Melbourne’s live electronic-dub group High Pass Filter have ticked all the cool boxes having supported everyone from the late Lee Scratch Perry, Beastie Boys to Fugazi and the Mad Professor. Their sound has been somewhat experimental always pushing the boundaries of where Dub meets Rock meets Electronica and everything in-between. High Pass Filter have been active since the mid 1990s and have just released a new career spanning compilation Nice Coordinated Outfit displaying their dark, dubby and hypnotic studio cuts, live recordings to unhinged outre remixes. Larry de Zoete, Anthony Paine and Kelly Ryall provide a little more insight to their sound and the gear they love!
What do you attribute to your sound and how would you describe it?
LZ: Starting point was a really heavy dub influence – wanting to create a sound like old Jamaican 7″ B-sides. We’ve probably taken in a lot of electronic and ambient influences as we’ve gone along. Don’t know if I can really attribute my sound to anything in particular as it’s largely untuned percussion. However, I probably do have a distinctive style. Over time my style has evolved and doing less, allowing other players the space to work in and being more selective about what I do and when. I’ve found that putting more thought into doing less is much more creatively satisfying.
AP: Chasing the sounds of my bass heroes; Robbie Shakespeare (Sly and Robbie), Tina Weymouth (Talking Heads) Sting, Watt, John Paul Jones (Led Zeppelin), JJ Burnell (The Stranglers), Charlie Haden.
What pieces of gear are essential to your sound? Do you gravitate towards particular bits of gear for long periods of time?
LZ: Classic analog gear, like tape delays such as the Roland RE-301. From my perspective nothing in my setup is really essential; particularly on some live shows where most of the backline is hired. However, whatever the context, I’ll almost always be using my go-to snare drum which is an early 1960s Ludwig Aerolyte series. The Aerolyte series are made from aircraft grade aluminium and are apparently the most recorded snare drum ever because they sound so crisp while also packing a lot of punchiness behind a good solid attack.
KR: Back in the day we were all about the Akai Headrush pedal, that was a great analog simulating delay and loop pedal. I also could go anywhere without a Morley Wah, it was a simple way of emulating a filter cutoff sound live for the guitar.
AP: A four string bass tuned with a drop D.
How does your live set-up differ from your what you use in the studio?
LZ: Our live setup pretty much goes into the studio. Which makes sense if you consider that we set out to perform live, what originated as studio trickery. The basic setup for both live and studio is pretty much the same. Studio allows for a little more flexibility to change things up by using different snare drums or varying my cymbal palette. As an old school percussionist, all of my gear is acoustic. My basic 5-piece kit is a classic 1970s vintage Ludwig: a 22″ bass drum with 13″ rack tom plus 16″ and 18″ floor toms. I’m a big fan of vintage drum kits with the 1970s being a sort of golden age for getting a good balance between lightness of construction for great sound but yet robust enough for regular gigging. A lot of more recent kits are really well made but offer a degree of uniformity in sound that makes for reliability but lacks distinctiveness. For variation I might use a 14″ Premier 2000 series snare from a late 1970s kit, or a custom 10″ Sleishman made from a timber called padauk. The Sleishman is very musical and resonant, as padauk is a dense timber used for the keys/bars in marimba (among other things). Almost all of my cymbals are Sabian HH series or antique Zildjian – the exception being a WuHan Chinese cymbal because I really like the dark, dirty sound these have. I’ve also always preferred 13″ hi-hats because they’re a little more crisp sounding and far more responsive to footwork than the 14″ size most players tend to use.
KR: when we mixed our first record “Audio Forensic” I remember we all gathered around the analog mixer, hands on reverbs, EQs, delays and WAH and did our mix down live. It took us about 3 or passes on some tracks to get it right.
AP: Not at all. Though I love the sound of sitting in a control room with DI’d bass through some reassuringly expensive compression.
Are you a gear hoarder, is there an emotional connection to some instruments?
LZ: My wife would definitely say I’m a hoarder. I’ve got two complete drum kits and an arsenal of small percussion, which take up quite a lot of storage at home. The main emotional connection to all this stuff is simply the amount of time I’ve owned it and the number of gigs it’s been used for over the years. A few antique cymbals do have special value as they belonged to a late uncle who taught me all the basics of drumming and set me on this ruinous path through life.
KR: I never really was, I kinda relied on other members to be the hoarders.
AP: Yes. Sadly. The only cure was to start making instruments for a living, now I can’t afford to hoard.
If you could create your ultimate instrument or piece of music gear, what would it be?
LZ: Truth be told, I’m happy with standard drums and percussion, though if Mickey Hart from Grateful Dead could give me a loan of his Beam I’d have a lot of fun. Basically ‘The Beam’ (and it’s variants) is like a hammered dulcimer; it’s crafted from a 2.4m aluminium C-beam with a set of bass piano strings that are played with hammers, mallets or can be plucked. As such it generates a lot of interesting low end primary tones with cool harmonic overtones. Would totally work in a HPF context and if anyone wants to build me one, I’d be up for it.
AP : One of the joys of bass guitar is that there’s nowhere to go really. It can’t really be simplified or complicated without ruining what it is.
Who would be one artist/producer you haven’t worked with (dead or alive) that you’d love to work?
AP : I would love to play bass for Grace Jones. The whole band could tag along actually. What a gig.
LZ: I’m going to second Anthony on this, to be the rythm section for Grace Jones, at Compass Point studios with Adrian Sherwood on production. It’d be pretty much like going to heaven and I’d never want to come back. Also David Axelrod and Brian Eno
KR: I think Neil Davidge (Massive Attack) would have done great things to our sound.