Tuesday, February 4, 2020

How dance music was made circa 1991

There is a great video about late 80s/early 90s studio tech, specifically the budget Amiga sampler ecosystem that drove a lot of experimentation with dance and hip-hop at that time:

I laughed out loud at the moment where the host runs out of memory after sampling just a few seconds of a 45. It points to the reality of working with digital media in an era where memory was expensive. The result: Samples tended to be really short.

But not for everyone. Some artists (and their labels) opted to make investments in studio time & professionals who knew how to take sampling tech to the next level.

I know this because I worked at Lillie Yard Studios, a 24-track professional recording studio in London in the early 90s where dance music was recorded, mixed, and remixed by The KLF and Nomad, among others.  There was a small army of people who not only knew the studio hardware (the board, Moog, compressors, gates, etc.) but also Cubase and other software, which was quite expensive but utterly necessary to crank out the hits played on the radio and the remixes that were preferred in the clubs.

Working at Lillie Yard in 1991, I must have heard remixes of The KLF's "Last Train to Trancentral," "What Time is Love," and "3 am Eternal" as well Nomad's "I Want to Give You Devotion" several hundred times as the crew worked through the tracks and tried different beats, sounds, and speeds using the software.

The results The KLF was able to achieve were quite amazing. I was never a big dance music fan, but I respected what Jimmy Cauty and Bill Drummond were doing. I mean, what other pop act would have thought to meld 70s country music with the club sounds of London, and not only make it work, but turn it into a global pop sensation?

Then there were the experimental tracks The KLF did for The White Room and other projects. My favorite was "It's Grim Up North." The concept seems weird (Bill Drummond reciting the names of northern English towns over a dark synth riff) but it worked:

Finally, it's worth mentioning that the co-founder of Lillie Yard studio was Hans Zimmer, the German electronic music composer whose film career really started to take off around that time.

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