[Q&A] In the Lab with Cruk
[Q&A] In the Lab with Cruk

Considered an underground hero in the neurofunk world, Cruk (real name Nick Hunter) has branched out to a wider audience, gaining the attention of the highly respected Dispatch Recordings. The journey to getting signed onto the esteemed label started on the dancefloor, with a random hook-up earned by frequenting events in Leeds.

“Through my time at University in Leeds I got involved with some of the Central Beatz nights, and it was Chris who runs the night that introduced me to Ant TC1,” Cruk shares with Bassrush. “From there it was just a matter of pitching a few tunes that I had been working on. There was some fine tuning that had to be done but I think we were both already happy with the sound as I’d been working towards it for a while.”

The fine-tuning has paid off in full and Cruk’s Sheffield-based studio is pumping out some of the most heady and technical tunes out there. Get ready to take notes as we analyze his production methods and technical approach while Cruk reveals his go-to plugs, headphones, and the secrets to creating his tearing and dark Bad Faith EP, out now.

Have you formally studied music theory or audio engineering?
Yeah, I picked up the guitar around the age of seven and have been playing ever since. I had a few lessons along the way so the theory definitely comes in handy, even if most of the time you’re churning out one-note basslines. In terms of audio engineering, I studied Music Technology at Leeds Met University. Though my time there was largely spent yo-yoing between my home studio and the pub, I do owe some of my knowledge to the teachers there, especially in a recording environment.

What DAW are you working in these days?
For the first year or two I used Reason 4, and before that a really old copy of Cakewalk Sonar that my uncle gave me; it was just what was available at the time. It was all I needed as I was just learning that you could make whole songs all on your own with just you, some earphones, and a computer—and without relying on band mates to get their shit together. Since then, I’ve been using Ableton Live, which opened whole new realms of musical possibility for me. Mainly the ease of which you can work with audio which after using Reason for a while was a godsend, and allowed me to start experimenting with recording at home a bit more.

Do you have a favorite key to write in?
Unfortunately, yeah. The key of F is not so much a favorite key as it a prison that I’m confined to due to the uncompromising fact that sub bass sounds fucking sick at 43 Hz. This isn’t a secret, as most producers of bass music end up writing a lot of material around this key, so I think it is healthy musically to try and incorporate other musical ideas, chords and phrases to try and keep it fresh.

Do you have any particular methods when it comes setting up your workflow?
The importance of regularly bouncing out stuff that you’ve made—basically logging your work—has only occurred to me since recently finishing a sample pack. For years I’ve tried to work making almost everything on the fly in each project, which not only slows down your creativity and is also more CPU intensive, but also means that if you scrap a project (which is most of time) then you basically have nothing to show for it.

Since I’ve started doing this more, the tune writing and mix-down processes have become much more efficient. I don’t think this is news to lots of producers but for me it has been something that I’ve had to learn, as I’ve never been particularly organized.

The key of F is not so much a favorite key as it a prison that I'm confined to due to the uncompromising fact that sub bass sounds fucking sick at 43 Hz.

Can you disclose the key pieces of kit in your arsenal?
My number one key piece of equipment is definitely my Beyerdynamic DT880 headphones. I’ve had them for about six years and they are basically still all I use to make tunes with, so they are completely essential to me.

Next is probably my Adam A7X monitors, which are awesome even though I’ve never realized their full potential. I’ve never used them in a room that has been properly acoustically treated, which I can’t afford because I spent all my money on Adam A7X’s. Another worthy investment has also been my new PC, which doesn’t crash as much as my old laptop, which is good.

What sculpted the direction of “Bloodlust”?
I think the idea with “Bloodlust” was to try and capture some of the old-school energy and breaks-driven sound whilst remaining kind of modern and techy. Some influence was drawn from the early Subtitles releases. I also had a sample I was dying to use somewhere but didn’t have a track yet that fitted the mood. I think it was lifted from some behind the scenes footage from the filming of Apocalypse Now, which was full of Marlon Brando saying rad shit. From there it was a matter of making the sample work with the tune which involved a processing to make it fit with the atmosphere, like reverse reverberations and delays.

Which piece of kit, whether analog or virtual, would you say has been integral to the making of the EP as a whole?
I would probably say Surge by Vember Audio. It’s a synth that I’ve used for a number of years now for pretty much everything from bass sounds to pads to any other weird thing I can think of. Without sounding like too much of an advert, the layout is super intuitive and easy to get to grips with, and it’s capable of producing some pretty weird sounds. I would definitely recommend it; probably 90% of the synths and basses in the EP come from Surge.

Which compressors do you like?
A lot of the time I like to use compressors that are modeled emulations just to help add color to the mix—the Waves emulation of the CLA 1176 or the Kramer PIE. Other than that I’m not hugely fussy; anything with quick enough attack and release times will float my boat.

After being in the studio for so many hours, where do you recommend producers reference their tracks before finalizing the mix?
I’ve heard that it’s good to reference you tracks in a car but I don’t drive so I can’t confirm that. It’s always useful to be able to test tracks in a club if possible, especially if it’s most of the way there. It can really help you identify any areas that really need work. Failing that, I’m usually content in leaving the mix for a few days and then going back to it after my ears have had a rest.

Advice for writers block?
Just leave the studio. Some of the time writer’s block can be fought against with persistence but more often than not it can be made worse by refusing to tear yourself away from the screen. Normally if I get writer’s block I’ve decided that no tune writing is getting done then, as it’s a creative process and not something that should be forced in any way.