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Lack of Afro on how he developed his retro soul sound
29 Mar '2021
Loopmasters talk to Adam Gibbons aka Lack of Afro to hear how he developed his signature retro-soul sound.
Loa adamgibbons

Lack of Afro, aka Adam Gibbons, is a producer and multi-instrumentalist with four albums under his belt and a whopping eleven sample packs in the Loopmasters stable. Gibbons is known for kneeling at the altars of funk and soul, and you might well have stumbled across some of the fiendishly infectious loops from his Analogue Soul, Organic Soul, and Soul Crates volumes, or any of the other top-notch collections he has put together.

 

A man who keeps things more organic than the Soil Association, Adam manages to stay light on synths and drum machines, preferring instead to inject a shot of real life into his sample packs.

 

“Yeah, pretty much all of the instruments are real, sometimes I use soft synths, but the packs are all made of actual drums, bass and guitar. I’ve got a Rhodes and a Hammond so I use them for the keyboard parts, and all the percussion is real, I’m really into that side of things.”

 

And life on that side of things seems pretty good if Soul Crates Vol. 2 – Adam’s latest collaboration with Loopmasters – is anything to go by. An explosion of vibrant soul that hums with authenticity, the entire pack feels like it was recorded by someone who knows exactly how they want to sound. With so much identity infused in each loop and sample, we couldn’t help but wonder about the musical journey it took to arrive at this point.

 

So, how did you get into music and production?

My gran, who was a concert pianist in the Second World War, started teaching me piano when I was seven, and I picked up other instruments along the way. Whilst I always played music, I got into production later on. Initially, I wanted to be a sports journalist, but it didn’t work out that way. I kind of messed up my A-levels and had to take a gap year, and it was during that time that I read the book Good Vibrations: A History of Record Production, which inspired me to explore production. 

 

 

I decided to study sound production at university and started making tracks under the Lack of Afro name. There was a brief time when I considered being a professional musician, in an orchestra or session work sense, but I realised I wasn’t suited for that path.

 

After you graduated from the sound production course, what happened next?

After university, I worked a couple of random jobs: waiting tables, making sandwiches, that kind of thing. But all the time I was making tracks, and eventually, one thing led to another and I got signed by Freestyle Records, a label in London, in 2006. They put out a single and then my first album Press On and it went from there. 

 

It’s hard to know where stuff is going to take you. I didn’t go in with a grand plan, I just wanted to get a record out. Remember, this was before the prevalence of digital platforms like YouTube and Spotify when music was still a physical product. I suppose everything else after that came as the byproduct of being an artist. I started looking into other avenues to bolster income, and opportunities like remixes and sample packs came up.

 

 

When you started making sample packs, were you starting to make them for personal use or to sell and release?

Ironically when I was making the first packs I wasn’t even using sample packs at the time. The management I was with suggested I made a pack for Loopmasters, and I approached it as a writing project more than anything. My buddy George and I sat down and decided to make some funky tracks to use for it. I thought if the tracks were good people were going to want to use the samples.

 

So you’re going from the track and working back?

Yeah, I thought if the tracks were interesting it would make for a better pack. Analog Soul Vol 1, the first one I did, if you listen to all of them they are half decent instrumentals in their own right. With one of the packs I tried to approach it from a sample pack perspective, writing individual loops, but it didn’t really work so I went back to writing tracks first and then stripping them into their constituent parts. That’s what I’m good at! 

 

Do you write groups of songs for the purpose of sample packs?

I’m constantly writing music, so I always have material around that I’m happy with. When Loopmasters ask if I’ve got anything, I listen through what I have and then match up songs I think work well together. I prefer this type of approach rather than having to write songs to a brief, like “make a cinematic sample pack” or something – it's almost more intimidating that way. 

 

 

When you’re writing songs where do you normally start?

It really varies, I’m not one of those people who only write on one instrument. I mean, bass and drums are at the heart of funk and soul so they always play a big part. So I do come up with a lot of my ideas on the bass guitar, but it could also be on the guitar or piano, and then I just build stuff up from there. 

 

What software and recording stuff are you using?

I’m using Ableton now, but I’ve gone through all of the DAWs. I started on a cracked version of Acid Pro on a massive old Dell laptop. When I was writing my first album I used to write music on the train to work in the morning, and I remember opening this thing up, it weighed a ton, with huge fans. It was almost impossible to record a vocal in the same room as it. 

 

When I switched over to Mac, Acid Pro wasn’t supported so I moved to Logic. I’ve been using Ableton since 2015 though, I love it because it’s really quick and easy to get ideas down. Truthfully though, they all do the same thing, so it comes down to whichever one suits you.

 

 

Are you using session musicians or playing yourself?

I went through a stage of playing everything myself. It depends on the pack, but usually, most of the bass and drums are usually played by me, plus a bit of guitar. Fortunately, I know a guy, Rory Simmons, who does all my strings and horn arrangements so I don’t have to use any synthesized parts there. A lot of the keys are done by my friend George Cooper, a great keys player, and Rory records a lot of the string and horns stuff with session players in London. I think with the sort of music I’m making, it definitely lends itself to the real thing, it benefits from authenticity 

 

Are you recording at your own studio or elsewhere?

This pack was recorded at my old studio, I’m currently between studios. Sometimes I use Middle Farm Studios in Devon, which is an amazing place run by Pete Miles, a great engineer. It’s nice to have your own studio but when you’ve got vintage instruments you spend so much time fixing them – you only have about two weeks when they all actually work and then you spend the rest of the year doing repairs! 

 

 

Are you using much analog recording gear?

I run a lot of stuff through a tape machine and a desk. It imparts a character that you can’t really get with plugins as old outboard gear always has a unique sound – two Rhodes keyboards will never sound the same. It feels like these days people all use the same plugins, which I totally understand as it's expensive going to recording studios, but I do think the end result is that a lot of stuff sounds the same. I try my best to record real instruments, and I think the musicians who are playing them are equally important, it adds to the magic.

 

What's in your new pack Soul Crates Vol 2, and how might people use it?

Well “soul” is a broad term, to me it means it’s soulful and has an organic character. The pack has got lots of bass and guitar, ranging from classic soul sounds to cinematic funk. There’s organic drums, FX, keyboards, horns and strings, a wide variety of stuff. This kind of sample pack can give you instant inspiration and kick start the songwriting process. I often use a sample loop to base the chord progression off and then improvise, and before I know it I’ve written something new.

 

 

It’s not limited to being used for funk and soul either, this music lends itself to sampling for other genres. For example, a house producer in Germany emailed me a song he’d made from time stretching my 80bpm loop, and jacking it up to 125bpm to make a house track. It did that thing where it distorts because of the time warping, which made for a really cool effect. 

 

Each song is in a different folder with the bpm tagged, and in that folder it will be split into all of the different components. So you can take the bass and drums from one pack and play something different over the top. 

 

What have you learned from making sample packs?

 

I’ve learned how important it is to be organised and be on top of file names! If you want to write a good sample pack you have to write good songs. Sometimes people think sample packs can be a cop-out but I put as much effort into making these packs as I would for making my own albums, and yeah, the file naming is a ball ache. Although, it’s for a good reason, to fix any problems and avoid confusion. 

 

It’s important to have attention to detail. I remember once I did a pack and saved over everything with the wrong name and got into a complete mess and had to redo everything, losing days of work. You only do that once! I’ve learnt to be methodical and keep things in order to prevent disasters.

 

What’s your approach to crafting the tone and feel of your packs? They have a cool lo-fi, classic sound.

I think using analog gear is key. I like to record stuff using techniques sympathetic to the genre, so for a funk and soul pack, I will go for the same mic configurations they used back in the day, say a couple of mics on the drum kit or something like that. It’s not that it’s the right or wrong way, it’s just the way the classic records were made. Keep the mic techniques to the time. Also, I try not to make things too hi-fi, I like to keep the human performance in there, and not quantize things or grid everything out, that way you lose the groove. 

 

Having used a variety of analog equipment and listened to a lot of this type of music my ears are tuned to the genre. I’ll automatically EQ out the highs from hi-hats because I don’t like the frequencies. If you’re gonna record drums, bass, and piano through analog gear with good mics, the right players, and a view to making it sound that way – you’ll get the result.

 

Do you use Loopcloud?

I do, it’s really handy for two reasons. Firstly, when you’re struggling to find inspiration, just drag something in and start bouncing off it. Secondly, say you’re knocking ideas together quickly and you want something specific, when you don’t have it to hand, like a tambourine loop or bassline, it’s really handy to find those specific sounds. I don’t know where I’d be without it really. It’s really powerful when paired with Ableton, to the point where it’s almost too easy to make songs, it’s really quick. 

 

 

Were there any particular artists which inspired the vibe of this pack?

I think the labels of the time provided a lot of inspiration, like Stacks, Atlantic, and Motown. I listen to a lot of soundtracks too, I’ve even made some myself recently, and I like composers like Lalo Shifrin and David Holmes. It’s more of a sound than an artist itself, just the era and records of the time. 

 

Anything exciting on the horizon?

I’ve just done a soundtrack to a film that doesn’t exist, it’s an idea from David Holmes. Over the years a lot of my music has been used in TV shows and adverts, but I’ve never actually scored a film, it’s something I’ve always wanted to do. The soundtrack was for ”The Last Bastion”, a film that hasn’t yet been made. I’ve just released an EP from that album on my label, it’s mostly instrumental funk, and I’ve got another EP coming out in a few weeks, followed by the full album in June. Also check out my other project The Damn Straights, where I’m working with Herbal T, an MC from San Diego.

 

Lack of Afro Presents: Soul Crates Vol. 2 is available to download on Loopmasters now, containing over 730 MB of royalty-free expressive sounds to use in your projects. The collection is fully Loopcloud ready, and you can try before you buy with a taster pack to whet your appetite.