From releases on drum&bass most iconic labels like Goldie's Metalheadz, through remixing Moby, to catching the ears of the Dutch electronic music power-trio Noisia and releasing two albums with them, the US-born, Prague-based producer Hybris has become a household name among the afficionados of this genre who seek out his idiosyncratic style: both firmly planted inside the drum&bass genre, Hybris' twisted, mangled and sophisticated sonics backed by trademark staccato rythms stand out as identifiable upon first listen. After sprinkling his music onto labels like Subtitles, Dispatch, Renegade Hardware, or Noisia's Invisible, Evan Vischi's music now continues to evolve through his own label Pseudoscience Recordings. A long time friend, I took the opportunity to ask Hybris a couple of questions to suss out some music-making strategies.
Thank you for taking the time to do this interview! This being a very music mixing-strategies based blog, I wonder how do you generally attack writing and finishing tunes. Do you do the separate sound-design versus arranging sessions, or are you more free-flow?
Thank YOU for mastering the shit out of my tunes every damn time! You know as far as workflow, I used to just start with the drums, get them sounding good and loud, and then build from there. It's a pretty effective approach, but really doesn't do much in the way of creativity. You end up with some loud drums, and then you always say "Ok, and what now?" I started to realize that good songs need good ideas, so I started making lots of different scraps of sounds during sound design sessions, and then when the folder was full, or if I an idea was just jumping out at me, I'd start a tune. These days I do a combo, and I also have some toys which I play with outside of the studio. I get a lot of ideas started on my OP-1 and on my Octatrack, and then sort them in folders, then the best ones get turned into tunes. The problem with that technique is you end up not using a lot of stuff, and end up with piles of unfinished ideas. It's sometimes hard to just accept that some ideas are stepping stones on the way to the bigger and better ideas, but it's true, in fact some full songs are just stepping stones. So I just do a little bit of everything, the main point is to keep stuff fresh for myself, and keep the generative process going. Sometimes it grinds to a halt, then I take a break and try not to beat myself up about it.
What is one thing about music production you wish you knew when you started?
I wish I had known how important having a good monitoring situation is. Whether it be headphones or decent monitors with a decent room, you need to hear what you're doing accurately. For me the biggest revelation recently was buying a subwoofer and realizing how much I wasn't hearing properly below 100 hz. I feel like I could've skipped a lot of confusion and wasted effort but just investing some serious money in proper monitors earlier on, but hey, you live and you learn. Now when I tell younger producers this, they all give me this look like "Yeaaaaah but my setup is PRETTY good, I feel like if it sounds good on here, it must sound good anywhere." And sometimes you just want to grab them and shake them and say "NO. THAT IS NOT THE WAY IT WORKS." But I guess they'll just have to live and learn as well. I mean it is possible to make great sounding tunes on shit monitors, I made some of my best on some Alesis M1 mkII actives, but the amount of effort that was required, and the amount of shit sounding tunes that got churned out along the way, was totally unnecessary. Don't skimp on monitors, kids.
Could you share a current favourite technique?
These days I've been really enjoying using the weird architecture of the Octatrack to create generative systems. The way it's set up is each track has its own recorder, in addition to being a playback machine. What's interesting about this is the recorder can also be a played back in real time, so it can sample another track and play it back in real time. If you create chains of tracks sampling other tracks, with wide-spanning macro changes connected to the cross-fader, you can make some really unexpected shit happen. My track "Neplati" on the Internet Expert EP was mostly made from literally 1 sample loaded to 1 track, with the rest of the tracks being a cascade of resampling, most of it recorded live. Of course I went in afterwards in Cubase and made it a real tune, but much of the process was just jamming out with that little system.
I know you recently acquired some physical music-making paraphernalia. How did that impact your writing process?
I guess I got into it a little bit above, but I decided that just working inside the box was getting boring for me and that I needed to produce in different environments, using different tools. The OP-1 is often seen as overpriced and gimmicky, but that's overlooking the fact that it's a resampling monster that's built to be super fun and jam-friendly. You can't get lost in tweaking your one snare sound for too long, you have to make decisions and commit, and you can end up going in very interesting directions with it. It's a tiny sketch pad that's unlike anything I've ever played with, couldn't be happier with it. The Octatrack is often seen as a live-performance tool, or Ableton in a box, and I don't think either of these do it any justice in the studio setting. It's super flexible, semi-modular, and once you get into the mindset, you start realizing how well thought through and extensive a device it is. With both of these I end up generating tons of ideas, and then finishing the best ones.
How mindful in general are you of loudness from the get-go when writing music?
I used to be much more so, but now I just kinda go with the flow, and worry about the mixdown later. I've realized it's not so much about how loud it is from the get go, but how balanced and pleasant on the ears it is. If it's well balanced and not harsh, then the loudness will come more easily. If you end up with some loud ass drums that are hitting some ridiculous RMS level, congratulations, have fun making that into something interesting. Then again, what I consider interesting is often considered experimental by others, so to each their own.
Have you developed any foolproof ways of getting out of a rut when stuck in the ‘loop hole’ and unable to progress with an idea?
Definitely not any foolproof ways. One way I try to get out of loop mode is to just put it down for a while (like more than a week) and work on something else. Let it go emotionally, let your brain adjust to not being stuck in that mode, and maybe when you come back you'll have some new insight. And maybe not, but maybe if you can't, then it's not the greatest idea to begin with. When that's the case I'll often just salvage the parts of the tune and use them elsewhere. If a lot of the tune is in midi I'll just delete all the midi and use the sounds to start a new tune. I think a lot of being stuck is being too emotionally hung up on making something work which maybe is inherently flawed for a reason you're unable to put your finger on.
You recently started your own label, Pseudoscience Recordings. What’s cooking under the hood right now? Are you open to receiving demos from other producers?
I've got a big pile of my own tunes, as well of a pile of demos, but my main philosophy is there's absolutely no rush, and I'm not gonna release anything just for the sake of putting it out there. When something is right, it's right, which is what I heard immediately from MVRK's demo, and I'm just waiting to hear that from someone else. So yes, I'm totally open to hearing demos from other producers, I try to listen to everything, but I don't always have time to respond or offer feedback, it's nothing personal, I just have a lot on my plate these days.
How do you feel about the perception of mastering among producers these days?
Mastering has always been somewhat of a dark art that few people understand, and as a result some people overestimate the ability of the mastering engineer to completely turn around their tune, and some people underestimate its importance. For me, if you think a mastering engineer is gonna turn a noticeably mediocre mixdown into a banger, you're probably mistaken, though it is possible. I feel like some producers think that the missing link between their mixdown and a Noisia mixdown is mastering, in which case they might be disappointed by the final result. On the other hand, some people think that their mixdowns are good enough, so why would they need a mastering engineer? In that case I'd say, you need a mastering engineer because they have (most likely) a much better monitoring setup than you do, a set of skills and experience that you (most likely) do not, and a pair of fresh, objective ears, which you definitely don't have, as you've already spent countless hours getting the tune to where it is. I tend to leave most of my master channel chain on when I send my mixdowns to the mastering engineer, as I have produced the tune with that chain on the entire time, and have reasons for the settings I have applied. However, I know that he will most likely hear things I don't, and correct things that have slipped under my radar, and I trust them to make decisions that will improve the final track. I feel like mastering is an essential part of the process, but I always try to get my tune sounding as perfect as I possibly can before sending to the engineer.