Big Tracks Dissected: Hyph Mngo by Joy Orbison

Time once more to take a closer look at famous track, one that was a big hit on the underground, and see how it was put together. What can we learn from it? What production or compositional tricks can we pick up that might translate into our own tunes?

This week we're looking at 'Hyph Mngo' by Joy Orbison – or Joy O as he now prefers to be called. It had the kind of impact most producers dream of creating: it was his debut track, released on a (then) relatively small sub-label of Hotflush, and it went on to become one of the tracks of the year, instantly catapulting Joy Orbison to the upper levels of 'bass music'. He was suddenly one of the most in-demand figures in the scene.

The reasons for this track's success are twofold; both in terms of the music itself, and the culture at the time. Let's start with the music.

Hyph Mngo is a testament to what can be done with just a few simple ideas, executed well. This really is a recurring theme in these tune deconstructions. Structurally it's incredibly straightforward: a 64 bar intro, a drop, 16 bar breakdown, and then a second drop that, when it kicks in, is exactly the same as the first - the chords, the drums, the bassline. And once the lengthy intro is done, there's less than 3 minutes until the end of the track.

Musically, it's very simple too; the drums are fairly static throughout the tune, the three-note bassline doesn't change, there are no FX, risers or key changes. But there are a few key things that distinguish this track from the norm.

In the drums, the kick drum is fairly high-pitched. There's very little sub in it, which allows the subby bassline to come through the mix effectively. This is a common technique in dubstep and jungle, but much less common in house music, from which Hyph Mngo takes great influence. Also unlike much house, it's not a straight 4/4 kick pattern – the last kick of the bar is pulled early by one 16th note. This gives the beat a slightly 'rushed' feel, making it seem faster than it really is, and also hints at the syncopation more often found in garage beats.

The bassline is more or less a sine wave, in a 2-bar loop. It's a slow-moving riff that owes a lot to reggae and dubstep, but combined with a house/garage beat serves to emphasise the genre crossovers in the track. Notice how it basically follows the same rhythm as the kick pattern – this helps the kicks feel heavier than they really are, and keeps the rhythm section of the track tight and cohesive.

But what really makes the track are the synths. There are three main synth loops, used in various combination, and they give the track a euphoric vibe that really sets it apart on the dancefloor. The slow moving synth pads that we hear in the intro set the scene; notice how they double in speed halfway through. They are supplanted by the high-pitched chords that drop in around 48 bars, and it seems that these are both the same chord progression – it could even be the same sample, just slowed down by a couple of octaves.

The chords themselves are quite interesting; it's not just a sampled chord played with one finger. To get theoretical for a moment, the first chord suggests F# Major 7 (the notes are F, F#, and Bb) while the other chord seems to be an Eb sus 2 (the notes are Eb, F, and Bb). Play it on a keyboard and you'll see that only one note actually changes – but the chord progression is still quite clear, and played on a bright brassy synth patch it gives energy and hype without being overly complex. However the same chords pitched right down for the intro give a moody swell, which is suspenseful without being too dark.

It's a great chord movement, which is then accented by a euphoric vocal sample – from a Janet Jackson acappella, if you're interested. Being such a short clip, no-one is likely to recognise the origins, and it shows that anything can be used for source material if you're creative enough.

As far as the mixdown is concerned, it's tidy and unadventurous. Which is fine – the musical ideas (specifically the chords and vocal) are strong enough that it doesn't need anything special in the way of production – so long as those ideas are clear. So there are no big risers, no clever dubbed-out FX, no lo-fi distortion or bitcrushing. Even the chords themselves only really have a spot of filter automation here and there.

The other main reason for the success of the track is that it was exactly the right tune at the right time. By 2009 there was beginning to be a backlash against the wider dubstep scene; many thought that dubstep, at this point characterised by the noisy 'filth' of Flux Pavilion, Datsik etc, was becoming predictable and boring. Hotflush Two reflected this, with its run of deeper house and techno releases, and it seems the wider public was ready for an anthem of this newer sound.

So clearly, there is a large slice of luck involved in having a massive hit; you need to be in the right place at the right time. But also, we should note that being original often pays off; Joy Orbison could have followed the dollar signs and written some raging wobble, but chose instead to come up with a hybrid of blissed out house, garagey beats and dubstep basslines. And it took him from being a debutant producer to the top of the underground charts in one move...

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