As impressive as electronic music is—I’ve made my entire career based on it—the one thing that computer-made music struggles with is that humanized swing and authentic feel that all more conventional music has. Unless a producer goes the extra mile to click, type, and play in those off-grid details in their track, the music will always sound, at least to some extent, a bit robotic.

But if you ever need a reference on what humanized dance music is, look no further than Calcou. His tracks have some of the most unique swing and syncopation of any artist I’ve ever heard of in my decade-long career in this industry as a critic, producer, DJ, and fan of the music. His latest album is a complete masterclass in authenticity, with every single bar and beat bringing in some new flavor and groove that takes the track to the next level.

And I wanted to take the opportunity to celebrate the release of his latest EP, “Time,” to invite him on and get some fast tips on producing the music that he does and find out what plugins he uses to make such textural, warm, punchy grooves with some of the most real and authentic sounding beats I’ve heard in a year. So listen to the title track below to acclimate your ears to the magic this guy can work before we dive into the sauce on the latest iteration of How It Was Made: Calcou – Time.

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Native Instruments – Super 8

Quite a few of the main synth sounds are from Native Instruments’ Super 8, which emulates a vintage 8-Voice Poly-Synth. I really love plugins that are straightforward and easy to use and don’t come overloaded with thousands of effects, routings, etc. That way, I can focus on the essence and make sure I don’t overload the track with effects.

The Pad is based on the „Unexplored Land“ preset. Sometimes I’d scroll through presets and start with the first sound I’d like. That’s exactly what happened here. The oscillators are tuned a fifth apart and you get those nice duophonic sounds by just pressing one note – instant vibe. I also loved the glide and the warmth that the preset brings. Nothing too crazy on the processing – a compressor to keep the sound steady, a little eq to cut the lows and boost some upper mids and a sidechain triggered by the kick drum for a little pumping.

I think tuning oscillators a fifth apart is always a fun way to start an idea. Even if you just use it as a drone and add more harmonic content with another synth. I’d also recommend avoiding too much chorus, unison, stereo-delays, reverbs etc. – at least at the early production stage. One thing I learned is to prioritize sounds drastically. Keep some stuff mono for punch and directness. And then go crazy with stereo-effects for other sounds that should sound wide and huge.

Learn More About This Plugin Here

Quantum 2772 Evolution

The Quantum 2772 evolution is a reverb plugin I haven’t seen many people use. It is a true algorithmic stereo reverb, inspired by an old German room simulator algorithm.

I really love it because it gives an incredible fat reverb sound, almost like a pad. You can treat it in a way it really doesn’t sound much like a room but will still add dimension to your sound in a quite unconventional, dense way.    

„Dense Mode“ is the magic button in this plugin for me. As it says, you can tweak how dense you’d like to have the reverb. If you push this, the sound becomes really fat without cluttering your mix. Just make sure to give it a little EQ tweak afterward.


The granulator is a sample based granular synthesizer by Ableton co-creator Robert Henke. So yes – not really a non-synth plugin, but I never thought about it as synthesizer but more as a creative sound design tool. You can drag & drop any audio sample in there and modulate the sound.

I used the granulator often on the vocals in „Time“. There is no real strategy behind it as it is quite hard to predict what happens when you use the plugin. So basically, I just load a sample (the vocal take in this case) and turn the knobs until something crazy happens. Then I record everything I’m doing because it’s almost impossible to recreate it again.

I love the granulator as a random factor in my production. It can trigger creativity and open up new routes I have not considered yet. So it’s worth trying out in really any production. Just throw some synth or vocal lines (or maybe even a bounce of the whole song) into the granulator and play around with it!

Tips For Making UK Garage

Tip #1:

Listen, listen, listen. To other songs and artists you like. If you have a vision of where to take the track, you‘ll get there over time.

Tip #2:

Turn on the swing. Always.

Tip #3:

Distortion is your friend. I think there’s almost no track in my production where I don’t use a little bit of saturation, overdrive or distortion.

Tip #4:

Cut the highs on drums for some oldschool rave vibes. Always sounds better to me.

Tip #5:

In the end, it’s a great composition that makes a difference to me. So maybe don’t focus too hard on the soundesign, earcandy etc. in the beginning and make sure to get the composition/writing right.

The post How It Was Made: Calcou – Time (MfRD+C) appeared first on Magnetic Magazine.