Interview with Tom Hades
Tom Hades is a legendary techno producer, live performer and DJ from Belgium. He has been releasing records since 2001.
Thanks to the people on the Ableton forum for some of these questions. I asked them what they would like to ask a professional producer/DJ who uses Ableton Live.
MacAbleton: Hi Tom, many thanks for sparing the time to talk to us. What have you been up to recently?
Tom: Well, the last months mostly i was occupied playing a bit around the world... So quite nice times ! :)
MacAbleton: Who has influenced you most, and who are you listening to at the moment?
Tom: For me a lot of deep house & melodic tech house tracks are more in my interest of listening at this moment. I somehow started to love some nice productions out there and recently Marco Bailey sent me a link of a track called Time from Pachanga Boys which is for me literally a timeless track ! Pure emotion, just the way i like it. But off course, my heart still stays in the techno scene so as for playing i would never leave my set without a decent techno groove inside ! :)
MacAbleton: Anything you'd like to ask other producers or DJs?
Tom: I guess the most important question for me to other producers & dj's would be what their all-time favorite plugin/software would be.
MacAbleton: How did you get started? How much did you write before you came up with something you felt you could release?
Tom: I got started in a pure experimental way using an Amiga 500 and Octamed Pro tracker software. Along time i started to learn more & more about the different interfaces and protocols out there which led me at a certain moment to be the proud owner of a lot of hardware in the studio. But times change so the last years i guess almost everything is done on computers nowadays with sometimes even a greater effect then what you could have achieved in the studio.
In the studio...
MacAbleton: What is your studio setup? What else do you use in production apart from Live?
Tom: Currently i'm using Ableton Live as my main sequencer sometimes connected in Rewire mode with Reason so i can get the best out of both worlds. I moved 2 years ago to my new place where i made a complete custom made studio using the necessary audio improvements and a couple of good speakers (Dynaudio & Yamaha & Focal). Just the way i wanted it to sound that's the way it sounds now ! :) Sometimes i use some outboard effect gear but usually all is coming from inside my Mac Pro, including my UAD-card...
MacAbleton: Do you know what a track will sound like before you start? What's the first thing you do when you start something new?
Tom : I never start a track with an idea in my mind since my workflow is always experimenting with sounds & effects & resampling until i find something that interests me that much so i can get into the creative part. So the very first thing i do is always kind of jamming around. I also try to not fix myself to fixed looped bars/clips but more to the full length of the track so i can get variations inside during the creative part. Later i may/may not use parts of them.
MacAbleton: How do you split your time between sound design, writing the basic parts, arrangement, mixing, etc? Do you tend to mix as you write or get ideas down quickly and sort it out later?
Tom: Sound design is actually the very first part, then i usually start to find the different arrangement parts by adding/removing clips/instruments/sounds. At a later stage i will take all the different elements to start the complete arrangement in the Ableton arrangement view and as last one i will start to mix the parts together so they merge smoothly. I usually start to do some arrangement but let the idea rest for a while before i get back to it. Usually when i get back i start to remove a lot of parts because i get another impression of the track.
MacAbleton: Do you have a signature technique that you find yourself using all the time? (as in something a bit unusual). How do you balance between getting variation, and establishing a sound that is yours?
Tom : I usually start to find a good bassline using the unusual parts to build it like percussion elements (even hihats). That way i get a groovy, yet darker bassline which gives me the right direction of the track. I don't know if i can call it "mine" but i know that i like to use a lot... As to the part of being/becoming "my sound" i guess my ears are reacting otherwise to mixing elements than other producers so eventually you always get to "your sound".
MacAbleton: What are your favourite features in Live?
Tom: One of my favorite features in Live must be the ability to use the grouped tracks/effects/... . Since you can get very very creative when looping and never ending the application makes Live for me the preferred electronic jamming tool. A must have for producers who want to "search & find" the correct sounds without repeatly having to click start/stop/start/stop.
MacAbleton: How important do you think music theory is, for making dance music?
Tom: Music theory is not really important for dance music because you just need to feel if the sounds and other elements are actually fitting together. It is always nice to have some basic background on how to play nice chords but it is not a necessity.
MacAbleton: How do you get your sounds? People always want to know where to get a kick, bass and so on, or how to make them.
Tom: My sounds are sometimes coming from the most strange parts/samples which you would probably never use to produce a bass or a kick. For example: why not use a pitched kick, filtered, distorted, eq'd, filtered again, compressed & sidechained so that it becomes eventually a bass line ? The most important thing to produce unique sounds is to split the original up as much as you can and use the different parts to re-create something really original. Live can give you all of these options, again without ever needing to stop the sequencer! :)
MacAbleton: What is your DJ setup and method? Do you use Ableton Live for DJ sets?
Tom: My current dj-setup is with Native Instruments Traktor Scratch Pro 2 using timecode & cd-players. I add the Traktor X1 as for quick access to the software and the use of the internal effects. Ableton Live is something i never used for my dj-sets but i guess it should be a perfect tool because of the brilliant time-stretching method inside. Plus you can use the third party effects which makes it even more powerfull.
MacAbleton: Same question, but actual gigging. I know you have gigged with live musicians. Can you tell us a bit about that?
Tom: Until about 4-5 years ago i used to do only live performances. There i used almost all the time Ableton for performing in combination with outboard gear connected with a midi interface. This way i could use older gear like Roland TR909 and Roland Juno 106. Really cool in combination with a good sax player at a venue like Nature One equals firework ! :) The nice thing on using Live for this is that you can actually build/re-build your complete track using separate clips and using effects for transition, build up and break downs.
MacAbleton: Have you had any spectacular equipment failures when playing live? If so, how did you deal with it/them?
Tom: Off course, when doing stuff live using midi gear you can experience the known "midi-loop-failure". This means that the famous Midi Panic button must be in hand reach because otherwise you can get a huge build up but never be able to break it down again. :) Another known issue at that moment was that laptops where not that strong and so they could hardly cope the heat of a packed club so eventually they just stop working. The only thing you can do is either have a backup procedure (like a cd ready in a cd player) either start singing a song ... :)
MacAbleton: What advice would you give to people starting out?
Tom: My only & best advice what i could give is that you should always be very critical for yourself and your work. Make sure once you want to send over a demo to a label that your track could easily fit a mix with existing tracks from one of your favorite label(s) as well as that you would put out your track in every set you would/could do! Dedication is very important so review your track as much as possible. Nowadays you can save every version without being destructive, in the past the only thing what you could do is taking pictures of the mixing desk hoping you can get back to the original track...
MacAbleton: What are you up to next? And what are your long term plans/goals?
Tom: As for long term : keep on going ! :) I want to build the label to grow bigger & better. I want to release on some other major labels which i love to play out as well. Techno for live ! :)
MacAbleton: Thanks very much for talking to us!
Tom: It was my pleasure ! Hopefully i inspired enough people so we can go on for generations & generations ! :)