Last year I had a release on Chestplate that featured a track called 'Drowsy'. For those unfamiliar with it, it's probably one of the more dancefloor oriented tracks I've done in a little while. There was a singular driving force behind the creative process for this, but before I go into it in fine detail, I've placed a little link below so you can hear it. Then, I'll tell you what inspired it in the first place.
'Drowsy' employs a songwriting technique that's often referred to as a 'call and response'. Over the course of a 16 bar loop you hear two separate basslines of 8 bars each in length. The first 8 bar pattern is the 'call' and the second 8 bar phrase represents the 'response'. In addition to the bassline switching from a high octave in the first 8 bar sequence to a low octave in the next, I wrote in a contrasting drum pattern that emphasises the switch in timbre.
Before writing the track I'd been toying with the idea of dynamics and trying to figure out how I could create more energy in my own beats, and somehow, just programming lots of fast rhythmic hits wasn't getting the effect I was after. Then, out of pure chance one evening, I caught Nirvana's 'Smells Like Teen Spirit' on the TV and things suddenly clicked into place for me.
The Eureka Moment
'Smells Like Teen Spirit' is one of those tracks that created so much of an impact on me when I first heard it 15+ years ago, that I can still remember it perfectly to this day. I was waiting for the bus home after school and a friend had pinched his older brother's copy of 'Nevermind' on cassette (yes, I am old), wrapping a set of headphones around my head and instructing me to listen. I still think it bangs today.
In the 90's, the grunge scene (and many others after) did the 'loud bit-quiet bit-loud bit' thing to death. I'm not saying it wasn't done before that by the way, just for clarification. The thing is though, it works so well that it's hard not to try and replicate. Any piece of music that switches from phrases with little content to sections with increased content (for example, no bass to lots of it) is going to generate an enhanced sense of dynamic range. Pretty much all music does it to some extent, just some better than others.
In electronic music, we get a lot more cues in the form of sweeps and reverse effects building up to a big bass drop. 'Smells like teen spirit' needs none of that, and still screams with energy. Happening to catch that iconic riff going off in the background of a TV programme one day reminded me that I needed to give it a try.
The first 8 bars of the drop in 'Drowsy' act as my 'quiet-bit', just about 30 seconds for a room to realise the dip in lower frequencies. The following 8 bars of deliberately scuzzy bass are my attempt to pay homage to 'Smells Like Teen Spirit' and the instant bruck-out I want to engage in, the second that snare drum fill starts to hit.
If Kurt Cobain was alive today, I imagine he would be insulted by a hybrid dubstep-trap beat being compared to one of the biggest tracks of a decade. Who knows.
Of course, there are several other influences going on in the track and sonically, both are very different. Fundamentally though, 'Drowsy' is an attempt to model the songwriting structure that worked so well for Nirvana, The Pixies et. al. and shamelessly cash in on its winning formula.
I guess the point of this post is to highlight that sometimes, inspiration can come from looking back and drawing influence from those experiences of hearing certain songs for the first time. Do you think I nailed the loud-quiet thing? or is Kurt Cobain spinning in his grave as we speak? Let me know in the comments, and if you enjoyed this (or didn't), pass it in the direction of someone else you think might enjoy it.
P.S. If you want to have a sneaky listen to Distance's remix of 'Drowsy', peep the video below.
Grab a copy of my Dark & Dangerous Sample Pack to add instant darkness to your own productions.