By Justin Kleinfeld
Black City, the latest offering from Brooklyn-byway- of-Detroit-and-Austin-based DJ/producer Matthew Dear, picks up where his previous CD, Asa Breed, left off. As the title implies, it’s a dark affair, with production built on traditional song structures, Dear’s vocals, and ’80s synthpop influences.
Dear created Black City in his home studio, using a roughly 60/40 split of digital and analog gear, including Korg Poly 6 and MS-20 synths, effects such as the Roland Chorus Echo RE-501 (it adds great warmth to the tracks, he says) and Eventide H8000, and Ohmforce, Audio Damage, PSP Audioware, and Native Instruments Komplete 6 plug-ins. Sampling played a big role in production; Dear often traveled around looking for new and unique sounds, which he captured using Native Instruments’ Kontakt sampler. “I like to take a little recorder and set it up in a hotel room while hanging with friends on tour, or sometimes I’ll record in the subways here in New York City,” Dear explains. “Some sounds that made it on to the CD include my dog snoring and my wife crunching on tortilla chips; on the track ‘I Can’t Feel,’ there’s a weird breakdown where there’s one loud crunch,” he says, laughing. “The Kontakt sampler is a beast, and you can always get so many sounds out of it; especially atonal instrument sounds. Sometimes I’ll use my own voice and build instruments right off of it, and I always rely on happy accidents for sounds that I don’t plan.”
Although Black City leans heavily on Dear’s vocals, he admits to not being able to sing very well and he relies on a series of processes and quality microphones (Coles 4038 stereo matched pair and a Korby KAT67) to make his voice work in the context of the record: “I’ve been under the impression that you can work with your imperfections and create a unique sound personalized to you,” says Dear. “What I come up with lyrically is rhythmic, and I like to sing within the music rather than on top of it, as it’s like an instrument in itself. Then, I make my voice sound good by using spatial effects and a bit of panning with overdubs. I do three takes: low baritone, middle, and falsetto which sound bad but I sweeten them up with equalization and reverbs. I think you need to find a sweet spot within your own voice by experimenting hours and hours on end,” he says. “Phil Collins is a good example of someone who defined his sound with effects. He’s not the most gifted vocalist, but he’s recognizable with that short delay which gives a choral, synthetic effect.”