Music News

Converse CONS London

Community Spirit

Words Paul Watson

Converse has unveiled CONS Project London, the latest of its cool global initiatives which fuse music, art, and skate, and inspire the next generation to embrace their creative passions.

Following a string of successful CONS Projects in LA, New York, Belgrade, and Warsaw, CONS Project London finds a home in Peckham, one of the city’s most promising creative hubs. For 10 weeks, in a bid to draw urban creativity within the community, exhibitions, talks, and workshops have been held, giving the young people a chance to get their creative juices flowing.

One of five London-based CONS Ambassadors is producer, Scratcha DVA, who has been spearheading a series of Mix Lab sessions. These allow him to teach young, up-and-coming musicians about production, mixing, and recording techniques, through a series of workshops, and a purpose-built recording studio.

Scratcha got an email from his manager to see if he was interested in doing a workshop, which he wasn’t... But when he realised what it would entail, and that it would take place in a regeneration area not so far from home, it really appealed.

“For me personally, to put together a project which gets people being actively creative in music themselves was a no-brainer,” Scratcha explains. “I’m from Brixton, a part of London that is on the up, and that’s what Peckham needs. East [London] has always had that - projects that are helping the local community; and I myself was mentored, along with all the Grime lot, in Stratford, and I feel that the South side of the city has never really had that. That’s why something like this is brilliant, and here, the students even get to cut a record at the end, which is something many people never get to do in their lives.”

Introducing Mix Lab

A Mix Lab lasts three full days, and Scratcha will hold three in total. Typically, the students come in with tracks they either want to further or finish, but the course is certainly not for beginners: “they have to be at a certain level, technically,” Scratcha insists.

“They are working with Logic 10, which is very universal, and in my opinion, great for mix-downs – though they can also bring their own DAW systems too, if they want,” he explains. “We haven’t run Mix Labs on a strict schedule or a plan, but if dudes just come in and make tunes, nothing ever comes of it, so they gave me a platform to make the idea myself. My students collaborate with each other; each has a Mac workstation and Roland A-49 MIDI keyboard, and at the end of the session, they end up cutting a record onsite.”

“It was key for me to understand what the Mix Lab students would know already; if they came in with no clue – which is fine in some projects – it would be very difficult, because this course is about having enough of an idea to further themselves to make a master. I knew from listening to their demos whether they’d know enough for me to mentor them, to get their music good enough to take and put in the shops; and I think for young people to have that knowledge and power is important. I am 32 now, and when I was a bit younger, I was all about trying to get signed to this label or that label, you know? But you don’t need to. Because we have the Internet, getting a track from your computer onto iTunes is not such a difficult thing to do, and we tell them how to do that.”

According to Scratcha, many people have a real complex about their sound, and one of his goals through Mix Lab is to encourage them to find their own:

“Myself and another mentor will go round during the classes and help them as they collaborate out there with one another in the main room; and then, once they’ve stemmed all the stuff, they come into the recording studio, and we bring it into Logic, get the cool Waves plugins involved, make a digital master, and then make an uncompressed master, the latter of which then goes on the cut.”

Into The Studio

The recording studio space at CONS London had to be comprehensive, easy to use, and capable of master quality. A Mac workstation was deployed, running Logic 10, along with a pair of Genelec 8040As with a 7060B subwoofer for monitoring.

“I love these Genelec monitors; I’ve used Genelec a lot in the past, as they always give you a natural, honest sound,” explains Scratcha, showing me around the moody looking, dimly lit space. “I never had my own studios when I was an engineer, so I was forever changing speakers; I used Dynaudios first, which were cool, and then I got the chance to play through some Genelecs for the first time, and I was then constantly trying to find something of that same quality. With these, you don’t need to mix loud – and your ears will only get tired if you blast it the whole way through a session; everything will suddenly be in the red, and you’re not sure why!”

Scratcha is also a Waves fan, therefore has a whole host of Waves plugins at hand.

“I’ve always been a Waves user, and the Ultramaximizer is still my 100% go-to; I’ve been using it since school, and it makes everything sound beautiful every time,” he insists. “And I make sure I get the students using that kind of stuff – kit that I use regularly, too. It’s all part of the Mix Lab experience.”

The vocal chain in the studio is either a DPA d:facto II or sE X1 mic into a Rupert Neve Portico 5017 preamp, then into a Portico 5015 compressor, and finally into an Apogee Symphony sound card.

“This has proven to be a great setup; I’ve done some nice vocals in here, and I’ve been using the new sE RF Space reflexion filter, which has been really impressive,” Scratcha explains.“All the results have been good. When recording Grime in particular, they want to be vocal and loud and shouty, so it’s good to have nice outboard compression when going in. It’s all about the source, with a quality mic, and the Portico 5015 looks after it nicely on the way in.”

It’s not all new fangled kit, however – there’s room for a classic keyboard in Scratcha’s setup; in fact, it’s all part of the learning process:

“We’ve also got an old Roland Synth – a JX-3P. I really wanted to have it, as we’re in the digital era, it’s 2014, and I want something old school! I’ve not even hooked it up with MIDI, as it’s what people had to do back in the day; you had to play that shit tight! I think it’s good to give them that opportunity to use an outboard synth, and have to deliver a performance, you know?”

Onwards And Upwards

“I remember when I cut my first dub plate, and the excitement of it – even the smell of it; you will always keep that with you, and I’m confident that after the Mix Lab sessions, these guys will want to go out and cut records or dub, even if they have no record player at home; just having it in your hands will give you an incentive to make another banger, and then if you give it to a DJ, and he gets on with it, who knows?” says Scratcha, about to head back to his workshop. “We’re into our second Mix Lab of three now – each includes three day-long sessions, and there’s also a how-to session, where a producer comes in and puts up his DAW on the projector screen in the main room and shows the students how he did a project from scratch. He also give tips on EQ and compression, and gets really nerdy. It’s good to have a nerd out session!

“Then, we will be doing a vocal session day with recording artist, Shola Ama – she will show how she records vocals, and she is boss. I think even if you’re not a singer yourself, it’s good to know how to arrange and record them; there will be tricks she will be able to explain, such as how to pan vocals, mic techniques, and so on. That should be another great session.”