With the proliferation of cheap, easy-to-use software, just about anyone can be an electronic-music producer. Although a good percentage of bedroom electronic music is probably too much for even your dog to take, there are some well-known electronic acts that operate with little more than a laptop. Utilizing this less-is-more approach is UK hip-hop, pop and house act Audio Bullys.
Emerging from the UK around the same time as Mike Skinner's comparable project, The Streets, Audio Bullys (aka Simon Franks and Tom Dinsdale) stormed out of the gate with Ego War (Astralwerks, 2003). Whereas Skinner's CD had a boyish charm, Audio Bullys' effort came across more like an act that would kick your ass just for looking at it the wrong way. With influences like Method Man and Biggie Smalls, the music had a slight touch of south-central London attitude. But even though not so apparent on Ego War, Franks and Dinsdale do have a softer side and will name-check artists like Bob Dylan and Blondie as major influences, as well. Both sides are mashed together on Audio Bullys' latest, Generation (Astralwerks, 2005).
Thanks to the bootleg sensation “Shot You Down” (originally produced under the Audio Bootys moniker), Generation garnered some huge buzz months before it was set for release. Essentially a collage of house and breaks that features a sample of Nancy Sinatra's “Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down),” the track is nothing short of addictive. And it's classic Audio Bullys not only because it has a cheeky sensibility but also because it is simple and even flawed.
Armed with Digidesign Pro Tools, Apple Logic Pro 7 and a Korg microKorg synthesizer as the sole production tools, Franks and Dinsdale spent an entire year working on Generation. “Shot You Down” was a bootleg track they had talked about making for quite some time, and it finally saw the light of day when they needed a break from the album. “This was a bootleg and a really quick tune,” Dinsdale says. “We basically put a sample in the computer and didn't even bother to time-stretch it. Simon found three notes in the vocal, and I recorded them. Then, I stole a beat from somewhere and put a snare on it and cut up the vocal so it carried on the rhythm.” With a keen production ear, one might even notice a few mistakes in the track. “A little bass line pops off on top of a drop, which is actually a mistake,” Dinsdale admits. “We just threw the track down quickly. I mean, you can fiddle with a tune for days, but if there is a little mistake in a song, it's no big deal. I actually liked it, fucked up and all!”
To add some magic to Generation, Audio Bullys brought in a secret weapon: longtime Chemical Brothers engineer Steve Dubb. Dubb implemented feedback tricks to make things sound even dirtier. “A lot of material would be sent out through an Ampeg guitar amp, but we would also have the amp feeding back on itself from the desk,” Dubb says. “When you set the threshold of the feedback right, it can sound really cool, and you can tune the feedback notes to the track. As a result, you'll get the drums triggering these sick noises, which can be really interesting as a texture to use in the mix. One track we didn't end up finishing was started by the microphone feeding back through massive distortion and the door being opened and closed and banged on varying amounts to create different notes and sounds. We then chopped it all up in audio to create something cool.”
Franks and Dinsdale aren't studio whizzes and don't have fancy gear, but they have a great ability to write catchy pop songs with grit. The “we don't care” attitude is not a façade and is what makes the Audio Bullys sound real. The duo should also be looked at as proof positive that it's not necessary to have the hottest gear or the most updated software to make quality, cutting-edge music. The real key to producing music often lies with what's upstairs and in the heart.