Reese bass is an often-confused term that crops up in dance music production, usually within Jungle and Drum’n’Bass circles. There are countless YouTube tutorials on creating the perfect Reese sound, commonly built up of stacked super-saw oscillators with numerous parallel band-reject filters being modulated, drenched in unison detune and clipping distortion.

Of course, this modern flip is a perfectly valid sound, and can be heard in tracks from Noisia to Limewax, Technical Itch to Spor and many others. However, the original term actually refers to a sound sampled from a 1988 techno track by Kevin Saunderson under the alias Reese:

Reese’s Pieces

On the original pressing there were a number of different mixes, in particular the third track on the A-side. Colloquially known as the Bassapella, it had the bassline isolated without drums making it ripe for sampling:

The is a wavy low-passed bass sound easily achieved with basic subtractive synthesis. Often mis-attributed to a Roland Juno 106, Kevin actually clears this up for us in a recent Music Radar
interview, claiming the sound came from a Casio CZ-5000.

The patch has a nice, subtle movement to it and some harmonics in the mid-range and has plenty of bottom end. These characteristics made it perfect for lots of dance music. Kevin had this to say about it:

I created the Reese bass from that [Casio synth], and drum ‘n’ bass DJs have used it over the years… I’d be getting into the oscillators, but it was trial and error. I didn’t know a lot about that kind of stuff, but I knew it affected the way the original patch sounded. You just messed around with every button! …So there was no real theory behind it, besides experimentation to make something happen differently to what was was already there… I can usually tell when I have it right just by how the impact of the sound feels when I play on the keyboard, whether it’s a deep Reese bass or any other type of bass.


Resampling

Over the next 10 to 15 years, countless tracks have appeared with various samples and resamples of Kevin’s bass – perhaps one of the earliest versions is this 1993 mix of Dreams of Heaven by Inta Warriors:

Perhaps a more prolific well known example of this is Ray Keith and Nookie’s Terrorist from 1994, under the moniker Renegade. This was released on the hugely influential label Moving Shadow and has had a number of reissues and appearances on compilations:

From the same year, Dillinja takes a slightly more blatant approach, sampling the vocal and atmospherics from the original too:

There are numerous other examples from this period, likely sampling Terrorist rather than from the source, but it’s impossible to know:

DJ Scoobie – Wait 4 The Bass (A-Sides Thunderbolt Mix) [1994]

Remarc – R.I.P (DJ Hype remix) [1995]

Soul of Darkness – Omni Trio (Promenade 96 Rollout) [1996]

Kingsize & Eternity – You Belong To Me [1997]

Mutant Jazz


In 1995 T Power and MK-Ultra released their seminal Mutant Jazz, however it was Trace’s Roller Instinct mix from the same year that really ruffled feathers in the Reese resampling world:

Trace utilises a more distorted sound (for example driven with either desk distortion or a cheap Boss pedal). It was perhaps his tech step classic Mutant Revisited from 1996 that’s a more widely known mix:

Cutslo

In 1997 Ed Rush, Optical and Fierce released Locust on Prototype records, pushing the tech step idiom into faster, more distorted territories. However their ‘98 mix Cutslo (an anagram of Locust) is where we pick up.

Using the same Reese as Locust (albeit even more warped), it contained a section in the first breakdown where the bass was isolated and, like Saunderson’s original track, easy to get a nice, clean cut for reuse:

This can be heard in John B’s Up All Night from 2001, but there are countless examples:

How to make a Reese

Despite the recent revelation about the actual synth used to create the Reese, it can still be achieved with subtractive synthesis using a Juno clone. The 106 is a simple one-oscillator polysynth from 1984. The DCO (digitally controlled oscillator) could be either sawtooth or a pulse wave running into a resonant low-pass filter and chorus unit at the output stage.

The sound itself is criminally simple. We’re going to use Togu Audio Line’s excellent (and free) U-NO 62, which emulates the Juno 106 nicely (sadly this is 32-bit only; there is a newer, 64-bit version available but it’s not free). I’ve mimicked the original bassline for demonstration purposes at 122 bpm.

Starting with our DCO, I’m using the pulse wave with pulse-width modulation enabled. Pulse-width modulation (or PWM as it’s commonly referred to on synths) is the modulation of the symmetry of a pulse wave. In the Juno’s case, we’re using an LFO (low frequency oscillator) to do this. I’m using a rate of about 15 – 20%.

Next we’ll need to bring our low-pass filter’s cutoff down to around a third of the way. Disable any envelope modulation and bring the KYBD up to max (this is keyboard tracking, which opens the filter as higher notes are played and closes it for lower notes). Finally increase the VCA (voltage-controlled amplifier) to max and make our ENV (amplitude envelope) have no attack, decay or release and maximum sustain.

To dirty the sound up a tad I added in a touch of white noise. You can add in the sawtooth or sub oscillators if you want to phatten the sound up a bit, and a healthy dose of Juno chorus wouldn’t go amiss (though check your mono signal if you do this).

Mutant Jazz

The next step is to resample it. For simplicity, I’m going to record two bars of C1 to a new audio track. At this stage you can dirty the sound up how you want, adding vinyl noise, tape hiss, sample rate/bit reduction, EQ, compression etc. etc. Bear in mind anything you add can’t be undone so be sure to save your steps as you go along.

N.B. If you’re interested in reading more about how to dirty sounds up, have a read of this.

Next, add the resulting file to a sampler instrument. Kontakt or Logic’s EXS24 will do (or any other half decent sampler for that matter) but I’m going to use Live’s Sampler instrument. Be sure to set the file’s root key to C1 (or whatever note you recorded).

I’m going to enable ‘Snap’ and set the sustain mode to ‘Loop back and forth’. In the Filter/Global panel, disable any Vol<Vel (velocity-controlling volume modulation) and set the voices to 1. Finally in the Pitch/Osc panel, set the Glide to Glide (rather than Off or Portamento) and move the time to 100ms to get a smooth transition between notes. We’re working at 164 bpm now.

To get the distortion sound, I’ve tweaked Live’s Saturator’s Mid-Range Phattner preset and added some Overdrive afterwards. Experiment with Glide times and even adding another pitch LFO to get more warbly sounds.


Cutslo

Finally Ed Rush and Fierce’s 176 bpm Cutslo: a wetter and even more distorted sound. Firstly let’s enable the Sampler’s filter. I’ve added a bit of resonance to the low-pass filter and used the built in sine shaper to drive the sound a bit further.

The filter can be opened over time, and placed before the distortion can create some interesting overtones. Using a combination of Live’s Overdrive and Amp to emulate the mid-range distortion, you can finish the sound off with the built-in Reverb and, voila!, ‘97-era tech step.

Ableton Amp, Overdrive and Reverb

Finally a massive thanks to Tim Cant who helped with researching and sourcing some of the material for this. Couldn’t have done it without him.