As I’ve mentioned in previous articles I’m a n00b. But stick with me here, just because I’m not as experienced as other Making-Music.com staffers like Gareth Patch or Ian Waugh doesn’t mean this review will be pointless. Hopefully.
Regardless of who you are and what level your music is at right now, there’s a high probability your early development followed the same path as many other musicians. It doesn’t matter if you come to electronica via a lifetime of playing guitar-led music (like I did) or whether you come to electronica as your first love. The first phase of learning probably involved a whole lot of pausing videos and re-reading magazine articles about the artists who have inspired you to create. If you’re more interested in the gear a musician uses than their fashion sense or opinions on pop culture then you’re one of us. You’ve got it bad, but it’s okay. The burning desire to make music is the best affliction in the world.
As you start to learn a little bit about music several brands stick out immediately. Roland. Korg. Yamaha. Then you start to notice specific model numbers floating to the surface of your consciousness all the time. DX7, SH-101, 808, 909 and so on. Your favourite artist wax lyrical about how these classics of electronica inspired them, and in some cases how these old devices defined their entire aesthetic.
The next stage is to have a quick peek on ebay to see how much these ‘essential’ beasts cost. Unless you’re weighed down with stacks of cash discovering how many thousands of pounds something like a Roland 808 is going to cost you is pretty depressing.
There’s one particular Roland classic that really did define a generation of electronic music – the aforementioned SH-101. Some bits of ‘vintage’ kind aren’t very noticeable in the tracks that might have inspired you. Other bit of ‘retro’ equipment stick out like a (funky) sore thumb. The SH-101 is very much in the latter camp. I was going to compile a short list of hits that relied heavily on the SH-101 for flavour, but the list is very long indeed.
So we have established that the Roland SH-101 is a synth ‘of interest’ so how much do they cost? At the time of writing a (very much) second hand SH-101 will set you back between £800 and £1500. Roughly. That’s a lot of cash to take a chance on.
One of the aspects of electronica hardware that I find frustrating is how difficult it is to guess how well a bit of equipment will fit into your life without buying it first. Out here at Making-Music.com HQ there are no shops that stock this kind of gear. If I want to try before I buy then I need to go to London. So invariably I tend to buy gear, live with it for a while then sell it on and continue my quest for perfect hardware. It’s a frustrating quest. Ultimately I can’t risk over £1,000, even if I did have the readies, on a bit of kit that I might not get along with.
Some chunks of classic gear have modern remakes that might satisfy your curiosity. For example, if you’re hankering for that classic Roland 909 sound then you can buy a TR-09, TR8, or even an Arturia Drumbrute or Korg Volca Beats.
But if you want your very own hardware clone of a Roland SH-101 then what options are there? Pending Behringer possibly cloning the SH-101 there are no viable options. At least no in the hardware word.
The D16 group LUSH-101 is an unapologetic and glorious software emulation of the Roland Sh-101. It looks incredible and considering the low price tag of €149 is fantastic value. I’ve been playing with the LUSH-101 for several months now and every time I fire it up I grin from ear to ear.
I have fired up plenty of software synths in the past and the battle to sculpt sounds an be a long and trying one. With the LUSH-101 almost any control you tinker with has an immediate and tangible effect on the sound. For beginners the LUSH-101 is an exercise in instant gratification. I lost a considerable amount of time just playing with the arpeggiator. Glorious time.
More experienced musicians can take advantage of the fact that (unlike a hardware SH-101) the LUSH isn’t constricted physically. So there are many more controls on this emulation than on the original. Each additional control appears to be entirely sympathetic to the ethos and sonic feel of the original 101.
In fact there’s a lot of capability built into the LUSH-101 that the original SH-101 owners would probably have loved. Capability like 32 voice polyphony. Flexible effects, including chorus, flanger, tremolo and vowel filter.
If you’re not sure where to start with the LUSH-101 then any one of the 1,600 factory presets would be a good starting point.
In fact, much like the other D16 group plugin I love (the PunchBox) the LUSH-101 has been a starting point for several tracks I have created recently. In terms of recommendations it doesn’t get much stronger than that.