Back in 2016 I was playing around in the studio, noodling on synths with rhythmic support from my Boss DR-110 “Dr. Rhythm”, a very simple drum machine from 1980. After about 5 minutes of riffing on a simple little syncopated 4/4 pattern I had programmed, I had to hit “STOP” when I realized my beat was almost exactly the same as Fade to Grey by Visage. This inevitable moment, when you realize the riff you’ve been working on is actually something from someone else’s song, is something that happens periodically in every songwriter/producer’s life. When it happens to me, I usually just try to remain cool and start over from a clean slate, or delete the stuff that sounds like the other song and keep exploring.
But in this case I started thinking about that lovely, ghostly melancholy of Fade to Grey, and instead of erasing my work, I decided to trudge onward and see if I could make an instrumental version of the song that would sound great as part of my modern techno set. Within a few hours I had largely recreated the original tune, without vocals, but it took just a few more days of sporadic work before it took on the Steve Coen fairy dust.
I admit I took a few liberties, such as extending the middle breakdown by a few bars, punching up the kick drum, and a few other tricks. I added a very obvious phase shift effect to the stringy background chords during the last half of the song.
The intro uses a set of Roland CR-78 samples. To get the acoustic drum sounds I used Arturia Spark, which I never use, but I had it and didn’t think I had much to lose by trying it out on a track I’d never release. The “bass” riff is played on Jupiter-6 in unison mode. The strings are from a vintage Elka Rhapsody 490 string keyboard. The bell-type synth lead was made on a Roland Juno-106. The portamento lead that starts in the second verse is a slightly modified preset on the Korg MS2000, which also provides the upward-swooping pitch at the beginning.
As the tune plays out I gradually increase the echo feedback level on the bell and strings so that it eventually morphs into a lovely textural echo soup. At the very end there is a bonus beat of sorts, consisting of my original Dr. Rhythm jam/sketch beat combined with the CR-78-based Fade To Grey rhythm I built for this cover. The two beats are slightly different and I think they sound really lovely when layered together, but it was just a bit too busy to use through the whole song.
The only part I really didn’t quite nail is the chimey part at the very beginning, before the beat starts. I played something similar using an eerie string sound. If I had it to do again, I’d try harder to replay that soft, synthy Rhodes-style intro.
In summer of 2016, I played my new version of Fade to Grey as part of a live techno set at the Solstice Gathering in Ontario, Canada. The audience was surprised – many people recognized the old tune, but for many others it was likely their first time to hear its beauty. In any case, that “dance floor” kept moving – we all had a lot of fun! I’ve pulled it out in live situations a few times since, too, but now I think it’s time to let it go …
If you’d like an uncompressed version of this track to use as part of your own DJ set, please contact me or let me know in the comments below.