A dubplate and mastering specialist, DJ and promoter, Henry Heatwave is a steady force in Bristol’s rich music scene. Henry tells us about how Dub Studio came to life, his influences…and his portable lathe!
What made you decide to get into mastering and cutting dubplates?
I have always had a fascination for sound. I used to create gigantic speakers in my bedroom when I was too young to go clubbing, and I remember when I first used a graphic equaliser to tweak the sound. My friend brought it round and showed me how you could control precise bands of sound to tune the system, and I was blown away; I used to play with that EQ for hours! I guess from then on I always took a keen interest in what it takes to make things sound good, but it wasn’t until I left Uni in 2003 that I had the opportunity to set up a dub cutting studio. At the time my main focus was on cutting dubs for myself and The Heatwave, but demand was so high that it kind of took over my life. Within a few weeks of setting up the studio I was cutting dubs for people like Roni Size, Clipz and Krust, and that’s when I started to learn a lot about mastering.
How did you learn?
I basically learnt on the job, it was a pretty chaotic time, but shortly after I opened the studio I met a guy called James Ginzburg who convinced me to take it a whole lot more seriously and opened my eyes to the possibilities that lay before us. He introduced me to a guy called Joe Jarlett who taught me most of what I know about sound engineering, and together we started taking orders and sending them out. It was a steep learning curve, and one that continues to this day. I still refer to Bob Katz’s famous book on the subject of mastering, and I lurk around on Gearslutz for more specific advice, and LatheTrolls for info on all things vinyl-related. Of course I can’t forget Ulrich Sourisseau, who came up with a fantastically simple and effective system for cutting vinyl dubs, and provided me with most of the equipment and knowledge I needed to get set up.
Inspiration comes from all over so its hard to pinpoint exactly, but the Jamaican sound system scene is probably the biggest overall influence. My dad was involved in a sound system called Unrulee Rockers when I was a kid, and I remember one of the selectors Dr. Maynard describing how he used to get specials cut onto acetate and I thought that was so cool. Now I am honoured to be cutting Dr. Maynard’s dubs all these years later. On the technical side, it has to be King Tubby. Not only was he a highly skilled electronics engineer and vinyl mastering engineer, but he also produced some of the most amazing music I have ever heard. Later on in his career he starting producing some of the early dancehall in Jamaica, and ran several record labels. He was the sort of engineer who was heavily involved in the music scene, and that’s the sort of engineer I want to be. He achieved great things against all the odds, and when I have a challenging day, I think it must be nothing compared to what he was up against.
Tell us about one of your more challenging cuts.
My job is all about problem solving. There are two parts to the problem of cutting a successful dub. The first is purely mechanical, the second part is purely acoustic, but the two parts of the problem interact. I have to ensure the cutting stylus cuts nice, clean grooves that are the right depth and the right distance apart. Then I need to make sure the dub is not too loud, or too quiet, and does not skip or distort. Sound is linear, and the limitations of vinyl are blurry, so unless you do a test cut of each track its almost impossible to guarantee a good cut each time. After 10 years of cutting I am pretty good at spotting problems before they arise, but having said that, if I hear a problem during a cut, I have no qualms about aborting the dub and starting again – sometimes it’s the only way to get a good sound.
Generally though, if a track has been well mixed it will cut to dub fine. Typically, problems only occur when the relative dynamics of the various components of the music are at odds with each other, either because the mixing is sloppy or it was heavily compressed to mask some problems. For example, if de-essing a wild vocal is making the hi-hats sound dull, you have a problem that is not easy to solve. It may sound OK in the box, but on vinyl you will either have distorted esses, or dull hi-hats. The same goes for any part though, if you suddenly have a crazy flute solo in the middle of an otherwise quite steady piece, the level will have to be lower throughout whole track to give room for that solo. That’s OK if dynamics are the order of the day, but most people want it cut loud, without realising that the cut can only be as loud as the loudest part.
I can’t really remember any particular track that stands out as being difficult, but when it comes to genres, DnB has to be the hardest. Things seem to have calmed down a bit for DnB dubs, but there was a time when I was pulling my hair out every week trying to cut ever louder dubs for people. Each time we reached a new loudness limit, someone would want to try and squeeze a bit more out, to keep up with the likes of Andy C and Dillinja. For me it was like being stuck in a negative cycle of compromise and reduction in quality, where people seemed to have forgotten that music is about enjoyment, not competition. A few years ago I got fed up with it all and decided to establish a house level that I would not exceed. It turned out to be one of the best decisions I ever made. I lost a few clients in the process, but I recovered soon enough. I hope one day all mastering engineers will follow suit, because a whole raft of music is being released now that just sounds terrible.
Name-dropping…who are some people you’ve worked with?
Its a pretty mixed bag really. Last week I was cutting for Neek here in Bristol, and Bass Foundation over in New Delhi. This week I am on a stack of dubs for rockabilly DJ John Gough, then later in the week I am cutting a bunch for Riz La Teef, Boofy and a few people I have never heard of (sometimes my clients only give me their real names). Other familiar names I have worked for in the past include Pinch, Joker, Rob Smith, Clipz/Red Light, Peverelist, Gemmy, Guido, Roni Size, Daddy G, Krust, SUV, Die, Cyantific, Nutone, High Contrast, Danny Byrd, Logistics, Mr Benn, Queen B, Kowton, Vinyl Junkie, Flynn and of course Flora (RIP I still can’t believe you are gone) and more recently people like Vandal, RSD (again), Dubkasm, Kahn, Neek, Ossia, Batu, Lurka, Boofy, Hi5Ghost to name just a few of the local artists I am working with at the moment.
Most of my clients only cut dubs with me, so a lot of the work I do goes uncredited, but if you want to hear some stuff mastered to the Dub Studio house level, see: soundcloud.com/broken-audio
What else do you get up to?
Following in the footsteps of King Tubby, I like to get as heavily involved in the music scene as I can. I like attending nights like Young Echo here in Bristol, and I just got back from Outlook with The Heatwave which was amazing.
I like getting out and about giving lectures and live demos and I have built a portable lathe for that purpose. It’s my dream to cut dubs live from a mixing console, to create unique one-off dub cuts, but to do that I would need to travel to studios with a dub cutting lathe, which I can now do!
Also, it occurred to me a while back that I am in a pretty unique position in the Bristol music scene, rubbing shoulders with such a broad spectrum of artists, so I am trying to document as much of it as I can, with a view to making a film about it at some point in the future.
A few weeks ago I was asked by my buddy Caro for some old early 00’s Full Cycle/DJ Die/Bristol sound drum & bass sets. I struck out, except for this ATM Mag Clear Skyz mix from Die and Jakes that didn’t exactly fit the time frame requested.
However, after finding a CD spindle late last week I discovered a host of sets I didn’t even know I owned. Included were two live recordings of the entire Full Cycle crew doing their live ting and DJ Die and Dynamite live in 2002. Enjoy!
Hat Tip to Nest HQ for these links.
A buncha grime and bass producers are going in on each other with jungle war dubs…essentially talking (good-natured) shit to one another via tunes. Check it.
Sometimes you wake up on a Thursday morning and you just want to have your face torn off by bass. That’s me today. Luckily, The Upbeats were kind enough to upload these three SSXUB George FM Takeover mixes to Soundcloud yesterday. They’ve done them to promote the release of their Shapeshifter vs The Upbeats EP [SSXUB] release that just dropped. G’WAN!
My inbox filled up with a whole mess of reggae inspired tunes this week, so I thought it only fair to dedicate an entire Beats and Pieces segment to dem.
Ragga jungle, or just ragga, is reggae-inspired jungle and drum & bass. It was was THE sound for most of jungle’s formative years, thanks to legends like Rebel MC’s Congo Natty, the Ragga Twins, M-Beat, and ShyFX. Some of the biggest, most successful tunes in the history of the music had that reggae and dancehall influence oozing out of them. However, since the early part of this century the sub-genre has been given something of a short shrift as the music has evolved. But that doesn’t mean people haven’t been pushing out good tunes. Oh no! There’s still plenty of music to explore, so I’m dedicating today’s B&P to those that keep that ragga vibe alive.
Ranking Joe & Marcus Visionary – Jungle General/Ram Dance Selector – Lion Dub Intl – OUT NOW
Marcus Visionary has been at the forefront of the ragga jungle producer’s club for many years. I’d even go so far as to say he’s the top producer in the sub-genre and every one of his riddims is consistently top notch. This time he goes in with Ranking Joe on two original steppers. Jungle General comes across with a bit of Congo Natty, a tidy pinch of jump-up bass, and a smattering of Sister Nancy’s Bam Bam. While Ram Dance Selector is a smoother, dubbier number with a plucky bass guitar intro that’s at home with a dose of liquid funk.
Rhythm Riders – Give Me A Sign – Sub Slayers – OUT NOW
Well now…pick your favorite genre, other than trance (if that’s your fav genre, why are you here?!), then have a go at this set of tunes from Rhythm Riders featuring Aswad and Renegade Soundwave. The original is reminiscent of a dubby breaks tune with big room bashment sound. The two killers, for me, are the Bladerunner DnB mix and the 9 Lives deep house mix, which while miles apart in tempo and style, offer the most precise variations on the original and suit my personal tastes. Massive hat tip to longtime dons, Renegade Soundwave as they go in on a classic breaks remix before making way for contributions from King Yoof and JStar.
Benny Page ft. Assassin – Champion Sound Remixes – High Culture Recs – OUT NOW
Benny Page has done well for himself in the bass music scene for quite a number of years with some of his more high profile work being released on ShyFX’s Digital Soundboy imprint. Now he’s made a big room EDM tune with vocalist, Assassin (who was featured on Kanye’s I’m In It), entitled Champion Sound. Good on them for that, but we’re here to talk about the remixes. At the head of the class are the Serial Killaz, the ragga jungle remix kings. You can bet that if they’ve retouched a tune then it’s been re-done with precision and this is no exception. They’re experts at maintaining the essence of the reggae MCs cadence and pitch while beefing up the bass. Beyond the SK remix, there’s more with a high tempo juke/drumpstep mix from North Base and a bass house effort from 9 Lives that suffers from an awkward vocal edit. Heading back to headier territory are separate dub remixes by Mungo and Samson. Mungo’s version is sped up and almost doesn’t want to be dub, while Samson seems to harness that Mad Professor-esque sound. If these two were going “tune fi tune” in a single tune clash, Samson would the don.
And just to sweeten the ragga pot we have a brand new podcast from Dubwise Station by Doumpa. Get your fix!
FACT has posted what seems to be an exclusive stream of the Transllusion reissue from Tresor.
Transllusion is a Drexciya side project from 2001. My favorite resource on all things Drexciyan is the Drexciyan Research Lab, which meticulously tracks all the archives and ongoing side projects from surviving member Gerald Donald.
“Epsilon Aquazone we’re going deep” – Drexciya
I have to thank Doc Scott for blessing me with this EP after playing with him recently and completely geeking out on techno with him. We had a lengthy discussion about pushing boundaries within Drum and Bass and taking chances to which he told me he would send something to me to check out. I got the Prototype EP shortly after and I have to say this has been in constant rotation for a few weeks. Vromm is a new music project created by Alvaro Martinez and I say it is a breath of fresh air with deep emotional soundscapes and unforgiving beats. It is pushing that half time sound that Dbridge and Exit have been exploring, highlighted on the Mosaic compilation.
Vromm’s Prototype kicks off the EP with sparse beats and stabs that weave in between pads and seem to give you the feeling of overlooking a crowded club in the future. Vromm is a skilled and veteran producer and his production emphasizes someone who has honed his craft. El Sol continues to build the feeling in the EP as the tension rises with vibes that are reminiscent of earlier Metalheadz/Reinforced. Vromm uses pads as washers of sound into new areas of arrangement with precision and on occasion get percussive to emphasize the sparse drum programming that is some of the best I have heard this year. Fields of Vengeanze highlights this and the EP as a whole to me. A BEAST of a tune and absolutely destroys on a proper system. F Plex closes out the EP on a manic note but is the most robotic tune of the release, leaving you wondering what Vromm has up his sleeve next. Choice release. PICK IT UP!
Tech Itch returns to the DJ arena with a killer mix of new and exclusive material!
Seed Of Design is 80 minutes worth of serious mechanized funk that has made Tech Itch a legend among many. If you want to get in the car and drive to this one, its highly recommended, just don’t send me the ticket.
The DJ Trainwreck story has been online for a long time, but I’d forgotten about it until today when my friend Sean re-linked it in a Facebook comment. It still makes me laugh, but I can also imagine this kid in his room trying to one-shot this drum & bass mix and putting all his will and effort into it.
Anyway, I’ll let Sandeep tell the story:
Back when I lived in Houston I had a radio show on the local college station (KTRU). The show was called “MKUltra”. It was on Friday nights, and I played mostly electronic music. I had a lot of guest djs for the show in those days… local talent like Andrei Morant, Abiel, Chris Anderson & Tim Xavier would often drop by.
Listeners and local scenesters would sometimes mail me their mixes, and sometimes I’d air them. If I really liked it, I would have them come in and do a live set.
In the summer of ’99 I got a mix in my mailbox at the radio station. It came recorded on a dubbed over dictasette, and was enclosed with a short note. This is one of the worst mixtapes I have ever heard. It is so horrifically bad that I listened to it non-stop that summer.
1999 was a rough year for me. My mom was fighting cancer. My girlfriend had just broken up with me. I hated my job. And I was depressed. But that summer, this mixtape took my mind off all that crap. And it made me think: no matter how bad things got, it couldn’t get any worse than this mix.
They say a good dj is supposed to make you feel things you haven’t felt before. To play music you haven’t heard before. And to hopefully play music in a context that is new. Unexpected. Fresh.
If so, then this may be one of the best mixes I know of. Each time I listen to it I hear things I’ve never heard before. And I feel things I normally don’t feel when I listen to music. Irritation, disgust, mild pain. Occasionally hope (when some mixes appear almost over). Anger (when they come back).
But mostly, this tape clears my mind of all life’s daily clutter. When I’m feeling a little down, I pop this in and jam out. So mad props to you dj Trainwreck. Unfortunately, I never did get you on the show. I moved away from Houston before that could happen. But thanks for the tape. And know that it was definitely heard.
I’ve been meaning to encode this tape for the last 5 years. I finally got around to it, and now I’m sharing it with you.
Download the tape! (right click, save as)
FWIW, I made it about 3 minutes into the mix.