Would you like to have your music produced by someone whose mixes are acclaimed by the world’s foremost DJ mags? Whose trade secrets are learned directly from Brill Building and Motown legends. Perhaps have a string or brass arrangement by a student of John McCabe and William Lloyd Webber? Gordon Hulbert is all these and more – unique in his field. Being born with the sound of African drumming on his doorstep and winning awards as a multi-instrumentalist should not be played down as huge influences on his sound/technique and are major factors contributing to his success.
This is the first in a series of articles talking to Gordon about his unique set of qualities and what they bring to recording projects…
So, tell us about the African drums!
“Haha. Well there’s nothing quite like being woken up in the middle of the biggest tropical thunderstorm you’ve ever heard, looking outside to see clear skies and bright sunshine and slowly realising that the ‘boom boom’ is NOT thunder, but the sound of 40 African drummers laying down the baddest, primal, IMMENSE grooves. This for me is the pure essence of all drumming”
“I do strongly believe that growing up in West Africa gave me a head start in terms of understanding and feeling rhythm. And maybe it’s not entirely coincidental that I’ve been lucky enough to play and tour with some of Africa’s most amazing artists – Francis Fuster (master percussionist with Fela Kuti and on Paul Simon’s Graceland tour) and Hugh Masekela. Working with Universal France on remixes for the Salif Keita album ‘Moffou’ was also a real experience!
How does this translate to your working environment?
“How this translates to my work environment? As a musical director with live bands, I often have to work with grooves to make them sit. This can mean asking the drummer to pull the snare or high hat back a nanosecond, or listening to and analysing how the rhythm section is locking together. As a producer in the recording studio it can mean the same thing, or as a programmer it can mean making a sequencer sound more ‘human’ – I very rarely leave drum parts on the grid, but will mess with different parts, dragging them back or forward to create a better groove, or play with the velocities. Sometimes recording live drummers might end up in some editing to nail it down a bit better, so hearing whether a groove is solid or not is and whether it’s locking with the arrangement is crucial. So it feels to me like the culmination of these various influences has helped with understanding grooves and the essential elements that they’re made up from.”