Kate Bush’s Running Up That Hill Synth Sounds

Kate Bush has had an enormous impact on modern music, as a musician her adoption of the Yamaha CS-80 synth and CMI Fairlight sampler empowered her to be more creative. Bush released four albums before finally building her own studio in 1985, and subsequently released her fifth album, Hounds of Love which featured Running Up That Hill (A Deal with God). The album was an art-rock masterpiece with heavy synthpop overtones; it topped charts and is regarded as her finest album.

Kate Bush Synths

On many of Kate Bush’s early albums, she used the Yamaha CS-80 as her main composition instrument. She seemed to favour it particularly for its touch-sensitivity, and it was one of the few synths that offered the feature at the time. Bush mainly relied on the synths presets, and utilising its touch-sensitivity allowed her to create more organic-sounding tracks, which worked for her as she would often layer the CS-80 with real acoustic instruments, such as cellos and the balalaika.

The Fairlight CMI was released in 1979, and Kate Bush was an early user, utilising it on several tracks from her 1980 album Never For Ever. The Fairlight soon replaced the CS-80 as her main instrument and ended up being used heavily on Hounds of Love, providing many of the album’s signature sounds. Arturia has created software emulations of both the Yamaha CS-80 and the Fairlight CMI, and I’ll use these throughout the article.

kate bush synth fairlight

Making Running Up That Hill

Kate Bush’s most well-known song, Running Up That Hill (A Deal With God) is full of strange tones, with a dreamy background that transcends the usual synthpop palette of the era. In a 1985 interview with International Musician magazine, Kate outlined how Running Up That Hill came together, starting with the Fairlight and a LinnDrum, with a Quantec reverb unit used to create the drone. Here’s the full quote:

Running Up That Hill all started off on the Fairlight. I just found this sound that I thought was a brilliant sound for the riff, and I knew I wanted a military drone-like atmosphere that would surround it all. I asked Del to set a Linn pattern — I sung him the part — and he got that together, and we set that to play the pattern round and round and I worked out the vocal that would go over the top. The lyrics for the first verse came straight away. I stuck it down like that with the voice. Fairlight and drum machine on my home eight track.

“Then we started work on the drone. We froze a three or four note chord from the Fairlight into the Quantec. Already it was quite there, so the next stage we transferred the eight track to the 24 track and we kept the original Fairlight; I added new Fairlight playing the same part because the problem was the sample was actually very noisy. It was called a harp, but it wasn’t one. Eventually, although the Linn pattern was used for a long time, we actually ended up putting it down again over more tracks.

“Then we got Stuart (Elliott, drummer) in, and because the Linn pattern was so full in itself it was just a matter of him sticking a snare down. The original Linn pattern had a snare down, but it’s not very good and needed bolstering up. We needed something at the end so he put down some very dramatic fills that were a combination of three different sounds, including something on the Fairlight.

“Then I put the backing vocals down, which apart from the weird ones at the end were done at demo stage, but we re-did them. Paddy (Bush, brother) came in and put down some balalaika on the choruses to give them sort of push, Del put some bass down that was very much in there with the toms to emphasise that rhythmic feel, then it just needed something at the end. I put some freak-out voices over it all and all it needed was a guitar to finally build it.”

  • Fairlight Cello Reverbed 00:00

One of the biggest drawbacks of sampling with the Fairlight was that it could only handle short samples, around one second long, due to memory limitations. This means that long-sustained sounds are only possible by looping short sections of the sample, and this produces artefacts and clicking effects. To create the opening drone in Running Up That Hill, Kate ran her Fairlight through a Quantec reverb effect, and then looped a portial of the reverb tail.

For my remake I used the Cello2 sample in Arturia CMI V, a software emulation of the Fairlight, and ran it through Valhalla VintageVerb on the Homestar Blade Runner preset, a huge ten-second long reverb, that is also dark and noisy – perfect for the Running Up That Hill drone sound.

kate bush valhalla reverb

I’ve then dropped the audio from the reverbed Cello back into the sampler, looped a portion of the tail, and ran the track through more reverb to help mask the loop. I also added some EQ, boosting 1.24k Hz and 2 kHz and creating low cut at 700 Hz to brighten the sound.

  • Fairlight Cello Drone 00:00

The Running Up That Hill lead synth and chords use the same Fairlight Cello 2 sound, only with a pitchbend scoop at the start of the sound. For this, I think Kate Bush programmed the pitchbend, then resampled the cello note with pitchbend back into the Fairlight, which is why the scoop-time is shorter for higher notes and longer for lower notes. Here are the chords played with the pitchbend sample:

  • Fairlight Cello Chords 00:00

The same sample has been used for the main hook. An interesting technique used here is that the delay effect on the track is louder for the higher notes but quieter and less noticeable for the lower notes. You can achieve this effect by automating either the mix level or the input level for the delay effect. I also EQed in some brightness to the track to make it sound less muddy, adding 5db at 2.84Hz. 

  • Fairlight Cello Lead 00:00

The drums are classic eighties synthpop and came from the Linndrum, a drum machine that uses samples of real drum hits. Producer Paul Hardiman heard one of the early versions of the song, saying:

The first time I heard ‘Running Up That Hill’ it wasn’t a demo, it was a working start. We carried on working on Kate and Del’s original. Del had programmed the Linndrum part, the basis of which we kept. I know we spent time working on the Fairlight melody hook but the idea was there plus guide vocals.”

For my full remake I’ve used Aly James VProm, which is a VST emulation of the LinnDrum. I used Arturia DX7 V preset 32-BASS 4 for the bass sound. The original has bass guitar credited, but the DX7 sound sounds similar enough in the final mix, which is quite muddy and hides the bass. There’s tons of reverb in mix and everything has a wide stereo image, so I used Valhalla VintageVerb and Izotope Ozone Imager 2 to recreate the basic mix.

Hounds of Love

Hounds of Love, the second track of the album, shows the analog CS-80 side to Kate Bush. It’s a playful song and the synth chords are bright and warm. Her synth player even brought the CS-80 for the Top of the Pops performance of the song, you get a good look at it at the 1:40 mark. The CS-80 is capable of some complex patches, as it offers two independently programmable layers with full controls for each.

In this patch, we’ll use one of the first voice line’s presets to create a simple but great sounding patch. Press the 2 switch on the first row of the tone selector panel to set voice I to the Strings 3 preset. Set the mix fader all the way up to I, lower Brilliance all the way down to open up the filter and then bring down the attack fader in the VCA to get rid of the long attack.

Lastly, bring some life to the sound by using the CS-80’s onboard chorus and delay effects. The drum track uses Fairlight samples, using the repitching of the sample across the keyboard to create the illusion of different drum hits.

Army Dreamers

Army Dreamers from Bush’s 1980 album Never For Ever uses the Fairlight for its cello sound, this time the SOLOSTR2 sample from the HISTRING bank. The folk instrument that plays the melody in the intro sounds suspiciously like the KICHAPEE sample, although it can’t be the Fairlight as the sounds last longer than its sampler would allow. The song may have been demo’d with the Kichapee sound and then recorded with a real instrument for the final version. For my example, I used the Kichapee sound with some repitching to extend the sample length.

  • Army Dreamers Fairlight 00:00
kate bush army dreamers fairlight

All We Ever Look For

In the track All We Ever Look For, the intro’s whistling hook comes from the Fairlight, specifically the WHISTLE sample from the WIND bank. Again, the patch is played without manipulation, although it is layered with a piano and synth to strengthen the overall sound of the sample. The synth is the Yamaha CS-80, which was Bush’s favourite at the time. The lead patch is a simple square wave patch that uses pulse-width modulation to get a wind-like hollow sound. Again, I only used one of the voice layers and I used preset 4 (Flute) as a starting point.

  • All We Ever Look For 00:00
kate bush cs80 synth


The lead plucked sound in Babooshka is likely the CS-80, possibly layered with a Balalaika or another folk instrument. In Arturia CS-80 V, I used the Voice I preset 9 (Guitar 1) and made use of the touch sensitivity to add a human element to the part. The touch-sensitivity is the feature that Kate has mentioned being her favourite of the CS-80, which isn’t surprising as she is also a pianist. I also ran the track through an analog-style delay effect and plenty of reverb.

  • Babooshka CS-80 Guitar 00:00
kate bush babooshka lead

The song also features some Fairlight samples, for the glass shattering effects played during the drum breaks towards the end of the song. The Fairlight had only been out for a year when Babooshka was released, so these effects were one of the first famous uses of the sampler. The sample can be found in the EFFECTS4 bank and is called GLASMASH, here’s what it sounds like.

  • Babooshka Glass 00:00


An interesting thing I read is that the string-based song Cloudbusting started as a Fairlight composition, but as Kate Bush explained in an interview, most of the Fairlight elements were replaced with the real strings: 

“Cloudbusting” I wrote on the Fairlight and I just felt it would be much more interesting with real strings, so we transcribed the Fairlight arrangement for string players to read. And then they redid it.” 

This is a great example of using technology only if it serves the song, and not being afraid to change methods if the song calls for it.

With the button below you can find both the Arturia CS-80 V Presets as well as the Arturia CMI V presets and samples from the Running Up That Hill remake.

Header artwork by Makarxart

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