In The Lab with Emperor
In The Lab with Emperor

With a discography as lush as Emperor’s, it’s easy to get lost in the rich, techy contributions that he’s become revered for over the past years. Having earned his stripes on major labels such as Critical and Inspected, Emperor makes a glorious return to Phace and Misanthrop’s beloved label Neosignal with his new Shadow EP (out now!)

Per usual, the EP drips with head-nodding percussion as well as substantial amounts of bass and gnarly mid-range frequencies. Read on to discover empowering audio advice on how Emperor achieves his dark, complex sound design.

I tend to get a creative spree around 2am, so I end up working into the early hours. I don't really have a set routine, I just work when I feel like it.

“Calypso” is such a deadly tune. What’s the backstory?
Calypso came about after being inspired by DJ Fresh’s “Heavyweight.” I love the harmonics in the bass and was messing around in Serum trying to create an homage to it, mainly as an exercise, but then it actually fit with an earlier break I made and it came together quickly. It was hard to mix—the modulation changes every time you play a note—but rather than re-sampling and just using the same part over and over, I let it do its thing over the whole track. Makes it feel like it’s more alive that way.

Speaking of Serum, with the amount of presets coming out nowadays, how would you suggest producers stay original within the synth?
Study presets but try not to use them. To be honest, you can make something sound really cool once you’ve figured out how those presets are made, and there isn’t really much need to use them again. If you’re going to use presets, at least tweak them a little before throwing them into a project! You can learn a lot from tutorials and presets, but the real trick is knowing how to apply those techniques to create the sounds in your head.

Walk us through your current setup?
I’m on a PC running FL Studio, with ADAM F7 monitors, a Roland A-49 MIDI keyboard, an Audio‑Technica AT2020 mic for recording stuff, a Focusrite Scarlett I/O, and too many guitars. I also have a fancy RGB LED keyboard, which is nice, and some LEDS behind my desk. For some reason it helps my creativity.

In the past you’ve mentioned you’re an in-the-box producer; have you added any hardware to your setup yet?
Still am! Pretty much everything is software-based. I just got an Axe FX II and a 7-string guitar for some other music projects, but aside from that, no hardware. I don’t really see the reason unless I want something extremely specific. I know there are a lot of older compressors and FX units that still haven’t been perfectly emulated (yet), but software has pretty much caught up. Nowadays it’s more about what your preferences are. I would like a Moog Sub 37, though.

What’s your most used plugin at the moment and what do you like most about it?
The Glue by Cytomic. I believe it’s based on an old SSL compressor. It’s nuts, very simple to use but it sounds amazing. I’ve been using it a lot on half-time stuff and it’s perfect for that. I have to mention Olafur Arnold’s Evolutions for Kontakt. I’ve been using it for atmospheres and builds; lovely stuff.

Do you have any essential tips for drum & bass producers out there using FL Studio?
It really doesn’t matter what you use; anyone can make something out of anything. Don’t let the mindset of not having another DAW’s plugins make you think you can’t achieve something as good with the tools in front of you. I’d say get some quality compressors and distortion plugins and you’ll be well on your way. As for a specific FL Studio tip: holding alt and left-clicking a knob will reset its value. It makes undoing changes as you’re sound designing a little quicker!

What’s your favorite tape emulator plugin?
I asked this question on Twitter and got a lot of recommendations. I ended up settling for iZotope 7. The interface is really nice, I highly recommend it. Also, shout out to the Waves CLA compressors.

What time of day do you prefer working?
Usually pretty late. I tend to get a creative spree around 2am, so I end up working into the early hours. It’s quite sporadic and I don’t really have a set routine, I just work when I feel like it. It has its ups and downs. I find it really hard to force myself to work if I don’t want to—I end up feeling a bit drained—so a schedule for me is a bad idea!