Adam Freeland Plug-In Secrets From the King of Breakbeat

In the world of nu-skool breaks, Adam Freeland is something of a legend. From his 1996 mix CD Coastal Breaks to his initial productions with Kevin Beber as Tsunami One, Freeland quickly established himself as a force to be reckoned with in the breakbeat world.

In the world of nu-skool breaks, Adam Freeland is something of a legend. From his 1996 mix CD Coastal Breaks to his initial productions with Kevin Beber as Tsunami One, Freeland quickly established himself as a force to be reckoned with in the breakbeat world.


The year 1998 saw the launch of his über-influential imprint, Marine Parade, which showcased white-hot releases from Bassbin Twins and Evil Nine. Since then, his collaborations with BT (“Hip-Hop Phenomenon”) and groundbreaking remixes for Nirvana and White Stripes have earned him his place in the pantheon of world-class DJs.

This summer, Adam took a few steps in a different direction with the release of his latest artist album, Cope™.With guest appearances that run the gamut from Gerry Casale of Devo to the needs-no-introduction Tommy Lee, Cope™ is a star-studded affair that blurs the line between tough-as-nails breaks and brooding, thoughtful atmospherics.

We caught up with Adam and got him to reveal some of the secrets behind his latest electronica tour de force. Here’s what he had to say.

More and more, DJs are blending the intricacies of dance music with their more private musical tastes. What was the overall inspiration for Cope™?

It’s my second “artist” album, and I think my eighth album release. I don’t really see myself as a “DJ writing an artist album” — it’s just that I’m more known as a DJ. In my head, I’m just an artist who also DJs. I’m really into heavy droney ‘om’-like sounds, desert rock, and shoegazey guitar tones, so I wrote a record on that tip, then realized it was way beyond my audience and too self-indulgent. So I wrote a dancefloor electronic album and decided that was just too “now” with not enough longevity. Shortly thereafter, I had this epiphany moment and realized I could do both. That’s how Cope™ came about.

Gerry Casale of Devo even makes an appearance. How did that come about and what were his contributions?

We met through a mutual friend, Matt Diehl — who’s writing the Devo screenplay — and really hit it off. I played him some tracks and he freaked out, so we started working on stuff together. We wrote about three songs together, but not all were right for the album. On the record, he performs the lead vocal on “Only a Fool” and backing vocals on “Under Control.”

The entire approach to drums blurs the line between live and sequenced. You’ve got Tommy Lee at one end of the spectrum and tightly quantized grooves at the other. Tell us about the drum production.

Well, I start all of my beats in the computer. We wrote most of the album in Apple Logic. That is, Alex Metric wrote most of it with me and I also wrote some with Damian Taylor. In fact, it’s all pretty tightly quantized! To me, it’s really just the sounds you choose that give it the more live feel or electronic feel. For ideas, I’d write general vibes and play them to Tommy. He’d jam on them. Then I’d mix and edit his drum takes and beef up the sounds with more electronic drums to give it real oomph.

There are a lot of different flavors of distortion and overdrive throughout the record. Hardware? Software?

Both. I have some really nice outboard guitar pedals that I use a lot. We’re also running synths really hot through the Roland Space Echo set with no delay or reverb on, just overdriving it to hell, to get that really nice warm distortion. [Camel Audio] CamelPhat and D16 Devastor plug-ins also played a big role in what you’re talking about.

The compression and tightness of the whole album is especially evident in tracks like “Under Control.” What’s the secret to nailing those punchy mixes?

Universal Audio UAD plug-ins were really key to the sound of the record. A lot of stuff was slammed through the UAD gate/compressor then sidechained to the kick using the Logic compressor. But as far as really nailing down that sweet final mix on “Under Control,” it’s down to Q [from Überzone]. He’s been a mentor to me in how to get things sounding they way they do. The key to what I do is knowing my limitations and delegating to someone who’s really the don of their field, such as Q and the South Rakkas crew — who did the final mixes on the album.

The call-and-response arrangement of “Best Fish Tacos in Ensenada” is quite intricate. What’s doing what and how was it arranged?

It’s really a play between Arturia’s Moog soft synths, and some live guitars which are going through a lot of reverb. All of it was processed and then edited heavily in sections. The breakdown really lets it step into droney shoegaze territory with layers of feedback, which can be hard to get right in such an electronic track, but I think it works.

What about touring to support Cope™? Will you be doing any live P.A. gigs?

We rehearsed for a month solid in Los Angeles and did our debut shows this year at South by Southwest in Austin. We played to a way bigger and more receptive crowd than anticipated, which was great. We’ve also done a couple of short U.K. tours and are now gearing up for a big European festival summer. After that we’re planning to do more comprehensive U.K. and U.S. tours with Spinerette this fall.

The live setup includes Kurt Bauman on lead vocals and guitars and Hayden Scott on drums and backing vocals. He’s a bad-ass drummer, and people have been comparing him to John Bonham. I’ll be on computers, effects, and synths.

Will you also include DJ gigs in your touring plans?

Yes, I DJ a lot still. I’m lucky to have this option, as touring the way we do is expensive, so the DJing kind of bankrolls the live shows.

Song-by-Song Sound Secrets

The huge synth pattern that runs through “Do You!”: That’s the [Arturia] Moog programmed in Logic and used in arpeggio mode with a tickle of CamelPhat distortion, a load of compression, and a hint of reverb.
The stabs in “Do You!”: That’s a random sample, edited and distorted.
The granular effects in “Bring It”: Minimoog Voyager hardware synth, through tube warming and distortion pedals. Then we ran it into the computer and edited and chopped it to hell. After that, we distorted it more with CamelPhat in sections and jammed through the UAD Dreamverb. There’s also me whispering through a mic, compressed and chopped up. All our edits are manual — we’ve never used glitch-type plug-ins.
The ethereal vocal treatments in “Wish I Was Here”: The key ingredient there is a great vocalist: Kurt Baumann! That’s many layers of his vocals through the UAD LA-2A and then UAD Dreamverb.
The beautiful, layered, evolving pads in “Mancry”: Surprisingly, not so many layers on this one. That main riff is a toy Casio synth that cost two pounds in a jumble [garage] sale playing chords and jammed through Alex Metric’s broken Roland Space Echo, which added the beautiful harmonic distortion. We were trying to do something heavy for this Marilyn Manson remix we were working on but it came out too beautiful, so we used it for the album. The other layers that come in later in the track are pads, plus Tony Bevilaqua playing guitars through lots of UAD Dreamverb.

Gear to Cope™ With

Mac running Logic and Ableton Live
Event ASP8 and Yamaha NS-10 studio monitors
TLA Audio M3 Tubetracker
Lynx Aurora 8 sound card
Korg MS-20 analog synth
Hughes and Kettner Tube Factor pedal
VHT Valvulator pedal
Electro-Harmonix Memory Man and Germanium pedals
Oohlala Truly Beautiful Disaster pedal Roland RE501 Space Echo
Apple Logic Pro
Ableton Live
Arturia Moog Modular V2
Camel Audio CamelPhat
Universal Audio Powered Plug-ins: Dreamverb, Neve88RS, LA-2A, and Gate Compressor
Live’s Resonator effect is also used a lot for rich harmonic drones