SSL Matrix in Depeche Mode?s Delta Machine

Producer Ben Hillier specified Solid State Logic’s Matrix SuperAnalogue mixing console with software-controlled analogue patch system and multi-layer DAW control to track Depeche Mode’s thirteenth studio album Delta Machine at Santa Barbara Sound Design (California) and Jungle City Studios (New York).

The SSL Matrix has become a central hub of the Depeche Mode production process with frontman Dave Gahan having set up a Matrix-based project studio at his New York City home, while Ivor Novello Award-winning principal songwriter, synthesist and guitarist Martin Gore has added a Matrix to his home-based project studio in Santa Barbara.

Gore assembled a modular synth system with well over 700 Eurorack modules. According to Hillier, “One of the first things that [A&R] Daniel Miller said to me was, ‘The demos that Martin’s made this time are amazing!’ and he was right. They had this great sound to them – because he was using all these old synths and mixing them through the Matrix.”

Transforming those promising-sounding demos into a fully-fledged Depeche Mode album meant moving band, producer and programming team into a self-built multi-DAW studio setup within the live room at Santa Barbara Sound Design. “That studio has a great big live room, so we built a studio in there, because putting a band in a live room and me in a control room is not relevant to the way Depeche work. We had a Pro Tools rig with hardly any plug-ins as the main recording hub for our studio, which we sort of used like a multitrack, with a summing bus as a mix output, plus a load of laptop-based areas. We didn’t want to have everyone sitting around looking over other people’s shoulders at one computer screen while someone moved bass drums around, so it was a way of making programmed music in a slightly more sociable, slightly less navel-gazing way!”

Next Depeche decamped to the East Coast to continue working in The Penthouse at Jungle City Studios in NYC, with its SSL Duality equipped control room and inspiring live room: “There’s really good monitoring in the main studio there, but we still rebuilt our own studio in the live room, so we could run both rooms simultaneously.”

The transportable Matrix-based workflow worked a treat, bringing several salient strengths to the tracking table: “We were comp’ing everything on the master Pro Tools rig and running that through the Matrix, so we could just hit recall and get back to the same musical buzz every time, while the DAW control got us away from looking at the computer screen too much. We did all the summing in the Matrix – at least all the rough mixes on all the work-in-progress stuff, which worked well. The mix busses sound really great – there’s a gain pot on the top that’s especially handy when you’re setting up a mix and want to drive it a little bit more to make it glue together nicely.”

The key to mixing Depeche Mode’s successful sound arguably lies in balancing those copious quantities of synthesisers (and occasional guitar) alongside Dave Gahan’s distinctive baritone and Martin Gore’s more melodious backing (and occasional lead) vocals. Here, too, the Matrix proved proficient when tracking the band’s most emotive elements: “We had a large rack of outboard compressors and EQs – a few of my favourites and some choice pieces liberated from Martin’s studio – that were all patched into the Matrix’s software patch bay. Pretty much everything was put through some of them, and we had preset insert chains for things like Dave and Martin’s vocal sounds.”