Producer Spotlight: Biesmans
Producer Spotlight: BiesmansSeptember 16, 2021
Born and raised in Belgium, Biesmans made his move to Berlin in 2013 where he started working as sound technician in one of the city’s most iconic clubs, Watergate. Having quit his job to focus on music full-time, he put out an impressive debut EP on the Watergate label, followed by strong releases on labels like TAU, Correspondent, AEON, and 17 Steps.
Joris’ collaboration with Loopmasters results in a Loopcloud DRUM pack and a Loopcloud PLAY expansion to celebrate the release of his new album, Trains, Planes, and Automobiles. The DRUM pack contains three kits featuring sounds sampled directly from Biesmans’ very own collection of classic synths and drum machine, whereas the expansion includes 10 preset sounds for use within the Loopcloud Play VST plugin.
You grew up in Belgium and later moved to Berlin, how has the European electronic scene influenced your sound?
I come from the trance era in the late nineties, and I still feel that there’s a lot of trance elements in my music. It’s very melody driven and not too dark or heavy. Growing up in Belgium, I heard a lot of that type of music, and it had a good club scene at the time. In later years it made sense to move somewhere like Berlin. I played in bands and tried out some different music projects after I finished my studies, but when I got to Berlin the active club scene really inspired me to dive back into four to the floor dance music. In the last eight years or so, the club culture here has really made me feel nostalgic, like I’m reliving those earlier days when I was going out to clubs all the time.
You’re a self confessed hardware fanatic. What sparked your interest in gear?
I started out with software, but quickly realised that I wanted to have actual things that I could touch. I did a lot of programming with Fast Tracker, which looks and feels like programming In DOS. There’s no timeline like there is in a DAW — you put in numbers and you have endless loops rolling. After I got my first paycheck, I got the MicroKorg, a cheap Behringer mixer, and my first speakers which I still use.
With hardware, even if you don’t know exactly how to use the machine, you can get nice accidents out of it, so I just fell further into that world. I discovered more and more synths and ways to work with them, and I even built my own synths at one point. I built my own modular systems from scratch, because I was really trying to discover new sounds, but I backed off a bit because it started getting super complicated.
My next obsession was vintage synths, like the Roland Juno or the Korg MS-20. With classic synths, what you see is what you get, and that was attractive to me after being really into the complicated synthesis side of things. They’re classics for a reason – because they’re just so good! For years the MS-20 was my absolute favourite piece of equipment in the studio, but the Moog Grandmother kind of replaced that, it’s so nice to work with and is really diverse.
What was your approach to learning how to work with all this equipment?
I started studying music pretty late—I did a bachelor’s degree in music at 26 that lasted for three years. Learning about subtractive and additive synthesis, even just doing really basic things like creating a trumpet sound, opened up a new world for me. For anyone who’s looking to get into synthesizers, I recommend brushing up on the absolute basics of sound synthesis first, although it can be a little boring. A lot of people just try them out and make sounds intuitively, but if you know the fundamentals behind what’s going on, it can make a big difference.
Alongside the release of your album, you’ve teamed up with Loopcloud for a Play expansion pack and DRUM pack. How did you go about making the packs?
A lot of the process involved the sounds that I used in the making of the album. The drum sounds are a collection of stuff that I’ve sampled through the year; for instance, resampling drums and layering them with punchy kicks from the 707. Synths-wise, the Juno is in there, the Grandmother, and the Korg Monologue. The bass sounds come from the Behringer Model D, which I ran through a Moog distortion to add a little punch. The arpeggiated lead lines come from the Grandmother. I also used studio stuff, like some of the built in arpeggiators in the Arturia soft synths collections.
The drum sounds in the presets are a combination of the last four years of sampling and resampling my own stuff, as well as using drum machines like the Roland TR8-S, and the Yamaha RY30 – a drum machine that I bought in a flea market for 15 euros. There’s also stuff from a modified 606 in there; I have a complete circuit bend that I did a few years ago with kick and snare decay, filters, high hats, tuneable toms and everything – it’s completely modified. I do a lot of layering also, because I like to give classic drum machines my own twist.
I have a specific snare sound that I got from the RY30, layered with the Boss DRP1. I got the DRB1 from a friend years ago, who found it in his grandfather’s attic, and he gave it to me because he couldn’t do anything with it. It has a tambourine, toms, a snare, and a crash. You can tune everything, and I found that the snare with its gated type of sound that’s missing a bit of punch matches perfectly with the RY30 snare, which has a lot of punch and not so much low end. It’s the perfect match and it makes a huge snare sound.
What kind of software do you use to process the sounds?
I don’t heavily process after resampling, it’s normally just very basic things that I do. I use Ableton stock compressors, although on the drum bus I use the Waves API 2500 compressor. Another thing I love is Driver from Native Instruments, just putting that on the drum bus without even really touching it gives it a bit more saturation and colour. I have one delay, one reverb, and a specific effect delay and a big reverb for synths.
One thing that I think is super important is to put the idea above the production, or not to get stuck endlessly processing like some people do. I love those magical moments where you have a good creative flow and you’re working on an idea rather than fine tuning a specific sound. This makes things easier to mix also, because often if you have a huge effects chain on something and it’s not working in the mix it’s hard to know where to go from there. When the processing is simple you can easily see what’s not working.
Your album is full of playful melodies – what’s your approach to writing music?
I usually love to start my music by finding a little arpeggio melody, and then underpinning that with bass. I don’t really like starting with drums, so that’s probably why my music is so melody focused. The bass normally determines where I take things harmonically, if I get a bit of interplay going, then I start to get inspired about where I can take the track. What I did with the album was to imagine a specific colour, or cinematic feeling — for example, a dark alleyway in an eighties movie where the bad guy’s coming around the corner. This helped to create different emotions and tensions in the sounds I was making.
As I mentioned earlier, I’ve always loved the vibe from the eighties, and I feel like that musical style lives on in me from my childhood. A friend of mine recently suggested that the album was almost like personal therapy for me because I made it during lockdown and I was revisiting the safe place of my youth with the music. I think they were onto something there.