From Daft Punk to Justice, Ed Banger to Roulé, Cassius to Alan Braxe, France has been breaking rules and boundaries in electronic music for almost 30 years. To coincide with the release of our French House sample pack we’ve compiled some essential tips for mastering the gallic groove.
Human after all
French House beats often celebrate the imperfect – and occasionally wonky – human, while never losing the groove. Which means heavily quantized rigidity is out while off-kilter elements are in. Try nudging everything from ghost kicks to claps and snares slightly off-beat to up the groove (a common trick is for the clap to trigger before the snare). Another contributor to groove is velocity changes, particularly across hi-hat and percussive parts. Changes to timing and velocity bestow life and energy.
Chop and repeat
Use plugins like Ableton’s Beat Repeat, Izotope’s Stutter Edit or perform manual cuts to create the choppy, stuttery sound found in much french house/filter house production. Although commonly used for fills and in turnarounds, try bouncing a complete track down through a stutter plugin. Among the trash you may end up with a handful of short resampled gems that inspire a whole new track.
The analogue vibe
Run your sounds into old samplers like the Akai MPC60, S1000, Esoniq ASR10 or Mirage before importing them back into the digital realm. Mess with pitch, sample and bit rates and any unique options the sampler offers. If you don’t have access to this kind of gear, you can pick up an old consumer tape deck for next to nothing.
French House relies heavily on sampling. Although lifting entire two or four-bar loops from a classic disco or funk record is a legal no-go, many artists get round that by ‘micro-sampling’ fragments of bass notes, guitar licks and drum beats. These samples can then be reworked into your original compositions. This is a great way of bringing real-studio soul into a dance production. Save samples to your own micro-library.
Layer those drums
The drums on classic disco and funk drum records – however beautifully produced – can sound bass-light when played on a club rig. Layer them with hits or samples from drum machines. Of particular note are the Roland TR-707 and Linn Drum snares and the DMX, TR-909 and Linn Drum kick.
Bit-crushers reduce sample rate and bit depth to bestow grit, noise and lo-fi vibes to a sample, in a similar way to the classic 8- and 10-bit samplers. Both lead lines and synth chords can be given more body in the mix with bit-crushing. Drum and percussive samples can also benefit from the same kind of vintage dirt. Try automating the sample rate across synth hooks for movement or for ear candy across longer segments. But never overdo it; having every part in the mix running through bit-crushers will make for painful listening – instead choose pivotal parts and work them hard.
Distort – but pick your bands
Both synths and basses can benefit from overdrive and distortion. But you can easily muddy the bottom end by generating too many low-end harmonics. Instead, use a multiband distortion plugin and apply different amounts of processing to the low and high end so that the sub stays clean while the mids get a dose of dirty girth.
Compression 1: Mix bus
Wildly pumping sidechain compression is a tried and tested – if clichéd – French House staple. Step back a few years to Daft Punk’s Homework and you’ll find that instead of using the sidechain, the band simply parked their compressor of choice (the Alesis 3630) on the mix bus then drove it so hard that kick-driven pumping, alongside a supreme gelling, was inevitable. When using this kind of heavy-handed treatment, the pivotal compression setting is the release time – get it right and it pumps in time, get it wrong and the mix lollops and stumbles. It’s worth noting that so many 3630s were manufactured that you’ll pick up a first iteration for less than a couple of hundred dollars on eBay.
Compression 2: Bring out the snap
Use compression liberally on other mix elements too. One trick to bring out the snap in a synth lead or guitar is to emphasise the attack by using compression with a fairly high attack time (10ms-30ms) and fast release.
Mod that pitch
For those funky brassy stab sounds, use pitch modulation to generate even more interest. This is done by mapping the LFO of a synth to the pitch of the oscillator/s. The LFO rate should be relatively high. Get your hands dirty by mapping pitch LFO to the mod wheel of your controller – increasing the value will up the vibrato. Then play along.
Check out our mammoth French House pack for some inspirational sounds.