Inside The Track with Scott Diaz

Scott Diaz is the perfect purveyor of rough and rugged house music that is drenched in old school sensibilities. His latest release, The Shakedown EP on Lowsteppa’s Simma Black imprint, offers up three superb examples of a music producer who knows his house history.

Title track ‘Shakedown’ has the synonomous throwback stabs and vocals of an updated Nineties garage classic, ‘Set The Tone’ is a chunky, ‘early doors’ builder, whilst the hip-house ‘WRKME’ is sure to find it’s way into the sets of the scenes more discerning tastemakers. With a proper 3-tracker of this quality, it was only right that we sat down with the UK-based producer to find out more about the EPs conception, as we go Inside The Track with Scott Diaz.

Congratulations on your new The Shakedown EP via Low Steppa’s Simma Black label. How is it being received in your sets and how are other club DJs responding to it?

Thank you! It’s been going down really well. I actually had this finished quite a while ago, so have been playing it in my podcast and live sets, though it took some time for me to find a suitable home for it and for Simma Black to work it into their schedule. The reaction has been pretty serious so far. I’ve had plays and support from a pretty diverse number of DJs and producers inculding Oliver Heldens, MJ Cole, Grant Nelson, Giom, Martin Ikin, Terrence Parker, Horse Meat Disco, Friend Within, Idris Elba, Enzo Siffredi and loads more, so it’s been really positive.

Tell us more about the ‘Shakedown’ track from your EP. What was the main inspiration behind it and what prompted the musical direction on this?

I wanted to do something quite upfront with a club feel for the lead track on an EP and I guess it began to come together after I’d been fooling around with the vocal for a while. Once I’d done some cut ups to find some hooks (for the record: it says ‘Fakin’ and NOT ‘Bacon’! ha!) it really just lent itself to that house/garage feel with a modern twist. As you can see, I’ve just cut up the audio to create the different sections. The part you can see in the screenshot is the latter part of the breakdown with the vocal build.

NOTE: Click the images for large versions

Production wise, what is it about ‘Shakedown’ that makes it work?

The vocal is pretty distinctive and hooky and definitely adds a great deal to the track. Aside from cutting out the parts I wanted and adding a little hi-pass EQ, I’ve sent the the vocal channels to a bus and processed them with some overall EQ, compression and overdrive to glue it all together and add some presence.

The bass also works really well on this track – it’s simply an 808 style sub emulation from Massive which I’ve tweaked and adjusted the envelope and then programmed in Maschine. I then bounced it down to audio and applied a little EQ, and added the Waves OneKnob Pumper as a subtle sidechain. It didn’t need too much since the rhythm of the bass was already on the offbeat, but I’ve added it gently just to keep things nice and tidy.

There are 2 chord/stab elements to the track. 1 in the first part, and then an alternative piano stab is introduced in the main breakdown and take the place of the first one, providing loads of energy and taking the track into definite garage territory.. Again, both of these were created and played in Maschine and then exported as audio into Logic. On the first stab, I’ve added a delay and the Sugar Bytes Looperator plug-in, which gives it some cool rhythmic flavour by glitching, repeating and stuttering the audio in subtle ways. You can see how I’ve automated these 2 parts, using the Sugar Bytes WOW filter and Logic’s reverb to add interest and movement.

Finally on the master out I have added a 2db dip at around 65hz, and used Satin to process the whole mix. Even though Satin is showing quite a lot of gain, especially the 5db on the output, as I’ve mixed it down with each channel very low there is no limiting or soft clipping happening and the headroom on the final exported mix was around 5.5db, which is more than enough room for the mastering engineers to do their thing.

Is there one machine, program or technique that characterizes your sound?

I use Native Instruments Maschine in every record I make. It’s simply a really fun groovebox. I always create my drums in Maschine and then export them as individual audio elements. This means I can mix them properly and further process them in Logic. It’s great for doing drum fills and rolls, and the way in which you can quickly audition samples, drag them to a pad, shape the sound and then add a chain of effects means I can get ideas down quickly and try different things.

I’d like to think the way I cut vocals and create hooks is pretty distinctive and that comes through a little bit on this track. That’s definitely something from my UK Garage roots and the way I heard MK and Sunship do it, it’s influenced me for sure. I like the concept of bringing a different identity or energy to a track simply by restructuring the vocal.

You can hear my vocal chopping technique pretty prominently on tracks like What They Say’ / ‘Dub Like Mine’ and the remixes of ‘Gabrielle’ and Lovebirds ‘Want You In My Soul’.

What is the one piece of kit that you simply cannot do without?

I love the DMG Audio plugins, and you’ll hear them on every track I make. They’re just world class in terms of their design, features and sound quality and I can’t recommend them highly enough. I also like a lot of tape saturation plugins; U-He’s Satin is great, as is the Waves J37. I like the Moog Sub Phatty, which I own, and Trillian for bass. A lot of the old modules are great too – Proteus 2000, E-Mu Planet Phatt, Korg Triton and Roland JV-3080 are some of my favourites from that late 90’s house and garage era.

Any advice for your fans on how to make it in todays fast paced game?

It’s a very broad question and there are many approaches that people take nowadays in regard to trying to achieve success. At the end of it all, I think that content is king; making good music is still the most crucial thing. If you make good enough music and stick with it, people will notice sooner rather than later. I like to think of it as a marathon, not a sprint. It’s important to be consistent and that means making lots of music and releasing music often (something that I am guilty of not doing myself!). In terms of putting music out, only release your very best material. I think labels are very important now. We’ve entered an age where you can do everything yourself, and while that’s great, it doesn’t always mean you should. The best labels get a lot of things right and GOOD labels will often help your profile and your music reach many more listeners than if you self-release. So labels are both less important and more important than ever. The hard part is getting on those top tier labels and that’s a subject that’s beyond the scope of this answer.

On a more philosophical note – I would urge anyone making music to be honest with themselves and consider: “is what I’ve made here really worth releasing?” Is it actually going to make a difference and if the answer is that you’re not sure, or no – then you probably shouldn’t release it. I think the industry would be better if we had half as much music which was twice as good because we’d spent twice as long on it. So, although I’m plagued by self-doubt every day and wonder whether what I’m doing has any value, that’s what I strive for. I don’t stop working on a piece of music until I can answer ‘yes’ to my own question.

Scott Diaz artist page and releases on Traxsource