Acid Basslines, Filthy Guitars and Layering Analog and Digital Synths: Gear Talk With MEZKO

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  • November 1, 2017
MEZKO

After a string of excellent single releases over the past three years (which have mysteriously disappeared from the interwebs), Sydney electronic duo MEZKO have finally gifted us with their debut EP, Polychronic.

Weaving together hypnotic kraurock-ish sequences, warehouse-ready rave vibes, acid riffs and techno beats, the duo present a veritable feast of electronic delights on the five-track EP. There’s an element of rockiness in there that will lure in the less electronically-inclined, and ample pop hooks to indulge the mainstream too.

But above all, the EP is an expertly crafted piece of dark electronica that will keep you hooked for endless listens. There’s just so much to discover.

We caught up with Kat and Laura from MEZKO and asked them to divulged the inner-workings of Polychronic. 

MEZKO

Fresh from putting out their dark, thumping debut EP release, Polychronic, we caught up with Kat and Laura from MEZKO to chat acid basslines, filthy guitars and layering synths.

Hey Laura and Kat, how’s it going? What are you up to at the moment?

Hello! Things are going great thanks. We have been pretty busy writing and touring, we have also been recording our next EP. Very happy to have Polychronic out, we’re launching it on the 17th of November at Waywards.

Yep, congrats on getting Polychronic into the world. It’s so brilliant. What are some piece of gear that you feel really shaped the record?

Thanks. We’re looking forward to answering these questions. They’re really good ones. It might take some time though…

Here’s some favourites, from bottom to top of the frequency layers: The beats are mostly a combination of 808, 606 and Linn Drum sounds with a few manipulated samples. Bass lines come from Laura’s Airline bass through a Sans Amp or from synths like the SH-101, SH-2 and TB-303. We spent a day with an actual 303 at a friend’s studio and recorded the acid line in Everyone. That was a great day.

Around the middle frequencies you’ll hear synths like a Juno, a Jupiter and some Microkorg, along with Kat’s Rickenbacker 450 through various fuzz pedals.

Up top is where a lot of the digital sounds live. There’s this plugin called Ultra Analogue by AAS that nails the ‘90s rave arp. This stem is always named ‘Guru Josh’ in our export files. Its all over Steady On and Everyone.

The one instrument that exists across all frequencies is the Korg MS-20. Laura has a 1979 original that sounds amazing. It does everything from solid sub sounds to noise leads. Such a versatile mono beast.

Awesome. Can you tell us a bit about how Polychronic was recorded?

We like to keep the stages of our music making process quite open and undefined, which is where the name Polychronic came from. It’s often a bit chaotic and we allow ourselves the space to follow tangents whenever they come up.

We’ll start an idea in Ableton and, if it’s a good one, the file becomes a playground for more ideas. Once all the ideas are out we take them to our co-producer Anthony Garvin’s studio. Anthony helps us make sense of our idea chaos and lets us loose on his synths and drum machines.

We’ll often replace synth parts we’ve written using a plug-in by syncing the track to analogue synth. This final stage is where we’re going deep on production and looking for the perfect sound for the part. We then work between his studio and ours to finish tracking.

This EP also has live hi-hats played by James Domeyko. Tracks like Without You and Polychronic felt like they needed the energy and groove you can only get from a human drummer, so we recorded him playing a bunch of patterns and sampled it.

What synths or controllers are you making the most use of at the moment?

Our MS-20, Juno and Maschine are ever-present, but we’ve recently discovered some new stuff. Teenage Engineering’s OP-1 is a very cool new synth that we used on a track we’re working on for the next EP. It looks like a toy but has some really tasteful digital sounds and extensive effects.

We were also recently gifted an x0xb0x that our mate modified with 303 components but never finished building. The face plate isn’t attached which makes using it a bit of trial and error…Nevertheless it has the potential to unleash acid baselines all over us, which is very exciting.

How about your guitar rig? I love the lead tones in tracks like Steady On and Trust – at least I think they’re guitars..?

Glad to have confused you! I’m drawn to guitar tones that bite and resonate in a fucked-up kind of way. High gain pedals for bite, heavy compression for sustain and sometimes a pitch shift pedal for additional synth-ishness, played with a Rickenbacker 450.

I’m currently using the ZVEX Fuzz Factory pedal live. It’s got a compression and gate dial so you can control even the most gained-up fuzz. It’s on loan from my tone lord friend Arlen following many lengthy discussions on how to achieve the most dirty, fuzz sound possible. There is no better place to develop guitar tones than the Townie.

How do you approach vocal effects or processing on stage?

We’re still searching for the perfect vocal effects set-up for live. We’ve experimented with a few pedals and tried processing through the laptop but haven’t found anything we’re committed to yet. At the moment we use a Microkorg for vocoder and a few delay pedals, plus a few vocal samples we run from Maschine.

Is there a company or maker you feel like you gel with best?

Ableton – as our DAW of choice it’s like the mothership.

What was the first piece of gear you bought? If you’re not still using it, how come?

Kat: An Ibanez RG 380. The quintessential shredder guitar. It had one of those floating bridges for epic dive-bombs, gold hardware and a horrible gradient finish. I was 14 and just wanted to shred. I sold it and got a Telecaster copy once I realised music is about more than playing really fast.

Laura: I can’t remember/it’s pretty embarrassing. I think it was a [BOSS] Super Feedbacker and Distortion pedal, it has that built in feedback function. I think I used it for when my band played Hysteria when I was a child. I definitely do not use it anymore.

When patching, do you have a go-to starting point or are you a ‘left to right’ patcher?

Kat: I start with oscillators then work between the filters and ADSR to shape a sound. MEZKO’s grooves are often driven by arpeggiators so I spend a lot of time tweaking how long and hard each note hits to get the energy right. Filtering then comes in to contribute to dynamics and changes.

Laura: Yeah left to right… I’m far less technical though, I play around until I find the sweet spot that sits with everything else. I don’t know how, nor do I care to. If I’m starting a track with a sequencer I have my go to settings and evolve the sound from there. I find playing with sequencers in a loose way can often light a spark. Have been enjoying beginning songs with the 101 lately.

What are your thoughts on the software/hardware synth debate? Looks like you use a bit of both, is there a preference?

Absolutely both. There are characteristics of both digital and analogue sounds that we love and use. Analogue gear is warm, luscious and tactile but we also froth on icy, sharp digital sounds.

One of the main riffs in Everyone was made with a free plugin called Zebralette. It makes horrible, kinda novelty, dumb sounds in isolation but there was this one ‘choir’ preset that just worked so well for the song so we left it as is.

What’s the cheapest piece of gear you feel like you’ve gotten the best value out of?

Kat: Strap locks

Laura: Haha! My Airline bass and yeah definitely strap locks.

If you could copy/paste one feature from another piece of gear onto your main synth to make it perfect, what would you do?

Kat: I’d love to be able to plug my guitar into my Juno and go full guitar-synth hybrid on it.

Yes! And lastly, if you had to grab a new piece of gear, what would it be right now?

Laura: It’s been on my mind for ages to get a MiniKorg 700s. Would also love to get some Moog into my life.

Kat: [Moog] Taurus pedals. I’m ready to put my feet to work.

Polychronic is out now on Inertia Music. Check it out on Spotify.

Catch MEZKO on tour too.

MEZKO

Cover photo: Mclean Stephenson

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