Darude — Before the storm. Story behind the album. Track by track

George Palladev

Darude — Before the storm. Story behind the album. Track by track

Darude: I’ve loved dance music as long as I can remember, but it wasn’t until I was 19–20 years old that I made music of my own. I started by just playing around with free shareware on a PC. I did have some dreams of the local djs playing my tracks and being in a corner of the club to see the reaction, but I never really had an idea that my music had any kind of bigger potential.

When I started making music I was really liking a lot of different kinds of electronic music, but to name names here are some of the biggest and most meaningful ones; JS16, Scooter, Antiloop, Sash!, Westbam, KLF, Faithless, Bad Boys Blue [yeah!], Pet Shop Boys, Prodigy, plus I heard all sorts of Dutch and German trance at the clubs I went to. I used to run back home in the early hours of the morning and turn on my computer to start making music after getting inspired by what I heard.

Darude’s home based studio, where he’d tried to recreate his favourite music. 1997
In that process I came across a sound and a melody that when distorted, became the lead sound of Sandstorm. It’s a crappy, unassuming 8-bit mono sample that becomes that unique sound when distorted.

It was in 1997 when I was making another track when I came across this cool sound and I made a little melody with it. Truthfully, it was one of many happy accidents I’ve had happen when making music. These days I actually try to create good conditions for those accidents to happen, and I allow myself time to stumble on them!

I just tinkered with sounds, basically studied some of my fave tracks, like what sounds they used, where the bassline started, where the breakdown was etc. I wasn’t thinking of releasing those tracks, but for learning purposes I was trying to recreate those tracks, but with my own melodies and sounds. I didn’t have music or production education, I just started messing around with computer software and synths. I’ve studied tons along the way, though, read books, magazines, websites and forums, and I still do this every day.

I handed out demos to djs and sent them to labels in Finland. One night I was listening to Jaakko Salovaara aka JS16 dj at a club in my home town Turku. I handed him a demo (for the third time!) and the cd had Sandstorm on it — at that point still untitled. A week later he got back to me and asked if I was interested in working on it with him. He signed me to his 16 Inch Records as the first artist and we started our relationship, which obviously was mentor and the nobody but soon turned into a great friendship and — of course — a production and business relationship as well.

Sandstorm

Why name it Sandstorm? It’s quite a boring story. We had a blank piece of paper and started filling it with names we thought were cool. Then we looked at the Roland JP-8080 and the sound that we used as a pad was called Sandstorm. The first version I made of this originally had a different name. I’ll never play anyone that version [laughs]. It had a vocal that I’d done myself. It was called Back In The Time, or something like that. I was humming or chanting on top of it.

Sandstorm spent 17 weeks on top of the Finnish Dance Chart. It’s hard to know the total sales this song had. The first year, I think Sandstorm sold about two million copies. I think it was the most sold vinyl of 2000. It was signed and released by Neo Records in the UK in June 2000 and went to #3 on the UK singles chart. By that time I guess it is fair to say I wasn’t exactly an unknown bedroom musician. It all happened so suddenly. I was very quickly pulled out of my old life being a student and a part time worker at an Apple store, but obviously I wasn’t and I still am not complaining!

Then it went on to sell four million, or more, after we reissued it in 2006.

Burning

Burning, composition-wise, is more Jaakko’s doing than mine. All the sessions were done together, but he’s the mastermind with the chords, definitely, on this one. The vocal is by a guy called Rummy Nanji. I met him in Finland, but he’d been in the music business for a while. Jaakko and me had this melodic idea and needed a vocal, so we had him come over and work on it. I’m not sure where the lyrics came from, but they just came out of him. We recorded a couple of takes of him and it just added really nicely to the instrumental of the track.

Burning uses a lot of the same basic drum loops from elsewhere on the album, and the same arpeggiated basslines and stuff. The kick in the tune is from the 909, which was a real one, and an interesting thing to work with because I’d only seen those as software plugins.

Feel the Beat

I went to Jaakko’s studio and he was playing with this arpeggiated sound, but couldn’t get any further and was going to trash it. I asked if I could take it, and began working on the samples in the same way and bpm that I had been working on with Sandstorm, and it just came together.

As we were making this, Sandstorm wasn’t a big international success, but it felt natural to continue that vibe across; but when it was released I received criticism from people who said, “You’ve just tried to make a copycat record”. I understand where that comes from, but it wasn’t like that because we had no idea that Sandstorm would have such success when we were making Feel the Beat. We just had the same tools in the studio and the same vibe going on.

Out of Control

Time went by a little bit before we started making Out of Control, so there was a conscious decision to not use the same kind of underlying drum loops as the earlier stuff. I wanted a percussion vibe on it — the groove here relies on that. We wanted to change up the normal straight-up hi-hat pattern too. I think it’s about 137 bpm, as well, which added a new flavour.

The first version was an instrumental, but then we added Tammy Marie and called it Out of Control (Back for More). That was a good move, commercially. We were worried it might be too cheesy, but I think it hit a really good market. I get asked for this track a lot when I DJ.

Touch Me, Feel Me

Besides the chords, overall slow vibe of the track, and the arpeggiated melody of the piano that comes in later, what I really like about this track is the actual vocal bit — it’s really cool.

We used the Ensoniq ASR-10 sampler, and added a female vocal sample that goes, Touch Me, Feel Me really quickly. When you put it in the sampler and create a tiny loop, then lock the loop length and assign it to a mod wheel, then scan through the vocal, it lets you advance slowly like a DJ CD player. I’d never seen that ever before. I was so excited when Jaakko showed me that. The Ensoniq ASR-10 sampler was the only way to do that back then.

On “Sandstorm” music video. 1999

Calm Before the Storm

This was a track I made in my kitchenette studio in my apartment one day in 1999, before I made Sandstorm. I started it around noon and ended up bouncing the final version down around 11pm or midnight, and took it to a club where my DJ buddy played it there.

For the album, we redid it like we did Sandstorm. Jaakko took the main guitar part, the main melody, and developed it further so it became more sophisticated with the chords than mine.

One thing I’m really regretting right now is that back then we’d made a really cool chillout version of the track and all I have left is one crappy quality bounce of it and the project file doesn’t exist any more.

Let the Music Take Control

This was my track initially, as well, but it was just half a track, with Acidic 303 sounds that I made in ReBirth, the Propellerhead software. Then, in Jaakko’s studio, we redid the 303 parts with a JP-8080 — it had a rather nice 303-sounding patch. Then we sampled my 303s from the first version. I really liked the breakbeat part, as I’d loved that style of Jaakko’s music and was so happy that I was able to get some of that in one of my tracks.

There’s also a woo-woo train horn sound in there that comes from the JV-1080. It was a preset sound that was kind of like a joke, but it’s there to make people smile.

Jaakko ‘JS16’ Salovaara, Ville Mäkinen from Bomfunk MC’s, Ville ‘Darude’ Virtanen. Early 2000s

Drums Of New York

Jaakko was a already a great DJ back then, and was always following trends and sounds from places like New York. Although this is quite fast, driving and progressive, some of the tribally stuff that we used triggered the name of the track, Drums Of New York.

What’s interesting about the track right now is that the original is 142bpm, and now that I’m revisiting them to play in some of my sets, I’m having to edit the speed down. It’s hard for me to play them as they are, as they’re so fast and a different style to what I play these days. I found that taking Drums Of New York down one semitone brings it to about 134bpm, and that’s almost playable to me.

The Flow

My friend Toni Lähde, aka Luzid, is on the rap here. We had a crew called Mindmachine and this is one of the tracks we did together. Originally it was 134bpm and lighter sounding.

The drums on this and Drums Of New York are like a sister and a brother — the bass is the same. They are like split personalities of the same track. Drums Of New York is the hard banger, then The Flow is a more melodic take on that with the bassline. It’s interesting now that when you listen to it, one track ends and the other track starts, and similar stuff comes back in. I kinda like how we did that. I’m not sure if there was a big thought process behind it, but it works.

Darude in Jaakko’s studio on “Before the storm” sessions. 1999

Sandstorm (JS16 Remix)

Jaakko’s JS16 Remix is quite different. It’s more laid-back. It’s not as relentless. I’m not sure if he realised it at the time, but if you listen back to it, it’s in the same key of E Minor still, but he gives it different chords, and it ends up very close to Robert Miles’ Children’s chord progression. It doesn’t have anything else the same, but the chords are quite similar. I’m not sure if it was conscious. Jaakko isn’t someone who’d copy anything like that on purpose. If you timestretch Children you could probably fit those two on top of each other.

Jaakko’s remix is also different as he was way more conservative with the main lead of Sandstorm as well. He wanted to make a distinction between his mix and mine. Jaakko’s remix is also different as he was way more conservative with the main lead of Sandstorm as well. He wanted to make a distinction between his mix and mine.

Feel the Beat (JS16 Dark mix)

The Dark mix is probably the mix that I have played the most in my sets over the years. Right at the start I needed to play the original mix, but as things started to settle as I started to DJ more, I turned to this. Before that, I was doing more live sets. I started playing an edit of the Dark mix because it was more banging.

I loved the bassline that he’d created for it, too. It was typical Jaakko for me at that point. We had this so-called single version, and he just wanted to be like, “Screw everything. I wanna do what I wanna do”, and on purpose did a darker and more banging version.

It’s interesting to talk about the first album, because I was so wet behind the ears, so there are not many things on the album that have a message, or thought-out direction. Everything just kind of happened as we were working on it.

I met my wife through music, we have a beautiful son and we live in a nice house in a nice neighborhood, those are the most amazing things that have happened since Sandstorm. Obviously music and gig wise there have been huge highlights like last New Year’s Eve when I played in front of 80 000 people in Helsinki, Finland, to start the 100 Years Of Finland celebrations year and my first show in Ibiza in July 2000. Also, collaborating with amazing people, starting of course from my then-huge-idol JS16 to Finnish wonderboy’s Elastinen and Robin for instance, plus various producers, writers and singers around the world, too many name all!

I can’t really claim that too many of my tracks are carefully planned, they just happen. I start from somewhere, for instance get inspired by someone else’s track, or a cool synth sound, and then just start playing some keys with it, and building stuff around it trying to make sure everything sounds great together and on its own.

Other stories