JJ and Technology
Mike Edwards is of an uncomon breed; a songwriter steeped in the tradition of rock and pop formalities with an appetite for the graft of a studio boffin. As JJ's sole songwriter he has taken his vision of rock music, fuelled by dance beats and samples, to the top of the charts, on both sides of the Atlantic.
"The idea of fame got me started." he confesses. From sitting in the bath and picking out the opening notes to the Sex Pistols Pretty Vacant in the late 70's, right up until the time his life changed in 1988, Mike relied on the guitar for making music. His Rubicon came in the shape of a Linn drum machine. "We got a drum machine from Renegade Soundwave." he remembers. "The first time I linked those two machines together - I started one evening and was still sampling things as the sun came up the following day - I thught it was the most incredible thing I had ever done."
"I was very impressed by The Shamen. I thought "This is the way it should be." They seemed to blend everything so well. They had a great bass-drum sound which I wrongly assumed to be sampled."
Until they signed to Food Records at the end of the year, the samples were reproduced using a Tascam Portastudio 144, with a track of time code on it, nervously synced up to the Linn drum machine. "The Portastudio didn't have a dedicated sync track and the Linn wasn't particularly good at linking up either, so there were quite a lot of long pauses between songs in those days." laughs Mike.
In the studio, the sampling delay pedal was put through its paces. For the demo of Info Freako, all the samples, the drum loops, were hand-triggered.
With an advance of 3000 pounds, from Food Records for a two single deal burning holes in their pockets, JJ invested in a Roland D-10 and an Akai S950.
It took some time for the band to realise the full potential of the equipment they had. Samples on the debut LP, Liquidizer were mostly hand triggered - the trusty old Linn drum machine was used as a very basic sequencer with each tom triggering a different note of bassline.
The first sequencers the band used were Akai ASQ 10s. "They were very good," Mike remembers. "The ASQs had an enormous amount of memory and were very flexible. You could store up to 99 sequences in them and they were all readily available." Mike continues.
In the 93 live setup, the Roland Sound Brush is taking care of sequencing duties. "It's ultra-reliable, but lacks versatility."
The ASQ 10s remained the band sequencing tools right through the second album and the following tour. It wasn't until they came to record Perverse that they started using Steinbergs Cubase, and Mike wanted to be able to use the disks that Livesey had put together for remixes and rejigging the live material. "It was a godsend." he remembers. "I've done remixes and albums now, and only used half the program."
Until the advent of the highly anticipated Roland JD-800, the JJ synth collection comprised a W-30 workstation, the D-10 and Juno-60.
"As a guitarist", he says, "the last thing you want are little screens that tell you there's a sine wave there. You want something physical that you can whizz around. The JD-800 is a very flexible machine which you can get a lot of interesting sounds out of. It made synthesis as interesting as sampling for me."
The JD was soon augmented by the arrival of a Super JD, the rackmounted JD-990. "Thats great too," says Mike, "Because I was already familiar with the 800, I found it fairly easy to use. The sounds from the 800 are stored on to a card which the 990 can read."
A ddrumAT kit, is another recent purchase. "There are 63 kits in the brain," explains Gen, "but they tend to be a bit rock and jazz orientated. We're using it to trigger samples and play other drum machines. On Doubt I played a Simmons kit and found it very uncomfortable."
In addition to the sophisticated triggering system that enables Gen to access samples and other sound sources, Mike has discovered the Roland GR-1 guitar MIDI controller. "The GR-1 has resolved a lot of problems," he says. "You can have much more restraint with keyboards and samplers. There are only so many guitar sounds, and I'm sure we'll add some to the new material, but there are so many subtle things you can do with a MIDI-linked guitar. I used a GR-50 before and that was a bit tricky but the GR-1 is about 90% there. For live, that is good enough."
Future Music 6/97