Synths from the Big Chair | Shout

Songs from the Big Chair was released in 1985 and spawned the hits Shout, Everybody Wants to Rule the World and Head Over Heels. A new wave classic, the album is a masterclass of songwriting and production, full of classic 80s synth sounds that have a more mature feel than many of their contemporaries, and one of my personal favourite albums of all time. Shout went on to become one of the most recognisable songs from the mid-eighties and is also recognised as the group's signature song. Featuring a repetitive chorus, power chords and an intense rock backing, the song was a no. 1 hit for 3 weeks.

"Orzabal played Hughes a chant he had written called “Shout.” They stopped everything else to focus solely on that number, which would become their second Number One and one of the most recognizable songs of the decade. They spent many, many months on that powerful anthem alone, making sure that each layer worked perfectly with the others."

The band consists of the songwriting / production duo of Roland Orzabal and Curt Smith, who seem to switch roles frequently when collaborating. In live performances of Shout the duo share vocal duties, Orzabel plays guitar and Smith plays bass, so I'm assuming this is how it was recorded. Around the time of Songs from the Big Chair they were joined by key member Ian Stanley who acted as the bands keyboardist. By this point the group owned an enviable collection of analog synthesizers:

"Their layered style of recording also made it easier to work from Stanley's home studio, which the band had recently upgraded using advance money from the second album. Stanley's newly expanded home studio included a 32-channel Soundcraft console, a 24-track analog tape machine and room for the band's keyboard and synthesizer collection, which included such classic designs as Sequential Circuits Prophet 5, Fairlight CMI, Roland Jupiter 8, Yamaha DX7 synthesizer and PPG Wave. They also had a LinnDrum LM-2, another recent acquisition."

The main sounds I'm interesting in exploring are the breathy vocal synth from the Fairlight CMI, the huge unison bass from the Prophet 5 and the classic 80s PPG / DX7 bass.

Bass From The Big Chair

The song opens with a percussion loop followed by the songs hook over an ominous sounding synth bass. This simple yet iconic bass sound comes from the groups Sequential Circuits Prophet 5. I don't have a Prophet 5 (it is on my wish list!), but Arturia have a Prophet V software emulation that I'll use. The key element of the sound is the use of unison mode, which sets all the synth voices to double the same note, creating a huge, thick sound great for basses. In Arturia Prophet V, you can start with the template patch Pro5 2 Osc, which will give you a basic patch with two sawtooth waves. From this template patch, turn on unison mode at the top-right of the interface, decrease the cutoff to the 2 o'clock mark and rase the resonance to 9 o'clock. To fatten up the sound even more, increase the detune knob next to the unison switch. This last part is largely down to taste and what the song requires; I also found that adding a little resonance to the filter went a long way to fattening up the sound.


The drums in my recordings come from some Emu Drumulator samples I found in my sample library, the original drum machine was the one used on Shout and samples of it can be found in many classic drum machine sample packs.


The main synth hook from Shout is the Fairlight ARR 1 sound that you can hear in the pre-chorus. This is a unique, recognisable choir sound marked by it's breathiness and low bit-rate quality; it was very popular and used by many 80s new wave artist, for example on the following songs:

  • Art of Noise - Moments in Love

  • INXS - Kiss The Dirt

  • Pet Shop Boys - Domino Dancing

  • OMD - Secret

  • Yazoo - And On

The sound comes from the Fairlight CMI (Computer Music Instrument), a lo-fi sampling synthesizer that cost a staggering $30,000 when released. The synth utilised a combination of sampled sounds via the onboard computer and classic synthesising elements, making it easy to recreate in the digital realm with plugins and samplers. Arturia CMI V features the ARR1 patch as it's default setting, so you can throw the plugin on a track and start playing it immediately. Ableton users can also make use of Sonicbloom's free Fairlight Instrument for Ableton Live, found here. The ARR1 patch is located in the Humans pack! For mixing the patches, I panned each of the two parts left and right slightly, added reverb and cut some low-end frequencies using EQ.


Also be sure to check out my New Order - Elegia tutorial that features a similar vocalsynth patch derived from the Emu Emulator synthesizer, a direct competitor to the Fairlight.

DX7 / PPG Bass

A synth sound that's introduced during the chorus is the more percussive bassline, that was recorded from either the PPG Wave synth, an early wavetable synthesizer, or the groups Yamaha DX7. Although it's a simple sound it's hard to recreate in synths that don't offer wavetable functionality. Here's the sound recreated using Arturia DX7 V, a software emulation of the DX7.



Thanks for reading, and be sure to click the button below to download the custom Arturia Prophet V bass patch!