Matt Darey has never been an artist to stand still. He enjoyed a string of crossover hits, including the top 10 classic, ‘Beautiful’ as he helped to pioneer the sound of trance in the mid-90’s. His Euphoria album series sold over 3 million copies and he then toured the world as a DJ off the back of his hugely popular ‘Nocturnal’ radio show, which at its peak was broadcast in over 150 countries, including drivetime in USA / Canada on Sirius XM. Still pushing the boundaries, and producing music across a diverse range of genres, he has just released ‘Wolf’, a new album which promises to give a glimpse at the future of electronic music and a unique listening experience. Intrigued, we thought it was time DMC caught up with Matt again to find out more…
Hi Matt. Welcome back to DMC! Sounds like you’ve been busy since we last spoke… Can you summarise for DMC readers what makes your new album ‘Wolf’ so special?
I’ve been digging deep with making this album, both musically and technically. Nerding out in the studio trying to make it as unique as possible with the production and the overall sound. What makes it unique technically, is that I produced it in Dolby Atmos, which is essentially 3D sound originally designed for cinema. In its purest form you are surrounded by speakers hitting you from all directions including above, with sounds moving freely round the room (see image below). There is also a 3D format emerging for headphones too. It’s a completely immersive experience and reflects the way we hear sounds in the real world. For a producer, it changes the way you produce music and opens up a whole new world of possibilities. Great news is we are now on the cusp of this new 3D tech breaking out into the mainstream.
Why did you decide to produce an album in this new format? Not that many people have the set up required for it yet do they? What’s the story behind it?
I knew all this was coming when I started this project, so I wasn’t really taking a long shot, just future-proofing my album. I was aware of 3D sound and the various formats in development and Dolby Atmos has been around for 5 years in home cinema. I got a chance to spend 3 months in a cutting-edge Dolby Atmos studio so I jumped on it. The music I was making was great for that sit-down, immersive experience – deep and atmospheric in places. When making music in Dolby Atmos you have total freedom to move a sound anywhere in 3D space, it’s a bit of a rush for a producer. It’s like flying when you’ve been confined to a stereo cage your whole life. To listen in 3D with speakers, you need 12 of them wired to a Dolby Atmos compatible amp, and yes, not many people have this kind of home cinema set up right now. However, the price of Atmos dropped massively this year with the advent of the “sound bar” making it much more accessible. Great thing about the Dolby Atmos format is that it “folds down” to whatever surround sound system you have e.g. 7.1 or 5.1. It’s still an amazing experience compared to stereo and a lot of people have 5.1 as it’s a 20 year-old technology. The mass market game changer is 3D for headphones tech, which is developing fast. This will open the door to everyone. The main technical problem to overcome with 3D for headphones was that every individual has a different head and ear shape and mass. Now, a new range of headphones has just arrived, with calibrating microphones built into the earpiece which tailor the experience to each unique user. The Dolby Atmos format is already compatible with Xbox & Windows 10. Also, coming soon on PlayStation and streaming platforms like Apple Music. It’s just a matter of time before we have it on Spotify, probably at the same time the new generation of 3D headphones rolls out, over the next year or so.
Is it a difficult process, producing in 3D Surround Sound? Did you have to learn to produce all over again?
It’s quite different from mixing in stereo; you have so much space, 12 speakers in a virtual sphere of sound instead of having to cram everything into left and right channels. However, you don’t have to learn how to produce from scratch, merely adapt what you know already. For example, immediately I thought how amazing it would sound to be in the centre of a sphere of layers of vocals. So, we recorded about 10 times as many vocal layers and harmonies than normal, positioning vocals all around the outside edge of the “sphere of sound”. This created an incredible 3D, immersive warmth which just wasn’t possible before. It’s really hard to explain until you experience it yourself, but it’s mind-blowing. It took a while to develop some new mixing techniques as its new territory, but I think most producers will find their own way, through trial and error. Maintaining the same power of today’s standard, super loud and maximised mixes was the biggest challenge. The fact you can’t squash everything together means you have to get a bit more creative with where you create the energy in your music. On the flip side, the clarity and separation of sound is so easy to achieve as every sound has its own space and you’re able to position each in 3D space, static or dynamic.
I know Ministry Of Sound have had an amazing Dolby Atmos 3D Surround Sound speaker system installed. Have you DJ’d on this? If so, what’s the difference for DJs. Do you need new skills?
I’m just about to spend a few weeks preparing my first 2 live Dolby Atmos shows. One at Ministry of Sound in London and the other at Sound Bar in Chicago, set for March 2018. These are the first 2 venues in the world to install 3D sound systems. I briefly checked out the DJ app when I was making my album and it seemed quite intuitive for any DJ who uses any kind of DJ software. The big difference is you are mixing with multiple stems; you can isolate the drums or the synth riff and modulate them while the rest of the track keeps rolling. Preparing a mix for DJing is quite different to making an album mix, where you are more subtle with everything. In a DJ set you want to be more dramatic, throw that big riff sound around the room.
And while the new technology is fantastic, let’s not forget the actual music on the new album. You’ve got some great tracks on there! Can you tell us a bit about the collaborations and the style of the album?
I have quite an open mind with music. I think every genre out there has its merits and I’m always listening for new ideas – fuse them with what I know and you have something that sounds original. The beats of the title track “Wolf” are inspired by trap and future bass, mixed with classical string arrangements, acoustic guitar and traditional vocal song arrangements. The deeper tracks like “One More Night In Stars” and “The Beast” flow with the kind of music I spin on my Nocturnal radio show. Almost all of the collaborations on the album are exclusively with vocalists, all of whom I met through the show.
What’s your favourite track on the album and why?
That’s always a tough one. I love “Wolf” because it’s always more fun to come with a new sound. I fused classical string arrangements and guitars with edgy beats, while the vocalist, Patchy, added her lush vocals to bring it all together. “One More Night In Stars” and “Ashamed” are more progressive, with a new style bassline which I love. I dropped them in the club and even though they are quite atmospheric you can still dance to them. I really worked the fine details until I had something that was my own unique style, which I think is really important when making an album. Vocals always make the track for me, if you have a good song and vocal you can take it anywhere.
What’s next for you after ‘Wolf’? Will it feel like a backward step to go back to making ’normal’ music?
Right now, I’m starting work on translating my album into more of a club sound. Half of the tracks are quite deep and chilled which is great for an album but I’ll need to pump those up a bit for the dance floor. I’m also commissioning some remixes too and I always work closely with that process. I don’t think I’ll ever make another album without at least thinking ahead about how I will mix it in 3D. When you go back to stereo it takes a while to come back down. Luckily I don’t think I’ll have to go backwards, I think with the advent of 3D for headphones, this new format will be here to stay.
How do you think the 3D Surround Sound experience will affect our scene in general in the future? Will it permeate all aspects of it? Can you see this becoming industry standard, or will it remain an interesting, high quality niche?
There are many technologies developing side by side, many forms of 3D processing for audio emerging. At the same time, Virtual Reality gaming is taking giant steps forward. Also 3D vision and 360 video is already out there on Facebook and YouTube. EDM is a $12 billion industry which means a lot of investment in new ideas. This music and audience lends itself to pushing the envelope. This audience is always looking for a new experience and the creators to up their game. I think merging all these technologies to bring a new level of virtual festival or club experience is not too far away. Maybe a phone app to bring together the audio and video feed from thousands of people in the audience at Ultra or Tomorrowland? As for the pure audio experience, I’m quite sure we’ll be waving goodbye to stereo sometime soon. We had a great ride this last 50 years but time to move forward to 3D now.
Trance seems to be making a bit of a comeback of late. Have you seen a rise in demand for your classic trance productions and DJ sets? Do you still enjoy that sound?
Yeah, it’s definitely making a resurgence. It’s so melodic and full of energy, uplifting and easy for the new generation of clubbers to get into. I keep getting the nudge from producer friends to make trance again and I had a lot of fun performing quite a few “nostalgia” shows this year, playing my all my classic remixes and productions with live elements. I might just give trance a go again but I’d have to come with a sound, a new style of trance to keep it interesting. I did actually remake 2 of my biggest 20 year old trance hits, “Lost Tribe – Gamemaster” and “Beautiful” in Dolby Atmos and they sounded awesome in 3D. It took myself and a friend, James Wood, 2 weeks to rebuild them to sound just like the originals, but in 3D. I’ll definitely drop them when I spin my Dolby Atmos sets at Ministry of Sound London and Sound Bar Chicago.
What music and artists are inspiring you these days?
My Nocturnal radio show is in its 12th year now, and has always been where I find most of my inspiration. Music today is better than ever, in my opinion. Artists like Sascha Braemer, Aparde, Kolsch, Adana Twins, Christian Loffler, Eelke Kleijn, Cubicolor, Ame, Aparde, Maceo Plex, Who Made Who, Andhim and so many more, are all bringing something fresh to the table. Then, outside of that world, in the last few years tracks like Odeza “It’s Only” and Flume “Never Be Like You Are”, pushing the envelope with fresh new sounds and ways of making music. I appreciate it all and take it all in, and try to work out how they got that sound.