One of the most iconic synth sounds in grime, is heard in Skepta's massive track, "That's Not Me". It is really easy to make, as I'll show you, and is done simply by modulating through a harmonic series. It's a very retro electric sound and most of the synth design is nailing the effects and eq of it to be a hard, bright sound. This tutorial will use Serum, because it is one of the fastest synths to use in terms of generating sounds, and the waveform view gives great insight into what is actually happening.
You can hear the synth sound below, throughout the song. It is very bright and really cuts through the mix, giving the song a great edge. In recreating it, that hardest bit was matching the tonal properties of the sound. If you are new to Serum, this tutorial will really show you how much the FX section can transform a sound into something much better. If you are working on any sound in Serum, you will realise that the main page only offers so much, so by going deep into the effects, you can turn an OK sounding patch into something exceptional.
Start off with your initial preset in Serum and load two wavetables: "PerfectSQsteps", and "HarmonicSeries". Modulating across the table on each of these is how you get the morph through octaves that appears in the sound.
We are going to use an envelope to morph up, then back down the wavetables. Set it for a quick sweeping attack up, then immediately back down. A great tip for Serum users is to click on the padlock icon to fit the window to the envelope. When assigning it to the wavetable position knob, you don't want it to sweep through the whole table, only the first few frames in the series, make sure to have the reference track on hand so you can adjust to where you need it.
Now we need to set the volume envelope. Envelope 1 in Serum is the main volume envelope. You can see the faint outline of other envelopes, try and match the end of the decay of the mod envelope with the end of decay on the volume envelope. We are looking for a fast pluck sound so set zero attack, with a fast decay going down to a sustain level of zero.
Add a low pass filter to take off the very top, modulating it with the envelope you set for modulating the oscillators. Use a Low Pass Filter with a gentle slope, 12 pole is ideal. I also upped the voices to three on each oscillator with a small amount of detune to thicken it up.
Now we have the basic outline for our sound. It doesn't sound as bright as the reference track, so lets dig deep into Serum's effects to try and transform it into something much better. The most obvious effect to add is the reverb, which is prominent on the sound. Carefull with the reverb's size as we don't want to wash the sound away.
Next, we want to mimic the brightness of the sound. First step to take, is to boost the highs on the EQ, and add some weight to a band in the midrange. I set the EQ after the reverb to capture some of the brightness of the reverb itself.
The sound still doesn't cut through so I decided to add some multiband compression to try and brighten it up. This time, I added it before the reverb. I took some of the weight out of the lows, and boosted the mids and the highs to taste, again, with constant reference to the reference track. I didn't need to worry too much about the ratios or anything, because they are already set to a brilliant middle ground for most sounds.
Finally, I decided to blend in a formant filter, this took quite a while, choosing between Serums's three great formant filters, and messing with the settings. I set Formant-III to mix just past 50% and adjusted the cutoff and formant to get a bit of vowel resonance on the right spot (sometimes EQ just can't shape the sound as well as a formant filter). The formant filter was placed first in the effects rack.
Now it's a matter of finishing off the sound with some minor tweaks and there we have it!