews that evaluate the state of dubstep in 2012, we speak to Brit Will Rankin, who upped sticks for Berlin. As Suicide Dub his work is known all over the world.

We spoke to him about his gear, the production process and the future of dubstep.

For a complete guide to dubstep production check out the latest Computer Music Special (issue 53) - The Ultimate Guide to Dubstep - which is on sale now.

Why dubstep?

"I was into heavy metal as a kid. From there, I went to drum 'n' bass, which eventually took me into dubstep. It's aggressive, extreme music. I like a sound that will annoy the neighbours!"

What's in your studio?

"I used to be on PC, but now I'm Mac-based. My other main bits of kit are Ableton Live, Native Instruments Massive and Kontakt, and a few of the DMG plug-ins like Compassion and EQuick. I also use NI Razor, Sugar Bytes' WOW Filter, NI FM8, FXpansion Strobe and the Photon synth. I started on Fruity Loops and I can't wait until they develop [FL Studio] for Mac so I can get back on there!"

What's your favourite piece of dubstep software?

"I know it's a cliché, but you can't beat Massive. It earned its reputation with some wobbly bass, but there's so much more to explore. It's such an incredibly versatile synth, but you need to make sure you don't end up with the same noises as everybody else.

"I almost always use Massive on my big drop-outs, but the trick is to layer it up with other sounds. Get your big, nasty Massive synth, then export it, bring it back in as audio and start slamming more effects and atmospheric noises over the top of it. I put anything on there - Foley noises, whooshes. What I'm trying to do is keep the power and nastiness of Massive, but give my synth noises that little something extra."

Talk us through one of your tunes

"I'm not just saying this, but a lot of my tunes are really complicated - I wouldn't be able to talk anyone through them because I'd have trouble remembering how I actually put them together. Stepping on the Devil's Tail is probably one of the simplest, so I'll give that a go.

"I used to almost always start with a crazy intro, but it's silly to set rules in the studio - I ended up with loads of 32-bar intros that went nowhere. Devil's Tail started in an almost old-fashioned way: no drums, no bassline, just the piano hook.

"I think it's important to quickly establish atmosphere in a dubstep tune, and that's where strings can come in handy. Most of mine come from Kontakt, and I don't really worry too much about getting all the string swells sounding real and human - I mean, this is dubstep, not the London Philharmonic.

"Then I added vocals, Massive and a few choice drum samples - and that's about it. A simple song, but very effective"

What's your top tip?

"If you're going for a glitchy electro sound, be prepared to experiment. It's very easy to pull up a plug-in like DBlue Glitch, press a few buttons and think you're God's gift to producing - only to find that everybody else is doing exactly the same as you.

"You need to listen to your song and work out what it needs. Glitch is an intuitive thing - it needs to feel right."

Where's dubstep headed?

"It's definitely becoming more commercial - Christ, I even heard that Justin Bieber's started doing dubstep!"