Interview: Glitch Mob's edIT on New Rave & Diving Deep Into Modular Synths

Photo courtesy of edIT Beats. Used with permission.

Photo of edIT Beats.
edIT Beats. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Edward Ma, better known as edIT Beats, is a veteran engineer and a seasoned producer and DJ. He may be best known as one-third of the electronic music trio The Glitch Mob, but his roots in the LA underground rave scene run deep.

After college, edIT established himself as a DJ and beatmaker in the LA scene, and it didn't take long for his skills to draw the attention of other artists such as Ooah and Boreta. The three of them hit it off and formed The Glitch Mob. In 2010, they released their debut album, Drink the Sea, which balanced heavy synth riffs and glitchy half-time beats as the IDM genre was transitioning into more bass-heavy forms like dubstep. This album quickly gained popularity, and soon enough they were headlining festivals worldwide with mesmerizing sets marked with contagious energy and intensity.

Since then, The Glitch Mob has achieved massive success, releasing a handful of albums that charted on Billboard and earned the trio several prominent licensing deals. Their live shows included the Blade—a custom touring rig partly co-designed and engineered by edIT. The Blade featured modded pad controllers, tablets and multiple computers running Ableton Live, as well as an array of electronic drums, state-of-the-art lights and video projections, making for an unforgettable audiovisual experience.

Over the years, edIT has been releasing solo material on top of his work with The Glitch Mob. His latest album "Come To Grips" showcases the familiar vocal chop-heavy, hip hop-influenced, multi-genre style that The Glitch Mob is known for. At the same time, Ma's unique style shines through, which is clearly influenced by the underground raves where he started his career.

Unfortunately, the pandemic upended some of The Glitch Mob's touring plans. For edIT, this meant turning his attention towards building up his Eurorack system. Since embarking on that journey, edIT has become a passionate Eurorack evangelist, gathering an impressive collection of oscillators and other modules to play with. And it's not all solo experimentation: he's been jamming with friends and regularly posts videos on his Instagram with the hashtag #cookingwithedIT.

I spoke with edIT about the recipes behind his tasty patches. He spoke candidly about his modular rig and why thru-zero oscillators are necessary for patching his sound. We also got into navigating social norms while jamming with friends who don't use Eurorack, and how that has influenced his work. As he signed on and sat down for our chat, I couldn't help but be awestruck by the sight of his two massive 18U Doepfer rigs sitting in the background.

You’ve been doing your own thing as a solo artist lately—dropping tracks, and diving deep into modular. What's it been like and how has that been different from what you do with THE Glitch Mob?

I've always kind of gone in and out of phases of acquiring hardware and selling hardware, going in the box or going out of the box. Right now, obviously, I'm in a phase where I'm more on the side of being out of the box than in the box. I'm the Glitch Mob's engineer, so just a lot of my time with them is spent staring at Ableton. After hours and hours of mixing, you start to get burnt out, you know what I mean? I think assembling the rig gave me a different way to stimulate my creativity and stay excited about making music.

Over the past few years, I've basically just been working on assembling this rig. I came into it from the opposite side, I started with software modular. I was really big into Reaktor Blocks and VCV Rack. After that, I started acquiring hardware. You start off accumulating whatever is the most popular on Modular Grid, and you don't really have a sense of what you really want to do with hardware. I think after a good few years of accumulating gear, especially after lockdown, I really tried to hone in on what I was trying to say with the modular rig. I just really wanted to be able to create ideas quickly—especially my more warehouse, rave-y sounding ideas.

I began to shy away from the more experimental, drone-y, ambient granular modules, and leaned in more heavily into the right kind of oscillators, filters and sequencers that could make warehouse rave-y sounding stuff quickly. I was shying away from the nerdy programming modules like the Poly[Effects] Hector or the Empress Euroburo—I recently just sold both of those on Reverb. I leaned in to things that were more tactile and less menu divey—when you touch them, you get instant results.

I can see on your Instagram that you’ve been patching up and jamming a lot with friends.

Yeah—with the whole "Cooking With edIT" thing, I'd just come off tour. We toured Ctrl Alt Reality last fall and into the winter. I got COVID in January, so I was basically locked up in my loft for a while and cooking a bunch. Those videos went up at the end of January, and that kind of opened the floodgates for all the homies to basically hit me up and be like, "Yo, I want to come over."

In February, I was just cooking with a bunch of musician homies that were just coming through, whether they were from out of town coming into town or they live in Los Angeles. I kind of had to shut it down because we had to finish a bunch of music. I'm hoping to get it back up and running this month. Having cooked with a bunch of fellow musicians, I kind of had a better sense of what was lacking on the rig and where the deficiencies and holes were. I acquired some new stuff too, that would not just benefit me but also the people that were coming by, especially people that don't know very much about modular.

In the scenes that I operate in—I don't even really know what you want to call it, American electronic music culture—there can be a lot of politics involved in collaborating with people. Maybe they don't want to collaborate with you because it might not push the needle forward for them, or maybe they might feel self-conscious or that their chops aren't up to snuff in the studio. Sometimes they don't want to show you their secrets in the studio.

There could be all these different reasons why you might not actually come together to create something with somebody, but when everybody steps into my loft, they know we're not coming here to make the next big bass music anthem or whatever. We're just coming into my loft to play with my Lego collection. It defuses the pressure and the politics—we all just get back to a place of enjoying making music with our hands the old-fashioned way.

Could you elaborate a little bit on how you feed off of the people that are coming through to cook? You said you want to leave out preconceived notions about the destination of the jam, but what are you picking up from other artists that helps you shape where you want to go with modular synths?

It actually goes beyond where I want to go with modular, per se. I think anybody can be good at cooking with their rig, and if you spend a lot of time on your system or your hardware, anyone can get good at it. It's a whole other ballgame when you have people on the rig with you, though. That's one thing I'm really trying to get good at—to be able to finesse the jam into a dope spot where magic happens, where the other musicians don't feel like you're bossing them around or they're being controlled or they're being told what to do. That in itself is an art form, almost as if you were a proverbial ayahuasca shaman at the gym, guiding things in a direction without overly controlling it.

It's really interesting to see the interpersonal dynamics of every musician that comes through. Whether they are extremely well-versed on modular or not, you get a glimpse into these musicians as human beings. They're the energy that they carry into the room. Sometimes you'll be cooking with somebody pretty well-known, but really their energy and aura might not be as large as they seem in real life. In those moments, there's a vulnerability when you can make people feel comfortable in the jam, and that's where the magic happens.

I'm sure you've had producers that gawk at your wall of modules. What are some of the first modules that you introduce to somebody who hasn't really worked with Eurorack before?

I think the easiest place to start is drums and drum programming—getting a beat up and rolling is pretty much the first step. For that, the WMD Metron is my main drum sequencer, although I also use this Making Sound Machines Stolperbeats, which is kind of the Flying Lotus or Dilla-style sequencer module. Another case is basically everything that you would need to make a synth voice—we got oscillators, we got envelopes, we got filters, VCAs, all sorts of mixing and summing over here, spatial effects. Then we basically got a bunch of what I call insert effects—distortions and things that you can basically run stuff through. Then there's all the hardware, Elektron boxes and everything comes in. We've got the drum path up top, and then we got the melodic path on the bottom, which can also be sidechained.

With the WMD performance mixer, there's VCAs on every single channel. Essentially, if you send it an inverted envelope—which is what I'm doing with a Zadar and a polarizer.—you basically get an upside down envelope so you can sidechain stuff. I've got a master effects box, and then I got a serial bus compressor, EQ and saturation, and occasionally a brick wall limiter if I'm going for that mega-crunched sound.

One of the greatest things about modular, and something you can't do in Ableton very easily, is the ability to separate the concept of what people think a MIDI note is. When you think about Ableton, you're thinking about programming notes on a timeline and you look at notes in a piano roll—that's the way the majority of people approach melody. Essentially, I'll have a Euclidean sequencer driving some other melodic sequencer, maybe an Octone, or maybe a Muxlicer that's going into quantizer—and from there, you're able to separate essentially the gates from the pitch. You start coming up with all these sort of untraditional off-rhythm melodies that I personally would never be able to come up with in Ableton off the top of my dome. That's when the "a-ha moment" happens: using two different sequencers to essentially create the melody. That's when people are like, "Oh, damn. That's crazy."

Is there anything that has come out since you built Blade 2.0 that you would say would probably have helped the construction process? Or is there any hardware that's come out that you could say, "Oh, wow, they've got that from our Blade system?"

Quite frankly, I don't think anything has come out in recent times that would've really helped that process. It was an extremely complicated, laborious process to program those live sets in Ableton. Still to this day, I think even with the advent of Bitwig and stuff, I still think Ableton would've been the best solution for Blade 2.0. As far as the actual touchscreen technology, we haven't really made very many advancements since then. For us personally, the direction that we've gone in is performing with Eurorack on stage. I think Eurorack has made some massive leaps and bounds in the past few years. As far as how things could have been different or made easier with Blade 2.0, I don't think they could have—that's partially why we don't perform with it anymore.

The Glitch Mob released this YouTube documentary "Behind the Blade 2.0" in 2018.

Do you think that the process of you creating the Blade system helps you in put together your live Eurorack rigs?

I've personally always been so in love with performing live with electronic music my entire life. I think even obviously the pandemic hit shows went away. When lockdown ended, I had just wrapped up my last solo record Come to Grips and was thinking about how to tour that. That was the beta test for the ways I use Eurorack live, which would eventually lead to the systems that we toured in Glitch Mob for Ctrl Alt Reality.

The excitement of performing with the Blade has never really left me. That's always my top priority is trying to figure out new fun ways to perform live as opposed to DJing. Don't get me wrong—I love DJing—but my first love is performing live. In a post-Blade paradigm, it was just a good opportunity to think about how to perform live in a new way that was still fun but also more nimble than the Blade. The Blade's not really something you can just pack up on a plane and go play somewhere.

We knew that we really wanted to come up with something that didn't require semi-trucks and, to some degree, something that was more relatable and humanistic. With the Blade, a lot of the criticism we got off was sort of like, "Man, that looks cool, but really what are those guys doing up there?" Whereas with the Eurorack stuff, when we're performing, you see us turn a knob and you hear a sound and instantaneously your brain registers what's going on. My passion for live performance has never really gone away, I think it's just evolved into something different.

For sure, it's an evolving process of experimentation that always encourages new ideas. What better way to do that than with Eurorack. On the hardware side, I've seen you prepping and performing with the Akai Force. Do you agree with the reviews calling the Force the closest thing to having Ableton Live in a desktop unit?

The Akai Force is essentially if the Push 2 and the Octatrack had a baby. I think it's great because you can program sets in Ableton, and the Akai Force can actually load Ableton sessions with drum racks and everything as long as you're not using any third party VSTs or keep things the Ableton ecosystem. Everything can actually open up perfectly fine on the Akai Force, which is really huge. That was the big selling point for me. For a while I was performing off the Octatrack, but performing would get kind of complicated because it was a combination of playing a pre-recorded song and jamming on top of that.

With the way the Octatrack works, if you dedicated one track per pattern or per bank, you would run out of tracks pretty quickly. You'd basically be limited to 16, and you would start having to use scenes. It's just not the slickest thing live, and very prone to making mistakes. I just wanted a system where it was just a lot easier to load more than 16 tracks easily, so the Akai Force was just a no-brainer. It's basically only limited to the amount of hard drive space you have. I have a 2TB SSD in this thing, and my current set's probably close to 20 GBs.

What's some newer hardware that you've got your eye on, or that you've maybe already acquired and are still in the experimental learning phases?

After cooking a bunch with people in February, the main thing that I saw as a deficiency on the rig was oscillators honestly. I kept leaning pretty hard into the Industrial Music Electronics Hertz Donut—it's basically a thru-zero two operator FM. I used it on so much stuff because it sounds so good and it's so easy to get very different tones out of it very quickly. You're quickly going from a sine wave—whether purely clean or slightly wavefolded—into full-on gnarly FM tones, and you could get a really wide range of sounds out of it. I looked at my rig after that and I was like, "Okay, I need to get some oscillators that are capable of greater sonic territory than what I have. A lot of that really meant selling off Eurorack modules that are kind of full synth voices."

On the surface, those kinds of modules seem like there's high-value because there's everything in it—you got the oscillator, you got the filter, you got the envelope, you got the VCA, everything's in there. In my experience, I find those kinds of modules to be a little bit more closed-off and limiting. Over time, I've found that it's much better to buy each piece separately.

If you want a really good oscillator, get a really good oscillator. If you want a really good filter, get that. You want really good VCAs and envelopes, get that thing. Don't buy the all-in-one because when you try to push it, you're going to be limited to the way that it's been constructed unless you, Icome up with a really creative way of patching it. When you're in a jam setting, that's just not the name of the game—you don't want to be like, "Let's pause everything. Give me 20 minutes to just re-patch this thing and come up with something really rad." You just want something in the moment that's going to produce really good results right away.

edIT's modular rig. Photo courtesy of the artist.
edIT's modular rig. Photo courtesy of the artist.

I sold off a bunch of my oscillators and I've really begun to acquire complex oscillators that are thru-zero FM. I recently picked up the Frap Tools Brenso, which is absolutely stunning and incredible. Thru-zero FM allows things to stay in key easier as well—traditionally when you're FMing one oscillator against another, if it's not thru-zero, generally it just starts to just sound like crazy noise, but when you have thru-zero FM oscillators, generally things generally sound a lot more musical.

I also go the Cosmotronic Vortex, which is also thru-zero FM. I had an Instruo Cs-L which I was almost going to sell. After acquiring these two complex oscillators and beginning to really understand them, I kept the Instruo Cs-L for its sync input. After I started playing with the sync inputs on these oscillators, you could basically just have one oscillator that stays in key very well with a square wave—maybe a digital oscillator—and then you could basically sync your analog complex oscillators to that, and then boom. It's not going to be perfectly in key, but it's going to be very close. Getting deep with synthesis and leveling up my understanding on that level really blew my mind way more in a way you can't really get with plugins. When I work in-the-box—no matter how hard I freak Serum, or Phase Plant or all these things—my brain inherently doesn't work the same way.

What else have I been getting into lately… the Steady State Fate Zephyr.

Yeah, I have the ZPO. So that's like, a baby ZPO, right?

Yeah, precisely—it's a baby ZPO with octave switches and thru-zero FM. The sync input on it sounds absolutely amazing. It's got a very unique tone, a similar type of deal to the Bastl Pizza. Also thru-zero as well too, a really compact powerhouse FM oscillator. It's got a wavefolder, waveshaper, and ring modulator on it. It does so much for the size of it and it's a very inspiring module. It also has octave switches on it like the Zephyr. When you start using that as a modulator against something else that is a thru-zero oscillator, it really begins to shine because then you're basically getting ratios really easily. It can only go through three different octaves, but it does have them. But something like the Brenso or the CSL doesn't have octave switches.

I saw a post with you filming Baseck going ham on the Analog Rytm. What’s it been like playing out with Baseck?

The thing about Derrick [Baseck] and I is that we've been playing raves together for close to 20 years. We go way back. I don't know if he was going to school out in Pomona or Claremont—one of those two—but when I was in college, I was hanging out with a bunch of Cal Arts kids. Ezra Buchla, Don Buchla's son, was up in the mix with that whole scene, but Derrick was one of the dudes from that side of L.A. County.

There used to be this experimental electronic rave called Infinite Complexity in Los Angeles during the tail end of the whole IDM scene Kid606, and Tigerbeat6 Records, and stuff like that. By the time that the Americans got involved with IDM, that was the final wave of the IDM scene Derrick and I were up in the mix of that whole entire era in Los Angeles, and we played a lot of those parties together. It's been amazing to see him after all these years still killing the game so hard with his own unique flare. He's never changed—the gear has evolved over the years, but Baseck is still the same Baseck that I met basically 20 years ago. I'm just so happy to see him get his flowers, because back in the day he'd be killing all these raves just as hard as he is today, but not a lot of people knew of him. With the advent of social media and Instagram and stuff like that, I think obviously he's got a following and everything and it's just made for him. It was a great moment to be able to bring him out on tour with us last year. And then you've got Anna Morgan, the new guard who's essentially the main ambassador for our scene. They're probably two of the most critical selectors in the whole resurgence of warehouse rave culture. It was amazing to be able to bring both of them out on tour and represent Los Angeles like that.

I mean, The Glitch Mob toured the world and just did the whole rockstar thing, and yet y'all are still doing these warehouse raves.

Yeah, man. The thing with American dance music culture—at least the way things work in the United States—things are very much modeled after this very Bassnectar-esque model of constantly growing things. More maximalism, more sold-out venues, more LED walls, more cryo cannons, a bigger family photo with the crowd at the end of the night. After the pandemic, I think we really realized that while we're super grateful we got to do that, that's not really what it's all about for us. I'm not here to knock any other musicians—if that's your dream, go out there, do that thing and go get it—but for us, that's never really been what it's been all about.

Coming out of the pandemic writing Cntrl Alt Reality, which was essentially our love letter to old-school warehouse rave culture, we really just wanted to take things back to just simpler, more ground level terms where it's just about the tunes, the people in the room, and the vibe of a banging sound system. That's it, we don't have any tricks, we don't have the Blade. It was a very untraditional move to be established electronic artists and to come out of the pandemic and go in the opposite direction to come back to the underground. I'm just so grateful that our return back here was received with welcome arms.

Sometimes when you get really big as an artist, it's very possible that when you want to return to the underground, you might not be welcome. People might just be like, "Oh, well, you're not authentic," or, "You've sold out," or whatever. There's a lot of artists out there that probably don't want to ever come back to the underground or come back to this Boiler Room-esque atmosphere of doing things. If they did, they might be met with hostile ground. But for us, that wasn't the case. The welcome back was extremely warm from all the DJs and producers that sent us tunes to play every single night, and the promoters that understood the vision. It's just a different era for us, and I'm here for it, man. I'm super grateful for where we've been, even more grateful now that we get to just authentically be ourselves.

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