Berlin house producer Cinthie talks vintage synths and standing production
Ahead of the release of her debut album Skylines – City Lights, the DJ, producer and label owner invites us into her Berlin space full of legendary synths and drum machines.
“I’m making dance music, not ‘sitting in a chair and clicking a mouse’ music,” says Cinthie, the Berlin-based house producer, touring DJ and Crystal Grooves label owner.
Cinthie’s tracks nod to Chicago and Detroit originators with raw, dancefloor-focused energy. They’re crafted in her recently completed, synth-studded studio. Completed in early January, her space boasts an abundance of dusty drum machines, synths and racks that seem an age away from the DAW-based digitised world of modern house music production.
We talk favourite hardware, how she makes thumping house with an old-school feel, and delve into new material from her debut album, Skylines – City Lights, out this week on AUS Music.
“My studio was planned by a friend who builds studios as his main job. He also did the studio for [Berghain resident] Ben Klock. I got some bass traps on the ceiling and several diffusers and absorbers. Then I also upgraded my small ADAMs for the ADAM S3H as I needed a bit more power in the low-end.”
While Ableton Live 10 runs in the centre of Cinthie’s studio, there is a Mackie mixer surrounded by a vast array of hardware instruments and effects racks. The incredible collection includes a Yamaha RX7, Casio RZ-1, Cyclone Analogic TT-303, Waldorf Streichfett, Yamaha DX21, Yamaha DX7, Kawai R-100, Orbit 9090, Novation Bass Station II, Moog Mother-32, Oberheim Matrix-1000, Ensoniq DP/4, Alesis Quadraverb, Behringer Model D and Behringer K-2.
And it doesn’t stop there. “I’m a big Roland fan,” Cinthie says. “I have the classic 909, 707, SH-101, SH-202, the D-50 and the JP-8000. Then I have the Juno 106 and Juno 60. On my shopping list is a Roland Jupiter. I always wanted to have one.”
Her go-to instrument in the studio will always be the 909 for its raw sound – especially with added saturation. While the kick of an 808 has a legendary “whoooopo”, as she describes, the 909 suits her punchy house style. “But I like both,” she says. “I just use the 909 more often cause it fits better to my tracks, but at the moment I’m making more with the 808. I try to keep it balanced so they are not getting jealous!” She jokes.
“My dream piece [of kit] is still the 909! I always wanted to have one and it’s the instrument I use most when making music cause it’s so easy to slam a little drum loop over some chord progression or other ideas.
“The 909 is where I usually start or even if I go crazy and start with a bassline this is always the thing I’ll use second.”
Cinthie is dedicated to physical instruments in the studio. Being able to touch, press and twist clunky machines makes for a more enjoyable production process. Getting out of the chair, standing up – or even sitting on the floor with her Roland JX-3P – puts movement at the heart of her tracks.
“I used to work on Ableton for quite a long time,” she says. But getting out of the producer’s chair and embodying the ‘dance’ in dance music she finds an important gauge for the viability of tracks. “Most of the drum machines I can only reach when I’m standing up so I can bob my head or move my hips. I can get into the groove and I think that’s more innovative,” she explains.
It’s not just the freeing immediacy of physical instruments that makes a difference in a track. Cinthie believes hardware has an undeniable depth with unique aspects you can’t replicate digitally.
“Hardware sounds warm. It’s a different way to make the sound. For example with an old machine, you have these analogue oscillators and if you have it in your computer, it’s more digital. With the machine it’s different. It collects dust and afterwards the sound might be different and you have a unique sound.”
“I used to love the saturator in Ableton a lot and now I have the Analog Drive from Elektron. I just add a little bit on my drums and it’s really banging. I think you can reproduce it on a computer, but it doesn’t have so much crunch.”
Classic acid and pads
In tracks such as Horizon we’ve heard Cinthie incorporating classic acid basslines, but what’s her favourite synth?
“I like the Roland SH-101 because it has the typically warm, pluggy house bassline sound from the 90s. I have one which I use in the computer – a digital clone – and also I have the Cyclone Analogic TT-303 Bass Bot which sounds harsh, plus a Roland MC-202.”
“I used some acid basslines in Horizon. I own the Cyclone TT-303 clone and it’s as hard to program as the original 303. But once you know, you know.” She goes on to say her favourite way of using the 303 is with minimal notes and jumping “from octave to octave”. And from there, adding glide, pitching, frequency, envelope and resonance to add swing and “life’ to a track.
Cinthie creates an old school sound with pad sounds straight out the 80s: “For pads, I love all the big boys: Roland D-50, Juno 106 or 60, JP-8000 to name a few. I also have a Yamaha DX7 but it needs to be repaired, so [for the album] I used the one from the Arturia V Collection instead. Same for the stabs.”
“I used a lot of the older machines like the Junos and the Yamaha DX21. But also a lot of the digital Arturia V Collection as when I made the album in the last two years I was also moving studio and made some tracks on my computer.”
Pumped up kicks
Up until now, Cinthie has only released EPs, but for her debut album, she was keen to get into floaty territory, switching up the tempos and moving away from the club to a sound catered for home listeners. This meant moving away from her beloved 909 to an 808 at times and incorporating sampled breaks and using a Yamaha QX21.
“I used the 909 on 80% of the tracks but I thought ‘okay, I’m doing an album and if 10/12 tracks all banged in the same direction it would be boring’. I tried to get out of my comfort zone. I used the 808 and also I used the Roland D-50.”
“When I made the album and I had the main tracks, I thought it would be nice to show a bit of a different side of me. When I started playing and producing, I also loved to make broken beats but kind of lost this over the years. I wanted to make the album interesting and also show some stuff people wouldn’t really expect. I started with some broken drums, added a little top loop and some chords and a warm pad. It’s a really short track but totally fits with the rest of the album.”
“I had fun making all of those tracks. There’s one called Flashback. It’s very breaky and I was trying to get out of my comfort zone – had a break loop to put on top and some shakers and a little bit of hi-hat to give it a bit more movement, but the basis of the drums I made with the analogue stuff.”
Cinthie understands the impact of deploying different drum machines for different feels. “I made a remix of Jessie Saunders’ On & On which is the first-ever house track and I was honoured to give it this raw Chicago feel. I used my 707 and then in the middle, I changed the kick drum from the 707 into the kick drum from the 909 [1:34]. That gave it way more punch,” she says.
It’s little surprise that her new album has such a classic house feel when you consider the vast majority of hardware instruments used are classics themselves. But with her label owner’s ear and a dedication to feeling the music as much as listening to it, Cynthie has managed to create a record that’s unrepentantly danceable and oozes retro-futurist cool.
“I could make the same with my computer,” she says, ”but for me, it’s about having fun.”
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