Picture this: a nice, idylic village in Friesland, a province in the north of the Netherlands. A studio stuffed with all the legendary hardware one could possibly dream of. Its design, based on the world famous 1970’s Atlantic studios. That’s Mixroom One, Karel Posts’ life’s work. “It took me years, collecting all this.”
Karel Post has been in the business for more than 30 years now. He has worked for companies like BMG Ariola and Capitol Studio’s, and in the nineties he was producing and remixing for XSV Records. They were massively into the upcoming Trance house music. “I was producing flip sides, mostly. My name wasn’t on all of the credits, but fortunately, I earned enough in royalties to help build me this place.” Nowadays, clients with special interests in using vintage hardware, who are really into authentic sound quality, are finding their way to Mixroom One.
“I’m something of a purist. I’ll always be going for the original gear. No matter how.” Along with the Fairlight, there are the 303’s, 808’s, 909’s, LinnDrums, Jupiter’s, Juno’s, Prophets, Akai’s, the Emulator II and III…. Well, practically every hit making high-end machine you can think of. Icing on the cake: the MCI JH556D-LM mixing console, of which he is extremely fond. “Many famous records were mixed on these consoles. Mine came from the Atlantic Studio’s in New York. It was present in studio A from late 1980 until 1985. Against All Odds by Phill Collins and I Feel For You by Shaka Khan were recorded and / or mixed on this very console. Just to name a few.” In 2011, he found himself a Fairlight Series III MFX, fully equipped. “The reason I bought it, is because – obviously – I wanted the real mcCoy.”
Can we fix it?
He started out in 1988. “Some of the gear over here has been with me ever since, and is still working perfectly. Like my beloved, good-old Roland MSQ 700 sequencer. Works like a charm for synching old machines like the 303’s, 808’s etcetera to MIDI or SMPTE. I really can’t do without it.”
Being a handyman at heart, he tends to buy broken gear and repair it himself. “I bought my Emulator II for a mere 150 euros and fixed it up. Recently, I bought two broken Urei 1168 compressors for less than nothing. Now, they are good to go again and worth about 2,000 Euros a piece.” The Fairlight he bought came from a German firm, handling secondhand high-end studio equipment. It was in perfect condition, until it got delivered… The day it arrived from Germany, he missed the delivery guy. Preventing his fragile package from a bumpy ride throughout the province, he called the delivery service to ask if they’d drop it off to his friend living nearby, who coincidentally was waiting for a delivery as well.
“So there it was, this heavy priced machine, in a big box on a pallet. And there was that ‘uh-oh’-feeling… It took me quite a while, putting all the voice cards back in place, doing some repairs, making it work again. But I got it up and running. Smooth as silk!”
Hitting the jackpot
“It wasn’t easy to find one. Well, let’s say: to find one that is actually working. You can say I’ve found the needle in the haystack. It used to belong to Jörg Evers, who became famous as a musician/composer/arranger for a lot of German movie productions and artists. Later in his career, it seems he composed some music for commercials. I’ve found some very familiar tunes in my machine, along with some very nice home-made samples and drum patterns.
It was one of the first Series III MFX’s, probably delivered somewhere around 1986. It has all the available extra options. I still have the original monitor that came with it, but I hooked it up to a full color screen. The 24-track recorder workstation-mode is in full colour. But ‘escape F1’ starts all the fun! Doing that, it flips back to the ‘back-in-the-old-days’ resolution and screen layout.”
The original monitor comes in handy for this other piece of Fairlight equipment he has: the Voice Tracker. “I think it’s from 1985. It analyses and displays the notes it is ‘hearing’. A very early pitch-to-MIDI. It works with midi, and with control voltages as well. With this device, I can whistle a tune right into a midi track. Just like the Fairlight CMI, very much ahead of its time. Not many are made; it’s quite a rarity.” Laughing: “To be honest, I wanted to have it, just because it’s Fairlight!”
“I think I started discovering synth sounds around 1976, through Jean Michel Jarre’s Oxygen. It was a revelation! Later on, Art of Noise, Jan Hammer.… I learnt that some major parts of ’80’s Fleetwood Mac songs were done on a Fairlight. And, Sowing the seeds of love by Tears for fears, a master piece, with massive use of the instrument as well. Just to name a few. First thing I played when I got mine? Probably the intro of Fleetwood Mac’s Big Love.“
“Yes, there are some really good sound libraries out there today too, but if you ask me, those on the Fairlight Series III are the top of the bill. Songs by ABC for instance, or Grace Jones, are stuffed with these good quality orchestral sounds, all coming from the Fairlight. That’s what made it all sound so tasteful. Strings, brass, drum loops.. every waveform is so useful, with such rich dynamics.”
“The Series II was somewhat limited, although Vince Clarke managed to make it sound fantastic on the Yazoo-album Upstairs at Eric’s. When the Series III came along… Man, It just was all over the place! Probably until Akai came up with their also legendary, more affordable samplers.”
Collaborating with enthusiasts
Over the past few years, Karel worked with artists who appreciate good oldfashioned craftsmanship when it comes to producing records. By the name of Lonestarr, he made some productions, loved within the Italo scene. Recently, he has done a 12″ record with Systems In Blue, a German band. Originally, they were background vocalists for a number of acts in the late 70’s and ’80’s, and mostly known for their collaborations with Modern Talking. “Itamar Moraz wanted to make a remix of a SIB-song in the original sound of Modern Talking. Moraz pre-produced the tracks in Israel, and here at Mixroom.one, we replaced the virtual instruments with the real deal; vintage synths, and all original hardware. It was released as a conaisseur’s edition, only on vinyl. To my satisfaction, it sold out in a few months! Vinyl has made a comeback over the past few years and it’s nice to know there are still people out there, appreciating these kind of complex productions.” He is also working on a remake of a song by the KLF; notorious for their early nineties stadium acid house. “I’m working with Azat (Isaac) Bello, who did the rap on What Time Is Love, and Maxime Harvey will join too, she’s the amazing vocalist on 3 AM Eternal. By the way, their music was chockfull of Fairlight as well. They used the one owned by Hans Zimmer at Lilly Yard Studio, and I have that library too.”
Glamour and mojo
“Having a Fairlight hasn’t changed my whole way of producing music. I’ve always worked with hardware. In most cases, I’m not using those famous signature sounds very much, but try to explore its depths. And as for sampling, I usually grab my first generation 12 Bit Akais; they’re really practical beasts.
The first time I heard the Fairlight parts coming through my mixing console, joining a mix, I felt like: ‘Ok… this is something else! This is the shit! So that’s what the Fairlight sound is all about!’ Just amazing. It does an amazing job when it comes to time code / synching. Sometimes even faster than modern day computers. Just spot-on! Every sound or waveform coming from the library, is so useful, with great dynamics. Whatever song you’re making: the Fairlight will make it shine; it adds some real glamour to the production.”
It’s not like he holds any grudges against those who are climbing the charts with their bathroom-bangers, using just a laptop. That’s all fine with him. But in his humble opinion, much modern-day productions are stuffed with worn-out preset sounds he recognises in an instant from previous hit records: “The same bass drums, the same xylophone-sound, the same vocals, the same mix… Just too bloody boring. Even the today’s Trance records sound nearly identical to some of the stuff I did in the late 90’s. But luckily, there is still some good new music out there.”
“I guess what I’d like to say is: when you’re using software and you do like these vintage sounds, try to get your hands on real original gear, at least for once in your life. Let it inspire you. There are studio’s specialized in giving you that kind of experience, with people driven by enthusiasm. Yes, you’d have to spend some money, but it’s definitely worth the experience. You will hear the difference. You’ll get that ‘home coming’ feeling. That just cannot be emulated by software. It’s all about mojo. That’s what makes the difference, and Fairlight, like the Jupiter 8 and the Minimoog, delivers that in spades. The same goes for a really high quality console like my MCI JH556D. It’s more of everything!”
“To me, using vintage gear is just sublime. No virtual instrument or plug-in can compete with that hands-on feeling and workflow. As for the Fairlight: I think it’s a matter of love people such as myself are having for its high-end quality and its authentic sonic characteristics. It’s nice to knowpeople are still using it and there’s still a steady fan base. Its sound, its quality: it’s just unique. There’s nothing like it. Period.”