A wave of curiosity and mystery has surrounded the record label Beat Box for a long time. Nobody knows much about it, except recognizing that little logo from classic italo disco singles and albums from the mid 1980s. On the Swedish internet forum for musicians at 99.se, some of us started discussing Beat Box and some people started checking their old vinyl again, for more info. Fredrik Ramel and Gunnar Silins are two important guys in the story of Beat Box. The 99musik member Encore found Gunnar by surfing and doing some hardcore detective work. He then assembled a number of questions, from himself and other members, and e-mailed them to Gunnar, who responded promptly. Thank You Gunnar! And Thank You Encore! I have translated this from swedish in order to let international viewers enjoy the info; I’ll let Gunnar talk – some of my comments are in italo – sorry, italic
“Perhaps I should begin by saying something about the background.
During those years, I worked as a mix engineer and was responsible for the studio at the record company Grammofon AB Electra, which at that time was one of Sweden’s largest record companies (that went into a rather spectacular bankrupcy around 1989). My job was to run the studio and also to handle most of the recordings Electra did locally.
Vinyl Mania and their label Beat Box was one of the plentiful small record companies who got assistance with distribution from Electra. I don’t remember exactly, but Fredrik Ramel approached me and asked if I wanted to help him remix a song which had a mix he considered a bit weak. He had gotten the permission to do this from the songwriters.
I don’t remember which song it was, perhaps it was the “cough track” with Scotch (This is the track we know as Disco Band with Scotch). But the results were said to be good. This instituted the start of a co-operation which lasted for a few years. I don’t remember how many tracks we remixed; maybe 50 or 60 totally. I did a few of them on my own but mostly we worked head-to-head doing this. At some point we did a complete production with some swedish female singer and a guy with a lot of programmed synthesizers. This also came out on the Beat Box label.
Fredrik used to call me in time for new mixes and book up the studio. We mostly worked late evenings and nights. He came with the multi-track tape, a copy made for us by the record company down in Italy, and a stack of hamburgers from McDonalds. We had dinner in the studio and then started working. Beginning to end, a track took about 10 hours to finish, giving us a complete master to engrave records from.
I can’t say that I felt anything for the music, rather the opposite. I thought it was quite vacuos and uninteresting, like most music in the dance scene. I’m rather listening to King Crimson…
But it was fun from a professional standpoint. I had a lot of possibilities to come up with new things, try different ideas and be creative. And Fredrik was a nice fellow who I enjoyed working with.
For me, the Beat Box mixes was a fun feature of my normal working day, whereas I usually recorded everything from death metal to big band jazz, folk songs to children’s records and dance band music.
I have no idea whatsoever about how Vinyl Mania / Beat Box worked, how they ran marketing, chose artists, license deals and other things. But I know many DJs liked the place and DJs also ran the place. I also know that some parties liked these “Swedish Remixes” (Sweded? Sweded films? Did Michel Gondry collect Beat Box singles? . A lot of the production went to southern Europe. The only thing I know really is that Vinyl Mania was a record shop (placed in the centre of Stockholm) focusing on dance/DJ stuff and they came up with a label of their own; Beat Box. They were three shareholders, of whom Fredrik was one. In the end, they argued about something; I don’t know what. And Fredrik disbanded, so my mixing of Beat Box things came to an end. The store also disappeared, I think. Fredrik vanished from my horizon. I have reason to believe he had family savings and his DJing, Vinyl Mania / Beat Box involvement wasn’t essential for him to be able to put food on the table.
The question from Introvert (a 99musik member’s nickname) about Vinyl Mania / Beatbox is something I can’t elaborate on much better than above.
“A division of Vinyl Mania” is something I think was made to make it look cool, a way of coming on as bigger!
Kreppen (another nickname on 99musik) had questions about releases; I have no insight on numbers and releases. Beat Box was probably registered as a company and I don’t think it went into bankrupcy. I don’t think Vinyl Mania did either; I think it went into liquidation.
So, what I can reply best to, is how a “Swedish Remix” was made.
The material always came on 2″ 24-track reel tape, the professional standard format by then. On the 24 tracks, all synthesizers and voices was recorded, usually in a 7″ version, lasting four minutes or so.
Work began by me laying up the mix while Fredrik did something else in another room or left for a moment or two, to do errands. I fixed all levels, eq settings, compression that fit, added some base reverb, delays and so on. All in all, a complete mix that I thought was suitable. This usually took a couple of hours.
Then Fredrik came in “thinking”. He might have ideas on levels, some eq setting or so. But usually he didn’t change so much. After that, we sat by the mixing desk and listened to the different tracks, muted and solo’ed, tried to see how things interacted, got ideas for in- and outro’s, breaks, thought about plans for the song and so on. Fredrik didn’t have any deeper insights on music technology. His role was being the thinker and add extra fingers when many channels needed to be muted at specific moments. He was a producer with a clear vision on the final product, letting me handle the technical stuff.
We often felt it would be fun to add some percussion. If we were lucky, SMPTE time code was recorded on channel 24 for synchronizing. Otherwise I added a sync track myself. Then the project was getting the sync from the timecode to MIDI, to get the right tempo, the right bpm, number of bars etc to fit through the entire song. I hade a special Roland gizmo (I don’t remember the model name, something -80 I think) (SBX-80 is the name of it, I think, on the other hand?) that read SMPTE and took the trig from a bassdrum or similar. Alternatively, I tapped all fourths through the entire song, into its memory. Then I could program percussion running in sync; I had a Yamaha RX-something drum machine, Roland TR 707 and 807 (It’s 808, of course). Sometimes I also used a Yamaha DX7. On rare occasions I redid some bassline, added some pad or some other bell or whistle.
When the mix was complete and eventual extra instruments ran in sync, the remix work began. Basically it meant mixing down chunks of audio (analog ¼” with 30”/min speed) that I later spliced. It could be an 8 bar intro with just bassdrum and hihat, followed by another 8 bars with another percussion sound – everything got physically connected on the tape by cutting and pasting. That’s how the song was rebuilt – chunks of even bar numbers spliced together.
There were no samplers at that time (that were usable for us). The ones on the market were expensive as hell, too bad, too short sampling time and too low quality for our needs. So we didn’t sample (is this entirely true? On some remixes obvious sampler effects are applied, like pitch bends (ok, can be done with tape) and trigged samples played seemingly from a keyboard?).
If we were to move choirs from one to another place in the song, I did a mix of them, recorded them on ¼” tape and “flew” them in at the right spot on some free tracks of the multitrack tape. Pressing play and record in just the right time to make it fit! Incredibly tiresome with many, many attempts before it was tight. If the chunks were long, there was a risk that they’d drift in time after a few runs, even if it had fit just right in the beginning. Compare this to sitting with ProTools or something similar today! What a relief that would have been, so simple!
At some occasions, I also did endless loops of some instruments or voices mixed down to quarter-inch, which depending on length would loop around strategic objects in the control room so that the tape was sufficiently tense (imagine this) – and then “fly” this back on to the multitrack tape. At some breaks I did reversed reverbs by splicing a piece from the tape and pasting it back in reverse order.
In a large sense this was “manual analog sampling” and a ridiculous amount of cutting and pasting – the master tape became completely tabby by all the tape edits! I had experience in this field from before, having had to learn how to cut fast and tight in tapes when I started my mix engineer career – by recording talkbooks and show tapes to dragshow acts! To cut and paste in analog tape is probably a dying craftsmanship!
So, eventually the mastertape was finished and Fredrik went to engraving, where the struggle always was to engrave as strong as possible without adding distortion or putting the engraving box on fire.
The equipment used on all of the mixes were, except from the instruments mentioned before, a Harrison 2432 mixing desk, a Studer A80 2″ 24-track tape recorder and a Studer A80 2-track ¼ mastering tape recorder. Monitoring was done with Yamaha NS 10 and a couple of big JBL monitors with 15″ bass and horns for mid- and treble. Outboard used was Urei LA3 compressors, Drawmer M500 compressors, DBX compressors, Drawmer noise gates, AMX RMX 16 reverb, Lexicon PCM 70 and PCM 80 reverbs, EMT plate reverb, Roland tape echo, TC 2428 (?) digital delay, assorted multi effects from Yamaha and Roland like SPX 80 (?!) and the like.
I had a routine of running the mix to the master recorder by twin stereo busses, where I treated one stereo signal with a rather heavy compression through a Urei 1179 (I think) stereo compressor and then mixed together with the uncompressed signal for more punch. The master track recorder was running hot, I peaked + 6-8dB over 520 nW/m reference level (if someone gets something out of that in the digital world of today). That way, I got a whole lot of tape compression adding even more “punch”
Some example Beat Box Releases:
Between The Sheets – Late Night Radio (Kraftwerk Medley)
Koto – Visitors – 12″ Swedish Remix
Scotch – Delirio Mind 12″ Swedish Mix
Miko Mission – How Old Are You? 12″ Swedish Remix
My Mine – Can Delight
Hipnosis – Droid 12″
The original swedish text can be found here:
All the Beat Box releases – a huge list: