DX5 is a music composer and producer who strongly refer in his creation to the sounds and the mood of the 80s. He is mostly known as a musician who cover lots of well known Depeche Mode tracks, which we can listen for free on his YouTube channel. He also released his first EP “’Electronic Devices vol. 1”, which allows us to turn back in time and feel the power of classic Synthpop music. Moreover DX5 is a happy Commodore 64 user. Read this interview to learn more about his music career.
V-12: Many people may wonder who is DX5. Could you say something about yourself at the beginning?
DX5: I am a musician and keyboardist (among others) who lives in the NorthWest of Spain. Playing keyboards for over 25 years, altough recording and producing (seriously) since 2000. Became interested about technologies back on early 80’s.
V-12: And your pseudonym comes from the indication of Yamaha synthesizer?
DX5: At first, I wanted to register DX7, as I do own two of those Yamaha synths. It was already registered, so I decided to check if DX5 was available, as it is another DX Yamaha keyboard (two DX7 into one packaging). Fortunately it was still not registered, so I went for it. Nice times when you could register a three characters only of username at YouTube.
Many people asks if I do really own a DX5. Answer is no.
V-12: You are mostly known as a man who does cover versions of well known Synthpop and New romantic songs. Seems that you are 80’s lover?
DX5: Yes. In fact, I lived the 80’s on first person, even though I was just a 10 years old boy when everything started. I clearly remember to see Depeche Mode, Visage and other bands news on the magazines. Also, my brothers and their friends were buying long plays from all the New romantic/Synthpop bands. 80’s were a growing period talking about music, there were a lot of bands, and that decade saw the video revolution. I started to watch music videos on TV, it was amazing. Another fact was the Synthesizer evolution. From those big and expensive analog modulars, then the smaller analog keyboards to the early samplers and more affordable synths, what brought lot of bands being able to afford one of those machines. All these facts summed are the reason why I adore 80’s.
DX5: If we talk nowadays, it can take two hours or three as much (I mean, practicing all the riffs/chords, synchronizing my hands along two or three -even four- keyboards). It can include to build a full backtrack for the song. Backtracks sometimes can take much longer, specially if I don’t recall exactly all the original sections. If the sounds are difficult to synthesize (for instance, a sound that can be reached layering two or three keyboards, then sampling them together for keeping the result), time can be increased a lot. If the sounds are more classic (pianos, basslines, SAW synth leads, etc), everything can be done faster.
V-12: Have you finished any music school or maybe you learn everything for your own without the participation of teachers?
DX5: I am not a school trained keyboardist. I didn’t learn with teachers. I just only went to a couple of keyboard class into a music academy back in the 80’s but got bored of playing classical tunes, so I parted it. All my techniques at playing were learned by myself. Lot of hours playing and playing once again. Sometimes I feel I would like to improve my playing and to increase knowledge about music theory, but I think I feel comfortable with all I know and do nowadays.
V-12: When exactly you have decided that you want to learn to play on the synthesizer?
DX5: It was not my choice. I started to play on early 80’s in a natural way, just for fun, with that small Casio VL ONE. During the 80’s I was involved in several different bands, with a higher Casiotone model (MT70). Around 1987 my first serious synthesizer (Yamaha DX27 S) arrived at home. I think that was the point since I started to get interested about playing and programming synths.
V-12: And firstly you started to make some covers. Which songs were covered by You at the beginning?
DX5: I’ve covered a lot back in the 80’s, but talking about YouTube era, I remember which one was the first: a video playing just several notes from „Everything Counts 101 live” final part. That one where Alan was playing on a DX7 II FD while the crowd were singing „Their Grabbing hands….. grab all they can…Everything Counts in large amounts…”. It was poor recorded, holding a photo camera set to video record mode in my neck. Sound was really awful, as well as my playing :). I was thinking about removing it, but I decided to keep it by nostalgia.
V-12: What about sampling? It looks like many of your tracks contain self-made samples. Are you inspired by Depeche Mode band who did in the 80’s great job with creating and using samples in their productions?
DX5: Sampling is just amazing. I started to sample back in the 80’s when I bought a Casio SK-1 (which I don’t recall where it is). Beyond than just sampling my own voice for fun, I’ve found I could sample any thing and use its sounds for playing. Depeche Mode were masters of sampling at the mid 80’s and of course they inspired me. They were using Emus (Emulator I, II and III, also Emax) massively, together with more expensive tools like Synclavier and Fairlight.
I could divide sampling into two types: to sample any real object you can imagine, like big metallic doors, fences, pipes, TV tube being smashed with a mallet, and to sample other synths, layering complex sounds and creating completely and unique sounds. Depeche did both ways, and I started to do the same as soon as I got my first Emax. In my case, I use to sample layered sounds from my other synths, creating just what I want for covering or for my own tracks. Also sampled my own voice more than once, for instance here:
First sound is a breathy sound I did with my throat. Samplers also allow keyboardists to play lot of different sounds with one or two keyboards only, instead carrying a bunch of different synths from stage to stage. Up to this time, I own two Emu Emax I, one Emax II HD and an Akai S3000 XL HD.
V-12: Some people may complain that your covers may not sound exactly as the originals. Is that so hard to make 1:1 cover using your current music equipment?
DX5: I have to say I do covers on YouTube just for fun. They don’t need to sound totally pro. I would tell to those claiming „hey, this doesn’t sound like original” that I am nor Alan Wilder neither Gore or Clarke. Also, Gareth Jones is not my sound engineer (I wish it) for putting several names. I own some equipment similar to the used by Depeche, like the Emus with a huge library (they used lot of library sound, like „Stripped” intro, a library sound from the Emu Emulator I), Yamaha DX7, Roland JP8000, etc. But I don’t own every machine used in the original songs. That means I have to replace some sounds by other more or less close. If we talk about PSB „Domino Dancing”, the „hit” sound and the choirs are Emax Library ones, so I got the same feeling on that song).
I know people trying to recreate DM or PSB sounds with software, but it is pretty much harder. For instance, the double octave piano coming from the Emax / Emulator II library (you can hear it on „Pimpf” or „Never let me Down Again” riff at the end) sounds so characteristic. I’ve never seen a software (even real piano) sounding just like it. Original machines make the work pretty much easier and realistic.
I’ve made almost all the instrumentals for a Depeche Mode Audiostory, released a few months ago for the German market. It was a more professional work than my YouTube covers and sounds are pretty much closer than them. But it took me a lot of time, although proved that my equipment can sound close to the original tracks.
V-12: I’m glad that you mentioned about this interesting release. Thomas Bleskin (author of Audiostory) in interview for depechemode.de said, that your soundtrack is very unique and the bonus track is one of the best acoustic cover versions of DM tracks which he ever heard…
DX5: Well, I have to say I didn’t record that bonus track. I made most of the tracks that can be heard on that recording. It was a hard job to recreate almost every detail on those Depeche Mode tracks, but I was able to finish it, keeping the feeling the original tracks got, so I am very happy with the result.
V-12: Could you tell a little bit more about process of doing backtracks for the songs? Are you using PC software or everything is done by using keyboards?
DX5: Both things are used: Software for sequencing the Drum patterns in an easier way. I use Reason’s Redrum for it. Very intuitive and TR808 style. The main sequencer / recorder is Pro Tools. So, my backtracks contain both, Midi sequencing (triggering some Reason Modules for Bassline specially) and hardware keyboards previously recorded into PT.
Usually I start searching the lead sounds (finding some similar ones in my keyboards or creating them based on layering technique). Then I save those sounds in the synth user bank or sample those sounds into the Emax. After it I go for the Drum track, finding (or creating by myself) the right sounds. Then I run a basic pattern for improving it. I start with bassline, Sequencing it. Once done, it is time to record background sounds. Once they are done, it’s time to rehearshal the whole track. Next and ending step will be to shoot it with my camera.
V-12: In comments we can read that you are a successor of Alan Wilder and that you should find yourself in his place in the band Depeche Mode. What is your opinion about this?
DX5: Not at all (I wish I would). Alan is not easily replaceable as he is unique by his playing technique and the way he arranges sounds for a song. I did learn a lot based on Alan’s way of doing things, but I can consider myself like his pupil. I don’t say I wouldn’t like to be a DM member, but up to this time, that is as much possible as anyone who is reading this interview and who likes to drive cars being involved in a F1 course running with Hamilton and Alonso 🙂 But one never knows…
V-12: Tell me something about your experience with ancient Commodore 64 (ALDI version) computer. When did you got it and did you ever tried to write any programs or something like this?
DX5: Back on the 80’s I had a Commodore Vic 20 (C64’s little brother, just 3.5 Kbytes memory!). I used to program it in Basic language. Clearly remember commands like Get A$ If A$, Poke and so on. As the Vic was so small in memory, you could only program games like Hangman (after an hour writing Basic, as I didn’t have Datasette at first). Also used to write easy things like those ones that ask your name and then say: „Hello Yourname”.
I always loved the C64 8bit sound. Those technologies are back, because there is a growing community asking for those machines. It is not only the sound, but the way of using the machines. People is starting to get bored about moving a mouse and doing almost everything. My first C64 has bought a couple of years ago and it is a limited ALDI version, with a 8580 SID inside. Main differences with the standard model are the white keys into the packaging that used to feature black or dark grey ones.
I don’t really have too much experience with it. It came with some cassettes, but don’t recall game names right now, Just only that there are a lot of „Activision” ones.
V-12: Actually we can see back of Commodore 64 in totally new version developed by Commodore USA. It’s a modern PC in C64 case. What do you think about this idea?
DX5: I think it is a nice way to keep the C64 (and Commodore early computers) spirit alive. Anyway, that is an actual PC, so even though the case is really a 64 one, the system has nothing related to the old C64 (I asume 64 kbytes in Basic would have not success nowadays, of course). I see it on a positive way, nowadays technology with 80’s philosophy 🙂
V-12: In one of YouTube videos we can see you playing „Shake the Disease” and „Popcorn” songs on synthesizer connected to Commodore 64 equipped with MSSIAH (MIDI software). Why have you selected exactly this kind of expansion?
DX5: I had a „Prophet64” cartridge (basically a Mssiah without MIDI). I just tweaked it for a while and had plans of sampling some of the SID sounds for some future records. As MSSIAH was released, I just ordered it, because I always wanted real time playing. I think the guys behind that cartridge did a fantastic job. I enjoyed it from the first time I plugged it into the C64. That video was recorded the first day It arrived at home. I’ve watched people „modding” the C64 with pots for varying filter action. Maybe I do it someday.
V-12: Time to talk about your EP entitled „Electronic Devices vol. 1”. It contains 6 tracks which in fact are new compositions but they sounds like they were done in 80’s. How did you made it?
DX5: First, I wanted to feature 80’s sounds because that decade brought us rich and complex synth sound, so I used JX8P, Emu Emax, Korg DW8000 (80’s keyboards) and so on extensively. Sounds can give you a nice retro feeling. Also, I was very influenced by bands like Depeche Mode. In fact, some people can think this EP sounds very DMish. I agree: it does sound. But why to refuse those influences?. They are one of my favourite bands for over 25 years, so it is not unusual my music sounds similar in some ways. And I love the fact of being compared with them, although I am still so far from them.
Electronic Devices EP Vol. 1 was composed and recorded in almost a year, and features different songs, from a 3/4 one with no drums at all called „Batch”, to the fast „Spoken Words”, thru the mid tempo „Random Trust”. They are available on iTunes, Amazon and Spotify.
V-12: You received a lot of positive responses, even from ex. Depeche Mode member Vince Clarke. How do you feel with that?
DX5: I do really feel honoured. One of the most important keyboardist and composer, like Vince is saying your album is excellent and loving the filter modulations on some songs, is really nice. It makes me thinking „this doesn’t sound so bad then” lol. This proved I was able to do a good work, something I never doubt, but one never knows if the work will be well, medium or bad received. Fortunately it was the first case. And so Vince Clarke thinks.
V-12: How many requests for new covers are you currently receiving from the audience?
DX5: A lot. And I am really sorry because I can’t cope with all of them so quickly!. I am not only working on music things (I also have another job who retain most of my time). Then, I can’t work as fast as I would desire.
My YouTube covers are just for fun, and if you check some of them, you will see they are not perfect ones. I started to do them this way, and I am not looking for the perfection. Maybe that is what make them real, because the lines I am playing live, are real. It is more or less like Depeche does live: a backtrack with some instruments live. In my case, backtracks can be simple sometimes as the fun comes when playing.
V-12: Are you planning to release full album in near future?
DX5: Yes, indeed I am right up starting with the new tracks. Just the ideas, but I already have a lot of them. I won’t put a release date by now, but maybe heading to the year’s end.
V-12: Will be there any tracks with Commodore 64 sounds?
DX5: That is the intention, but I don’t have plans about a „8 bit” recording. There are really good people doing it, and that is not what I am looking for. What I have planned is to use some SID layers, both for lead or drum sounds.
V-12: Question from another area. What is your biggest dream in your life?
DX5: „Shh, it’s a secret…” (Ernie and Bert scene )
V-12: Sounds mysteriously. 😉 Okay, maybe some final words to your fans, friends, etc.?
DX5: Just giving thanks to all the people following me on YouTube, Facebook or Twitter, purchasing my EP, or thinking that my music is good. Although they are a lot (fortunately) I try to keep in touch with each and everyone. Apologies if there are people I can’t answer, but I assure I read everything I receive. Thanks Also to V-12 for this interview.
V-12: Thanks to you too for your answers and I wish you good luck with your further music carera!
Interview conducted by V-12/Tropyx.
Below you can find a little example of DX5’s skills, which fully can be admired at his official YouTube channel: http://www.youtube.com/user/DX5.
DX did for my request a great cover of classic instrumental Depeche Mode track called „Nothing to fear”. Thank you!