Ali Statonmeets

Ali Statonmeets

Between mix engineering, production, and live programming, Ali Staton’s musical flexibility has bagged him some of the most coveted gigs in modern music; he’s worked with Madonna, Seal, Razorlight, London Grammar, and Snow Patrol, to name a few. He’s also a well-versed proponent of the many applications of distortion.

We had the pleasure of sitting in on a mixing session with Ali & Dist COLDFIRE.

Careers in parallel

There’s something to be said for professionals who pick a lane and devote their entire career to it. For people like Ali Staton, however, one lane just wouldn’t cut it. Since the ‘90s, he’s made a name for himself as one of the industry’s go-to engineers, live programmers, and producers, among other things.

His credits range from indie up-and-comers to pop royalty, with a Grammy and Mercury Music Prize nominations to his name. He now works out of the legendary Real World Studios in Bath, UK.

Mixing with distortion

The word ‘distortion’ often echoes the buzzsaw sounds of guitar pedals, a stacked-amp wall of sound, or a razor-sharp saturated sawtooth bass. For producers like Ali, it can mean so much more - or sometimes, less.

It’s not even necessarily audible distortion - just quite subtle weight to the sound.

Distortion can be a subtle saturator, a tool for making something stand out in a mix, or a way to fatten up a drum or mix bus in parallel. These techniques are common practice in the production and engineering community. Like many, Ali most often uses it on drum and percussive parts - but he notes that it can apply anywhere in his projects.

I often use distortion and overdrive on drums. It can be individual elements - the kick, the snare separately - or as a whole drum group. It’s the same with vocals, and often it’s quite subtle. All of those things happen, and then yes, the classic distorted guitar or bass.


We spent the afternoon in ‘The Bunker’ at Real World Studios with Ali, putting Dist COLDFIRE to the test on his session for Turin Brakes’ ‘Keep Me Around’.

Percussion color

Our first job for Dist COLDFIRE is to enliven a percussion part that complements the main drum tracks. Using the Rectifier and Tube algorithms in serial, the result is crunchy and characterful without sounding overly ‘distorted’ or distracting.

I just want a little bit of old-school, almost Motown-y distortion that just brings a bit of color to this percussion part that’ll sit under the drums.

Guitar brightener

This electric guitar stem needs a bit of help standing out in the mix, but without affecting too much of its original tonal quality. Using the Transformer and Waveshaper algorithms in Band Split mode emphasizes the right frequencies, with the drive dialed back to make it shine but not steal the limelight.

It’s already got a nice tone to it, I don’t want to lose that. But maybe just bring a little more bite to it.

Synth animator

Using the ‘Lively Synths’ preset, Ali spends a bit of time experimenting with a synth line; first swapping the Bit Crusher algorithm for Tape, then exploring the glitchy movement that the modulation slots bring to the table.

I’ve got a synth, this would be a good one to possibly try… I like that little glitch at the end!

Getting stuck in

Seeing a producer as accomplished as Ali exploring Dist COLDFIRE is not only a great privilege for us; it’s a valuable insight into the exploratory nature of the effect. No matter what he sets out to do, he either finds the perfect fit, or gets immersed in its experimental side. From unexpected modulations to the interplay between its two engines, this effect goes much further than fuzz and crunch.

Just having the dual engines gives you the opportunity to get stuck into designing a sound or treating a sound exactly the way you want to. And actually it’s the happy accidents as well, cycling through the presets and discovering something you might not have even considered.

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