Whilst the trade has been around since the ’60s, modular hardware has certainly seen a resurgence in the last few years, with the machinery now an essential for many of today’s studios and influential electronic figures like Actress, Mumdance and Blawan declaring the importance of modular to their production methods.
One of the most dedicated modular retailers in the country is Hackney Wick’s London Modular. Founded by hardware obsessives and electro producers Simon Lynch (Yes Effect), Phil Ventre (Pip Williams) and Gavin Pykerman (Koova), the shop is known to supply pieces to names like Aphex Twin, Radiohead and Boddika.
They also combine as a three man production unit, performing immersive live sets across the globe and releasing dark electro records as London Modular Alliance, with ties to labels such as Hypercolour, Applied Rhythmic Technology and Dimensions Recordings.
Their latest release comes via International Black – the darker club focused sister label of Bradley Zero’s Rhythm Section imprint. Heading into its sixth release, LMA’s Same Repeated Cycles EP sees the group produce three bass-heavy electro cuts in typically brutal fashion.
In celebration of the release, we managed to catch up with the crew, taking a peek at some of their favourite pieces of gear and gaining insight their programming methods.
1. OTO Boum
This is an analog stereo compressor with a multimode distortion and low pass filter thrown in. OTO are a boutique French company that also make an excellent delay (BIM) and reverb (BAM). Each unit has got bags of character, we just fell in love with the sound. They’re not exactly breaking into new territory, but what they do cover sounds spectacular. The Boum in particular is a wild beast. It can be noisy and aggressive on individual parts, but also pulls a mix together in very subtle ways if used at the end of the chain.
2. Nord Rack
Made around 1997, these are getting on a bit now. But in terms of sound quality and their ability to cut through a mix, the Nord Rack 2X are still tops. There is a trend to lash loads of effects on synth presets to make them sound good, but every preset on the Nord has a huge presence and seems to need very little time spent on eq or post production. They just sit so well from the get go. We use this and the Sequential Prophet 6 a lot for pads. Definitely one of the easiest synths we’ve used to programme. There are so many sweet spots, it’s really hard to get a bad sound out of it!
It would be impossible for us not to include this in the list! But given there are dozens of modules we use daily, it’s also impossible to pinpoint individuals as favourites. And often a module may only sound great because it’s being affected by something else in the system and so on…
We use our systems in very different ways, depending on the task at hand. Sometimes it could be a large FX box, processing and mangling audio. Other times it could be put to sequencing duties, or a weirdo drone. Generally there’s no set idea to begin with, but some general tinkering will always lead to interesting results after a while. Having access to so many different modules through our store has given us the luxury of picking and choosing in this way, but over time a system can grow into something that could handle anything that’s thrown at it.
We make a lot of electro so this is a staple part of our sound. We’ve tested, performed and sold loads of clones. Some are a bit shit (anything digital), some are decent (Acidlab Miami). But nothing truly competes with the TR-808. The original is still the best, in our opinion, and the groove they have is undeniable. An honourable mention should probably go out to the TR-606. Any drum machine like this that has trigger outputs to sync sequencers, such as Doepfer’s A-155, are so much fun to use and provide instant funk. The hi-hats on the 606 are wicked too!
5. Akai S3000XL
Gone are the days of hardware samplers and SCSI drives, but in the late 90s they was all the rage. The Akai range were massively powerful (and affordable) samplers. Great filters and other onboard effects and plenty of storage which was a real blessing. A lot of rave and jungle tunes used them to great effect, especially for time stretched drums. Being a huge fan of that sound, and wanting to learn these production techniques, I’ve got fond memories sitting in a sea of floppy disks with a new unit, trying to figure out how to use the f*cker!
Same Repeated Cycles is out now on International Black.
Buy it here.