Focus... & Phonix Analog heads,
Focus... & Phonix Analog heads,
For both Bernard Edwards Jr. and Darius Barns - aka Focus… and Phonix - making music runs in the family.
And despite hailing from opposing coasts of the United States, they’re united by their passion for music production, for hip hop, and for sculpting their sounds the old fashioned way. We visited them in the studio to hear how they’ve been using PolyBrute to push their beats into multi-dimensional territory.
For both of these members of the hip hop elite, music making can be traced right back to the beginning. Manhattan-born Focus… is the son of the late co-founder of Chic, Bernard Edwards, while Californian Phonix’s father is none other than John Barnes, known for his work with everyone from Marvin Gaye to Bill Withers.
Growing up around music set the scene, but both producers put the time in to find their own way. Starting off with Linn drum machines and MPCs and gradually moving to DAWs like Reason and Pro Tools, they honed their skills and started making names for themselves. Their hard work, their passion, and their open-mindedness paid off, and they now share a lengthy list of credits including Dr. Dre, Eminem, Beyoncé, J Cole, and many more.
Dre was looking for new producers. He said ‘if you’re looking to work, I have a spot for you.’ I said ‘I’m down to work right now.
Working in the box hasn’t affected Focus… and Phonix’s thirst for seeking out new sounds using hardware. Despite the accessibility of softsynths and the instant results of preset libraries, their time spent on keyboards and in synth-filled studios during their career has left them with a taste for the tactile and a penchant for the expressive.
I think that we’ve made things so easy for the producer - it’s just a plug and play, or drag and drop, instead of them really honing in and finding out what they’re made of.
This is due, in part, to their desire to find a deeper meaning with their music; not just with the results themselves, but along the journey. Making music might be a full-time job, but that doesn’t mean it has to be a chore. Enjoying the process and the experience often means better results.
There’s so much that’s supposed to be felt through music. Music evokes emotion, it’s a spiritual thing. It’s supposed to be an experience.
In 2021, Focus… and Phonix incorporated our 6-voice morphing polysynth into their production flow. Rather than the usual sprawling pads and razor-sharp leads that you might expect from an analog polysynth, they typically made it their own in no time at all. Fat brassy stabs against laid back beats, wiry melodies echoing in stereo against a hard verse, quacking sub-rich basses underpinning kicks and claps - PolyBrute and hip hop go together like sun and sand.
The capability of it is really new and dynamic to me, all the additional things that most keyboards wouldn’t have all in one.
With preset morphing, PolyBrute makes every preset into a 3D musical experience. Using various expressive controls, from the Morphée to the ribbon strip, you can glide between 2 sonic states within a single preset - something that Focus… and Phonix use to explore sound in between the lines and bring their ideas to life.
From one sound you have two different sounds. From those two different sounds you have three dimensions - ways that you can make this thing feel like life. You can give life to just a sound.
While PolyBrute is a formidable musical tool by itself, it’s also designed to play nice with the rest of your setup. With flexible software integration via PolyBrute Connect and simple MIDI connectivity, it’ll communicate with your other gear for a seamless studio experience.
I like playing on it and tweaking the stuff as I go at the same time. What’s cool is it picks up all your MIDI when you play it - so if you want to use something else and blend it, you can.
A musical language
Hearing Focus… and Phonix’s take on PolyBrute and how it works for their creative process is a testament to the flexibility and power of the instrument. But hearing them play on it says so much more than words could. This is a fusion of analog and digital in action, a convergence of influences from hip hop to disco, an unfiltered outlet for creative expression - a powerful tool for the producers of today and tomorrow.
What makes Arturia special to me is it makes me feel like I’m hybrid. I am a true analog head, so there’s a part of it that I truly do understand. But then when I saw the digital side, I know what that’s going to be for the new generation.