At the Controls is a series of interviews conducted last year that peeks under the curtain of electronic music production, to highlight the behind-the-scenes people whose contributions have had a lasting impact across the dance music landscape.
Dave Parkinson has had a smattering of releases under his own name, but the rest of his crammed discography reads intriguingly like a tale of two producers. Alongside an extensive inventory of engineering work, he’s been behind many well-known tracks from Simon Patterson, Fergie, Gavyn Mytchel, and Tall Paul, covering bracing hard dance to sprawling trance, and more recent housier fare that has placed him within the mighty Toolroom Records stable.
On the flip side, Parkinson is also very much part of the great English tradition of the indie band, having produced an album for the group Babyshambles, and taken on the double-headed role of producer and band member with notorious indie-ravers Happy Mondays. He has been at the controls in two different worlds, and now he offers us a glimpse into both.
You worked with the Happy Mondays on their 2007 album Uncle Dysfunktional. What was that experience like for you, working with a seminal band who are so readily associated with a particular vintage sound, for their first album in years?
I actually joined the band years before that. But Shaun [Ryder] asked me to produce the album, and it was probably one of the hardest but enjoyable experiences I ever had. We tried to be experimental with the album but maintain the original roots. Hopefully the original fans enjoyed it!
What would you say are the main differences between shaping sounds for pop/indie bands as opposed to electronic music?
It’s a totally different vibe. The crowds are different. Rock music isn’t so hellbent on being cutting edge; it’s still quite raw and old school. Where as EDM is on the cusp of all things new, and the output of EDM producers is so vast.
Could you please describe your current studio setup?
Currently I am running Logic 9 with various bits out analog outboard compressors and synthesizers. I also use all the usual suspects and Logic’s built-in plugins but always with my own twist.
How would describe your own production signature?
I am varied with each production I do. I like to pick up the vibe of the people I work with to maximize their skills as well as my own. I only work with a handful of people of which I have built a relationship, but my production sound is very fat and big.
Do you have any production heroes or a favorite piece of music that you aspire to?
I love what Eric Prydz does. I am also a big fan of Tiga and what Michael Woods is doing. In terms of favorite or inspiring pieces of music, I’d have to say “Bittersweet Symphony” by The Verve is my favorite.
What is the one piece of equipment in your studio that is the most valuable to you?
What proportion of time would you say you spend collaborating compared to working on solo material?
At least 95% of my time is spent working/collaborating with people, and the other 5% I play piano for pleasure. I have a good chemistry working with DJs and am able to bring that musical edge to productions.
In your own words, how would you describe the difference between producing for another artist and “ghost writing”?
When you’re producing for other artists, you are working together—it’s a collaboration—whereas ghost writing is alone and it’s very difficult to generate a vibe from. I much prefer collaborating with artists.
Are there any tracks that you secretly wish you had kept for yourself?
Yes! But I am not going to say.
What would you say your proudest production moment is?
Producing The Blinding with Babyshambles. Still listen to that album to this day.
When you are collaborating, do you have a usual point of entry to get started? Is it the same as when working on your own material?
It’s all dancefloor-related, so I tend to get a rocking groove first unless I have a fixed idea for a melody. A solid groove is always a good foundation to start.
What’s been the biggest learning curve or problem for you to overcome as a producer?
Keeping ahead of new technology. Especially nowadays, there’s a new product out every day!
What advice would you give to aspiring producers?
Don’t get too caught up on equipment and latest trends. Put your heart and soul into it.
You were involved with an array of trance releases in 2011 with different artists. When you’re that prolific, are you aiming for a kind of uniformity? Or do you allow the collaboration to dictate the final product?
With every artist in every style, it’s all about the collaboration. I have never had a uniformed sound and never will.
**Click here to sample the At the Controls: Dave Parkinson chart featuring 10 tracks from his production discography.