1. Reverb

A lot of new wave productions in the eighties made use of gated reverb. Not only is it great for mixing purposes – providing depth to drums, bass and other tracks – it also added that distinctive eighties ambience.

It’s often useful to experiment with different reverbs that have an emphasis on short decay times and medium-range pre-delays. The easiest way to create the gated reverb effect is to send the drums or bass to a reverb with a medium room preset. Next, process the reverb through a noise gate (or stereo noise gate), setting an instant attack and release. Feel free to adjust the hold time of the gate, paying close attention to the threshold – a lower threshold will create a pronounced gated effect.

2. Chorus and Modulation

Heavy use of chorus and other modulation effects like phasers and flangers is another staple of the new wave sound. These effects are great ways to inject fresh tonal qualities into a dull guitar riff or a uninspiring pad sound. Chorus effect sound best over lead melodies (guitars, keys) at medium high-pass settings around 300Hz and 50% feedback levels. One can also experiment with low-rate settings around 0.20Hz which create a “wobbling” detuned sound.

3. Percussive Layering

A great way to get distinctive timbres in your melodics is to layer them with percussive found sounds. It’s documented that Depeche Mode would often go into factories or warehouses with a hammer to record them hitting various pipes, machinery and other metallic sources in order to create percussive one- shots. They would then layer up the sampled hits with a percussive synth sound to create a unique lead line, as heard on tracks like “People Are People,” “Blasphemous Rumors” and “Something To Do”.

4. FM Synthesis and Digital Sampling

FM synths like the Yamaha DX7 or Korg M1 and digital samplers like the Ensoniq Mirage were staples of the new wave studio, with groups like Depeche Mode, New Order and Erasure turning to them time and again. But if you can’t get your hands on these classic bits of hardware
you can still recreate their iconic sounds in other ways. Xfer’s Serum is a great soft synth that has multiple FM capabilities.

To recreate an FM bell lead – heard on tracks like “Small-Town Boy” by Bronski Beat – select a “FMFM” waveform under the “digital” section of OSC A. Make sure the Octave is set at -1. Next, select under ENV 1 set the release to 5 seconds, and route ENV 2 over to the synth’s filter. Make sure the filter is set to MG Low 12 and the cut-off is set around 18Hz. ENV 2 should be set at 926ms decay, 83% sustain, and 7.20ms.

5. New Wave Bass

Whether from electric bass or analogue synths, strident basslines are often the backbone of new wave tracks. New Order’s Peter Hook is rightly revered for his distinctive bass style but even if you can’t play as well as Hooky you can still re-create that classic sound.

One way to recreate the live bass from New Order’s classic Blue Monday is by playing high bass notes, feeding the signal into a chorus and overdrive pedals at low gain settings. For his trademark chorus sound, Hooky used early models of the Electro Harmonix Clone Theory.

Check out our mammoth New Wave pack for some inspirational sounds.