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Welcome to our Drexciya electro beat tutorial – making an electro beat in homage to this legendary Detroit sound, with some Ableton presets to download too.

I love the music of James Stinson, especially the Drexciya releases on Underground Resistance. Their alien underwater themed art and music isn’t just dance floor orientated, but conjures amazing alien underwater soundscapes. They conveyed this through only a few elements from a drum machine and one or two synths. I think the key to this sound is a lot of filtering and overdrive.

It gave birth to a wider sub genre of ‘Drexciyan Electro’ with other artists from Detroit and beyond inspired by the sound.

Here I’ve tried to set up an electro loop based on these principles. It’s an 808 drum kit, a sub bass, a distorted analog stab and a pad. They are all filtered, the filtering really helps to convey that underwater feel, along with a lot of delay and reverb.

Here I’m not trying to recreate a particular track of theirs, but I’ve made something (at least I hope!) in their style as an exercise in sound design. I’ve tried my best to do the sound justice, hopefully this helps in making your own electro tracks by using this style, as well as developing your own sound…

Here’s an audio preview of the beat/loop I’m making:

See also: Electro Drum PatternsTechno Drum Patterns, House Drum Patterns, you can find all our drum patterns here….. Plus take a look at these samples and presets… Studio Brootle 808 Sample Pack, Ableton Analog Tutorial, Ableton Wavetable Presets and Ableton Wavetable Tutorial.

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There’s a video run through here, and full text below….

Step 1 – Set Up An 808 Kick

The kick needs to be processed with filtering, echo and reverb to give it that underwater feel…

I Use the ‘808 depth charger kit’ which comes with Ableton now. You can get it here if needed. I use the following drum pattern on the 808 kick……

I then add a low pass filter to the kick, I make it resonant and then I keep the filter moving with an LFO. This gives the kick an moving, almost 303 acid-like filter. You can see the settings in the picture below
Then the kick is overdriven and distorted.

Then its delayed and reverbed with an Echo unit, which is set to cut out the lower frequencies of the kick, so the higher parts of it delay more and you get the echo effect without muddying the bass frequencies, you can see this filtering in the Echo in the image below…

Here’s how I processed the kick, you can see the on the filter, and the EQ on the Echo, for that moving, delayed top end of the kick…

I also add this channel to a group and slightly overdrive it. I will add all parts of this track to the group to slightly drive the track and glue the parts together. Here’s the group overdrive settings…

It sounds like this with the moving filter, echo and reverb, it is starting to get that ‘underwater’ sound, and this is just a kick drum….

Step 2 – add hats and snare

You can see the 808 snare, clap and hit hat drum pattern below where I’ve added one and closed hats plus a snare on 2 and 4, then a clap on 4 to make the 2nd snares hit louder.

I’ve filtered this with a resonant filter, like I did with the kick, but here I’m using a high pass filter so the hi frequencies of the hats and snares/claps come through, and I still get that moving filter sound to convey an underwater feeling. The are then delayed rhythmically.

The hats, snare and claps sounds like this, you can hear the filter moving.

Step 3 – sub bass

I then added a sub bass using our Ableton Operator Sub Bass Rack rack, you can see the notes I’ve used below… I want a low tone that sits under track, but does not interfere too much with the heavy 808 kick drums.

The kick, other percussion and sub bass should now sound like this:

Step 4 – analog filter stab

I want to make another ‘underwater’ distorted sound. This harsh almost-siren sound is heard in a lot of Drexciya tracks. To me it sounds like an analog filter has been overdriven and with a lot of resonance and shaping by the filter envelope making these creepy, saturated stabs. Fr this I’ve used Ableton Analog and it’s resonant filters, and in built distortion. The sound is shaped with the Analog’s Fil1 filter envelope.

It’s set to play at the end of every 2 bars…

I’ve also added more distortion from and over drive unit and an Autofilter with OSR filter drive on. You can get the preset for this here.

It sounds like this when soloed:

Step 5 – add a moody cold ‘Drexciyan’ pad

You can get the wavetable pad preset/rack here.

This is a fairly simple pad sound, you can see the notes I’ve played below. They are turned into a minor chord by the Chord midi effect to get that thick minor sound. This is to mimic a three-finger chord on the piano by just paying single notes in Ableton.

Then the pads has some wavetable/granular synthesis modulation mainly from LFO2 moving the wavetable, which you can see in the image, and if you download the preset you can see it moving.

I’ve also added the vinyl distortion effect and Overdrive plus a moving resonant filter (like the drums have), modulated by LFO. This give the pads that underwater feel.

The pads sound like this….

Step 6

I then went back over the sounds and tweaked the levels and EQ so all elements are heard and the frequencies don’t interfere with each other too much. I also automated the filter frequency on the Analog filter sound to give the loop some variation, you can see that in the image below…

And here’s the finished loop….

Other things to try:

For more on Drexciya’s music, the concept behind it and Afrofuturism, take a look at these links:


Analog filter stab, get it here.

You can get the cold pad wavetable preset/rack here.

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