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How to create chemical beats

Published: 2017-04-16

Chemical beats were introduced back in the early 90s by a electronic music duo called the Chemical Brothers. Since they are the inventors of the genre and style, I might not do it justice by writing this article. However, I will try to debunk as much as I can in terms of what we know about how some of these tracks were created. Since knowing how they are made, will also make you understand how to build the drum track in a Chemical beat way.

Chemical beats = Speeding up a Hip Hop Drum track

Now this isn't a new trick at all. Even better, there is a whole genre build on the idea to speed up a hip hop track: Jungle (later known as Drum and Bass). In theory what Jungle artists would do is re-sample an existing Hip Hop drum track, pitch it up a notch and play it back on 170 Beats per Minute. Chemical beats kind of work in a similar way. There are 2 major differences here: the tempo = 120 beats per minute till 130 beats per minute. And second groove is an important element.

While a lot of hip hop tracks have different groove elements, finding a few once shouldn't be that hard.

Practical Example of a Chemical Beat

Now that I have explained how a chemical beat is born, lets create an example and go through the process step by step. Since there are more elements that have an impact on the whole chemical beat as a production. But the fundamental part is the hip hop beat. For this example, I'll start with a Dr OctoRex and use the Hip Hop Classic drum loop. The Transpose goes up to 3 semi notes while the Beats per minute will go on 125. 

Chemical Beats in Reason

Download Reason 5 Example file

At this point the punch kind of disappears. This is happening due to the idea the sound is going up in pitch. To solve this issue we can use parallel compression to make it snap a bit harder. This technique is also applicable in genres like drum and bass (no wonder these 2 genres are quite related to each other). 

To set up parallel compression you can use the SSL mixer (in Reason 7 and above) to create a parallel channel. The next step would be enabling the compressor. Set the ratio pretty high and the threshold pretty low (-30dB is not and exception). The balance may vary per track (since it all depends on the loop you are using).

From an old school perspective, you can still use the spider audio merger splitter to split the dry / compressed signal. This is the technique I will be applying in this example file. But the outcome will be similar using the SSL mixer though.

Download Reason 5 Example file

Layering your drums

Another essential key element is to layer different parts of the drum track you are using.This may vary per beat. Sometimes you want this cowbell type of approach, sometimes you want the bass drum to sound a bit more dirty and sometimes the snare needs this fat slapping approach. A lot will depend on the track itself and how it needs to sound like. For this example, I will make the Bass drum sound a lot more dirty and let the snare sound a bit more rich.

To do this, I will use another Rex Loop from the Hip hop section, but keep the pitch as is. Since in theory, we'll borrow the notes from the first drum track (the one that has the pitched up notes) but only use the once for lets say the bass drum or the snare in this case.

This may sound like a lot of work, while if you get used to this type of workflow, it really isn't much work to accomplish this task.

For the bass drum I will use the loop called Hip hop Crispy (just because I like the feel of this bass drum). For the snare, I'll be using the Hip Hop Black Talon loop.

Chemical Beat creating a bass drum

While setting up the bass drum, I'll also add an additional groove element halfway in the track itself. This is a choice I am making right now. Since it could eventually play exactly the same as bass drum from the first track. While sometimes I like to "play" with the drums while things progress.

Download Reason 5 Example file

Adding static elements

A typical technique I get from the Chemical brothers songs, is that they add static elements from genres like Techno / House music and throw those in later. This is to build up the climax for a song. Static elements could be seen as the following:
- congo bongo repeating riffs
- wood blocks
- hihats

and so on.

In a lot of ways, chemical beats is like a mixture of different genres put in a blender and turning it in to something new. Just as an example, I am using the main key ingredients I created so far, and turning the whole thing up side down using an Acid line (subtractor) and later on bringing in the static hi-hat element based on a four to the four beat.

Download Reason 5 Example file

If you think in terms on hip hop beats, these are your fundamental building blocks to create a descent chemical beats track. Since the genre is all about recycling existing material yet renew the whole thing in to something new. That is the major idea here.

Happy easter! This was my easter egg!

Published on Reason Experts
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Published on Reason Experts
Published: 2017-04-16

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killerloop
18 Apr 2017 

killerloop

Hello hydlide,thanks for doing this. Simply put, i was not aware that all these artists that do this bigbeat stuff maybe do not create those beats from scratch but do sample a lot an mangle these beats until they created something new. Makes sense, because whenever you read interviews with bigbeat artists the often name oldshool hiphop acts as their influences. I remember reading from Liam howlett of the Prodigy tellinng about the influence of hiphop on his music and stuff.However, i think i would be kinda interesting to have such a beat created from scratch. I mean putting on some Drum on the 1 an 11, a snare on 5 and 13 and a ClosedHat on every 2nd note seems kinda lika a start, but then the fun really starts.. talking about Ghostnotes, and all the hihat and claps ans cowbells stuff going on in the background.Whatever, thanks again for your insightful article. I hope that at some point in the future you will the time to dig deeper into this. I mean, i never stopped trying to imitate the beats of Prodigy and with your help Mr. Hydlide i will succeed. :-)Have a good dayEdit: wanted to attach my poor attempt to make a break drumloop but can't find the "attach file to this comment" button... :-(
hydlide
 22 Apr 2017 

hydlide

for your info: I have started to write down the initial concept on getting started with a chemical beat using the sequencer and kong. It isn't finished yet, but I'll probably have this done tomorrow.The attach file in the comment section was never implemented because it is just "plain" text. I would suggest using the forum for that part ;)
Alt-Melodium
17 Apr 2017 

Alt-Melodium

Excellent tutorial. Love the element of vary the beat using the hits from different loops, very cool.

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