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In Retrospect: Must Volkoff – White Russian (Pang Productions, Melbourne)

February 14, 2014

Must-Volkoff---White-RussiaIf you don’t believe that in 2014, independent Hip Hop artists are able to produce albums that are sonically on par with anything that’s considered great, get it pressed on high quality 180 gram vinyl as well as CDs, and sell enough copies to recoup their investment almost instantly, then you simply aren’t aware of successes of small, Independent Hip Hop record labels like Pang Productions out of Melbourne, Australia.

At this point in time, I would like to give a shout out to Al Gore for inventing the Internet (kidding) because it’s made it possible for this freelance Mastering Engineer from the North East side of L.A. to be able to do work for artists and labels all over the world. In this case, a label that is nearly 8,000 miles away. Over the years, I’ve done mastering work for a quite a few artists from Melbourne, and one of the earliest ones was for producer Debonaire P of Low Budget (shout out to that brother as well for sending great artists to work with my way) so I’ve become familiar with Hip Hop coming out of Australia for quite some time now and everything that I’ve worked on is, to sum it up in one word: Solid! This was my reaction when back in 2012, Mata & Must of Pang reached out for me to master their label’s fourteenth release, One Sixth’s “Electronic Mail”.

I knew that would also be the case when I got the mixes for the “White Russian” album towards the end of 2013. It’s an album featuring some of the nicest MCs from Melbourne and the UK. Must, one half of the production/MCing duo Mata & Must sent me an email in which he said “…and let us know if any adjustments are needed on the mixes”. He also said something like “…and no rush, do your thing with it.” When given this much flexibility and optimal mixes to begin with, we usually end up with something great. I checked out all of the mixes during the following two days or so, getting acquainted with the feel of the album and it wasn’t long before I realized I had another carefully crafted masterpiece to work on for them.

Good mastering is being able to bring cohesion to a project while being as transparent as possible in the processes you apply. Great mastering is doing that, plus enhancing the nuances of each mix and somehow, making a sonic marvel that stands on its own. I can honestly say that this is what we have here. To put it in technical terms, I notice that when working on projects like this, and doing the “push and pull” of frequencies, at one point each mix just evolves into something special and at that point you just settle on a particular “feel” of the transients. Any sort of minor change can possibly ruin it, so you don’t shape these mixes to sound a certain way, you just “discover” their optimal projection and with enough experience, you know when to stop “chipping” away at the frequencies.

This isn’t your typical smashed Hip Hop release that sounds super loud, with an anemic low end, saturated mids and high frequencies that are way too sharp. It’s easy to fool the casual listener with that. Eventually, avid fans lower the volume when playing something like that alongside one of the great releases from back in the day when things were being done optimally, and they immediately know they’ve been sold short. This also isn’t a recreation of the sound signature of 90’s Hip Hop (though I believe we reached the pinnacle of sound quality towards the end of that decade). This is an evolution; it’s the outcome of careful planning and execution, it’s using both high end analog AND digital tools with two versions, one optimized for digital and the other for as vinyl because the recordings and mixes allowed that to happen.

Releases like this are a pleasure to listen to for those who have even a small investment into a good playback system (those that do, know when they’re being fed sonic garbage). I don’t often get to work on releases with this kind of sonic integrity, but when I do, I tell people about it (usually on my Twitter feed) and when they’re spectacular, I write something like this – because they matter. Not just to me, but most importantly, they matter to the fans who go out and purchase the records that labels like Pang puts out, who have an ear for quality music and will spend their money on releases that are worth their dough. It’s no wonder Pang’s releases have a solid fan base (at the time of this writing, their double LP “Deluxe Pack” release for “White Russian” has sold out).

I recently finished working on another release for Pang, the “4 Aces” EP. This is a collaboration of two of Melbourne’s most respected Indie Hip Hop labels, Pang and Crate Cartel and it features One Sixth, Fluent Form, Mata & Must, released after their successful “The Alliance” tour in Melbourne. Check out Pang at: http://pangproductions.com.au/

Here’s a couple of videos from the “White Russian” release:

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