April saw the release of one of this year’s best synthwave releases in Fatal Friction’s Faster Than Lightning. It was fun, fast paced, and contained hit after hit. What better way to celebrate that fantastic album than to talk to the man behind the music? Go ahead and head over to Bandcamp and get the album going because you’re going to need a soundtrack for our conversation. By the time we’re done I’m pretty sure you’ll be as convinced as me…this guy knows what he’s doing!
For anyone hearing you for the first time, who is Fatal Friction?
He’s me. I’m fatal friction. I make Synthwave, sometimes it’s dreamy, sometimes it’s dark and grimy.
Your new album, Faster than Lightning, is absolutely fantastic. Now that it’s out, how do you feel about the finished product?
Cheers, glad you like it! I’m very happy how this album turned out. I always like to have little variations between each album in style, although I try to to keep things coherent on an album by album basis. I didn’t have a direction for the album when I started out, in fact U-turn was the first track on it I wrote, and then the rest of the tracks came round through experimentation. These are some of my fave tracks I’ve ever written. Also I’m pleased because I’ve got a good balance of different styles here without going too far from a coherent whole, if that makes sense, that is usually what I’m aiming for with the albums I do.
What do you use to record such a polished sound?
I appreciate the compliment! There’s not really a short way to answer that question. Ok so, a lot of people have their own ways of doing things and there’s no right or wrong way to go about it, so some of what i say here is going to be obvious to some.
In my opinion it’s not the gear it’s the technique or rather how well you know the technique. Executing 10 techniques really well is better than executing 100 techniques just ok, if you know what I mean?
Having said that, gelling things together is really important. One simple thing you can do to increase gelling is picking only one or two reverbs per track, usually by the same developer as then the similar algorithms seem to work more in tandem. Also the same with Vst instruments, I don’t know why but sometimes I find when using plugins by the same developers that things can gel together a bit easier.
Also I like to give every sound its own space, I think in a couple of different ways composition wise, as if I’m writing for a band, or an orchestra, or something in between. I don’t listen to a lot of classical music but you know Beethoven was able to compose well enough that all the instruments had there own space but without relying on EQ, even though they probably EQ the orchestras when they record them now innit?
If you don’t have two instruments playing in the same register at the same time EQing is a whole lot easier.
Every effect needs to have a reason to be there, if it reduces the character too much of the sound I take it out.
Also I make a decision before applying effects to all the sounds in a track, do I want to replicate a real space or an artificial one? Little rules like this make things a lot easier.
Ok, but to be more specific about gear, I’ve mainly used bitwig although redwine disco I recall was made mostly in FL studio. I try to be quite subtle with processing except for drums and sometimes bass when I’m trying to get it to stay inside a certain volume range. It varies over time but recently I really like spire, zebra, predator, and I’m a sucker for waves plugins.
I do use synth presets but I tweak them so each part will compliment each other, and i often will take off the delay and reverb so I can use the same reverb plugin on all the tracks, sometimes it’s just a case of having more control over the reverb, I think it’s important to find a reverb and synths which you really like personally as your are the one who is going to hear it the most.
Although sometimes I use a lot of parts, I try to keep things simple and straight to the point, mixing becomes more complicated with more stuff going on. Sometimes I use hardware too, though most of the time when the idea hits me it’s just handier to put it down in the box. For example on the track “Beautiful Dune” I used the Juno alpha, that turned out really well but on that occasion I had the track going in the box and the timbre just wasn’t how I wanted it to be, so my first thought was to try the juno alpha.
I have a couple of other pieces of kit but there’s just something really nice about the juno, I like the sound of it more than the mopho I have and its polyphonic. Also I like it more than the volca keys which is odd because the volca is probably the easier to program.
You’ve been at this for a little while. What got you into synthwave?
It’s kinda convoluted and there were many long term things going on and some short term things that led me to start a synthwave project, I was going to make a blog about this but I’ll give you the skinny here first.
I started out djing in 1998 and got a computer 2 years later so I could make music for my dj sets as cdjs were starting to become more of a regular thing. More than a decade ago I started to experiment with more retro sounds, things that I felt I could never really work into my dj sets. At that time my retro-futuristic influences would have included Chromeo, Goldfrapp, Soulwax, Prins Thomas, Daftpunk, Justice, Eric Prydz and to some extent “the Mighty Boosh”. If you haven’t heard of “The Mighty Boosh”, it’s a comedy series involving crazy retro songs, I highly recommend it.
I wanted to make music that could be easy to listen to and also easy to dance to and at the same time in the house and techno scene I was in there was a lot of snobbery towards melodic music so this created a bit of an artistic dilemma for me as i was really finding melody and harmony doing something really awesome for me.
As I was teaching myself music theory I wanted to incorporate it more into my music writing so I guess you could say music theory was part of the evolution of my musical style too as it made the music I was making not fit into my dj sets and just to exist in its own little incubator, if you like, not seeing the light of day until it could find its place.
I also got really into retro drum machine sounds and hardware so that had an affect too. So the retro thing started off as a side project because although I was having some traction with making tech-house I was getting dead bored of it, listening to people dj it and sometimes even when I was making it. So I was making this retro electro music and had no idea there was a scene for it, though I figured there was a community somewhere online who might be looking for music like Kavinsky. I had listened to “Outrun” and could not figure out if it was part of some scene. I think it was probably a chance encounter watching Nero77’s videos that resulted in hearing Timecop and then a few months later i ended up binging on Timecop and after reading the comments it dawned on me that there was some kind of community around “synthwave”.
This was great because now it meant that my retro music could have a home and I could describe it in a way that people would understand what it was more easily. And this also meant that there was a lot more room to really go HAM with the melodies than in other genres of music.
Where do you see the genre headed?
Nobody can see into the future, unless they have a Delorean, so I guess you should ask FM 84.
Seriously though, the scene has existed for a quite few years so i think the scene will keep going as the community is very strong. I think that’s the key thing about synthwave, the community around it. Without it we’d just be a bunch of anoraks making weird retro music with no one to play it to, basically me before I figured out synthwave existed as a genre.
It seems like that it might cross over but it seems to me with most of these popular producers they never stick to doing one thing for long. So while it might be irksome I think the people who really care about the genre are going to stick to their guns and hopefully the big names doing it might bring new folks into the scene, so I can’t see any major negatives to it, but only time will tell.
When you aren’t recording, what do you do for fun?
I try to spend as much time making music as possible, but when I need to put the brakes on I play games, most recently Dawn Of War 2. Although I always feel guilty after playing because I feel like I should have been making music, but you know, I think you gotta play a little bit of games sometimes! Am I right?
Who are some artists that you really enjoy?
Com Truise, Justice, Magic Sword, Timecop, Carpenter Brut, Raydar, who I feel is quite underrated and not really talked about all that much, Sebastian. Oh and sometimes Boards of Canada, and occasionally Deadmau5 or Eric Prydz.
Godzilla or King Kong?
Godzilla hands down, King Kong just never really had much depth to it, Godzilla’s got all these different enemies to battle, and you know fire breath and stuff.
Do you plan on doing any physical releases in the future?
Yes, it’s something I’d like to do from the ground up though, you know, really plan everything out, make sure I know what I’m doing, that all the tracks fit on the media in a nice way but still being coherent as always.
Speaking of the future, what’s on the horizon for you?
I’m working on the next release at the moment. I was toying with the idea of doing a mini album where all the sounds are entirely from the EMX-1 but this may take a while, so I’m also working on a album seperate to this which I have a handful of sketches for, which need taking care of. There are a couple of things I’m toying with but it’s too early to say that these are going to turn into something tangible, so I’m just going to say, follow me on twitter if you haven’t already because if and when these things come together it will be quite interesting and you won’t want to miss them.
Is there anyone you’d like to thank or shout out?
Well obviously Echosynthetic, Synthetix Sundays for supporting my releases, also the folks on YouTube like Luigi Donatello, Wave TV, 80’s Emperor, RetroSynth and Kurdtbada. Everyone on twitter who’s sharing my stuff, hat tip to you. Also a big thank you to my very early supporters who gave me a lot of confidence and gave me a lot of support to keep on going in the early stages. Also a big shout out to Bandcamp for providing me with a excellent platform and all the Bandcamp users who are putting up their hard earned cash to support my music, you guys are the best!