The influence of dub on electronic music can’t be overstated. When King Tubby reimagined the mixing desk as a playable instrument in the ’70s, he essentially invented the concept of remixing as it’s commonly understood today. He also helped establish the use of spring reverb and, in particular, tape delay effects as the gold standard in creating a sense of depth and space in a track. These tricks are so ubiquitous as to have transcended the notion of cliché, as much as a 4/4 kick drum, or an 808 hi-hat programmed in pretty much any pattern you want.
The Moogerfooger MF-104M isn’t a tape delay. Still, it’s undoubtedly analog, using bucket brigade chips to produce up to 800ms of delay and an LFO, which significantly expands the modulation capacities of the unit. Developed from the simpler original MF-104 and limited to a production run of 1000 units in 2012, MF-104Ms aren’t cheap or easy to get hold of, but this is one effect that plugins just don’t emulate properly.
The LFO feature wasn’t included in the original version from 2000, but it truly adds something different. It’s pretty versatile, with the potential for generating weird chorus-like effects, and the ability to produce extreme randomized distorted noise patterns.
When creating my new track “Never Forget,” I was looking to add a bit of depth and flavor to various synth lines. I first had a go using the highly-rated UAD EP-34 Tape Echo, but by switching to the MF-104M, it just gave the track something extra. There’s a lot of nonsense that gets talked about the inherent quality of outboard gear, and the “warmth” that you can only obtain using specific circuit boards. In the case of the MF-104M, however, I’m a total zealot on the subject. You can’t find a substitute for the sound of this unit.
One of the critical things for me in building a mix is establishing contrasts, and this can be particularly effective with digital and analog effects. I used a Strymon Timeline digital delay unit with the guitar on this track, which gives off a much crisper sound than you typically get out of an analog delay. Similarly, I used a lot of the Valhalla Room plugin, which provided an excellent opposite sound to the Hawk spring reverb unit, which is also quite prominent on this track.
Using analog delays, you quickly discover that the raw signal can be very overpowering in a mix, and it’s almost always necessary to cut away quite aggressively at the range somewhere between 200hz and 800hz to avoid it taking over the mix entirely. This tendency is what can make something like the MF-104M such a powerful sound source, and with a bit of experimentation, you can get those King Tubby delay swells sounding pretty authentic.
It’s often said that the biggest problem facing producers these days is having too much choice and too many plugins, leading to chronic indecision in the studio. There’s a lot to be said for limiting yourself to one or two options in each category of tool, and for me, the MF-104M is totally indispensable. I love it almost as much as my Roland RE-201, but that’s another story.
Scuba’s “Never Forget‘” is out now via Hotflush Recordings.