Up Close and Personal: Cassettes For Kids

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Up Close and Personal: Cassettes For Kids

cassettes for kids
Words from Cassettes for Kids

A personal account of a journey through making music, featuring studio tips, a gear rundown, and more!

My first music memories all began well before Cassettes For Kids was born and when I was about three or four in my brother’s room listening to Metallica, Nirvana, and Pearl Jam to name a few. 

I didn’t realise it at the time, but these were also my first memories of experiencing synesthesia where I was seeing different colours and spaces develop in my mind from the music. As I got older, I got a copy of Ableton 8 after getting inspired from the likes of LA Beat scene artists like Nosaj Thing, Flying Lotus, and TOKiMONSTA. 

I had two schools of thought running at this time. On the one hand, I was extremely passionate about guitar/band type music but my mind was starting to open up to all of these experimental beats that I’d never heard anything like before. I kept both passions running, starting up in my first blues/psych band Elephant Ego with a few mates in 2012 and started throwing some beats on Soundcloud under ‘Cassettes For Kids’ around about the same time.

Read up on all the latest interviews here.

The band started kicking off a little, we were playing shows, our first EP went really well and we sparked some momentum in our little scene. I had my eggs in that basket up until around 2014 when I was at a festival with my sister’s mate who told me quite late into the evening that he thought I should take the CFK stuff more seriously. 

This kind of knocked me back a bit at the time, but I took his word seriously and put my head down, eventually putting out a track called ‘Enough’ which I entered into a competition to play at Strawberry Fields Festival. I ended up getting into the top 10 which landed me a slot to play. I whipped together a live set for the gig which to this day is the worst gig I have ever played, hands down. The music I had was put together quite haphazardly and I had no clue how to get a crowd to dance. This wouldn’t have been so painful if it wasn’t for the fact that I had my friends along with everyone we were camping with for the weekend (people I had never met) watch me get up there and fail quite miserably. 

Right now, what I’m making has been a big diversion away from the dance music I’d made in the past and would now fall under a blend of garage, DnB, and psychedelic electronic. I don’t use much guitar at all in my productions these days, only really using it to figure out progressions and melodies. Nowadays I’d say my main instruments are my laptop and my Elektron Analog Rytm. I find it much more satisfying chopping up audio on my laptop and writing in sequences with my Rytm for a more tactile experience (not to mention that delicious analog tone). I recently got loaned an Ableton Push 2 which I’ve been enjoying as it’s giving me that immediacy you get from hardware, plus its integration with Ableton is second to none.

I’m moving my music to whatever excites me at the time, be that house, hip-hop or jungle, which is a deviation from how I used to create. I go for whatever is conjuring up the most interesting image in my mind. 

I’ve recently started treating studio time much in the same way a chef would orchestrate a kitchen, dividing the day/days into preparation and cooking. I’ll spend my preparation day sampling records, recording weird sounds, making synth patches, and organising folders. This means that once I get to my ‘cooking’ day, everything is already laid out for me to go bonkers on creating without getting bogged down sifting through a totally disorganised mess of files and endlessly tweaking parameters. Being able to separate two different schools of thought (linear/structured & lateral/expansive) allows you to work more efficiently at both.

For synths, I have a Novation Peak, a Behringer Model D, and a MicroKorg. I have a constant love/hate relationship with the Peak as it can be quite an overwhelming instrument to sit down with. I’ve found that I have more of an affinity towards the Prophet and Oberheim sound which I’ve been using heavily in VST form (Repro 1+5 and OB-X). The Model D has helped me understand synthesis more than any other piece of gear just because of its simplicity, not to mention the incredible sound coming out of such a pocket rocket piece of gear. The MicroKorg has stuck around purely for nostalgic reasons as it was my first synth. It’s a pain to program and mine is pretty busted, but it has a very powerful sound that cuts through the mix for basslines and plucks.

On top of that, I have a bunch of effects pedals, an AKAI Force and an MPC1000 which I don’t use too much now as I like the immediacy of using a laptop much more.

For my DJ setup, I have a Mastersounds Radius 4 rotary mixer, 2x Pioneer XDJ 700s, a Technics SL1200, an Audio-Technica LP1240, and a Mastersounds FX unit. I love the sound of the rotary but am realising that my style of DJ’ing lends itself to a fader-focused approach. Having said that, there is nothing quite as satisfying as slowly blending two vinyls together on that thing. Pure bliss. It’s also just a beautiful piece of kit!

Ableton, my Mackie mixer, and Mixed in Key probably have the biggest influence on my sonic fingerprint. Ableton allows for performative recordings which is integral for me to move away from more cerebral ideas. My Mackie is a dusty crunch box and has made my drum sound what it is today. I am very proud of my drums these days and that sound is in part because of the sound that mixer brings. Mixed in Key is a more recent development in my sound but as I mentioned before, being able to recycle old material that I made instead of trawling through other sample libraries is allowing me to keep my music more personal. With that in mind, I have absolutely no issue with sample packs or apps like Splice and use them very frequently, but there is something to be said for rediscovering some weird sound you totally forgot you made!

I have always used Ableton as it has the power to be brought out for live sets. I haven’t really bothered with other DAW’s and wouldn’t say it’s any better or worse than the rest, I just know it inside out and that speed of use is more important to me than learning another program.

For monitoring, I’m running Focal Alpha 65s, Auratone 5C, beyerdynamic Custom Pros, and Apple Earbuds. 

My Focals are maybe a bit too powerful for my room but they sound great. I use my Auratone as a reference speaker to which hyper fixates on the mid-range. I find my mixes sound better after I’ve switched to it which is the whole reason everyone harps on about them. My beyerdynamic headphones are handy for hearing any clashes in the low end (the low end is super hyped up) and then I use my cheap little Apple Earbuds for a lot of mixing since they’re surprisingly flat. I find in-ear monitoring easier to nail than speakers most of the time. If you think I’m talking garbage about headphone monitoring, just ask Andrew Schepp!

I work in bursts for mixing but if I’m onto a good idea creatively in the studio, I’ll often end up doing a marathon. Sometimes my brain is in overdrive and everything comes out quite dramatically. I have the luxury of being able to pursue that to its end, much to the demise of my hydration and blood sugar levels. 

I generally start with drums and use this as the anchor point for the rest of the track. After that I will generally find some samples and start chopping them up and start laying down a chord structure for the melodies and bass to bounce off. Once I have a solid foundation of an idea, a B section, and enough elements to move between, I’ll throw it all onto an arrangement which is where everything starts to become more dynamic as I’m able to expand the simple loops I’ve made to make each part modulate and weave better with everything else.

The FabFilter Pro Q gets the most use out of my plugins – bit of a boring one, but I use this on everything. A super high quality EQ that has a heap of great features like being able to see EQ clashes across multiple tracks, dynamic EQ (kind of like multiband compression) and an easy-to-use interface. The higher processing modes also means you don’t get weird artefacts from notch EQs which can’t be said for the majority of EQ plugins out there.

I use a few compressors very often for specific uses. I use Ableton’s Glue Compressor or Native Instruments Solid Bus Comp religiously for drums on dance-oriented music. It’s simple to dial in and when you crank it, you get a tasty overdriven signal. For more drums that require more delicacy like in drum and bass, I tend to go for the UAD API 2500 as it has a nice snap which allows for more transients to pop through. For bus compression, I use the UAD SSL G-Bus which adds a little tone and does a great job of lifting less-prominent elements. It has a knob to roll off the bass which is super handy so your whole signal isn’t getting eaten up by those greedy low end frequencies.

Ableton’s Auto Filter is my go-to VST! It’s so underrated but has so much power to make your sounds more analog. The overdrive algorithms have emulations of the Korg MS20 and the classic Moog filter. I put it on nearly everything with a splash of overdrive to bake the sounds in better. There are a heap of possibilities once you start using the LFO and panning features. I love using this on percussion as you can link the LFO to the filter to constantly modulate the filter or pan easily on a track.

I’ve enjoyed using the Valhalla Reverb and delays in the past but I’m often using either the Hybrid Reverb in Ableton or the UAD Lexicon 224 for reverbs and either the Ableton Delay or UAD Galaxy Tape Echo. The Lexicon reverb is a really glorious digital reverb which I use sparingly but when it works, it delivers beautiful soundscapes. I like the Ableton Delay as it’s super simple, you can easily offset the left-right signal to create some nice stereo effects and its filter is easy to play with. I use the UAD Galaxy Tape Echo for more washed out and less precise soundscapes. Popping it on a vocal or synth buss lets the sound exist in a believable space.

The simple old filter would do me if I could only use one type of effect for the rest of my life. You can carve out some really weird resonances and tones with the right one and it’s easily my used effect in my projects. 

I’m DJing, supporting ATET in Naarm / Melbourne Dec 17, Beyond The Valley New Years Eve, and then playing a live set in Eora / Sydney at Civic Underground January 21. Apart from shows, I’m starting my new label, Point of You, which my next release is planned for in February ’23. I’m heading to Europe in the middle of 2023 with a few shows locked in. I’m very excited for the next few months! 🙂

Keep up to date with Cassettes For Kids here.