Barreling their way through 2015 with a series of massive releases—leading up to their long-awaited debut LP due on Ram Records at the end of the year—the duo known as DC Breaks seem to be in their absolute prime and show no signs of slowing down.
Having earned their stripes over the course of 40+ releases, including a slew of jaw-dropping hits in the past few months alone, the duo seem to have been blessed with a golden touch that allows them to smash it everywhere they turn. From VIP versions of anthems like “Shaman” and “Gambino” to their chart-topping single “Faithless,” it’s obvious that Dan and Chris are absolutely, positively not fucking around when it comes to churning out the hits.
Equally awe-inspiring are their recent uptempo revisions of Eelke Kleijn’s deep-house chiller “Mistakes I’ve Made” and their soon-to-be-released version of Zomboy’s “Beast in the Belly.” The power they wield in remix mode only adds fuel to the fire, while also providing us the perfect excuse to sit down with the crew and squeeze out an exclusive step-by-step insight into the DC Breaks remix process. Thankfully, Dan agreed to let us into their top-secret lab and was more than generous, unloading a full-on master session for the Insomniac faithful on the labor and love involved in crafting a chart-topping remix.
STEP ONE: LISTEN
First off, you get sent the track to check out; if you like what you hear and everything else makes sense (type of artist, etc.), then you give the go-ahead. Sometimes you’re unclear if it’s going to turn out well as a remix until you get the stems, so sometimes we ask for the stems before confirming to do the mix; some sounds might reveal themselves in the stems and will convince us to take the remix on. Normally, however, a couple of listens to the track will give you a clear idea of the remix possibilities.
We don’t take notes. We kind of did, once upon a time, but things change dramatically once you start the remix, so there’s little point.
STEP TWO: SELECT YOUR STEMS
With “Mistakes,” it was all about the guitar and vocal. The guitar had a cool Wild-West feel to it, and although we weren’t sure the vocal would work at 174 BPM, after quickly chucking it into Ableton and speeding it up, we were satisfied that it would translate nicely.
There were some rhythm guitars that were in the mix for a bit, but eventually they came out, and we increased the amount of new sounds in general as we went along. Normally you can whiz through a bunch of stems and discard a fair amount of them, focusing on the key ones you’ve picked out.
STEP THREE: BUILD THE GROOVE
We work in a different way than most duos do, in that we don’t work together in the same studio very often! We live 200 miles apart, so we’re only together about once a month.
In the case of “Mistakes,” Chris kicked the mix off, building up a block of nice-sounding, rolling drums before throwing in a few custom bass sounds and building the groove. I was working on an album tune that week, and then midway through the week, we swapped over the projects. Where this process gets kind of interesting is when the other receives the remix, because in many ways, their task is now to almost remix the remix—if that makes sense!
“The most important thing to remember is that throughout this entire process, the end result should sound like your own sound.”
STEP FOUR: FIND YOUR HOOK
Once I got ahold of the remix project, I identified a melody that Chris had thrown in toward the end of the track and began to use it as the main hook (this is the riff you hear at the beginning of the remix and at the drop). Chris had been following the original chords and bassline, but I figured I should try out some other chord sequences; this often works with vocals nicely and gives everything a different feel. In this case, it seemed to get deeper and more powerful. I then began using Chris’s synth bass sounds to layer the root note of the chords, and that was that, really!
STEP FIVE: REVISE AND REFINE
Even once a fairly final arrangement is made, everything is continually developing until the final mix (and even then, it can continue!). We originally dropped the vocals with the drums and bass after the buildup, but quickly decided we should have a more dancefloor mix where it’s just bass and drums. So the vocals got shifted to the second section. Luckily, lots of the vocals worked really well over everything, so we could largely leave whole sections intact. In the build-ups, it was rather obvious which vocals to loop into the drop to build the intensity (“Mistakes I’ve made…”).
STEP SIX: GET OUTSIDE FEEDBACK
In the first version that we sent to the label, the remix began with some atmospheric piano chords and pads, and then went into the original verse before the bridge and chorus. However, the label wasn’t sure about how the verse sounded and suggested we chop it up and add a few FX to it. To be honest, that works well for some mixes, but we felt that it would be tricky with this one, so we decided to scrap the verse idea altogether and go for the DJ-friendly rolling drums intro, thereby being able to focus just on the chorus vocals, which actually enhance the lyrics and establish our new hook early on; less is more!
Quite often with remixes for major record labels, the mix gets knocked back with a request for “more original vocals!” Actually, we sometimes purposely leave some out, knowing that we’ll be asked to be put them back in! But in the end, there has to be a compromise between all parties, and there often is. However, many get approved upon delivery, and the more remixes you do, the more experience you gain in knowing what labels want from remixes.
STEP SEVEN: APPLY THE FINISHING TOUCH
In terms of final touches, it’s always a good idea—whatever you’re making—to take a step back and have a couple of days off before revisiting the track. That way, any errors or dodgy sounds are more exposed to your fresh ears.
The most important thing to remember is that throughout this entire process, the end result should sound like your own sound. For us, it’s a great feeling nailing a solid remix that can work well on both the radio and in the clubs; that’s something we always try to achieve. Once we think we’ve got it, we move on to the next project and don’t look back.