Technology & Synthesis: Steffi & Privacy talk Negroni Nails
The pair reflect on their recent collaboration as Negroni Nails and talk the joys of studio setups.
There’s been a lot of interest in the release of a recent, rugged AF record from Negroni Nails – the moniker by which Steffi and Privacy have collaborated.
Released earlier this year, this was the second outing for the pair beneath this guise and it offered them the chance to dig deep, programming rough electronics into a four track EP which is sure to leave a sound system or two smouldering.
Steffi and Privacy are both acclaimed producers and dj’s in their own right having worked tirelessly over the years on numerous projects. We caught up with the pair to find out how they’ve brought life to Negroni Nails and what comes next…
Privacy: How’s life in Portugal?
Steffi: It’s been absolutely great. Such a change of scenery. We already partly moved in 2017 but always divided our time between Berlin city life and Portugal country life. In 2020 when the pandemic hit us hard we could not really travel in the first half so we decided to move completely once we got the chance to clear our apartment in Berlin. I sold a massive chunk of my record collection and wrapped up my studio in Berlin and had everything moved in a truck. Quite a stressful event but we had time to slowly unpack and set everything up here in a proper way. It was the right time for me to move away from Berlin and be in nature to unwind, get some peace of mind.
Steffi: How did you end up in Berlin yourself?
Privacy: I moved out from Australia when I was around 20. I was making music and throwing parties back in Australia, but didn’t really come to Berlin as a career move or anything. I just wanted to get away from the environment where I grew up and see more of the world. It was pretty wild moving out here not knowing anyone or speaking any German. Berlin was pretty different back then too – I remember having a hard time getting by at first. But of course it was a lot of fun. Maybe too much.
Privacy: Back to the country life – I’ve seen you’ve been doing a bunch of farming. What are you growing?
Steffi: We started a vegetable garden during the pandemic. We finally had the time and were at home all the time to get into it and really understand the process of how to maintain all the different vegetables and herbs. It’s amazing how much work goes into proper gardening but it’s also such a good way to switch off the mind and have your hand in the soil. The excitement of eating your own lettuce, tomatoes, zucchini, eggplant, carrots, spinach etc is so much fun. Waking up with the sun and spending 2 hours in the garden was quite a massive contrast with working in nightlife to say the least.
Steffi: Speaking of food, you seem to be into cooking a lot lately right? Is that more a social thing to eat with friends or is it the whole process that comes with it of interest to you?
Privacy: Yeah I got into cooking a long time ago. I turned vegan when I was 18 and there wasn’t much around to eat at the time.. So I kinda just had to get into cooking. It’s been a pretty big interest of mine for years. Actually I almost never do dinner parties or anything. It’s not really my vibe. But I love to cook for my partner and just experiment with different techniques and ingredients.
Privacy: I’d imagine that growing your own food changes your perspective on cooking a bit. What’s your favourite stuff to cook lately?
Steffi: Because of health reasons I changed my diet a long time ago. I was never a good cook but at the moment I am learning a lot from my partner on how to organise myself better in the kitchen. I am not so much of a main course person, my partner is an excellent cook and she makes me look very poor but I love to do sweet recipes. I’ve been following a ketogenic diet and that is a great challenge to come up with all kinds of cookies, shakes and sweet stuff that fits within this principle. The internet is amazing for this and I recently bumped into lemon cheesecake bombs! So when I am not outside walking or gardening next to music this is my new thing to bake and get better at it.
Steffi: Do you have stuff beyond cooking and music that you get fixated on?
Privacy: Yeah I’m like that with almost everything I do to be honest. When I start learning something I really want to get into the weeds and figure it all out. My latest thing has been trying to move all my data off cloud services like Google Drive and shit like that (for a variety of reasons). So lately I’m obsessed with home servers and setting everything up for secure remote access and such. It’s really quite dry, but somehow I find it really easy to dive into.
"Berlin was pretty different back then too - I remember having a hard time getting by at first. But of course it was a lot of fun." - Steffi
Privacy: Changing pace for a minute. Since I’ll be coming out soon to record some new NN tracks tell us a bit about the new studio set up..
Steffi: Aaah its been such a ride! As I said, I moved my big studio from Berlin to Portugal. We found a place opposite our house on the other side of the valley. Every time we passed by we always kept saying ‘wow this house would be perfect to build a studio in’. One day it ended up being for sale and we jumped into the deep end. We have renovated the top floor and built the new studio there. The lower part has a kitchen, living/bed room and a bathroom so people can actually work here and stay for a while. It has a beautiful rooftop terrace with a ridiculous view. It’s amazing to chill out after working in the studio in the summertime to see the sun going down. But I guess you wanted to know more about the gear.. Speaking of gear, you recently switched from protools to Bitwig! can you tell me a little bit about that process and how you feel this upped your game?
Privacy: Ok shit that sounds amazing. Yeah after 15 years or something using Pro Tools I moved over to Bitwig last year. I initially got a license from a friend of mine who works for the company here in Berlin. I tried it out on a laptop and ended up finally seeing a reason to move on from my 15 year old Pro Tools set up (I never actually upgraded in that time, it was still a Windows XP machine running Pro Tools 8). During the pandemic I put together a new PC with an old RME ADAT card in, so I’ve got 32 channels of audio I/O over ADAT. It’s definitely a big upgrade over my old 8 in 8 out Pro Tools interface and a confusing poorly labeled patchbay. Bitwig itself is great. I’m constantly finding new interesting things to do with it. Half of which I don’t know if they are Bitwig specific or just all DAWs made in the last 15 years now do this shit. But I couldn’t be happier.
Privacy: Speaking of gear, I saw you got that UDO super 6 synth? I had my eye on that one for awhile.
Steffi: I had to sell a few things for me to allow myself to get an UDO. I had a little jam with it at a friends house and believe it or not, the pitch bend section was the part that really attracted me at first. It is so well laid out and that was a reason for me to explore this synth in depth and grab one when I had the chance. As much as I’ve collected quite a lot of vintage stuff for the past 20 years I do love new synths equally and I think the UDO makers did a great job combing the old and the new. It reminded me of a Juno 106 but when I started to play with it, it was so diverse that I realised it is just a whole new world. Great modern synth!
Steffi: Is there any hardware left in your set up or did you dive so deep into Bitwig that this made you part from that world? Is hardware relevant for you or are you not picky about the process?
Privacy: Yeah, I’m still pretty hardware heavy. In fact one of the things I like about Bitwig is it integrates with hardware much more seamlessly. With Pro Tools I basically just used it like a big multitrack tape deck. I’d record a bunch of audio channels in from hardware and go in and cut them up and do a bit of EQ or whatever in the box. With Bitwig I’m able to do a lot of cool shit like sending CV straight out of the DAW. Bitwig has a bunch of little modulators that can be LFO’s, ENVs, step sequencers or whatever that can be sent out of the DAW as CV or to other virtual devices or both. I picked up a Moog Matriach the other year — which is another great modern synth and really fun to integrate with the DAW this way. In terms of new stuff I have my eye on I think the Korg Wavestate looks pretty cool. I’ve been big on Wavetable synthesis lately. It’s so cold, I love it.
Privacy: Have you been doing anything on your end to change how you work or to shake up the writing process? Did you set the studio up differently than the Berlin studio or is it pretty similar?
Steffi: Actually I tried to mirror it as much as possible as I had an amazing workflow when I had my studio in Berlin. Sam Barker did all the patching with me and we optimised the workflow as much as we could. Tolga helped me in Portugal but we both agreed that Sams layout was done so well that we wanted to stick with that. I did merge some of Virginia’s stuff into it so we had to get a few more patch bays. The funny thing is that my studio is like a collection of stuff I bought over the last 22 years. I used to be a gear freak for different reasons. Of course in the pandemic I slowed myself down and actually sold a few bits. As much as I need a hands on machine to work quickly, over the years I’ve learned to simulate stuff with a laptop and I have spent the last 2 years investing a lot of time into audio processing by diving deeper into plug ins while sitting on my sofa. Remixing in the box and also collaborating from a distance by exchanging stems and using just a laptop. When I am on a plane I just write and write and thats laptop only and that is also great fun. Sometimes I need to go back and really use my studio to be able to get quick results but I love the fact that over the years it has become so multi faceted and I love the integration of all the different ways of working.
Steffi: What is the difference between writing solo projects and for example working in the studio on our Negroni Nails stuff that is very raw and one take only kinda vibes? Are you more critical when you work on your own? Did that change your way of working over the years, being around other people, collaborating?
Privacy: Yeah I’m super critical and slow when I work on my own stuff. But to be fair I think I am with the Negroni Nails stuff too! I mean, sure the initial studio takes were pretty raw, but then there was about 50 slightly different versions of mixes and arrangements back and forth for us too!
Privacy: It’s funny all this gear talk.. I was fairly anti new gear and gear talk in general for a while as I though it distracted me from the writing process. Lately since changing my studio setup pretty radically I’ve been in the loop of looking at new gear, and I have to say I was right, it’s an easy trap to get stuck in which distracts from the real objective — writing music. I know you’re constantly getting new gear, but you also seem to be constantly involved in writing music, how do you not let the gear distract you?
Steffi: I had to stop myself at some point and I guess the pandemic helped with sneaker addictions and gear mania. However, like I said my studio shaped itself over the last 22 years and I didn’t really have an urge to sell a lot so it became big over the years. However, having collaborated with quite a lot of different people over the years I have learned that it really doesn’t matter what you use and how you use it, the end result is the main goal. Of course some of the equipment is my to go to stuff for a quick result and some of it is in my studio as it was always a dream to have it. It’s fair to say not everything gets used all the time. But I do like to use set ups where I write a few tracks with certain synths and then let them be for a while but I always come back to it eventually. In general I find the discussion on hardware vs software not relevant when it comes down to creativity or quality of the music. I think debating about it is already precious time that gets wasted when great music could have been written. There are amazing plug in developers and amazing hardware companies doing great things. It’s just so much fun to see this world developing more and more. As long as I stay away from modular synths because that is too distracting for me..
Steffi: Is that a world that fascinates you? Modular synths? Lots of people tried to get me hooked but I am all about writing music, much more focussed on quick results then diving ultra deep in sonic development. If that makes sense?
Privacy: Yeah that makes total sense. The modular world is one I haven’t gotten into for various reasons. I do have a small modular rack – but it’s more like an effects and modulator rack that I can use with my other gear. Probably finances was the main thing holding me back from building a full modular synthesiser setup, but somehow I have to say I never massively had the urge to do so. I like keyboard synths and there’s so many great ones out there. Of course there’s loads of fun interesting things happening in the modular space, but I find myself more driven to weird CV controlled FX units or samplers or something.
Privacy: Do you have any non-gear-specific production tricks you’ve learnt recently?
Steffi: I am obsessed with audio processing these days. Trying out different plug ins and specific rhythm structures as well as breaking away from the basic drum kits and getting an organic flow like I would quickly achieve in the studio using vst. So much interesting stuff to try out and pimp recordings. Post production with vocal processors on drums and how that sends you off into the woods. I should be concentrating on my mix down more than anything, that’s a part of my music that needs a lot of attention and the hearing loss from dj-ing is not ideal.
Steffi: How is mixing down tracks for you? Did you study music? I find that such a technical part of the creative process.
Privacy: I did study music, but classical composition – so mixing techno tunes wasn’t really in the syllabus. I think I’m quite into mixing and EQing and shit. I’ve always found I have a slightly different focus than most people with sound – it’s still amazing how many clubs pay no attention to the high frequencies for instance. The funny thing is I use a really cheap pair of monitor speakers in my studio, but I’ve been using them forever and I really know how they sound. Sometimes I’ll go to a mates mastering studio or something if I have a track with a lot of sub bass that I need to check for instance, but other than that I can get by. Knowing your equipment is so much more important than spending a bunch of money on fancy shit. I guess this has been said a bunch before, but it’s definitely true.
Privacy: I’ve struggled a lot with finishing albums. You probably remember my last one that I was working on for years and ended up scrapping 90% of it. What’s your trick for actually finishing a project like that. Is it as simple as setting deadlines or do you have another way to know when a record is done?
Steffi: I am very disciplined when it comes to deadlines and projects. I used to just take off time from dj-ing and wipe my calendar and say to myself this time is blocked for writing. Bye bye social life and I just put my foot on the pedal and go. I have a system I follow. I take a period of time where I do 2 jams a day, multi track and put it aside until I have like 20 tracks and then start to listen and see what had potential. I’ll write down notes of what needs to be optimised and just box it off. Very pragmatic but it really helps me a lot.
Steffi: Needless to say that this is on the top of your list – to finish your album right? Do you find it hard to develop and progress with your music and reinvent yourself or is that not something you worry too much about? And for example playing live, is that on your to do list? You are a great DJ but is there a challenge in playing live?
Privacy: Yeah I always want to do something new with each record. I think that’s what takes me such a long time to finish shit.. because let’s be fair 80% of the new stuff one tries is pretty terrible. But it’s also something I’m pretty happy with. I enjoy feeling like I’m exploring some new territory. I think the album I’m working on right now is doing that. Maybe a little too far – I’m curious to finally see what people will think. Playing live? Nah, it doesn’t interest me at all to be honest. I’d play live as part of a group, that way you can jam and feed off each other’s vibe, and simply having more hands on deck means you can do more shit live. As for writing a bunch of loops so I can retrigger them live by myself.. that sounds boring as fuck.
Privacy: finally.. do you like your new album?
Steffi: The one I am writing at the moment? Yes I can’t wait to get that wrapped up. Also for this one I have made a strict schedule as to how to finish it. Although this is the first time I have taken a long time to write the basis for it and even that was not written in one flow but in different phases. I really took my time here, believe it or not.
When are we doing a Negroni Nails album?