Here's a real-time remix — a dawless jam blended with a little DJing — of the dancehall hit "Go Down Deh," recast as liquid drum and bass. I don't know if anybody in the world sees this as a logical pairing except for me, but I hella enjoyed making this.

If you want to nerd out a little, I'll explain how it works.

The first question I usually get from people who see this is "what was the brain?" — in other words, what did I use to sequence and coordinate all the gear? But the premise of the question is wrong. It's a standard technique, even in dawless jams, to have one central unit organizing everything, but that's not how I did this. In this case, there are three or four brains, depending on how you understand the question.

A Roland TR-8S runs most of the drum sequencing, plus some added samples. An Elektron Model:Cycles runs the bassline, a small amount of additional drum sequencing, and some other elements. And an Arturia KeyStep Pro sequences the Eurorack gear (again including drums) and the Korg Wavestate, which is playing the main chords.

The TR-8S drives the clock, sending MIDI clock out to the Model:Cycles and the KeyStep Pro (which converts the MIDI clock to Eurorack clock and uses it to drive a couple LFOs). But the original track is not locked into MIDI at all. I remixed an acapella in Ableton Live slightly to add some vocal chops, and then just "synced" that audio file to the other elements the old-fashioned way, i.e., by playing it on DJ gear with my hands. The DJ controller was playing a consistent tempo, but it wasn't synced to any other gear.

So there are at least three brains:

  • Roland TR-8S
  • Elektron Model:Cycles
  • Arturia KeyStep Pro

And then there's the brain that may or may not count:

  • Human being playing a DJ controller with their hands

Technically there are also tiny Noise Engineering Bin Seq drum sequencers in the Eurorack setup, and a drum sequencer in the Moog DFAM as well, but I didn't use those in this.

Anyway, playing the acapella on the DJ controller was the easy part. Setting it up was ridiculous. I had hoped to have Ableton Live function as the mixer, bringing in the audio from all the hardware, while also simultaneously playing back the acapella — which is a pretty reasonable use case for Live, and exactly how many big name artists use it — but the latency gods refused to smile on me. Then I tried running Ableton and Traktor on the same computer at the same time, which I absolutely cannot recommend you ever do. The audio bugs I got at that point were intensely bizarre. I tried to fix them with Audio MIDI Setup but that only made things worse. Finally, I pulled out a second computer and ran physical analog audio cables out of the Traktor DJ controller and into the audio interface which was plugged into my main computer. That worked, but introduced line noise which I had to filter out with the EQ (and I never had line noise before in that apartment). It was a nightmare.

The other big challenge was sending MIDI clock into the Model:Cycles. I've used the Model:Cycles as the brain, or at least a brain, in two prior desktop jams, and I had good experiences both times, but this time was more rough. In my previous jams, the Model:Cycles only sent clock out, but this setup has the Model:Cycles receiving clock in from the TR-8S, and then sending it out again to a BassStation 2 running in AFX Mode, i.e., functioning as a pure analog drum machine. This was much less reliable and accurate than I expected, so I only use it in the very beginning of the video.

Despite the technical challenges, though, this little project was incredibly fun. The polyphonic sequencing on the KeyStep Pro is smooth and easy. Playing the faders live on the TR-8S is as dynamic and real-time as DJing, but it gives you a lot more channels to work with. The most unusual factor in all this was that I got to play Eurorack gear in a way that was both very spontaneous and very accessible. That combination can be rare with modular synths, but when it works, it's a dream.

More specifically, when it comes to the Eurorack side of things, a Mutable Instruments Rings is playing the three-note bell riff from the original dancehall tune, and a Make Noise 0-Coast is playing a somewhat brash one-note bass patch. It's slightly degraded from a patch which I got from a Make Noise tutorial video and used a few years ago in a (less polished) Eurorack dubstep video. There's also a Basimilus Iteritas Alter providing a nice aggressive kick drum.

By the way, the main bassline, on the Model:Cycles, is a variation on the bassline from a classic reggae tune called "War Inna Bablyon." Here's a little context on why it made perfect sense to me to bring in an element of 1960s reggae. This real-time remix combines dancehall, an undeniably Jamaican genre, with drum and bass, which has very strong roots in Jamaican music also. Drum and bass began as jungle, which combined breakcore techno with classic reggae bass lines and dub effects. Reinventing and repurposing classic grooves is an essential element in all music, but Jamaican music especially, so it seemed appropriate to reference the genre's roots.

One of the vocalists in this track, Shaggy, had this to say about the way "Mi Nuh Know," another of his releases in 2022, interpolated and repurposed elements from other songs:

The interpolation of both Eek-a-Mouse and Ninjaman was as strategic as the lyric in the verses, it showcased Dancehall in two different eras… Ninjaman embodies the essence of the core Dancehall style, while Eek-a-Mouse represented Dancehall style on a traditional Reggae riddim.

Similarly, I used an old track from the roots reggae era for the bassline in this jam because a lot of people have forgotten that drum and bass originated with jungle. Drum and bass might seem to have very little in common with dancehall, but if you know the history of it, there's a very clear throughline.