Do you mean the doobie with the tooth gap?
Among other things, but yes, it is. Some of the best music ever made magically balances between saving the world and stultifying its absurdity. In Progressive Rock and Punk, Grunge and Brit-Pop there are examples of this continuous story everywhere and there is no doubt that Mac DeMarco succeeds in this magical balancing act. His music could be understood as the ironic – and brilliant – response to the missionary of the pop and rock greats of history. De Marco embodies the opposite of commercial over-the-top pop: lightness, simplicity, low-fidelity, classical righteousness, the attitude of a quitter, a weird, almost vulgar sense of humour (especially on stage) and undeniably gripping melodies. With your three LPs and two EPs, this Canadian has developed a kind of wedding between Jangle Pop and Low-fi Psychedelia. The result, we can tell you, if you haven’t tried it yet, is irresistible.
Because Mac doesn’t reveal them (completely), it’s up to us to hear the details and see. In addition to his preference for vintage guitars, one of the great secrets of DeMarco’s sound is the use of effects on these guitars. One of the permanent effect pedals in his arsenal is the Boss CE-2w, a chorus and vibrato combo that resurrects the sound of the mythical CE-1 and CE-2 pedals – key elements that we associate with Jangle Pop and the C-86 schools that inspire our Canadian hero. Two of the secrets of DeMarco’s guitars are his tasteful use of reverb and delay. As for the former, he uses the vintage-influenced Electro Harmonix Holy Grail, and for the Delay, your favourite is an 80s classic: the Boss DM-2W Delay, which has this characteristic analogue aroma. To finish with the pedals, we’ll have to talk about the jewels in his crown, the Electro Harmonix POG2, a polyphonic octave generator that De Marco himself says: “It kind of makes your guitar sounds like a freaky church organ or something strange. It’s a cool thing. It’s a weird, weird sound.” No further questions. Your Honor.
Okay, but his sound is not only made with guitars!
That’s right. It’s time we talk about another big – some say the biggest – secret of Mac DeMarco’s sound: his use of synthesizers. As I said before, one thing that all of the Canadian’s equipment has in common is its vintage character. It’s the same with his synths: One of his favourites is the (Sequential Circuits) Prophet-5, a Californian synthesizer made from 1978 to 1984 inclusive. Fortunately, the market today offers us alternatives to the Prophet-5. One of the most impressive is without a doubt the Dave Smith Instruments Prophet REV2-8.
This is an eight-voice, polyphonic analogue synthesizer (the Prophet-5, of course, had five voices). The eight voices can be expanded to 16 with an external voice card. Among others, the upgrade of the integrated software (one of the most common wishes of musicians who used earlier versions), the polyphonic step sequencer with up to 64 steps (6 notes per step) or the 512 factory programs (4 banks with 128 sounds) and the 512 user programs stand out.
Another synthesizer that fits Mac’s tastes is the Roland Juno DS 61, heir to the mythical Juno-60. This is one of the most intuitive synthesizers there is. That’s why – and because of its affordable price – it’s usually recommended to musicians entering the wonderful world of synths.
The Juno DS 61 features a polyphony of up to 128 voices, 256 user memory slots (8 drum kits and 128 variations) or an intuitive eight-track pattern sequencer with non-stop recording, ideal for recording song ideas quickly and safely.
Another model to consider is the Yamaha Reface DX, a compact 37-button synth with one format (this applies to all Reface synths),
designed to make the device portable and battery-powered. With its keys that are only 85% the size of a normal keyboard and its compact dimensions, it looks more like a desktop module than just another synth. And when it comes to operation, there’s only one thing to say: extremely simple.
We finish this section with two very adaptable and portable models from Korg. The first is the Korg microKORG, an analogue modelling synthesizer, very versatile for its small size and based on the sound engine of the great Korg MS-2000. It has three octaves and offers 4 polyphonic voices. Its built-in microphone allows working with a vocoder. Also, it comes with an arpeggiator, resonance filter, a multitude of effects and inputs to manage external audits.
The second, with very similar but even more features, is the Korg microKorg XL+, with eight-voice polyphony, a 16-band vocoder and 128 preset sounds. The biggest difference to microKORG is the sound engine. While this, as mentioned, has that of the MS-2000, the XL works with an R3.
Wow, what else at this point?
We’re afraid so. There are still other synthesizers we need to talk about. In this case, his synthesizers deserve their chapter. We’re talking about Moog, of course. Many say that these are the best, most complete, most dynamic and most versatile synthesizers ever built. So it would be inexcusable to finish a synthesizer tour without at least three or four of them. After all, Mac DeMarco undoubtedly uses Moogs. We start, quite naturally, with the Moog One.
It’s a real jewel, available in versions with 16 voices and 8 voices. The multitimbral synthesizer with up to 3 simultaneous sounds, 3 oscillators (VCO) for each voice is capable of generating complex vibrations. Double filters (ladder Moog style or variable with HP, LP, BP and Notch) are included as well as 4 LFOs and 3 envelopes in each section.
The Subsequent 37 is another very noteworthy model. In this case, we are talking about a 37-key synthesizer with mono and duet paraphonic mode, arpeggiator, step sequencer and – among other things – 256 presets. It is also known for its enormous and balanced response in both bass and treble.
We shouldn’t forget the Grandmother, a semi-modular synthesizer with 32 keys, arpeggiator, integrated hardware reverberator based on the Moog 905, and memory for up to 3 sequences with a maximum of 256 notes.
Finally, we come to the Sub Phatty, a monophonic synthesizer that may look a bit less luxurious than the previously mentioned models. But let’s not forget that this is a Moog, too, and that’s always a guarantee of quality. The Sub Phatty, for €739, is designed for wallets that can’t afford the big technological monsters like the Moog One or the Subsequent 37. But watch out: This is a very versatile synthesizer. 16 presets, analogue multi-drive circuit distortion, 2 oscillators with variable oscillation or a rectangular sub-oscillator are just some of its features. Also, you can get a lot more out of it with an appropriate software editor.
The lesson we can draw from Mac DeMarco’s gadgets is clear: no matter how much the Canadian carries his awkward lazy image outward, he knows exactly what he wants. He knows which technologies he has to use to produce exactly the Jangle Psychedelic sound “Jizz Jazz” – that’s what he calls it – that we hear on his albums. And the most conclusive proof of this is that he would never be able to record such seemingly simple and concrete songs with such mountains of synths and pedals if he didn’t know exactly what he was doing. As always, songwriting counts the most. And as far as that’s concerned, his songs blossom aesthetically, and it’s exactly here that Mac’s inventive genius shines.