LAYERS: Breaking Down Every Caustic Sample From Dirty Art Club's "Black Acid"
Hexes was the first thing I heard from North Carolina’s Dirty Art Club. It was in the dead of this past summer, and I was getting well sick of new jack swing synthesizer sounds, 808s, and generally the standardized style that has risen from the “beat” genre of the last couple of years. Don’t get me wrong, I like the drunk-P-funk feel of a good synth beat as much as the next guy, but I got into this world of music because of Endtroducing, straight breaks on vinyl, and the box-of-chocolates world of sampling production. That’s where Dirty Art Club came in. Each of their Hexes contains a dense, diverse compound of samples, congealing in a startlingly authentic rendition of psych rock. But there are familiar breaks underneath it all, pulling a beathead like myself along through morose psychedelia and really well-crafted funk.
As a sucker for composition, I wanted to know how they made their stuff, and so I sought them for today’s piece, and they kindly obliged. But even if you’re not into the dissection experiment we conduct every Monday here on LAYERS, you should still hear their stuff. It’s really, really damn good. As the weather starts to turn, I’m reminded that a host of immensely critical and snobby year end lists from music journalists are on the way sooner than later, including my own. Dirty Art Club has a spot secured on that list. As I would say in preamble before that list, “If the music world were a perfect place (i.e. if I was running it), then everyone would hear these guys. But because it’s not, folks like you and me get to sit in a dark corner and listen to it, experiencing a joy amplified by the fact that it’s esoteric and it’s ours.”
Note: Based on the very thorough and organized breakdown provided by Dirty Art Club, the format of LAYERS is a little different this week.
The opening to Black Acid is a layering of samples taken from early electronic recordings at the dawn of the genre’s forming.
Piece 1: This piece was created using an early German electro sample and a reversed line from “I May Make Paris in the Morning,” by Charles Bukowski. Bukowski is buried in the mix and hardly audible because it wasn’t really done for the purpose of being heard. Tape delay and distortion play a heavy part in this bit. A lot of tape delay and distortion are used throughout the entire song.
Piece 2: Another sample from early electronic experimentation. It’s from a recording called “Klangstudie II,” which was recorded in 1952. Sounds like growling towards the end. Electric lion.
Piece 3: This is a synth sample taken from a song that can’t be traced due to the occasion of Matt’s computer taking a shit right after the song was completed. This was the second computer failure that took place during the creation of this album.
This song has 3 sections. The first section was created as an interlude, but turned into the beginning of an entire song. It has two main layers, along with a few added stabs and whatnots from various other recordings.
First Section, Layer 1: We built this section primarily using Reason. We chopped up Deadato’s 1973 cover of “Nights in White Satin” and laid it out with the NN-XT sampler. The NN-XT is hands down one of the slickest sample production tools in existence. We’ve been using it for a decade and are still discovering new tricks with it. Next, we used the Subtractor synth to create a homemade 808-like kick that was perfectly filtered and tuned to give it a deeper low end. This track was originally named “Black Satin,” and we later changed the name to Black Acid after the following added sections took the track down a dark and tripped out path.
First Section, Layer 2: This sitar/vocal sample is another lost name. We’re not organized when we’re in the middle of creating an album, so a lot of details end up missing when a process is revisited. Anyway, the sitar was filtered with Logic Pro’s Channel EQ to reduce low end while accompanying the first sample layer before it fades. The pitch of the sitar and vocals were changed using Waves’ SoundShifter Pitch. The vocals happened to be perfect in terms of what the song means, and they inspired the second segment’s euphoric feel.
The heavy drums come in at the end of the first section. Out of thirty-one tracks used to create this song, the drums account for nine of them.
The Drums: The heavier drums come in at the end of the first section. From this point on, Logic Pro was used for sequencing and mixing. Out of thirty-one tracks used to create this song, the drums account for nine of them.
The Drums- The kick/tambourine sample is from a song called “Shades of Orange” by Moon’s Train. The snare drum is actually four different snare drums. We couldn’t find a single snare that we liked with the texture of the string sample in the second section; so, four snares had to be layered to create one that sounded fit for the song. For this process we used Logic Pro’s Channel EQ, Sonnox’s Oxford Reverb, a little bit of Logic Pro’s Clip Distortion, and Waves’ CLA-3A compressor. Some other basics (panning, side chaining, fading) were also applied. The resulting snare doesn’t sound like anything super unique; it just sounds like we wanted it to sound. Sometimes it takes a lot to get something simple. For example—one fine day in its later formulation, this song was mixed and arranged over an uninterrupted 25 hour span. This is something that happens on a somewhat regular basis during the making of a Dirty Art Club album because neither of us have a particular route or template on stand-by when it comes to a song’s mix, so we end up applying multiple effects and altering them in different combinations until birds start chirping and school busses start going by.
The second phase of Black Acid consists of two main layers-
Second Section, Layer 1: This is just a lo-fi wall of sound created with a string sample and a bottom octave synth lead played on an Arp Axxe monophonic synthesizer that was borrowed from a dude named Dave. Dave’s getaway house was broken into by some satanic kids who spray painted lame tags everywhere and used the synth as a chair or an alter of some sort. It looked like it had been sat on and had candle wax all over it when we got it. It still worked well enough to add some low end to the sample, but then it died like everything eventually does. The string sample is from “La Red” by Los Delfines. This sample alone took about eight hours of digging on a rainy day to find and acknowledge as the next piece of Black Acid. It has a really rough sound to it, which is good to an extent, but a good amount of time was spent trying to reduce noise in it without sacrificing too much of the rich sound it contains. A Sonnox Oxford DeNoiser was used very lightly to help control this particular sample. Light vocals and quiet noises are placed throughout this section as well.
Second Section, Layer 2: The lead in to this layer is a clip from an album with some old standards redone using analog synths. It’s a cut from Jean-Jacques Perrey and Gershon Kingsley’s cover of “Umbrellas of Cherbourg.” The bell/flute sample is from a song called “Indian Dances” by an unknown artist on a compilation. It’s layered over itself and staggered to create fullness. Filtered and intentionally distorted using Logic Pro plug-ins, this piece continues through the final section.
The last part of Black Acid is one main recording with the usual added sounds racked with tape delay.
Third Section: This piece was taken from “Da Da Song- Part 1,” by Christophe. We actually used vocal samples and other elements from this song in the first and second section, but the strongest use of this sample comes with the closing of the song. Basic mixing took place using Logic Pro’s Channel EQ, Sonnox’s Oxford Limiter, and Sonnox’s Oxford Reverb. The end.
Put ‘em all together and here’s what you get—“Black Acid” by Dirty Art Club. Hear all of Hexes here.