For Depeche Mode’s thirteenth album, ‘Delta Machine’, renowned producer Ben Hillier specified SSL’s Matrix SuperAnalogue™ mixing console with software controlled analogue patch system and multi-layer DAW control to anchor tracking stadium synth superstars Depeche Mode’s eagerly-awaited album, at Santa Barbara Sound Design (California) and Jungle City Studios (New York).
This mixing board has become a central hub of the Depeche Mode production process with frontman Dave Gahan, having set up a Matrix-based project studio at his New York City home, while Ivor Novello Award-winning principal songwriter, synthesist, and guitarist Martin Gore has added a Matrix to his home-based project studio in sunny Santa Barbara. Having helmed the Depeche Mode production process so successfully for 2005’s Playing The Angel album and its Grammy-nominated Sounds Of The Universe follow-up in 2009, producer and Matrix owner Ben Hillier returned to the Depeche Mode production fold for Delta Machine. The Matrix proved an invaluable element of the unusual Depeche Mode creative process as the central hub for a huge collection of analogue hardware and multi-DAW based workflow.
“At the end of ‘Sounds Of The Universe’ we’d encouraged Martin to shift his work method away from purely using soft synths,” says Hillier. “We really enjoyed using vintage analogue synths on that record. Martin didn’t have a massive collection to start with, but he collected a whole load more. As a result of that, he knew he needed to rebuild his home studio, so we set him up with an SSL Matrix.”
Fast forward to the genesis of Delta Machine and Gore was at it again, having assembled a monstrous modular synth system with well over 700 Eurorack modules! According to Hillier, “One of the first things that [A&R] Daniel Miller said to me was, ‘The demos that Martin’s made this time are amazing!’ And he was right. They had this great sound to them — because he was using all these old synths and mixing them through the Matrix.”
From Demos To Album
Transforming those promising-sounding demos into a fully-fledged Depeche Mode album meant moving band, producer, and programming team into a self-built multi-DAW studio setup within the live room at Santa Barbara Sound Design. “That studio has a great big live room, so we built a studio in there, because putting a band in a live room and me in a control room is not relevant to the way Depeche work. We had a Pro Tools rig with hardly any plug-ins as the main recording hub for our studio, which we sort of used like a multitrack, with a summing bus as a mix output, plus a load of laptop-based areas. We didn’t want to have everyone sitting around looking over other people’s shoulders at one computer screen while someone moved bass drums around, so it was a way of making programmed music in a slightly more sociable, slightly less navel-gazing way! We’d worked in a similar way on Sounds Of The Universe, but really missed having a mixing console, because it was quite difficult to reprocess stuff and doing things on the fly was harder, so that’s the reason why we got the Matrix.”
Next Depeche decamped to the East Coast to continue working in The Penthouse at the beautiful Jungle City Studios in NYC, with its SSL Duality equipped control room and inspiring live room with a Chelsea view to die for: “There’s really good monitoring in the main studio there, but we still rebuilt our own studio in the live room, so we could run both rooms simultaneously.”
The transportable Matrix-based workflow worked a treat, bringing several salient strengths to the tracking table: “We were comp’ing everything on the master Pro Tools rig and running that through the Matrix, so we could just hit recall and get back to the same musical buzz every time, while the DAW control got us away from looking at the computer screen too much. We did all the summing in the Matrix — at least all the rough mixes on all the work-in-progress stuff, which worked well. The mix busses sound really great — there’s a gain pot on the top that’s especially handy when you’re setting up a mix and want to drive it a little bit more to make it glue together nicely.”
The key to mixing Depeche Mode’s successful sound arguably lies in balancing those copious quantities of synthesisers (and occasional guitar) alongside Dave Gahan’s distinctive baritone and Martin Gore’s more melodious backing (and occasional lead) vocals. Here, too, the Matrix proved proficient when tracking the band’s most emotive elements: “We had a large rack of outboard compressors and EQs — a few of my favourites and some choice pieces liberated from Martin’s studio — that were all patched into the Matrix’s software patch bay. Pretty much everything was put through some of them, and we had preset insert chains for things like Dave and Martin’s vocal sounds.”
Hillier must have been doing something right, for following another month-long stint in Santa Barbara Sound Design then an Autumnal return visit to Jungle City Studios tracking was duly declared complete with Matrix having proved to be the perfect production partner for Depeche Mode’s modus operandi. Within a matter of months they would again be topping charts around the world with Delta Machine, much to Hillier’s delight: “What’s most exciting about this record is that it seems like we’ve really managed to communicate what the band wanted.”
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