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Heliac Studio: A hit factory for Peter Luts

In this week's feature Marc Maes looks at DJ Peter Luts' Heliac Studio in Belgium and finds out how SSL analogue recording for dance hits brings back the basics.

Few Belgian producers can claim to have sales of 5 million units under their belt – however, with successful acts like Lasgo and AnnaGrace plus a series of his own releases, producer, musician and DJ Peter Luts has made his workplace, Heliac Studio, a true hit factory.

“I’ve been in music since I was 12 years old, and stepped into recording and mixing at 15 – with two Yamaha 02R digital desks I entered the MIDI world, and the charts with Astroline’s Feel the Fire at the age of 23,” he enthuses. “A Yamaha DM 2000 console was the next step – in combination with my moogs and synths I produced a lot of ‘in the box’ material.”

When, earlier this year, Luts decided to upgrade his studio, he opted for a compact analogue set up – after a demo at Joystick Audio, he was convinced that the SSL Matrix analogue console would be the core of his new configuration. “The crucial elements were the fantastic sound and many routing options, plus the fact that I’ve always been a fan of SSL – having one in my own studio was like a dream come true,” says Luts. “The new set up, consisting of a SSL AlphaLink MADI AX A-D/D-A converter, an SSL MadiXtreme audio interface, plus an SSL X-Rack and SSL X-Patch, allows me to route all kinds of peripherals rapidly, using the remote software while remaining in the analogue domain, and that’s great.”
 “When Peter came to us, he was looking for the analogue sound and punch that is so important in dance music, and which he found lacking in his digital mixing setup,” says Mathijs Indesteege, product support engineer at Joystick Audio. “The Matrix, together with the addition of some of the best outboard available, proved to be the ticket for the sound Peter’s after, while also offering the fast ‘digital age’ workflow he requires.”
 Luts says digitalisation tends to make producers lazy – a quick fix with a plug-in is so much easier than actually getting the right processor and patching it in. “I also have a lot of outboard gear myself, and tended to use less of it because of the patching hither and thither,” he admits, “but with the new configuration, and the software-based patching in the Matrix, I kind of rediscovered the nice sound of equipment like the Teletronix LA2 compressor/limiter, the Universal Audio 6176 channelstrip, the Eventide H3000 Ultra Harmonizer, Moog filterbanks and effects. It’s a world of difference, and ideal for a dance repertoire, with much better results in the low end and easier mixing in the analogue environment.”
 To complete the new set up, he added a Crane Song HEDD master A-D/D-A converter with tape and tube sound generation, a Thermionic Culture Vulture tube distortion unit, a Thermionic Phoenix stereo tube compressor, a Slate Pro Audio Dragon compressor plus a Josephson Engineering C715 microphone. “All of the vocals are recorded here, with keyboards and sample-based drums accounting for the instrumental part.”
 Luts also replaced his set of Dynaudio monitor speakers with a pair of Adam S3A and Adam A7 monitors. “What you hear is what you get, and the Adam speakers are very objective – it’s all a matter of taste, of course, but they’re exactly what I need for the job.”
 Despite the substantial investment in high-quality audio equipment, Luts is using his studio purely for his own recording and mixing purposes; lack of time, album deadlines, club projects and remixes result in Luts being constantly behind the controls of his studio.
 With Lasgo signed in over 50 countries around the world and Peter Luts’s latest single Hands Up charting in France’s top 10, the bulk of the releases produced at Heliac are sold abroad –Luts reckons that about 20 to 30% of the repertoire is sold domestically. “A top five hit in Belgium stands for 10,000 to 15,000 singles, and playing live makes the job viable – no wonder major record companies sign 360° deals including booking fees to make their investment work.”