Operating out of a studio that was once a nuclear bunker in Wrexham, Wales, French-born Sébastien Allemand travelled to the UK to fulfil his teenage dream of pro-audio success.
Working his way up the industry ladder, Allemand has handled mixing duties for local university bands in France and crewed shows for global artists including AC/DC and Pink before securing studio ownership.
He offered us a glimpse into his career and chatted about his favourite gear. why he decided to leave home, and where things are headed next...
How did you start out and where did you study?
I was born in Cannes, France, and studied Electrical Engineering and Industrial Data Processing in Nice. I wanted to do audio work at an early age but my parents wanted me to pass a degree in a more general topic, before letting me do what I really wanted to do. At the end of this degree we had opportunities to enter a handful of universities in the UK and the one in Wrexham was the one with the audio course. So I had to make a choice: to continue my studies in Paris or in Wrexham.
I moved to the UK in 2007 do the BSc (Hons) Music Technology course at Glyndwr University. It was the place where I learned all the foundations and confidence to do this job. I got a great deal out of going there – it’s where it really all began, thanks to the network I got into.
Where are you based?
The studio I am developing with my partner Steve Hywyn Jones, and with help from friends, is located in Wrexham, UK. It is based in a nuclear bunker built in 1963. It used to be the studio of the DJ duo K-Klass – they transformed the bunker mostly into a mixing space in 1995, and had it for ten years. Then other people had it for another ten years and here we are now; it’s been about three months since we signed for it.
As well as recordings, the studio does rehearsals. Our very first client was Catfish and The Bottlemen. They were practicing the new album material the week we signed for the building. What an exciting start it was!
When did you get into the industry?
I am 28 now and I got into the pro-audio industry when I was around 21-22. It was a progressive thing, starting with crewing gigs for the likes of AC/DC and Pink, and mixing local bands live every Friday at the university bar. One big thing has been working with as many of the local artists as possible, live and in the studio. I have done the sound for most of them live across the venues I work at and recorded a handful of them. I also spent endless nights learning to mix the recordings.
What made you want to work in pro-audio?
My love for music first and a great curiosity for how certain sounds are made. I started playing drums when I was 11 and I have been wanting to do this job since I was about 13. I still play a little bit of drums but I mix music everyday.
Who would you say are your biggest influences?
I love stuff that sounds huge but real. Either dirty dub or honest sweaty noise rock; some acoustic and jazz can take me far away. I think the future of music is in fusion. I love anything that’s a little bit alternative to most. When it comes to my own work I try to make it sound organic, but as big as possible. I like records on which you can hear honesty.
Do you have any achievements you are particularly proud of? What are the big landmarks of your career?
Leaving the south of France to come to the UK and make something out of it is what I’m the most proud of. People often don't understand why I chose Wrexham but it’s all about the music for me. Sure, I miss home and family but I doubt I would have had the same opportunity in France to run a studio like this. None of my friends who studied sound in France actually touch a mixing desk very often.
I knew I wanted to be a studio engineer and eventually a producer when I was relatively young. I stuck to it, gave it all I had and I am in the middle of the biggest landmark of my career, which is getting to run a studio. It’s bigger than what I could have possibly dreamt of.
Can you tell us about any recent projects? What are you working on currently?
It’s all local but Wrexham is way more interesting musically than you’d think. I am currently finishing the mix of an album for Heal the Last Stand, which I also recorded; they are a beautiful four-piece vocal harmonies band. I can’t wait to produce my buddies Döppelganger – it’s all about the heavy riffs with these guys. All this is being done alongside upgrading the studio. It’s intense at the moment but it’s everything I asked for.
Can you tell us about some of your favourite gear? What do you find yourself relying on for projects?
Up until now I have mostly worked in my home studio. A big upgrade to it was the Maag PreQ4, which I won on Facebook and I didn’t realise for three weeks! It’s on my desk and it’s an incredible piece of kit. I can’t wait to try it in the studio on one of the Coles 4038's.
Since I have been mixing more than recording for the past year, I have to talk about a couple of plug-ins that I think any mixing engineer should buy: the first one is Sonarworks Reference [Ed: Reviewed in the May issue of AMI], which I have been doing some beta testing for recently and with which I have relearned to listen to music. It’s incredible. If you’re not convinced about speaker calibration plug-ins then get this one and you’ll hear music like you never did.
Another one is Sample Magic A/B; it’s not audio processing, it loads a few reference tracks for you so it’s very easy to flick between the mix and a reference track. It is a big workflow improvement that has a direct impact on mix time and quality.
If you could work with one artist or group, who would it be and why?
There are so many incomparable artists out there who are equally great. I need fire and water in my life. But to sum up a lot of my influences I would have to talk about the sound of the french band EZ3kiel. They are the best in blending new and old, either with audio or visual. They started as a trip-hop and dub act in 1993 and they have kept pushing the sound barriers since then. They have written classical pieces and they can sound really heavy too; their last album has some real industrial rock textures. I have always liked artists who can’t be pinned to one style.
Where do you want to be in ten years?
Surviving in our ROC2 Studio and having fun making great records. I’m putting everything I can to it and I’m confident it will work. It’s a huge place and the vibe is special. There are not many places like this in the country, maybe none other at all. I know great work will come out of it. We’ve improved the acoustics, we have brought new equipment in, we’re doing everything we can to make it what it deserves to be. I feel we’re the right team at the right time and place.
Wrexham is very creative and I’m very happy to be part of something special. Neck Deep are from Wrexham and recently hit No.8 in the UK charts, 18 months after releasing their first track. What happened to them is incredible and it is proof that something is worth working for around here.
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