Featured Story - Aziz Ibrahim
Aziz Ibrahim cut his teeth performing as a session musician with acts like Simply Red, but is probably best known as the replacement for guitarist John Squire in the seminal madchester band The Stone Roses. He has also continued working with Ian Brown since the Stone Roses singer went solo. As well as performing alongside many of modern music's biggest names, Aziz has been writing and producing for a number of up-and-coming talents, and developing his own unique sound which he describes as the Asian blues, performing alongside tabla-player Dalbir Singh Rattan.
Taking the time
We caught up with Aziz just before he went onstage to perform at a Love Music, Hate Racism event in Balham, South London. “I'm producing an album at the moment for Our Fold, on D Set Records, a Scottish label,” he said. “It's a lot of work, because I take a lot of time instead of just using the same recipes.
“In the early days co-producing with Ian Brown, we had a different approach – it was very analogue and organic. We would start on cassette tapes, then move to 8-track tape then to 2-inch. We mastered on 1/2-inch and used all the valve compressors and valve EQs that we could find, plus the [Joe Meek] black box. We went down to Chiswick Reach Studios and used the desk down there – the handmade Trojan desk.”
Rough, unfinished appeal
Aziz reveals he found it an awesome experience working in that format, but it was very different to the approach that other bands around at the time were using. “The Manics and Travis were bringing out their albums with slick and polished production,” he remembers. “We wanted something that was completely the opposite, where tracks played out at the end, and the drum machine carried on because we forgot to turn it off. It had the feel of daring and freedom that's missing on many records.”
Times have changed though, and Aziz now finds himself working inside the box for many of his mixes, so to recapture some of the spirit of the older sessions he's invested in a UAD-2 QUAD DSP processor. The UAD-2 QUAD is Universal Audio's flagship DSP processor, featuring four Analog Devices SHARC chips on a high-bandwidth PCIe card. This amount of power enables Aziz to add all the plug-ins he needs.
“I'm running a session at the moment where I've got 40 plug-ins running and none of them are the SE versions,” he says. “I want to be able to run complete Neve consoles or 4k consoles or the Harrison. I also want to be able to switch between the desks, so the UAD QUAD is just what I need to run all the plug-ins for a session.”
As well as emulating classic mixing consoles, Aziz has enjoyed bringing in emulations of many of the classic outboard tools he's enjoyed using in professional studios throughout his career. “I like the Neve 33609 compressor/limiter,” he says, “that and the Fairchild are my favourites. They really seem to fix things for me – awesome pieces of kit.”
But while it was the emulations that captured Aziz's imagination, since getting the UAD he's discovered that Universal Audio has also created some custom plug-ins that go beyond any hardware. “I found that the Precision tools on the UAD were awesome,” he recalls. “If you took away the badges, you'd turn to those Precision tools all the time – they really hit the nail on the head. I can see they really did work on each individual item and I can feel that there's been so much time spent with each plug-in. Even if they’re not exactly like the originals, who cares? It's such a fine product in its own right.”
Not a preset person
Refreshingly Aziz is happy experimenting with his plug-ins to find the best sound, switching between different models to find the EQ or compressor that makes the track work best for him. “I spend time with the parameters as opposed to turning to presets. I'm not a preset person, I've never been a studio engineer but I've learnt the craft from watching good engineers and good producers and picking things up along the way. If you're a creative person, an artist, you don't tend to have the technical gift to start with – you can come from the other end and learn the craft as you go along.”
For musicians looking to move into production this viewpoint can be inspiring, but he also offers a word of warning for those embarking on the production process. “The more you work on something and the further you build towards the mastering stage, the further away you are from the original vibe; the in-your-face sound you had.”
Aziz has a new finished album, Rusholme Rock, ready for release, which combines his western and eastern influences. He describes the band as “the White Stripes from Bombay,” and it's easy to see how that description fits, rooted in the blues with Aziz in the Jack White role, singing and playing guitar backed by drums from his tabla-player Dalbir. However, Aziz's guitar skills and showmanship place the duo far beyond such lazy comparisons. Here is a musician’s musician, plying his trade and pushing boundaries.