Interview: Skrillex on Ableton Live, plug-ins, production and more

(Image credit: Ethan Saks)

Dubstep producer Sonny Moore, AKA Skrillex, is riding the crest of a wave at the moment, and he recently spoke to Computer Music Specials magazine from his tour-bus-cum-studio and gave them some insight into how he creates those speaker-shattering basslines and incendiary beats.

Check out the interview below; for more producer chat - including interviews with Noisia, Carl Craig, Steve Lawler and more - and tutorials, check out the 50th issue of Computer Music Specials - Beats & Bass: The Producer's Guide - which is on sale now.

You're a big Ableton Live enthusiast. What's it got that other DAWs don't?

"I think, for laptop producers especially, it's just so intuitive in the box. Everything is laid out and you don't have to go searching for things like automation or plug-in parameters - in fact, all the things that are really hard to do in other DAWs. Ableton's just very fluid and quick."

Your editing skills are all self-taught. Do you think that helps you to do things that perhaps the manuals wouldn't tell you to do?

"I wouldn't call myself stubborn in an egotistical way but I do like the idea that in the past, what I do would not have been considered production - it would have been considered noise. I like doing things in a very minimal, unconventional way as a personal way of saying, 'Look, I made a career out of carefully and craftfully, though unconventionally, making records on laptops and blown speakers.'"

What are your top soft synths?

"My two personal favourites are NI's Massive and FM8. My best monster bass sounds have come from FM8. People think they all come from Massive, but most of the ones that kids online are trying to recreate in Massive are actually from FM8. I also really like Sylenth1, my Tone2 Gladiator and some other granular soft synths as well. That's about it, man.

"I haven't really expanded too far off FM8 and Massive because I know them so well and can pretty much make any sound I want with them - especially with FM synthesis, which is so basic.

"I also use Operator a lot, which is Live's FM synthesiser. It's a similar kind of thing, but the matrixes are different so you can make different kinds of sounds."

What filters and distortion do you use to create the signature Skrillex sound?

"I really like iZotope Trash, which is a great plug-in for distortion, as is Ohmicide, which I love. It's an absolutely crazy multiband distortion, compression, EQ and filter, which pretty much lets you do anything."

Do you see programming as a joy or a necessary evil?

"It's only evil when I work so fast that I haven't properly labelled anything and my project files are all messy. To me it's always a joy to create music no matter what it takes to actually get there. The real evils are always whatever stops you from doing that - like if your CPU is spiking and you have to sit there and bounce all your MIDI to audio. Now that's annoying!

What type of pitch/formant processing do you use to create your amazing vocal sounds?

"I use Melodyne for formant stuff and basic pitch, but then I'll print a whole line of audio. To be honest, for all my detailed cuts, chops and actual lines I'll just basically take my vocal or someone else's and process it through Melodyne in a certain way. All the stylistic treatments I do then all come from audio slicing and transposing in Live.

"Melodyne is crazy - with DNA you can actually take the individual sounds in a chord, isolate them and then change any of them."

How do you get your beats to drop so damn hard?

"The easiest trick I use is basically to make sure that whatever sample you're using, it's hitting at 200Hz. Look through a spectrum analyser and you'll see a little 'dunk', and it should sound like that. The beginning transient should look like a brick that kind of bubbles out into the notes, creating a big hit that dominates the whole spectral sphere of your music for that one second. The drum becomes the loudest element in your mix just for an instant."

Any mastering secrets you can share?

"Maybe there are magic techniques out there that I don't know about, but I think mastering is something that's given too much credit. I always get people asking me about my mastering techniques and where I get my stuff mastered, but for me it's more about getting the mix right.

"Mastering, for me, literally consists of an iZotope Maximizer, maybe with a little bit of EQ and harmonic excitement, but that's it. It's all about what makes you smile at the end of day."

Skrillex's More Monsters and Sprites EP is out now on Big Beat/Asylum Records