Inside Neon Neon’s Random Rhythms

Neon Neon’s debut album, Stainless Style [Lex/Fontana], is a shameless homage to the radio-friendly synth-pop hits of the ’80s, but written as a pseudo-concept album that mirrors the tumultuous life and times of carmaker John DeLorean. Recording the lion’s share of the albums tracks in a home studio through a MOTU 828mkII into Logic 8, partners Bryon Hollon (a.k.a. Boom Bip) and Gruff Rhys’ relied on the strategy of integrating vintage instruments into a digital environment to get what Hollon calls “an album of really big pop songs inspired by the sounds of old Italian disco, early electro, and ’80s pop music.”
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Starting with an ARP 2600 and a Minimoog, Hollon creates the basis of the compositions, and imports the patterns into Logic, where he uses HyperDraw to “edit velocity and pitch bends in a way that is beyond what I can do with the modulation wheels on the synths I use. I’ll also apply envelopes that randomly and indiscriminately manipulate the sounds I input in Native Instruments’ Battery 3. It gets crazy. You can route this thing called ‘Random Bipolar’ to the tuning to randomly change pitch within a single cell. With drum sounds in Battery 3, I can add effects to individual cells, so that my ‘kit’ is behaving more like how a waveform is treated within a synth, and I can assign multiple drum cells to the multiple outputs of the 828mkII. Then, I can put different effects on different elements of the ‘kit’—which really lets me tweak the drum sounds I get from my Elektron Monomachine or my crappy old Casios.”

A good example of this practice, Hollon says, is on “Told Her On Alderaan.” Running Roland V-Drums into Battery, Hollon randomly changed the velocities of the hits.

“I didn’t want to quantize anything,” he explains. “I wanted to do the exact opposite. Listening to the track now, I know that ‘proper drumming’ would have ruined the song.”