Substance 01_ Elements is a series for our dear fans and supporters who have followed us from the record shelves to the early hours of the morning in dark clubs, so who better for the first Substance interview than the instigator of all this? Label head Yossi Amoyal. We wanted to create an online space where this community could exist and grow and to do this we wanted to share special and inspiring thoughts and ideas with the people who have helped build the label. Here, Yossi gives a candid interview and takes you deep into what it takes to run a label, a studio and DJ than most platforms will allow. There are some real prize nuggets in here as well as Yossi’s thoughts on mixes, dub music, producing, and his plans for the future. That is what Elements is about, giving back to our community and we hope you feel this as much as we do.
Hey Yossi, so as we start all our interviews, how has the last 12 months been for you?
Well, not sure where to start… The lockdown in Berlin started just before our 15th-anniversary tour kicked off, we had some great showcases planed, we were all very excited about that and it was very upsetting to announce the cancellation.
However, the lockdown allowed me to spend even more time in the studio and with that, some new projects and ideas came up…
My compilation Fluere was supposed to come out to go with the tour celebrating our 15th anniversary but I decided to release that regardless… I was really proud when that came out at the end of 2020. I also began work on some other new albums that will soon be released on Sushitech and Pariter. We also started our new Elements series on Sushitech, away from the label I had some interesting mix engineering projects to work on and such so yeah overall it was a productive period.
What new perspectives have the pandemic given you on Berlin, on life?
I live in the outskirts of the city so I am very lucky that I don’t have to worry so much about contact with people and spreading the virus. Its less intense than the city so I feel it less.
I miss meeting with people face to face and tend now to work more online. The pandemic made me concentrate a lot more and focus more on things and what’s important, I feel I’ve been even more creative and productive. Saying that, I really can’t wait to play again and spend some time with my friends and the label artists, I’m quite a social person so I understood that even better during this time.
Without clubs, Berlin is a very different place… Tell us about what drew you to the city?
I moved in 2007 from London, London is still my second home. The scene there was limited and I wanted to meet people that I was working with regularly in person. Musically the city really grabbed my attention as well.
Berlin is a city that people are always passing through, they will stay for 2 or 3 weeks, you can get to know people more and it really gives a different feel to the artistic projects.
The city is unique and different from any other major city I know. It’s big but still very intimate and there is a lot of freedom to any art form, which I love.
The first casualty of the pandemic was the Fleure party at Renate with Raresh, tell us a little about why you wanted him to headline and what makes the Fleure parties at Renate so special.
I think It’s extremely important to have really good friends playing at our party and more of a family feel, not just to invite random guests. The label artists usually pack the venue out but we wanted to have a central focus. Raresh is a good mate of mine and the others on the label, Thomas Melchior, SIT etc. He plays a lot of our music and supports the label. It’s great to invite him to play. Each of the venue’s 3 rooms has a great sound system, they really improved that over the last couple of years. It’s a really tight sound and the DJ is really close to the crowd, I really like the vibe of our showcases at Wilde Renate and felt that Raresh would be a great guest to host on our 15th anniversary.
Despite this and not being able to connect directly with fans, what was able to inspire you musically recently?
I would say staying in touch with our followers online and listening to a lot of records, many of them are older and it was a great chance to reconnect with our entire collection again. In the past I’ve always been running forward, now I can appreciate getting deeper into why I love this. I’ve always been a great collector of vinyl and this is the core of how I started all that. So this Pandemic break really inspired me in that aspect.
Did you notice a change in records that were being sold?
Well, just as mentioned above, I felt that it could be a great opportunity to let our fans go back to our back catalog and check those incredible releases we worked on over the years. We obviously couldn’t have any showcases for our 15th anniversary so I decided to dig deeper into our back catalog together with our supporters. We reissued some key releases from our back catalog in small quantities… Delano Smith, Steve O’Sullivan, Mike Huckaby, SIT… mostly LPs.
Now that clubs are shut and people have even more time to dive deeper and listen to music, I feel that they appreciate more the levels of attention we give when designing an album. I always find it much more interesting working on LPs, balance the tracks, the listening experience. I love the classic approach, to pass a message and tell a story that’s why I also like to play longer dj sets and such.
Can you tell us about an album you really love that has really inspired you? Where and when was it made, why does the artist inspire you?
It's always good to go back to the more classic albums like Rhythm and Sound but I would listen to that anyway… I love the latest albums of Sault, Calibre, Lawrence… the list is long tbh.
The Rhythm and Sound albums are expertly engineered, Moritz and especially Mark were always big into sound design, up until this very day, from taking extra care about balance to engineering his new AM1 console. It’s inspiring.
See Mi Ya is a very basic formula, there’s a one groove track and the singers dub over it. It feels very raw as if it was done in a very short take but very right. It bridges the culture. Paul St Hilaire (Tikiman) gathered the singers together in the Dominican Republic where he is from. I take a lot of inspiration from this sound. The mixing is almost perfect, it's a pleasure to go back to. The sound engineering is very special, it's always being discussed on nerdy forums like Gearslutz and such which shows how badly people want to emulate the sound.
This sound is a huge part of me. However, there is a lot more than that, I’m not doing or playing just dub music as some people might think. On my new compilation Fluere I wanted to go out of the dub world and gather the other artists that inspired me over the years to have a nice contrast on that, singular people like Andrew Weatherall, whom you can never put in any type of box.
Tell us about a sound system that you would happily play on every week, why? What makes it special. Why don’t more clubs have this?
Well, I’m a studio person, I love sound design and I’m really into the quality and detailed engineering, people can confuse that with clean and polished sound but it has nothing to do with that. Anyone can use gear to make things sound raw and distorted. It just has to be controlled and with the right balance otherwise, it sounds to me like people are trying to fit parts together that don’t work.
The same perspective that I have is also reflected in clubs, I like close and dry sound. Fabric is a great example of that, the sound is tight and you have the feeling like you in a big well-treated studio, you can hear every detail.
In room 1 there are actually some studio devices such as the Focusrite Red compressor or EL and such. Those devices mostly used in studios for mixing and mastering and it just shows the unique approach they took in creating the sound system they have in that place.
I’m less of a ravey guy when it comes to sound, I like tight club sound like that or like in other great places such as Blitz in Munich or the black room at Renate, that’s actually not a rich room like Fabric but it sounds great!
I like the sound to be good the whole way across the dance floor, the sweet spot is large so the sound is consistent. I come from the studio world where you notice tracks with many subtle changes, those are the ones that really lock people in subconsciously. With a great system, these things can really make magic happen. The tracks we play are always very new and fresh, the sound system has to be really good for people to really get the true message of the tracks. DJs have to be delicate with the system or it sounds awful.
"I’m not doing or playing just dub music as some people might think. On my new compilation Fluere I wanted to go out of the dub world and gather the other artists that inspired me over the years to have a nice contrast on that, singular people like Andrew Weatherall, whom you can never put in any type of box"
You have released debut albums from Delano Smith, Makam and soon Steve O Sullivan. What makes a good debut album?
Yes indeed, over the years I had the chance to release a number of debut albums, I love the process of working on an album with the artist. Not many labels in our scene have a proper producer that stands behind the production and I’m glad to do it and be here for the artists. I’m writing music myself too so I know how difficult it is to step backward and criticize your own sound, see what works better and how to put it together. All that is basically the work of a good producer, like Nigel Godrich to Radiohead, Daniel Lanois, and such, it’s super important when you want to take things a lil’ further.
I would first say that you need a lot of trust between yourself and the artist, I will often ask the artists to change the tracks or manipulate them in a way that I think works better. Also during the mixing process, I will work on it myself if needed. There is no ego, we are all here for the same reason, having a really good production and something we love and want to put out so trust is an important factor here.
I always look to work with artists that are versatile and are open-minded. I like to take the listener on a journey rather than being static with one sound direction as well.
It’s usually a long process, it takes 8-24 months to come up with a solid album but the result is always satisfying and I love it! I just love putting out records I fully believe in.
What makes these specific projects special?
Well, above all it’s the excitement. We work for a very long time in the studio, sometimes a track comes up quickly and doesn’t even need editing, and sometimes we have 20 versions of the same track.
You don’t count those long working hours when you love it and do it with passion. I really like producing albums and extended EPs, I’m less into singles tbh. It’s cool and we all love it but I’m more interested in the journey and in telling a story.
How do you decide when it is right to release a debut album?
It all depends on the artists. When I think it's time and that we both have enough to offer and give to the project then I’ll usually come up with the concept and it goes from there.
Can you tell us about Steve O’Sullivan’s upcoming album? Why now?
Well, I still adore the projects we had with the Mosaic and Bluetrain retrospective packages. It was a lot of fun ripping and editing all those tracks out of the original DATs.
After that I wanted to do something all new with Steve, to show his new, evolved sound and what he is about now, we spoke about that many times and already he had a couple of tracks he recorded with friends.
I know Steve and his music extremely well and he always likes to do collabs so I came up with the idea of doing an album that is entirely collaborative.
We both liked the idea because we have many mutual friends we like to work with who could bring so many different flavours and interesting sounds to an LP. I really love the result, we worked a lot on this record and we are both super proud of it! He’s such an amazing producer, I think this project just shows how special and open-minded he is!
"Every track I have released since 2014 has gone through this studio. Sometimes there is minimal input, other times I add some colour, and sometimes I really try and manipulate the track. In 90% of the tracks we release, there are some changes but it's essential to keep the artist’s personality and vibe there"
You have also released some huge compilation albums, including the recent Fleure. What are the most difficult things about these releases and what is the most rewarding?
Our compilations mark a milestone on the label, we already released two landmark label compilations - Tessera and then Fluere was a very personal project that I dedicated to the label.
It takes years to put together such a project and I need to be prepared for it. It's always a narrative constructed by our label artists and then some friend guesting that makes it even more unique. Working with each of the artists and then listening to it altogether, testing tracks, tweaking them, mixing some, then pre-master, mastering… it all takes a very long time.
The end result is very satisfying after the long journey and it’s always a lot of fun listening to those releases again in retrospective. I love our compilations and they mark something special for us as a family, it’s also bringing us all together under one roof.
What is the difference between a finished track an artist sends and what is released?
Every track I have released since 2014 has gone through this studio. Sometimes there is minimal input, other times I add some colour, and sometimes I really try and manipulate the track. In 90% of the tracks we release, there are some changes but it's essential to keep the artist’s personality and vibe there. I want to keep the track true to a producer. I clean the track from unwanted noise and emphasize important sounds. I try and help the artist take the track forward. Sometimes it’s just a premaster that needed. When artists send me a track they trust my input, they have more confidence because they know I’m here for them. We are all here for the same reason, putting out great timeless music.
How does working with a bedroom setup differ from a studio? Which small tips can you give to make a room sound better?
Well, the biggest difference and also a best tip I can personally give is acoustics… the most important thing is that we really listen to what we are doing. For that, a proper acoustic room is essential, and also speakers that can play the full range from 20hz to 22khz, which is the range of human hearing. Well unless you are older or spent a lot of time in clubs, then you probably lose the upper range! We can also deal with and manipulate frequencies that out of our range but that’s another story…
It's obviously much sexier to buy a new synth rather than an acoustic panel but that's the very first thing to deal with than the speakers… it's actually better to get a less high-end speaker and to spend the money on acoustics. It's essential and the biggest difference between working in a properly designed studio and a bedroom.
You were a drummer, how does this help your understanding of rhythm?
I studied music from a very young age so I have to say that it’s something I learned to appreciate more and moreover over the years.
It was all just there for me so just like a fish that doesn’t know he swims in the water I learned to look from the outside later on.
I feel that it helps me a lot, not just with rhythms but with listening to music and putting things together, you obviously don’t need the playing skills when you do electronic music but the theory surely helps a lot. I do pay a lot of attention to the drums, the tuning, etc though. It’s just something I can’t ignore.
When you started building your studio in Berlin where did you start?
The first gear I bought here in Berlin… Avalon compressor and some really good converters. What was important was to take the sound of computer plug-ins, export them, process them in the analog equipment, and import them back to the computer. Rather than running after synths, I wanted to focus on the quality of sound to start with. My first synth in Germany was a DSI poly evolver which I bought in 2008. The first Tessera compilation came out in 2009, by that time I had really learned the synth. It featured on my track which was mixed by Chez Damier and I have been using it since then. You can go so deep with this synth it’s unbelievable.
The next step was to upgrade my monitors. I bought a pair of Adam S3X monitors that I like a lot and think relate perfectly to the club sound we know. I still have them too! I do my mixes and mastering on my higher-end towers, more precise speakers but I really love to produce on the Adams and in general, the S series is great!
I’m somehow always thinking 10 years ahead, looking about how I can build and progress, Berlin being Berlin at the time meant I could think bit by bit, it’s meant that whatever I wanted to add I could but it took time. Everything I earned from the label went back into the studio.
You come to the studio in the morning what’s the first machine you reach for?
The console is my instrument, I find out more about it every day. I love combining sounds to get something new. Whether it's mixing records in a club or in my studio.
Do you have certain reference tracks of how you want to sound? How do you keep sound consistent across an album?
None specific but I always have a reference track, when you listen to a track so much it's important to zoom out a little and have different sonic perspectives.
The flow-on albums is actually something extremely important, you need a consistent sound level, width, energy, etc. You don’t want to have huge transitions from one track to another so that's another thing to take care of when mixing a long play.
Do you listen to them before/after you start writing or you perhaps A/B them during the session?
I usually reference at the end, comparing the result.
Where do you listen to your final versions to test your mix?
Well, I have a very accoutre and flat sound in my studio to start with, I use 3 sets of monitors that I trust and know very well.
Then for noise and such I’ll use my studio headphones.
If I work on screen music for example I will also listen to it on my home cinema, just to get another perspective on the sound. I also love the sound in my car, so sometimes I will just listen to it there if I seek for another reference.
Those things are actually very important, its like looking on a paint from different angles.
It’s the eternal question, how do you know when a track is finished?
I know when I’m only making tiny tweaks then it finished, at some point, I will start to tweak in increments of 0.1db so I know its there haha
What are your go-to plug-ins when you processing sound ITB?
I really like the universal audio plug-ins which I use a lot, the Fairchild is very nice there, or the FET compressors.
My inbox work is more for utility though, cleaning, gates, deessing and such… I will then go to my console and mix/add colouration there.
What do you mean by colouring?
It’s basically to manipulate the sound by adding harmonics, saturation, and such. There are many different ways to add colouration.
I will usually add colouration using custom transformers, tubes, tape, and other electronics. They all add harmonics to the fundamental sound and will give more personality based on the direction you want to lead it.
The engineers don’t get enough credit for their work behind the scenes, who is your favourite engineer or producer, and why?
In the club scene it's mostly lower budget, people learn their strengths and weakness and improve on their own from release to another. I personally don’t usually do any work for other people away from the label in our scene for a number of reasons and I don’t mix all the tracks we release, it depends.
Tom Elmhurst - is a big inspiration, he’s a genius, his approach to creating depth is unique. He mixed Beck, Amy Winehouse, and such.
Tell us about your love of the Detroit sound?
It’s a city with such a great history, I was always attracted by the purity and groove that comes out from there.
Take all the Detroit House scene, for example, it’s mostly very raw, sampled-based music but the feel is just incredible.
The label has always worked with new and undiscovered talent. Why is this exciting and who are the new artists Sushitech is working with? Do you find it difficult to connect with new artists?
It’s very exciting to work with new artists and see them growing with the label, start from their first release until we play together on bigger stages here in Europe. I don’t find it difficult to connect with new artists, it’s something I actually really like.
The newest artist in our family is Soela, she just wrote 3 tracks together with Steve and they’re beautiful. She’s also a great DJ and I can’t wait to play with her on our upcoming showcases.
You are working on an album, can you tell us some of the thinking behind that?
After producing, mixing, and releasing many albums over the years I felt that it’s time to do something of my own and I really look forward to it. It will surely be connected to my dub influences and I have many ideas that I would like to express, including some interesting collabs.
How did you first get into dub? How has dub-influenced your music and those of other artists you respect?
Well, it was always around to be honest, it always grabbed my attention. I lived in Camden for a couple of years and there were so much roots, dub, and reggae around back then... When I then moved to Berlin, about 14 years ago, all the connections between dub and techno became stronger and it was really something I liked to explore deeper, until this very day.
Current favourite piece of gear?
Mmm… for production I love my Moog Matriarch, its a special synth, it's semi-modular, it can play multi timber chords and the arpeggiator is incredible, it's warm. Moog creates their instruments to be more than a studio piece, you can feel this when you use them.
What’s on your master buss at the moment?
It’s usually the sound of my console which is the Neve / Thermionic Culture I designed over the years and then I’ll play with some analog saturation units and some other tube compression such as the classic Altec.
What kind of convertors do you use?
My multi converter has always been Apogee, I work with the Symphony I/O MKII for many years and I like it a lot. For stereo conversion I use RND.
Your favourite Plug In EQ?
That will probably be the classic SSL channel strip.
Your go-to bass synth?
Your go-to compressor for Strings?
Probably the Retro 176, I like how it moves with sustained sounds.
Your favourite drum compressor at the moment?
I have a quite complicated chain for the drums but I would say the Manley when it comes to compression. That sound is all over Steve’s new album.
And final question.. which artists would you love to work with in the future?
That’s a difficult one but I would say 3D :)
Interview by Sushitech events manager and writer Ben Start.