When it comes to electronic music, everyone has their inspirations. I have been fortunate enough to get hold of Bastion, one of the projects which played a key role in my discovery of electronic music, when I saw them perform many years ago. It could be argued that this site itself would not exist had I not been present at that gig. So it was with great delight, that I found some new music released by them, leading me to get in touch for a chat about their production style. They give some awesome advice which will really benefit other producers so definitely check the interview below!
If you are into dark textures and atmospheres underlying energetic funky beats then I highly advise you follow their Soundcloud and Facebook page as there is some great stuff teased for the future! In addition, Bastion have decided to coincide a brand new release with the publishing of this feature, you can check it out here!
How would you describe your music?
Sam: Definitely melody-driven, also very intense, sometimes dark. A sort of heavy-metal infused, punk-funk trance.
Cameron: It’s still got a strong reliance on conventional song structure and ideas, but its got its more dramatic moments too. For us, it's not just about having a good tune - that’s crucial to have, but for every catchy moment we love to throw something unexpected in there as well.
Can you give us a brief history of the project?Sam: Cam and I met in 2010, we were part of another band with two other members. Eventually, we split from the others and started our own project as Bastion. Shortly after the split, we played a bunch of shows in Edinburgh and across the UK. Over the years, we’ve changed our name a couple of times, and the last live show we played was in 2014 at Bathfest. There have also been lots of little breaks in between - a result of university, work and life.
Cameron: In the early days, there was definitely a lot of juggling about when it came to figuring out what we were trying to achieve, and our identity as a duo. I think we both feel that in the last couple of years, the vision has really solidified. Now its something that feels super strong as an identity. We have a lot of lyrical songs in the pipeline that I think altogether manage to create a really compelling character. They’re still managing to speak from the heart too.
Sam: More recently, we’ve also been churning out a lot more instrumental music with the goal of eventually being able to put a show together to perform. That’s really what brought us both together in the first place, the fun of live performance. As much as we like making music, the live show is what its always been about.
What’s your background in making music?Sam: My background is probably simpler in the sense that I just happened to have Garageband on my home computer when I was growing up. Whenever I’d get angry or sad, I’d end up yelling into it. Also, I spent some time trying to recreate a lot of video game soundtracks by ear. Some of the games were really obscure, like Seiken Densetsu - which was kind of like a Final Fantasy rip-off. So all of that eventually evolved into me making these little 8-bit melodic things based upon feeling angry. I gradually picked up some production knowledge along the way, but I would say I’m still a lot more adept at writing little skeleton ideas rather than fully formed beasts.
Cam: I started on piano from an early age, moved onto production at school and around age 15 I decided that music production was what I wanted to do. Shortly afterwards, I met Sam through the band and got really inspired by his little creations, so that’s how we started. Following that, I went through college and university doing production, I’ve done some bits and pieces since then, learned a lot along the way and now here we are.
Who are your inspirations and what can we learn from them?Sam: My inspirations are constantly changing. I like hearing new music that makes me think ‘what the hell is that, what is going on there’, and then trying to figure it out. I guess one thing to be learnt from that is, for me at least, the most inspirational artists are just people who are set on making their own sound without trying to stick to any specific structure or style.
Cam: Totally, I think we try not to compete with other artists when it comes to making music, and stick to making what we love. Trent Reznor from NIN is probably up there for me, not because of any of his music or any particular thing he’s done but just in the way he goes about orchestrating his vision. He’s unashamedly making what he wants whilst paying attention to both the big picture and all the details. He’s also managed to release a lot of music over his career, which means as a fan you can just go into a tunnel absorbing it for hours - I love that. I reckon those are the two most important things I take away from his work.
|Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails|
Bastion sent Audio Ordeal an exclusive mix to coincide with the article release, featuring some of their current inspirations. I've included it below!
Your live setup is really interesting, guide us through that.Sam: I guess at the moment it's still pretty flexible, we’ve got lots of ways we can perform. We’ve gone about it so many ways in the past. In the very beginning, we used Cam’s old USB controller DJing the tracks just one after another along with two MIDI keyboards hooked up to Garageband. It was super basic, but even that early on we were focusing on putting a lot of choreographed moments in the set or just ensuring there was always a huge amount of energy onstage.
Cam: As a general rule, I don’t think it really matters what either one of us is doing at any time, so long as we’re just bringing the energy. Usually its playing parts on top of the tracks or just thrashing about like lunatics. We’ll be going all out the entire time, and then usually so will the audience, so at the end of the set, everyone in the room is ready to collapse.
Sam: If we were to perform a show tomorrow, the setup would look like: several keyboards/keytars, drum pads and microphones going into a laptop running effects, alongside a DJ set up playing the tracks. A lot of the main parts of the songs are removed beforehand so we can play them in live, such as vocals and lead lines.
Cam: As mentioned previously, there’ll be times in the set where we’ll just let loose and improvise and other times where everything is tightly choreographed. It goes back and forth from feeling like you’re in a club dancing along with a DJ in the background, and then suddenly you’re watching a performer and all of your focus is onstage.
Sam: I think a lot of other electronic bands feel like they have to look as if they’re contributing to the sound at all times, and so they’ll often get behind something and try to look busy. Sometimes that can just kill any energy behind the music. Ultimately, we’re not going to try to pretend to look like we’re doing something we’re not. At the end of the day, when we’re onstage we’re absolutely focused on bringing the best time we can - especially when it comes to just making people dance.
How much does your live setup differ from your production setup?
Cam: Usually the studio setup is just a laptop with a MIDI keyboard and monitors. The way we go about the creative process means that we have a good idea of what a track will sound like before we start working on it, so there’s not much need for any extra gear - just a healthy collection of samples and plugins.
Sam: Its probably easier to draw similarities rather than differences. It's usually the same laptop onstage with us that we make the tracks on. Things like vocals, certain melodies and drum parts are removed from the tracks - that's about the biggest difference at the moment.
What software or hardware do you use?Sam: We both use Logic X to produce, and we both rely quite heavily on Logic’s stock plugins too. Alchemy is great, so is the EXS24, compressors and EQs etc. I do a lot of recording too, guitars/vocals/pianos, but the majority of my work comes at the beginning of the process - most of what I do goes through Cam’s more technical side.
|Native Intruments Polyplex is a powerful drum and sound creation tool for|
Cam: I use loads of 3rd party plugins on top of Logic’s stock ones. A lot of Native Instruments like Kontakt, Reaktor and Massive get constant use. A couple of other synths like Serum and Synthmaster find some time as well. When it comes to pulling a final mix together, its got to be Waves. A list of my most used plugins: NI Polyplex, Guitar Rig, UVI Relayer, and OTT (used sparingly). I’m always hunting for new ones: recently I’ve been using Nugen Audio’s Stereoizer a lot, its a stereo enhancer that’s mono sum compatible. There’s also this really old free VST called UpStereo from QuikQuak, it's a simple stereo widener. Its perfect for opening up the sound to make it feel so huge, but you have to keep an eye on my mix’s overall phase when using it - it's not exactly the most elegant in its design.
|Logic Pro's ESX24|
What’s your production flow? Is there a lot of individual input, or do you prefer working together in the same place?Cam: I think we do both input quite a lot into the overall process, but we actually don’t work that well together when it comes to production. We’ll do our best work when we’re apart and afterwards, we’ll come together.
Sam: Partly because the way I came into music wasn’t by sitting down and trying to write a song, I find that my best work has been a result of not trying to make anything in particular. It's usually when I’m away from home, or I’m just drowning in something else - that’s when the right things start to happen.
Cam: It can feel a bit muddled when we work together for that reason because I almost have the opposite approach. I’m pretty intense, I know exactly what I want from a session and I push to get it. From my own experience, I know that approach can be quite tough to work with sometimes. We’re much better when it comes to recording because its usually just a discussion of ideas and direction. But when it comes to the technical side of production, we do our best work separately.
Sam: We’ve kind of built our system around that dynamic. I’m always coming up with little sketches, and periodically we’ll get together and grade them depending on how exciting we feel they are, or how well they would fit with what we’re going for.
Cam: After that, its a case of developing them into fully formed songs or instrumentals, and then even further into a fully formed set. For me, that usually starts with developing a song structure, then writing lyrics before finally getting a sense of the final production for that last big push. Going in without an idea has worked for me in the past as well, but it's always less reliable if you want better results.
Any cool tricks you’ve learned along the way?Sam: This is less of a technical thing, but not really caring where you are or what's around you - just feeling free to explore an idea in your head. I always bring something with me that I can record with. I remember one day I dropped the end of a hoover on the floor and it made a sweet sound, and I thought ’thank god I’ve got something to record this with’ - it ended up in a sketch, and I still really like that sound. So I guess the cool trick is that there’s inspiration everywhere, it's just about keeping your ears open.
Cam: Mine are probably more technical and associated with the production side. You can get a really strong sense of power and momentum with a just few reversed kicks here and there, for example - right before a huge wall of sound emerges. A couple of milliseconds of bright noise before a transient can also make it pop more. If I need more variety in a track but I’m feeling lazy, I’ll just add rise or fall FX because really, no one cares. I’ve also always used a lot more mono elements in my mix than stereo, just because I like it that way. However, if you do need something mono to be in stereo, you can try using a convolution reverb with an ultra tight decay - like 3-10ms. With the right EQ, it can sound great but still very transparent. Finally, as someone who’s experienced a horrific struggle with perfectionism before, I always try to get to 80% finished as quickly as I can - after that, it tends to be easier to finish a track. Don’t be afraid of feeling bad at it, its normal. If I only had one tip, it would be this: whenever you’re really stuck, set yourself an utterly impossible task (like finish an hour of music in a week) and just do it. Everything feels much easier after doing something like that.
Sam: All of my production tricks feel really ghetto; things like distorting vocals or whispers to make them sound louder than they actually are, or using autotune in weird ways. I guess a cool trick is just to do the complete opposite to what you usually do, so if you usually use a lot of thick chords then try making something without a single chord in it. Sometimes for me its all about seeing what happens once there are some limitations in place.
Do you prefer production or performance?Sam: Performance.
Cam: Performance. There’s no greater feeling. When we produce, its always with the performance in mind - I would actually remove the production side of it if I could, it can totally get in the way. Unfortunately, someone’s still got to finish the songs.
What are some of the challenges you’ve faced in the music world and how do you overcome them?Sam: It's very easy to stop loving what you’re doing when you realise how much work there is still to be done. I think one of the hardest things is you always see from your idols and the people you love, your friends creating stuff - you always see their perfection, their finished ideas. You don’t see the fact that sometimes they’re probably punching themselves in the head trying to come up with something. That can be a big challenge, I think self-confidence and self-belief are the answers.
Cam: That's also another reason to try and get things finished quickly - you’ll probably be less likely to end up feeling that way if you’ve got some finished work behind you.
Sam: I guess finding your audience as well. It's one thing if you’ve got a good song, or a good live performance going, but not everyone is going to like it - it doesn’t matter how good you think it is. Sometimes it can feel overwhelming if you put something out and you don’t get the response you’d hoped for. It's certainly not for everyone.
Cam: I think It comes back to just making sure you know why you’re doing it and who you’re doing it for, not making the mistake of trying to impress people who don’t really understand your vision. People can be impressed with what you do and still not fully understand. Some people get it though, they see all the possibilities. We’ve got some close friends who are really supportive in that sense, and that honestly means more to me than anything else in my life. Friends like that are the ones that I want to keep close.
Which song is your proudest work?Cam: Of the music we’ve released, I would probably say Tides/Aura - just because I feel its closest to what I can hear in my mind when I imagine us playing in some dark twisted cavern full of people. Its got a nice brooding atmosphere but its still fun, at least for me it is.
Sam: We’ve got a lot of unreleased material that we’re super happy with, but its still only in its basic form, and we really need to work hard in order to finish it all. Because we both know how much we love it, we’re committed to giving it the best sendoff we possibly can.
Cam: There’s something in the works that we’re both quietly excited about, hopefully, you’ll be seeing that from us soon.
Which album are you most proud of?Cam: I’m quite happy with all of the albums we’ve put out this year, but if we were to say ‘of all time’, it would absolutely have to be the Studio 24 set. Even though style-wise it's on a completely different track to where we’re headed now, it has still got so many tunes that are just proper hooky, and even today I feel the whole thing just bangs. There’s a nostalgia factor too.
Sam: And it was always made for live performance, so it's exciting the whole way through. It was never put together for the intention of just having something for people to listen to in their free time, unlike perhaps some of our more recent material which came about in a different way.
What is coming next for your listeners?Sam: Live shows.
Cam: Live shows. Also, some music that we’ve been working on for a long while. We’re both super happy with how it's all shaping up. There’s a track we’re hoping to release soon that we feel says a lot about the direction we’re headed in.
Sam: I wrote the original idea for it before I even knew Cam, so it’s been a long time coming.
Cam: I’m also looking into lots of other opportunities for us to be able to take things to the next level, so stay tuned to our social media pages. Expect more music coming soon.
Sam: More, better music - and a lot of it too. After the ball starts rolling with our next few releases, there’s plenty more in the tank to keep us going for a while.