Breach talks house production, studio gear and the origins of Jack
11th Oct 2013 | 14:59
Westbeech on relocating to Amsterdam, his studio setup and more
British producer Ben Westbeech (aka Breach) has had something of a big year, largely thanks to the sleeper success of his ubiquitous dancefloor hit Jack. But while summer 2013 may have introduced his work to a wider audience, that one track is just the tip of the iceberg in the career of one of the UK's most talented and well-rounded house musicians.
Between his dancefloor-focused singles, collaborations and remixes as Breach, and his more eclectic work under his birth name, the classically-trained musician, singer and DJ has proved he has numerous strings to his production bow.
Last time we caught-up with Westbeech was back in 2012, when we took a look around his London-based studio. Since then, alongside hitting the UK Top 10, he's relocated to Amsterdam and is in the process of setting up a new studio.
With a new single, Everything You Never Had, due for release next month, and several remixes in the pipeline, it seemed like the ideal time for a catch-up and a chat about making house...
Are we right in thinking you've relocated to Amsterdam recently?
Westbeech: "Yeah, I moved over six months or so ago, basically just to get some new inspiration and a new energy. I wanted to be inspired by a new city and new people and DJs. It was just to get a new perspective on things really."
So what's your studio set-up like over there? Is it similar to the last time we saw you in London?
"I'm actually just about to move into a brand new studio on Monday, which I'm really excited about, it's right in the centre of town. So right now I'm basically just moving all of my stuff down there.
"I've got a Juno 60, an Arp Quartet, which is really nice, I use a lot of compressors, I use an Empirical Labs Fatso, a custom-made stereo La2a, a Neve 1073 and a Slate Audio Dragon.
"I use and Apogee Ensemble as my soundcard, I've a Moses patchbay, which patches all my stuff together. I have Adam A77x speakers and I've got a pair of KRK Rocket 5s as well. I use Native Instruments Maschine and I work with Cubase 7, Reason and Ableton."
Why do you use those three DAWs? What are you using each for?
"I basically use Ableton and Reason as samplers, if that makes sense. They're both ReWired into Cubase. I'll have them coming out and going through, for example, the Neve maybe, then into the Fatso and back in. So I basically resample, or record samples live in and then fuck around with them. So it's not just a case of slotting them in on the screen, I actually trigger stuff and then record through the hardware back into Cubase, and then work with the audio.
Westbeech's outboard gear, pictured in his London studio.
"I use [NI] Battery for all my drums, that's my drum machine. I'm thinking about getting the new Dave Smith one though, I can't remember what it's called, the one he made with Roger Linn..."
"...yea, I'm thinking about getting one of those, and I'm about to get a Prophet 12 as well.
"Anyway, that's how I sample really, anything I sample will go through the 1073 to warm it up a bit and get a nice sound on it."
So given that you use Maschine and a lot of hardware, would you describe yourself as quite a hands-on producer, rather than being bound to a computer?
"Yea, I like analogue stuff and I like being able to manipulate things out of the box. I can produce in the box, but it's just more fun when you're playing stuff. You can get mad results, especially when you're just ramming stuff through your compressors and really pushing all your gear to the best of its ability, that's how you get results and how you find new sounds or interesting ways to manipulate things. With a patchbay you can just whip in and out of anything you want, and that's really nice."
Do you use any plugins or soft-synths then, or are you entirely hardware-focussed?
"I use GForce Minimonsta, which is a Moog Voyager Emulation, I use Sylenth1 quite a lot, I like that synth. Then it's just Native Instruments stuff really. I've got Komplete 8 and a lot of that is wicked - Reaktor, Monark, etc."
So where do you stand on the whole analogue vs. digital divide? Is it a sound thing that draws you to the outboard gear or is it more about the process of working?
"For me, I can really hear that analogue sounds different compared to digital. The way I put loads of stuff through my hardware anyway, I get an analogue result in the end, if you know what I mean.
"You can get good sound digitally. People just make music, and there's this whole debate about which is better, but if you like it and it works, it's fine. With my way there's a depth to the sound which I really love, and you can get that digitally, but I guess that's just not for me."
When you sit down to start working on a tune, what's your initial process? Do you have a specific thing you always start with?
"I tend to start with a beat generally. I start with the drums quite a lot, but I don't really have a main process. I always tend to start with them, or if I'm doing a remix I'll play around with some of the vocals and then create the drums around that.
"It depends what I'm making really, I don't have a real process as such, it's just whatever inspires me. You just feed off everything; you'll find a great sound and then try putting a kick drum under it, and then start with the hi-hats, or whatever, and you'll just build. There's no real process to what I do I don't think, you just make beats."
Is there any difference in the way you work under different aliases, as in, do you have a different way of approaching a Ben Westbeech track to a Breach one?
"It's just a case of sitting down and seeing what comes out. Obviously with my Ben Westbeech stuff there's a certain style, a certain sound, and I was making albums. With Breach it's sort-of just house music. But you can make whatever beats you want really, you just get in there and see what happens. I don't tend to sit there and think 'This is a Ben Westbeech thing' or 'This is a Breach thing', I guess it's just about trying to have fun making music."
Jack is quite an interesting track from a music making perspective, as it was a massive sleeper hit that was originally put out as a b-side. When you were making that track, were you consciously intending to make something that would be a big dancefloor hit?
"I was basically just chatting to [Dirtybird label boss] Claude VonStroke the night before I made it, and we discussed the sort of thing we wanted to do. He said, 'Let's do something really sleek', as the other track on that release was a sort of sexy sounding track. So he suggested I do something sleazier.
"I woke up the next day with the vocal in my head, so I put that into my phone and went down the studio a few hours later to put the vocal down. I left it there for about four days, then went back in and took the vocal hook and made Jack in four or five hours, something like that."
How do you generally work with vocals? The new single, for example, did you write that around the vocal part, or was that recorded after you had the instrumental track made?
"That track was built around the vocal; she'd already done the vocal and then I made the tune around it. Once I'd done that I then got her to come and rerecord it, so it sat better over the house beat. That's how that one came along, but in other instances I'll just write songs. With dance music while, obviously, there's some ways of doing it that work better than others on certain tunes, you have free rein really, particularly in this sort of climate, to just do whatever you want.
"I write classically sometimes as well, in verse/chorus/bridge/chorus style, or whatever, but it just depends on what you're working on, and what the idea of the track is. Everything is different and there's no certain way I would work with a vocalist. Some come with vocals already written, others I'll help write the tune with them, or I'll get a session singer in to put my ideas down.
"For recording vocals, I've got a really nice mic I use, a Neumann U 47, which sounds beautiful."
What are you working on at the moment then, is the focus totally on Breach stuff or are there plans for any more Ben Westbeech releases in the pipeline?
"I'm focussing on Breach at the moment, I'm working on a new four-track EP. My studio is in bits and pieces today, but as soon as I get into the new spot I'll be back on that, and hoping I can get my mixdown working quickly."
Do you think the move to Amsterdam has had any influence on the music you're making so far?
"Definitely. My sound is going more dirty and techno-influenced. It's definitely changed it; I can really hear the change in my music. I've just done a remix for Sei A on Aus Music and a Tiga vs Audion remix, and I think you can hear on those records how my sound is changing."
Do you think moving around and changing your surroundings is important then, in order to keep your sound progressing?
"Yea, I think it is. I think you can become a bit stale in certain places, or your inspiration can wear a bit thin and you get bored of making the same stuff. I wanted my sound to progress; I didn't want to just be making the same tune over and over again. I've got a really short attention span like that, so I just want to keep on progressing and learning and sampling new sounds. I think it's really important as a musician to get influenced by a lot of different stuff - to keep pushing yourself forward and keep learning about the craft and different scenes and that sort of stuff. That's how you become a better producer."