Kate Bush 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. The album was an art-rock masterpiece with heavy synthpop overtones; it topped charts and is regarded as her finest album.

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.

Running Up That Hill

Arguably 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. When asked about some of the production techniques in a 1986 interview with Island Ear, Bush was very tight-lipped, preferring to keep her production secrets to herself so they wouldn’t be imitated. However, she did confirm that the songs synth parts came from the Fairlight.

Regarding the types of sounds you get, how did you get that little part on “Running Up That Hill” that comes in first at the start of the song, after the drums and before the vocals? That’s the Fairlight and that was actually what I wrote the song with. That was what the song was written around.

The Fairlight sound that Kate used is the CELLO2 patch; here’s what it sounds like:

  • Fairlight Cello Sample 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. Instead, it sounds like Kate has run the sound through a long reverb effect and fed a portion of the reverb tail back into the sampler. An interview with Musician magazine notes Kate’s new studio (the one built for Hounds of Love) as containing AMS, Quantec and Lexicon 224 reverb &  delays, so the Fairlight could have been fed through one of those, or even a combination of them. Here I’ve used Valhalla VintageVerb on the Homestar Blade Runner preset, a huge ten-second long reverb, that is also dark and noisy – perfect for our drone sound.

  • Fairlight Cello Reverbed 00:00

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 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 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

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 the preset 4 (Flute) as a starting point.

  • All We Ever Look For 00:00


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

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.

If you want to dig deeper into these Kate Bush Synth Sounds, check out my Patreon page to get access to the MIDI files and multitrack stems from the recreations in the article.

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13 thoughts on “Kate Bush Synth Sounds”

  1. hey man, do you think you could look into a couple more tame impala synth sounds? apocalypse dreams and powerlines would be great!

  2. Hey, this is fantastic work. I just have a quick thought and question about the Running Up That Hill sounds. I remember when the album came out, and just listening and listening so intensely to the samples. I remember doing the same thing to Peter Gabriel’s Security album, and being in awe of the clearly Fairlight sounds and knowing the $$ of that instrument was well out of reach. This was also years before affordable usable samplers were made available. My first ended up being a Prophet 2000, and I actually created samples for that keyboard and traded via E.M. articles at the time. Up until then I only had access to a Roland Juno 6 (not 60) as that what’s the wallet could afford. But we made regular pilgrimages tot he music store where we’d noodle around on the Godfather of he day – the Jupiter 8, also out of reach monetarily. I remember clearly stumbling upon a factory patch at the time that I SWORE was the exact lead sound for RUTH. I had never imagined it to be just the Fairlight cello played with a bit more portamento in the higher register. In your demo above, it seems really close – but not as close as how you’ve recreated all the underlying ensemble reverb patches. Any chance that the top lead riff synth might be a Jupiter sound? Or layered with a Jupiter sound? This might just all be bad memory tricks on my brain, but I wanted to see what you thought. Cheers for some great work here.

  3. Dan, in retracing the steps Kate took to create the sound of “Running Up That Hill,” you made the song new for me, even though I have heard it hundreds of times before. Just hearing CELLO2 with a little reverb gave me goosebumps.

    I came upon your site while Googling to try to find out exactly which drum machines she used on The Hounds of Love album. I was playing around with my Roland TR-707 and the kick and snare on that machine sound to my ears exactly like the drums on “Mother Stands for Comfort.” Do you happen to know if she used that drum machine at all, or were the programmed drums exclusively Linn and Fairlight? I guess it could be the LM-2, but the Roland would have been released right around the time she was recording this album.

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