The Fat of the Land was the Prodigy’s third album, and a huge commercial success. Released in 1997, I still remember buying it on cassette and taking it home to listen to for the first time (there were no leaks or previews in those days!)

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Everybody of course remembers Smack My Bitch Up, Breathe and their hit single Firestarter but it was a track towards the end of side two, Climbatize, that caught my attention:

The album saw Liam Howlett and co take the guitar and rock influenced sounds of Music for the Jilted Generation a step further, and it was perhaps amongst all this industrial big-beat stuff that Climbatize stood out as an eerie breakbeat hardcore-era chillout number.

Let’s have a look as it’s composition.

Intro

Let’s start by making our DAWs tempo to 129 bpm. The tracks begins with an ominous twelve-bar string loop that fades in over eight bars. This is actually a sample taken from John Ottoman’s soundtrack to The Usual Suspects, a track called Kobayashi’s Domain (though it bears a striking resemblance to this Gigi D’Agostino tune, probably just a coincidence though). John recalls this about the string recording session:

Financial constraints forced me into making a little go a long way. The room in which the score was recorded was so small that we couldn’t fit the entire orchestra in all at once. So we recorded the score multiple times with each section separately. The first two days we recorded the 38 strings, whose elbows practically rubbed the walls. I was able to foster the technique of “multiple-passing” the strings (which simply meant stacking three separate performances of string parts on top of one another) in order to create an almost larger-than-life sonic experience and great mix control of the string section.”

The sample kicks in at 2.09:

After purchasing the track off of iTunes, I added it to Live and isolated the sample. I played it with the track and realised it’s pitched down two semitones:

I added the section to Live’s sampler instrument, adding the first chord to the note A#2 and the second chord to B2 (for the second chord I adjusted the root note to C# so I could trigger these chord separately without affecting the tuning of the second). I set up back and forth loops for both chords, enabled the ‘snap’ and turned the sustain loops mode to on.

Next, in the Filter/Global section I added some attack and release to help the notes bleed into each other. There’s another chord that kicks in at 0.15 seconds so I created a new zone on F#2, looped the first chord and programmed it in with this two-semitone pitch bend:

 

In case you’re interested, this is what the strings are playing. The loop is F, Bb- (2nd inversion) three times, then Db with a pitch bend up to Eb and back down again.

Next, we need to add a tambourine. After much searching I found something called ST_Tambourine130 that seemed to work (I have no idea what sample pack it’s from ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ sorry!).

I looped the first quarter beat and pitched it down six semitones. Then, adding Live’s redux and Auto Filter, it sounded just about right:

Breakdown

At 1.07 the track breaks down for the first time. The tambourine continues with a gated sound that turns out to be the organ from the intro to Won’t Get Fooled Again by The Who (which this guy has transcribed if anyone’s interested):

The sound itself is a Hammond Organ processed with an ARP 2500 and an EMS VCS 3, which provided a sample and hold low-pass filter. Pete describes it here:

After pulling the track in and warping it, I tuned it down four semitones. It was hard to find the right bit, but playing it with our reference behind I soon found it was the third beat of bar twelve. I looped that and began to process it:

As you can see, the track has a wide stereo image with the organ panned almost hard right so I added Live’s Utility and set the Channel Mode to Right. Next, some Overdrive, Redux, Auto Filter and Saturator finished the sound off.

The Auto Filter is providing a band-pass sweep over four bars – this adds necessary movement to the part.

It’s worth noting Liam Howlett’s love for the Boss SE-70, so it’s likely the distortion could have come from there.

There’s a simple hi-hat pattern that enters at bar forty one, and that’s the breakdown done.

Bass

For the bass I used Kontakt’s excellent (and free) Classic Bass. This kicks in at 1.37. From the default patch I turned the tone down, added some more noise and disabled the reverb.

It took some fiddling with the velocity to get the groove and human feel just right, so I’ve added some slight velocity randomization. This could well be programmed or played in by Liam – it’s hard to tell, but sounds real enough:

This is what the bass is playing. To get the low Eb notes the bass has to be tuned down a half-step (semitone):

Occasionally there is this little variation:

Give the Drummer Some

After sixty-eight bars the drums and percussion have fully faded in. I wasn’t able to identify exactly what break was used, but I could get close to it with Bill Withers’s Kissing My Love.

I chopped the kicks and snare out, using alt + cmd + f to tweak the fades, then rearranged them like so (kicks in pink, snare in white). I then consolidated the loop (cmd + j):

The percussion is famously resampled from The Jedi Knights’ Air Drums From Outer Bongolia, which in turn samples The Incredible Bongo Band’s Bongolia (and often wrongly thought to be from the band’s other liberally sampled Apache).

The Jedi Knights weren’t too happy with The Prodigy sampling them without permission; however, it turned out they themselves hadn’t cleared the rights to the original recording, which XL Recordings (The Prodigy’s label) acquired during this heated legal mess.

Ironically the case was brought to the attention of George Lucas who was none too happy with The Jedi Knights using Star Wars intellectual property without permission, and he apparently sued them.

The track was harder to find but after tracking it down, I pulled it into Ableton and isolated a bar where not much else was going on (no echoes or FX).

I tuned the sample down forty-three cents to get it in time (this was made pre-Ableton warping, so I’d imagine getting drum loops in-time involved tuning them). Sounds good:

Hornorgraphy

The haunting horn in Climbatize is a sample of Egyptian Empire’s Horn Track (from 1991) and is actually quite easy to source and extrapolate the sample.

Just chop out the intro note and transpose it as follows: minus ten semitones, plus three, plus two them minus three. I’ve colour-coded the clips to help visualise this:

Consolidate it and finish it off with some Simple Delay to help the notes bleed into one another and sound a bit less jerky:

If you struggled with that, there’s a handy YouTube video explaining it in a bit more depth.

Outro

From just after 6.00 the track breaks down to just drums and the organ sound and eight bars after this is an effect achieved by adding a 100% wet reverb to the master channel. Again, it’s hard to be accurate about exactly what reverb unit he used, but he was known to have the aforementioned Boss SE-70, Yamaha SPX1000, ART Multiverb and an Alesis Quadraverb.

To simulate this, create a blank audio track and set the I/O input to resampling. Then, record an eight bar section (I chose bars 101 to 109) with the bass and organ muted out.

With a combination of Reaktor’s Fusion Reflections and Live’s built-in Reverb, I could get close to the diffused sound:

Arrangement

The track begins with the tambourine and string sample being faded in. I like to use Live’s Utility plugin for this as it means we can fade the sounds in without having to make choices about the volume fader:

There’s no real sonic value in doing this, it’s just a time-saver; when we come to mix I have no automation on my faders allowing me to make last minute decisions about these sounds. I did the same with the drums and percussion from bars 61 to 69, and programmed in a little drum fill at bar 68 (in green):

There are tonnes of spot FX and other things going on that there’s not really time enough to cover, but this is supposed to be just a general guide to the track rather than a super-forensic replay like the excellent Jim Pavloff does.

There are a few other variations in the track: at bar 125 we see a version of the string pattern that’s reversed; and at bar 173 we have the last bar of the bass looped (a not-dissimilar sound to Leftfield’s Phat Planet):

Strings:

Bass:

 Here’s the whole arrangement. Click on it to view it larger:

Mix/Master

Finally, let’s look at the mix – let’s start off with the strings. Using Live’s EQ Eight I’m going to remove some boomy bottom end (below 100 Hz) and give a sharp boost to high mids (around 6.7 kHz):

Similarly, with the tambourine I’m going to remove everything below 1.3 kHz and add a very light low-pass filter at 16 kHz. Notice the extreme high frequencies at the top of this sound most likely caused by the sample-rate reduction plug-in (Redux):

Let’s move on to the bass guitar. Kontakt already has some cabinet emulation in it but I found adding Live’s Cabinet plugin on the default setting (just changed the Speaker to 4×10 Bass) made the sound a bit rounder in the mix. Some light compression and EQ finished the sound off:

Next group the drums and percussion together. Shift + select both track and hit cmd + g: now we can process these together. Some simple compression courtesy of Live’s Glue Compressor will do nicely:

Let’s turn our attention to some send/return tracks. Create a blank return tracks by hitting alt + cmd + t and name it Delay. Create two more for Plate and Long reverbs. On the delay return I’m going to add SoundToy’s EchoBoy. I’ve sent the Horn to it.

Using the default patch I’ve adjusted the low and high cut, changed the wet to 100% (very important for return tracks), added some saturation and turned the delay algorithm to Cheap Tape, which I thought added some nice high frequencies:

For the Plate I used the Lexicon Plate reverb with the Coloured Plate 3 (Light) preset. I’ve sent the Hi-hat, Organ, Drum group and Horn to it:

Finally, the Long reverb comes courtesy of Live’s built-in Reverb and has the strings and horn being sent to it:

The last step is some basic mastering. It’s difficult to know exactly what Liam might have rendered the tracks through even before they were sent off for mastering so I’m going to use some more general processes.

Firstly, let’s add Live’s EQ Eight and balance our spectrum. A gentle boost at the bottom and top end while low and high cutting:

Let’s add Live’s Glue Compressor and Saturation plugins. Adjust the threshold and ratio of the compressor to taste, but the lighter the better. For the Saturator I’m going to use the Warm Up Highs preset and bring the Output down slightly:

To finish off, add Wave’s L2 Limiter and we’re done!

        

Here’s the finished track. There’s plenty missing from the original in terms of background and spot FX, but this is just a general guide to the sampling and basic sound design behind it. You can download the Ableton project here.