Photo: Pete Ambrose
Nothing comes easy, and there are no lucky accidents for the members of Brighton, UK, outfit South Central. Every buzz-edged guitar, rough-hewn drum and twisted synth is executed according to a preconceived plan. If some configuration of the gear they have on hand isn't up to the task of producing a noise they need, then they'll spend the time to build something that will.
South Central exists simultaneously as a DJ/laptop duo (Keith and Rob) and as a five-member band (whose members fluctuate), where each plays a role in the studio, which is where they've been spending a lot of time since their bootleg remix of The Klaxons' “The Bouncer” made people take notice. The group's Owl of Minerva release collects some of its vinyl-only offerings from the past two years, and the band is just now turning its attention toward that proper debut LP.
Keith's meticulous attention to detail is a self-described “infection,” and he's long had a habit of disassembling electronics to learn their inner workings. He applies that knowledge to working precision performances from the guitars, bass, drums and synths. Everything is worked through a labyrinth of pedals, including several Moogerfoogers; an Electro-Harmonix Bass Micro Synthesizer, a HOG synth and an Electric Mistress flanger; and the Boss PS-3 pitch shifter/delay.
“Most of the time I get it and sometimes I don't, but it's not trial and error,” Keith says. “I have a goal, and I do the best I can to get the sound I want.” Sometimes that means running the guitars through amps with Lundahl transformers “because they sound wicked”; other times, it calls for the personal touch that can only come from a homemade compressor, whether it's officially finished or not. The band uses a vocoder from time to time and gets less-common vocal effects running things through custom-modified screamer pedals.
Working out the band's cover version of Josh Wink's towering classic “Higher State of Consciousness” was one of the band's biggest challenges. Keith says that they did the song out of a desire to “put it in a live environment and see how the crowd reacts.” They “went through hell” mirroring the iconic runaway acid lead until Keith felt comfortable taking it onstage. While he'd have preferred a Roland TB-303 for the task, he finds analog gear to be environmentally sensitive for stage use, and after many attempts he now uses a Novation BassStation keyboard with distortion from the Camel Audio CamelPhat VST plug-in to lock in the sound.
His focus on making things sound just right extends to the live show, where the equipment they use changes and sounds that can't be precisely mimicked get triggered as samples. “It wasn't a quick process for us to get live,” Keith says, noting how the wireless MIDI setup required for the arpeggiated guitars on some of their newest tracks can be especially tricky. But just as the band has learned to improvise onstage, if a part of the rig isn't working, they're growing more relaxed adapting and discovering in the studio.
Keith says he's “experimenting with flange and getting some interesting sounds” while at work on his first homemade keyboard, “a keytar, and it's gonna be just a MIDI controller for our live shows,” Keith describes. “I am cannibalizing a PCM300, taking some stuff off the daughterboards that we don't need like loads of faders and knobs and mainly use the main board to program controllers. I am going for a ribbon pitch-bend controller since I think it's the best to control pitch in a live environment.”
Getting things working just right doesn't always require breaking out the soldering iron. When Keith wants to add a distorted highpass filter to the quality midrange sounds of his Sequential Circuits Prophet-5, he hooks it to an Electrix Filter Factory or a Sherman Filterbank. Of course, that Filterbank has a few mods for extra harmonic distortion.
“It took us a long time to be confident to experiment to this level,” Keith says. “Obviously, when we're in the studio and have a piece of equipment and go wild on it, the public doesn't always like the strangeness we do, but the people seem to like it now.”