Darkstep Tutorial Day 2: A Neurofunk Bass, Resonant Bass, Sub Bass + Sidechaining
Hi, I’m Dave from boyinaband.com and welcome to Day 2 of the 7 day song on Darkstep Drum and Bass. Yesterday, I taught you how to make a sweet breakbeat to start our track. Today, I’ll be teaching you how to make a disgusting Neurofunk Bass to accompany said beat, another bass to add some variety, a simple sub bass and also how to apply a useful technique called “sidechaining” to the bass so the low end of the mix doesn’t get too messy!
Okay! Let’s start with the disgusting bass.
I warn you now, it took me a LOT of playing around to come up with this patch and it involves loads of devices, but if you like basses that are audibly remeniscent of trying to fit a bulldozer inside a cat then stick it out ’til the end, since each stage makes a huge amount of difference to the sound! By the way, my apologies in advance – I don’t usually big up my own synths much, but this one is frickin’ awesome, so I’m probably going to don the ego I usually reserve for writing rap lyrics during this tutorial.
We’ll start with a combinator called “Bleurgh” to describe what will happen to the listeners of this patch. That’s B-l-e-u-r-g-h. Bleurgh. Create a line 6:2 mixer, then an instance of our trusty friend Thor. Initialize it and open it up.
I’ll just put in some notes now. I’ll talk more about these later.
Okay, so I’ve put in some notes to work with. Back in Thor, turn it to mono legato so only one note can play at a time, then turn the sustain on the amp envelope to full so it doesn’t lose volume over time. Turn the portamento to 40 so it slides between the notes slowly – this bass is a sluggish and ugly beast, but it’ll be seriously powerful. Kind of like an end of level boss on a House of the Dead game.
Now, make two analog oscillators and a multi oscillator. The take them all down 2 octaves, since this is a bass patch. Leave the first analog osc on sawtooth, for the punchy grit of the sound, the second change to pulse wave with a PW of about 24, making a slightly hollower tone to accompany the gritty saw. Lastly, set the multi osc to square wave, interval detune mode since that mode keeps the note of the bass more noticeable even when considerably detuned, and turn the amount to 50. This will be the wide, thick part of the tone.
Next, run them all through into a low pass filter. This will remove some high end and focus the sound a bit more. Turn the env to 0 so the envelope doesn’t affect it at all and the frequency to 7khz to cut off the fizzy high end, but leave enough top so it’s got something to distort later.
Then it goes into the shaper. Turn it on and turn it to “wrap” mode – this has a really dirty distortion to it, turn it to a drive of 51 to really push it.
Next, run it into filter 3 – a state variable filter. Turn it to notch mode and turn the env to 0. Notch mode cuts a small band of frequencies and as you move the frequency knob you can hear that cool effect coming through. We’ll be modulating this with an LFO in a second. Leave the Frequency at 100hz and let’s get to the modulation bus routing!
We’re going to do 3 things in here. Modulate the filter 3 frequency like I just mentioned, modulate the Filter 1 frequency to bring the high end in and out, and modulate the multi oscillator detune to turn it into a noisy mess on a regular basis, which is, I’m assuming, what you’re here for.
Let’s start with that noisy mess. Turn LFO 1 to tempo sync so it’s in time with the song, rate of 2/4 so it’s a frequent modulation, then in the MBR (Modulation bus routing) section, route source LFO 1 to Destination Oscillator 3 detune amount by about 60. Listen to the sound now – nice and…uh… nasty.
Now for the other filters, set LFO 2 up much the same, but with the rate at 4/4, then route LFO 2 to Filter 1 frequency and filter 3 frequency, by 80 and -50 respectively.
Listen to the sound modulating now – much more interesting to listen to.
Now we’re going to dirty it up a bit – create a scream 4 distortion unit. Just use the default settings with a tiny bit less damage control and a tiny bit less mid. Turns it from a dirty little synth to a distorted machine of death! At least I like to think so.
However, if you listen, there’s a large amount of fizziness added to the tone as a result, so let’s notch it out with an EQ – remember the technique from day 1? Find the band of frequencies and then remove it completely. It’s about 2.8khz in this case – convenient, really, since that leaves room in the mix for the click of the kick drum, which you may remember was 2.8khz!
Now we’re going to do something that guitarists might be familiar with if they’ve recorded much – double tracking. Well, we can’t really do authentic double tracking, but we’re going to copy the three devices we’ve just made, change them slightly, then run them into another channel on the mixer. We’re then going to pan them slightly right and left, to widen the sound a bit. The minute differences are the important bit, as these will give the sound more stereo space. We’ll mono-ify the low end later, but this will make the high end much wider and more interesting.
So, duplicate the devices and route them into channel 2. On the cloned thor instance, we’re going to abide by the law of opposites – take the osc3 detune amount to -50, the Filter 1 freq to -40 and filt3 freq to 85. This will make the sound move between the two speakers as it modulates! Since it’s not exactly opposite to the first instance of thor, though, it’ll be more interesting and a bit dirtier to listen to.
We’re also going to take P1 down a bit on the scream 4 unit to change the tone slightly. This also changes the fizz in the sound, so move the freq in the eq down to about 1.7khz to compensate.
Okay, now there’s quite a lot to do to turn this into the hulking monolith it has the potential to be, so I’ll move fast, but try to explain what I’m doing as I go.
Route the mixer into an EQ. With this one, we’re going to remove the midrange around 500hz by 13dB with Q3.3 to get rid of the mud that’s sitting there and taking the focus away from our beautiful bass. We’re also going to notch out some fizz at 10khz – find this in the same way you found the previous fizzes and resonances in this 7 day song.
Next, make another EQ and move it above so the signal chain is obvious. We’re going to add a bit more crunch to the tone by removing 1.5khz by -16dB (default Q) and boosting slightly higher, 2khz, by 10dB at a wider 1.7 Q. This focuses the tone around 2khz, where the distortion is particularly crunchy.
Next, let’s really unleash this monster. Create another scream 4 unit (You didn’t think we’d be using just one distortion unit when making this did you?) and turn it to scream mode. Damage control 35, P1 full, P2 1/4. Turn off cut and turn Body type to E, which is a nice powerful cab simulation, then turn resonance to 45 and auto to full – auto determines whether the size of the simulated cabinate changes depending on how loud it is. So imagine a speaker that grows in size when the bass grows in volume. A cool mental image to accompany a cool sound.
Now, add two stereo imagers. The first one take the x-over to 400hz and take the lo band to mono to tighten up the low end nicely. Widen the high end a bit if you want too, but I’ll leave it on mine. On the second one, take the x-over to fully anticlockwise, 100hz, then solo hi band. This will cut off everything below 100hz and leave plenty of room in the mix for the sub bass later.
Now, this is going to be the tone-shaper that will make it sound more professional – make a BV512 vocoder, set it to EQ mode and 16 band, then draw a wave that starts full at the low end, dips around band 7, goes back up by about band 14 to almost the top, then cut a little bit off the extreme high end again. Listen to the difference that makes to the tone. Sweet, huh?
Lastly, run the whole thing through a compressor with lowest attack, -32 threshold and just over 4:1 – this won’t sound like it’s doing much yet, but wait ’til part 3 to see what this is for! And there, that’s the disgusting darkstep bass! Quite complicated, but just have a play with those settings I adjusted earlier and you’ll be able to modify this monster into something you’re really happy with!
Before I move on to the next bass, I’ll have a quick chat at you about the notes. The riff starts off the root note of F#, on the E – this immediately throws the listener and adds to the unusual syncopation, since they expect it to land on the root note at the start of the bar.
As with a lot of darkstep, it revolves around the minor key and is making use of semitones – this F# to G section comes up a lot, and at the end of the loop this little fill uses a chromatic technique just going down the notes with no regard for harmony or consonance whatsoever – what a rebel.
It’s also going up to the high notes quite often to make the most of that portamento – in technical music theory terms the high notes make it sound frickin’ cool as hell. They’re just going up to the octave above what is already playing, so it’s very simple, but it’s nice and catchy as a result.
Another thing to note – the notes are always playing and quite long. Darkstep doesn’t tend to have fiddy, complex basslines too often with regards to notes – the complex part comes from the filter modulation. I’ll be discussing this later on in the 7 day song.
Phew! That was a mission and a half! Let’s take a quick breather, then join me in part 2 where I’ll be going over a much simpler but still seriously cool resonant bass synth patch!
Alrighty! Time for Bass number 2!
Create a combinator, name it “Rez Bass” and make a thor instance inside it. Initialize it, then open it up.
I’ll just put in the simple notes we’ll be using on this bass.
Now the notes are in there, I’ll make 3 oscillators – one analog and two multi osc. Put all 3 on pulse wave and detune the multi oscs a bit, one on random and one on interval for a bit of variety. The multi oscillators are not going that prominent, they’ll just add a tiny bit of thickness to the sound.
Take all 3 oscs down 2 octaves, then run them through.
Next, turn the sustain to full so it doesn’t lose volume over time, and then it’s time to play with the filter! take the frequency to 3khz and resonance to half. Now, let’s use the envelope to alter how the sound moves over time.
Take the env to just over half so it’s effected a considerable amount. Now, in the filter envelope, change the attack to 0, decay to 450ms. This isn’t quite as noticeable as it will be on the next filter we’ll add.
Just before we get to that filter though, run it through the shaper on wrap mode with full drive to considerably boost the volume and give it a thicker tone.
I don’t think I’ve explained how to route a synth into filter 2 yet in a tutorial, so I’ll do that this time instead of going to filter 3. Hit the left arrow underneath the shaper and turn on the right arrow coming out of filter 2 to add it into the signal chain.
Now, change it to a “Formant Filter”. You can make all kinds of crazy vocal sounds with it, but we’ll be making a deep, dark sound by taking the gender to 0, the x to 25 and the y to 0. Then turn the env to just over a half. What a tone, eh?
Lastly, add some chorus set more towards dry, about a quarter, to widen the tone a bit.
So now it’s sounding suitably evil, it’s time to remove the hiss and resonance to focus the tone more.
Make two EQs. One the first one, use both params to notch out that really loud resonance around 2.5khz – by using both, it’ll completely take it out of the sound since that’s -36dB we’ve applied! It was so loud that it needed that much to remove it.
Anyway, in the second EQ, let’s do some more tone changes – cut the high pitched resonance at 13.5khz with a Q of 23, then boost around 250hz by full with a Q of 3. This is not exactly subtle equalizing, but I’ve found these large changes are the best way to completely change a tone.
Now, how much cooler does that sound?
Last thing we’ll do is make it punch. Add a compressor, turn the input gain up to 10dB, threshold down to -25 and the ratio to just over 16:1, so it’s pretty much limiting the sound but with a short attack to let it punch hard. Listen to the difference with and without it. Definitely punchier.
Now, those notes don’t really take much explanation – as I said in part 1, semitones make things sound dark and evil, and this is just two of the root note then the semitone above, all just hit on the beat, except it starts just after the first beat, throwing the listener a bit. It’s just a catchy, cool little addition to the track that adds another simple hook for people to latch on to.
Now, join me for part 3 where I’ll make the quick sub bass and then teach you a useful technique to tidy up the low end of the mix between the kick and the bass!
Okay, this shouldn’t be long but it should be useful!
First, make that sub. Let’s try and break the speed record for it – combinator, called sub, I’ll copy the notes from the other bass, make thor, initialize it, open it, sine wave, remove filter, sustain to full, set to mono legato, then a cool trick I discovered – make a stereo imager, take the x-over freq to 100hz and solo lo band – this cuts off any frequencies that will interfere with the other bass synths!
Phew! I think that was about 30 seconds. I’ll treat myself to a white chocolate chip cookie later, since I can’t stand regular chocolate. See what I did there? I introduced something personal into the tutorial to make my viewers see me as a human and not just a disembodied British voice, increasing my viewer trust levels! So now you’ll learn more effectively since you know that cocoa beans make me physically sick.
But yes, enough psycho-analysis, this isn’t Drum and… Freud, it’s Drum and Bass. As such, the Bass is vitally important to get right. Sometimes in the mix it can be difficult to separate the bass synth and the kick. I’m going to show you one technique to help with that. It’s called sidechaining.
If you’ve watched the electro house 7 day song, or listened to popular music in the last 10 years, you might know this already – sidechaining is that technique used on basses to make them pump, by reducing the volume every time the kick drum is hit.
It’s accomplished by running the synth you want to duck under the kick drum through a compressor. Then, run the kick drum into the side-chain input on that compressor. With a suitable threshold, this will make the synth duck in volume. We’ll be doing something like this, but it’ll be so quick you’ll barely notice it happening, except for the fact that the low end of the mix will sound clearer.
So! Move up to the epic bass we made earlier. This compressor at the top is what we’ll use for the sidechainery. Now, in the Beat up the top, hit tab to look at the back and let’s do some routing. In the spider merger and splitter, we’re going to take the output that goes into the eq into the input on the splitter. Now, one of the splitter outputs will go back to that eq, but the other one will go to the side chain input on the bass.
If you look at the combinators, you’ll see it now says “External routing”. This is useful to note, since if you save either of these patches, the external routing will not be saved.
Anyway, watch the side chain compression bar on the compressor as I play the beat and change the ratio. the higher it is, the more compression happens.
Now, adjust the release until it’s just ducking down quickly when the kick drum hits. There – instant cleaner low end!
So we’ve made a neurofunk bass dirtier than Jabba the hut’s armpit, a resonant bass more evil sounding than an Englishman in a moustache and a cape, and a sub bass more simple than anyone who thinks the mormon religion is feasible after hearing how it began.
tune in tomorrow for day 3, where I’ll be introducing a cool gated lead, as well as a sweet, swooshy pad! Until then, play around with your new bass and make something that sounds like it showers in a sewer. Later, guys!