TheTeardown: Dam Swindle break down their remixes of two solid gold Salsoul disco tracks.
Photo by Lauren Murphy
Other than “management talking to people,” where do projects like this originate? Does someone send an email? Is it something you seek out?
We’ve always been huge disco fans and a big remix project where we get to work with original stems has been on the top of our to do list for a while. At the same time, we never really chased it, I guess partly because it’s a huge weight you’re carrying on your shoulders if you’re reworking tracks that are so famous or have already been reworked by so many people.
Because of this, we’ve also said no to a lot of projects in the past, simply because they either didn’t feel right, or we felt there was nothing really new and exciting to add to the existing music.
When Salsoul came along and pitched the idea, we just finished a few remixes of bands with a lot of live stems, so I guess we were in the mood and felt confident to dive deeper into creating modern electronic versions of live recorded music. And honestly, when browsing through their catalog, it feels like a privilege to be able to cherry pick tracks out of that huge list of classics.
Did you get a choice of which tracks to work with?
Choice? We got send an excel sheet with the entire catalog. If anything, there was too much choice. It took us at least a month to go through everything, see whether there were stems available and talk about the direction we would take if we would choice that particular song. We made a shortlist, and then another shortlist of that shortlist and at that point, we just went into the studio, loaded the stems in, took a deep breath and started.
How big of an influence is Gino Soccio on your music? He’s been very elusive for the last couple of decades and the people that love his music are a very passionate tribe.
Gino Soccio has played such a huge role in building a mainstream audience for disco and Italo and he does have that big cult following. Lars is more the Italo guy between the two of us, but we both really liked this record and the fact that it’s Gino Soccio, but under the radar. His involvement in this record started out pretty random, but his signature sound really shaped the record. This is one of his first productions and you can already hear the real Gino Soccio sound, but at the same time, this record still has some rough edges. We wanted to bring out that “feeling” as much as possible in our edit, paying homage to those early years of unpolished creativity.
What happens when you get to remix a classic like this? What do you get to work with? Are they stems?
The Kebekelektric track did not have any stems, but since it was quite polished in terms of 4×4 and loopy, we felt like there still was something we could add. We stripped it back, notched the disco drama down a bit and emphasized the modulating bass and groove some more. There’s something beautiful in the limitation of doing edits like these, although you really need to have the right track for it. We did have stems for “Let No Man Put Asunder” and “Everyman” so we took a really different approach there, building the tracks up from scratch and adding our own sound to it.
Disco tracks aren’t quantized and they’re not in perfect 4/4 rhythm because they predate the use of drum machines and drummers playing to “click tracks” in the 1980s. Does this present a challenge?
Sometimes it does present a challenge, especially when tracks have a lot of elements that are running offbeat, start before the 1. The messier the loops get, the harder it will be to do an edit from the old master. There’s a lot you can tweak if you spend enough time on it, and in the end, you don’t necessarily need a fully quantized track to do a good edit.
For remixes, it’s a different story. Since we’re adding all these new elements with an electronic basis, we really need the stems to be in sync. That said, tambourines and shakers and background elements can suddenly put life in a track if they’re a bit crunchy in terms of timing, so that’s also something you can use. Especially with styles like disco and funk, you wanna make sure that the music keeps it’s live feel and doesn’t become too sterile.
Let us take a look into your toolbox. What did you use on this project as far as gear or software? Was there anything out of the ordinary?
We record everything in Ableton and have a huge pack of plugins from Waves, Soundtoys, Fabfilter and lots more. We did a lot of added eq-ing on the stems, since most of them were recorded in the same room and had some mic bleed here and there. Since we added a lot of our own elements and reused recorded stems in different ways, we also had to look at compression, panning and eq’ing for all the stems to make sure they have their right place in the new track.
The vocals on the Double Exposure track have this really raw sound which we liked and kept, but was actually partly due to clipping on the original recording whenever Jimmy Williams would hit a few high notes. It’s all in the charm of the track though, and with some dynamic eq’ing smooth reverb/delay, we made sure the vocal fitted nicely into our new arrangement.
Is there a Dam Swindle sound that you look to bring to projects like this?
Yeah we do make an effort in finding our own mood in each track. If there’s no room for that, there’s no real use for a DS remix, is there? We keep on questioning ourselves and the relevance of a track we’re making: is this really us, does this present an exciting new perspective in the existing music? We hope that we did manage to do that. The Double Exposure remix really has that old school Swindle swing, and we approached the First Choice project as a re-imagination of the track rather than a remix.
Is there a challenge working with a track as famous as “Let No Man Put Asunder”? Frankie Knuckles and Shep Pettibone mixed the 1983 Salsoul release. Masters at Work and Tommy Musto did it 1993. You’re going to be compared to 5 of the greatest remixers in history.
Yeah, that’s probably why it took as a long time to think about our approach on that track. We listened to several versions, grabbed the copy we own ourselves to figure out if there’s still something in that track left undiscovered. Where most versions of the track are edits (and really amazing ones), we decided to take on a whole new approach where we reimagined the theme from an electronic perspective, with added synths, live bass, new percussion and new keys. It’s all heavily inspired by the original, but with fresh look on things. We hope this nod to that classic gives some new life to a track that has been elemental to the development of the house scene.