Mix engineer and composer Chris Allen has applied his signature touch to some of the most iconic and instantly recognizable pieces of music over the past two decades. Here, he discusses his ability to weave seamlessly between dance, rock and pop, to creating hugely successful pieces for the likes of Sky Sports and more…
When did you first know you wanted to work in audio?
When I was about 10 or 11, I knew this is what I wanted to do. I was always into records with an unusual electronic production, whether that was Mike Oldfield or Nick Kershaw. It was about the way stuff was mixed. That sparked my interest in the business of electronic-influenced music. I was still predominantly into a lot of rock as a teenager but then acid house came along and changed everything for a whole generation. That, combined with some home computers being able to do some basic sampling. The Commodore Amiga had a sound chip that enabled someone like me to sample things and start making my own music with basic sequencers, and I didn’t need any hardware. From then on I knew I wasn’t going to be interested in doing anything else. I got into clubland and the culture and really enjoyed that side of it, and then my parents got sick of it and sent me off to Kingston to do the Gateway music course. That was a real turning point and I met people there who defined my whole career.
What was your big break?
A friend of mine got a job at Serious Artist Management, who looked after Judge Jules and Sonique and others from the London house scene at the time. I was brought in to help build a studio for them in London and got to work. I spent the first six months figuring it out and then we made a record with Sonique. Then we made another one a few months later called Feels So Good and four or five years later that became a huge global No.1. That was the moment I transitioned from a jobbing engineer in a small studio to being able to spread my wings a bit. And I wanted my own place – I didn’t want to be working in someone else’s studio. So me and a partner of mine built a studio in his house and Sonique exploded and that brought some money in, which allowed me to gradually build a working set up.
But it happened in two stages. When I was working at that studio, the record was released in the UK and did pretty well – about 23 in the charts, which wasn’t bad for a little independent label. Then three or four years later it went mad in America. At the time, around the turn of the millennium, radio was still king, and her record got picked up in Florida by a request show. So, it got played and then exploded, and within a month she had eight or nine majors wanting to sign her. She signed a big deal with Universal in the US and they said, ‘We need an album now’. So, we beavered away and knocked up an album that did really well. The song went out and didn’t make the No.1 in the US but it did in the UK - it sold well into the millions and was a hit globally.
What have been some of the other defining projects you have worked on?
Working with UNKLE (James Lavelle) changed everything for me. At the time, I’d left my previous job and built a studio at my friend’s house and started making a bit of a name for myself mixing for other people and making my own records. My perspective on it all was that I’d had this success with Sonique but I felt like I hadn’t earned it, that I’d lucked out and that didn’t sit right with me. So, I started over and was doing my own techno stuff and James came knocking and said he thought it would be interesting to bring a dance engineer in to mix a rock record. I then spent about 18 months trying to wrap my brain around live drums and strings, and this was a big record with people like