Written whilst on his travels with minimal equipment, Manchester-based talent KUBA’s ‘NY2003’ is an impressive testament to his artistic capability whilst being restricted to the capable studio setup that his other productions were born from. Inspired by early ‘00s Deep House-laced with melodic potency and melancholic vocal toplines.
Centered around a captivating topline tied to the feeling of “forgetting, pushing away, avoiding – the temporary, pleasant side of that,” ‘NY2003’ is a myriad of deepened tones, elegant cadence, and gentle club energy from start to finish. What a superb release for this young talented producer and singer.
Words and photos by Kuba
Korg Minilogue XD
This is my go-to synth at the moment, I’m on the move a lot and this one actually fits into a carry-on which is a major advantage for me. It still takes up about half of my suitcase but is well worth the compromise. I use it a lot for plucks, arpeggios, synth stabs, and generally more rhythmical stuff. In ‘NY2003’ it’s the little rhythmical keys and synth ear-candy. The sound feels rich but depending on the setting often comes with a lot of low mid resonances so there’s quite a bit of cleaning up I have to do with EQs, Soothe2 is especially great at controlling those low mids in synths. Also, when the filter opens up and you get these sharp frequencies, Soothe can really iron that out which makes it sound overall more balanced and natural when you then feed it into a compressor.
$100 Electric Guitar ‘Tyme’
This was the first ever guitar I got when I was 12, bought from a local shop, and honestly can’t say it sounds great. The idea of the guitar hook for ’NY2003’ came to me when I was in the home I grew up in and that was the guitar on hand. I was considering re-recording with a better guitar later on but I actually loved working with this limitation, the process of ‘how can I make this sound deliberate?’. I’ve seen an interview with Illangelo, one of my producer heroes, and he gets asked about the guitars he likes to which he replies that it’s the melody he cares about. I deeply resonate with that answer, sometimes the challenge of creating a melody so strong it would work well no matter the sound is very inspiring to me.
It also led me to try things I otherwise wouldn’t on a decent electric, choruses, delays, and reverbs played a big part. One plugin I oddly want to mention is Maserati HMX by Waves. I’m usually not a fan of these all-in-one plugins where you don’t get much control or understanding of what’s going on. This one, however, I just slapped on, and it made it instantly sound good, opening up the sound, giving it more space, I guess the exciter in this plugin worked especially well here. In addition, the Valhalla UberMod chorus creates that wonky, unstable effect enhancing the cheap guitar character. NoMbe, an artist I admire, isn’t afraid to have his guitars wobble a bit too and I got his mixer to finish my mix, which gave me confidence that things are going to sound polished in the end.
Lounge Lizard EP-4
There’s not many solid Wurli/Rhodes plugins but this one really stands out. It’s responsible for all the pad sounds in the verses, I also had a Soundtoys MicroShift automating dry/wet for the contrast between narrow and wide. I love the level of control you have with this plugin, you can set decay times for various sound components, the tone bar, the hammer, the distance from the pickup, etc. One of the things I enjoy about electronic production is the ability to sculpt sound exactly the way you envision, and this electric piano plugin gives you more of a synth experience tweaking those details. I guess it also inspires me to use these vintage electric pianos more freely rather than stick to what an electric piano would ‘normally’ do. LFO Tool is helping to shape the transients on the beat, taking off the attack and having it pump a bit in this track.
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Stam Audio SA-47 (Neumann U47 replica)
I absolutely love this mic, it’s a large diaphragm condenser mic made as close to the original Neumann U47 as possible. I was actually deciding between Neumann U87 and this U47 replica, they are pretty close price-wise too with shipping and customs (the SA-47 is built in South America by this super talented guy using the original Telefunken capsule and its own power source as it’s a tube mic) but in multiple blind tests, it was clear this mic fits my voice best. I use it for all vocal tracking, it’s also a beautiful piece of equipment, I love how much detail and richness it captures especially in lower registers. I’ve never owned a mic I could so confidently rely on before and subconsciously that influenced my decisions in terms of vocal performance. ‘NY2003’ is one of the first tracks where I use my lower vocal range as opposed to just my mixed or head voice which has been a trademark of mine. I know this mic in and out, where the resonances tend to happen and where it needs gentle boosting or attenuating, I feel fortunate having found that great pairing between my voice and a mic that flatters it.
I found out about this bitcrusher in Jordan Rakei’s live streams during the lockdown and after some experiments found a great use for it in percussion sounds, particularly toms. It’s got a fascinating tendency to emphasise pitch so I might take a regular short attack 808 tom, crush it a little and drive up the ‘preamp’ setting and what you end up with is almost like a synth pluck with a nice, long decay and a very clear fundamental frequency that allows you to use it melodically. You can hear this more peripherally in the groove of ’NY2003’, it’s around the time I was warming up to the technique, but I ended up taking it way further just creating melodies out of percussions that weren’t very melodic to begin within the songs that followed.
I’m a massive fan of Soundtoys, own and regularly use all their plugins. FilterFreak must be my favourite filter, if there’s any obvious low-passing, I always reach for this plugin because it has such a pleasant analog sound. It’s the same contrast as when you use a filter on a hardware synth as opposed to a software one, the sound of the filter is warm and real it gives me confidence to show that musical moment off. I think that’s a secret extra advantage of great sounds, they don’t make you want to hide them in a texture of other sounds, you can let them shine on their own. All the filter sweeps, hats, and snares being filtered in and out on this track are courtesy of FilterFreak.
I’m sure everyone knows this soft synth by now, there was a time I was using it a lot, then moved on to subtractive synths like Diva or even the Minilogue but recently re-discovered Serum for some DnB or UKG sounds. In ‘NY2003’ I used it for the fade-in pads you hear in the intro and throughout. I like how you can mix in different noise types. There’s times I use the noise oscillator just by itself, there’s a lot of control which speeds up my workflow. One thing I sometimes miss in wavetable synths is the ‘analog’ feel, it’s the reason why I prefer different synths most of the time but there are some workarounds that can introduce tiny bits of movement and imperfection too. If you notice in the screenshot, down in the matrix tab the last 3 components are automated by ‘Chaos’ – basically a fast random movement. I like having this movement modulate volumes, fine pitches of oscillators, or filter drive/cutoff. You can definitely go overboard with it but tiny adjustments can result in a more natural, ‘analog’ feel.
Listen to NY2003 on Pete Tong’s Three Six Zero here.