Track Talk: Christian Smith on how he remixed Stormzy

Tronic head honcho talks all about production

Christian Smith is no stranger to remixes, having production credits against some of the industry’s most respected selectors including UMEK, Wehbba, Carl Craig, Ronnie Spiteri, and collaborations with artists like John Digweed, DJ Rush, Victor Ruiz, and more. In 1997 he started his label Tronic, and since then it has dominated the charts with releases from Christian himself and the likes of Chus & Ceballos, ANNA, Paco Osuna, Loco & Jam, Kaiserdisco, Enrico Sangiuliano, Nick Curly and more.

For his latest work, he’s remixed UK grime heavyweight Stormzy and Future Utopia, turning an atmospheric rap/spoken word into a direct electro weapon. Gritty basslines, thick two step drums, and a pumping top line turn the ethereal into a dance floor destroyer.

Having been born in Stockholm, Christian spent most of his childhood years in Frankfurt, Germany which no doubt played an unexpected role in determining his musical tastes from a young age. After spending time in the US studying, Christian moved to Sao Paulo, Brazil playing the best clubs in the city and surrounding regions, where he still loves to play today. Speaking on the remix, Christian said:

Producing music has always been a pleasure for me. I usually start with one idea. It can either be a vocal sample, a bassline I have in my head, a drum loop, or just a direction of style I want to take the track. Once I put my idea into the DAW and I am happy with it, I try to build upon it adding the other main hooks and elements. My creative process usually takes me around 1-3 hours to get all the parts sorted and fitting nicely together. I never use that many tracks in my production as I strongly feel that main hooks are way more important than small insignificant parts that you will barely hear in the mix.

As for sound selection it really depends how and where I produce the track. Of course, it’s amazing to be able to make music on all hardware analog equipment, but I don’t have that luxury most of the time. But I must say that having a full analog studio can be replaced with plugins inside a laptop computer. Sure, it’s not as sexy to work inside the box, but if you know what you are doing and know how to warm up sounds with EQ’s/compression etc, you can make plug ins sound as good as hardware. Or at least to the point that 99% of the listeners cannot hear if the music was made analog or digitally. For my recent productions, all the tracks have been made with plug ins only, using Ableton as the main DAW.

I work with an engineer who helps me mix the tracks, so I get better end results. While I live in Europe, he is based out of Argentina and we use Zoom to share screens, and Audiomovers to share the live audio. It’s amazing how technology facilities live collaborations. With regards to sounds, I generally try to avoid sample banks and places like splice, because I prefer to use samples that are not available to everybody, and the same goes for presets on synths. For me, there is nothing worse than hearing the same sounds on several track. I prefer to make music that is a bit different. Some of my favourite brands are Arturia, U-He.  UAD is amazing as well for EQ and compression etc. I used to always just use analog synths or synths that emulate the old analog classics. But recently I’ve been using lots of digital sounds, especially when it comes to low bass sounds. They feel tighter in the mix to me. But I still layer the digital sounds with analog ones to have some more warm character. 

I usually spend around 4-8 hours for a track from start to finish. A lot of time I go back and do some fine tuning. I sometimes spend more time on fine tuning than the whole creative process. It’s a pain in the ass, but it’s gotta be done. Thankfully, I have the luxury to test my tracks at clubs and festivals. This gives me a real feel if I got all the levels right in the mix down before I send the track out to get mastered and released. My main challenge is getting the balance right between the bass and the kick. I think most producers struggle with this. Making music is an ongoing process and evolution which I really enjoy and will push forward for a long time to come!

Christian Smith, founder of Tronic.

You can catch Christian Smith on his US tour at the moment, see below for dates.

Head here to cop the remix on Beatport!

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