Make the kick your own
Once you’ve chosen a kick drum sample you like, take a parametric EQ and create a narrow peak, then sweep through the spectrum of the drum between 100-500Hz. You may find there are boxy or ringing resonances in there which muddy up the impact. When you hear a spike, pull the gain down to remove the frequencies you don’t like. Repeat the process a second – and maybe even a third – time to sculpt the sound and make it your own.
If the kick sample has an extended low end, put a high pass filter on it and gently roll off the sub-50Hz region. This frees up headroom and allows you to boost the overall level of the kick and carve space for sub-bass frequencies in the bassline.
Try also boosting a small notcched peak around 5-6KHz to help the kick poke through mix. This helps to make it really jackin’.
A great way to create a unique glitchy percussion kit in Ableton is to load up, say, eight kick-free top loops and lay them back-to-back in the arrangement. Then apply a whole chain of crazy effects to the track to really mess up the loops and make each individual hit unique. Experiment with gates, filters, stuttering, overdrive and compression to warp the loops and to introduce sharp transients to the bare percussive sounds. When you’ve got an effects chain you like, bounce down the resulting loops.
After consolidating it, right click and select ‘slice to new MIDI track’ then choose ‘transients’ from the drop-down menu. This maps each individual hit in the pattern onto different keys for you to play in any order you like.
You may get about 100 hits out of your original eight or 16 bar set of loops, and the more your effects change, the more unique each hit will be. Simply play with the order of the hits to create an endless array of new, twisted grooves.
A variation on this tip is to slice to 1/4s instead of transients so that each key plays a one-beat loop segment instead.
Slicing loops in this way is a great method of getting more from sample packs and making the sounds within them your own. Try using the method on vocal loops to get brief, tight vocal snippets that can be used in beats or percussive grooves.
Fidget beats take inspiration from old-school jackin’ house. The key ingredient is the clap that hits before the snare. The heavier the swing quantise, the closer the clap gets pushed towards the snare’s position and the funkier the beat becomes. Keep hi-hats up-front and brash to maximise jackin’ potential. Check out the programming grid below – taken from The Secrets of House Music Production – for inspiration (note the percussive elements that offset the groove and work with the tom in a syncopated way).
Another thing to bear in mind when making fidget beats is that often the character is derived from the placement of hits slightly off-grid. That means pushing hats and percussive hits a little before or after the grid tick to give the groove the characteristic imprecise ‘wonky’ feel.
Set up a drum sampler with a variety of claps mapped to different keys. Try layering two or three of them together (ensuring they work in combo to produce a solid hit), then nudge one of them a little forward to create a snappy click just before the beat. Adjust its velocity to get it so that it has presence, but doesn’t overshadow the main on-beat clap. Then try nudging a second one a little after the beat to extend the main clap tail. Finally, play with the panning, volume, EQ and envelope settings of all three to help them gel together.
Flamming like this can be used to create the huge, wide crunchy claps common in electro and fidget: try it with five or six claps for full-on carnival-style stomps.
To ensure that the new layered clap works with the kick, try cutting the 5-6khz region that you boosted in the kick: this lets the kick poke through the clap and retain the same impact on each beat.
Rhythm and swing
The swing is key to jackin’ house and electro grooves, and you’ll need to get pretty extreme for the classic fidget sound. Either use 16th note shuffles or 8th shuffles with a swing setting of around 35-45%, or higher for wonkier styles. It’s worth noting that at very high swing settings a 16th shuffle starts to feel similar to an 8th shuffle.
With tight hats and warped percussive hits, experiment with short note lengths of 64ths on a 1/16th grid (enable quantise at 64ths so that you can easily see how long to make an individual hit). This unusally short note length helps emphasise the swing and get the beat jackin’, especially when the hits have sharp resonant transients.
Also experiment with velocity and note length on the different hits and try using slightly different hi-hat sounds on each 16th between the main beats to make the rhythm even more dynamic.
Try emphasising the offbeat, or the 3rd 16th, for tight swinging grooves. Overdriven vocal snippets work well with tuned resonant percussion hits to make little melodic hooks in the rhythm.
When creating a fidget bass patch, start with a single oscillator playing a sine wave on the root note. This ensures a clean and tight bottom end – even when upper bass layers are being modulated wildly.
Next, load a saw wave and a square (or other more complex wave) on two other oscillators an octave (or more) above, and play with the balance of them to get a tone that is rich in harmonics, with lots of mid and high frequency content.
To make the sound bigger, try detuning the non-sine oscillator/s up and down a few notches, or switching on the synth’s unison button. Make sure phases are locked if you want the same attack every time you trigger it.
Now route the two non-sine oscillators to a filter bank. Use two parallel filters routed to a common LFO to introduce forceful wobbles to the sound.
Try using a 4-pole low pass on one filter and a 4-pole band pass on the second. Play with the LFO amount and frequency to get a rhythm and tone you like (alternatively, and for even more control, try automating the LFO).
To emphasise the LFO wobble even more, try routing other synth parameters to the same LFO, including bit-crush amount, wavetable position, reverb, resonance, panning and so on (you can obviously on do this if your synth offers on-board FX).
Placing an overdrive or bit-reduction plug after the filter helps to create overtones above the cutoff frequency and give the filtered bass more presence. Try it on a return channel for even more control.
For the classic fidget slide, don’t forget to turn the portamento on, or get busy drawing in extreme pitch-bends on the Midi track. Most fidget basslines feature a mix of bends and non-sliding stepped patterns: to get this you can either automate the portamento so that it’s either on or off, or for greater control you can duplicate the instrument tracks, with one featuring portamento on and the second with it off.
When your bass is tearing, strap an EQ on the bass track and do exactly what you did with the kick, removing nasty notches and, if the sub bass frequencies aren’t delivering anything useful to the mix, rolling off the subs below 50-60hz. To stop the kick and bass from interfering with each other, dial in a notch dip at the same frequency at which the kick drum peaks.
Many synth basses sound better with some selective mid-range reduction in the 100hz-1kz range and a subtle high shelf boost can help bring out the electronic buzz in the high end.
Don’t forget to heavily sidechain the result for seriously wobbly pumping action.
Keeping the bassline changing throughout the track can help avoid monotony. Different LFO rates, pitch bending, moments of silence, and automated cutoff modulation will all help create subtly different versions of your bassline for different parts of the track.
Old school synths
To recreate old school-sounding synth stabs, fire up a synth with granular or additive re-synthesis engines and import a synth stab from a sample library (or make your own, bounce down and import!).
The synth will recreate the sound of the imported sample, using grains, or a large numbers of harmonics, to give you as much, if not more control, over the original sample as you would if it was an oscillator. It changes a sampleís character, making it sound more synthesized.
Playing with grain size and density, time stretching, or tweaking the harmonic balance, can produce really rich, fat and complex evolving sounds from the original sample.
Starting with a familiar old school synth sample, or any chord stab or synth loop, you can create a sound much more powerful and harmonically complex than you ever could with oscillators.
Try looping the stab to get a sustain, and send the course tuning to a slowly rising pitch envelope to create ravey siren sounds or energetic risers.