In case you don’t already know, the best collection of free music software and synth samples on the internet can be found at the website of Dutch techno outsider Legowelt.
Danny Wolfers is best known for releasing countless records over the past 20 years across at least 30 different aliases, most of which add a dash of occult mysticism to Chicago house and Detroit techno. He’s also got one of the best websites on the internet, with a decidedly Web 1.0 homepage offering everything from photos of his extensive synth collection to programs from his own software company.
It’s also home to a treasure trove of free sample packs and Ableton instruments, each recorded or designed by Wolfers himself. Using the sizeable collection of synths and drum machines located in his home studio (or Mystic Sound Research Institute), Wolfers has created the tools to make music the Legowelt way, from an exhaustive collection of Yamaha DX sounds to ghetto house drum samples.
The technical limitations of Wolfers’ website means that not all of his creations are particularly easy to find, especially his Ableton instruments, which are more fun to use than most plug-ins you’d pay for. To simplify things, we’ve rounded up the links to some of Wolfers’ most essential freebies in one place, including his killer Amiga drum machine and a free Ableton effect for simulating his “badass tape sound.”
Wolfers describes the Juno-106 as a “workhorse” – perhaps a little too accurate considering he broke his during the making of 2011 album The TEAC Life (because it was “too deep”). Though Wolfers has a studio full of gear, the Juno-106 is the quintessential Legowelt synth: its six-voice polyphony is essential for creating the spacey Chicago-style pads, resonant bass and otherworldly atmospheres that make up his productions.
Danny Wolfers loves the Commodore Amiga so much he named a whole album after it, so it’s not surprising his free drum machine for Ableton is inspired by the computer. It’s based on TR-909 sounds sampled by Wolfers on his original Amiga, creating a lo-fi edge you don’t get with a standard Roland emulation. As well as a “Flocculence” control for adding woolliness, and a reverb that emulates hip-hop procuer Schooly D, there’s an “Amiganizer” that adds digital artefacts for a real, raw ‘90s The Hague sound.
The most crucial element of the Legowelt sound is the tape saturation that permeates everything he makes. Not everyone has a basic tape deck at home to feed their productions through to achieve this warmth, let alone a reel-to-reel player, but the Smackos Tape Station FX rack for Ableton is the next best thing. Wolfers promises “instant smacked out old school disintegrated tape sound” with “No HIFI professional abbey road boring old shovelware.” Modelled on an Akai GX75D cassette deck, it even simulates wow and flutter.
The Smackos Tape Smudge X is an earlier version of the Tape Station FX, but it does a few things its older sibling doesn’t. It includes a tape age control that gives your productions more of a decayed hiss, and also features the “Nomiumizer”, a control that Wolfers claims “emulates the WILD behaviour of magnetized tape particles.” Perfect if you want “real warm house,” “magic tape artefacts from other dimensions” and “sleazy compression.”
The Clapernicus Clap Synth is probably the most Legowelt thing ever to come out of the mind of Danny Wolfers. A single-use Ableton instrument devoted to the humble synthesized handclap, Clapernicus is a surprisingly deep synth with more direct control over the sound than you’d get on most software drum machines. Dedicated knobs include “Pets” for adding “wallop,” sogginess control and “Prince Factor” for “the nasty funk spiceyness”. It’s also got an added synth noise generator if the flimsy claps on a 909 aren’t beefy enough.
While there’s an assumption that Danny Wolfers is an analog fetishist, this isn’t strictly the case: his studio has just as many digital synths from the golden age of FM synthesis. The Yamaha DX Files sample pack doesn’t just cover the classic DX7, but the Yamaha DX100, TX81Z, DX21 and DX5 too, offering everything from “Ron Hardy Sensation smacked out heroin basses to futuristic ultraspace polar swoooshes.” If you’re looking for sharp, glassy digital sounds instead of analog fuzz, the DX Files will have you covered.
The four-voice Korg Mono/Poly from 1981 isn’t as rich as the Juno-106, but in Wolfers’ hands it’s capable of “juicy big basses, occult space pads, interdimensional arpeggios, futuristic synthetic drums, metaphysical atmospheres and more.” As well as sounding like they’ve been nicely tape-matured, the massive folder of samples have more accurately descriptive names than you’d get on Ableton: ‘70sEastBloc’, ‘LochNessish’ and ‘MysteriousTechno’ are some of the highlights. Download this and you have enough samples to make a Legowelt-style track in minutes.
Roland’s TR-909 is the most widely-used drum machine for house music, but as far as Wolfers is concerned, it’s all about the Boss DR660. The inexpensive Roger Linn-designed instrument was a favourite of Chicago’s ghetto house producers and was the central piece of gear used by Wolfers and Willie Burns on their 2005 Dance Mania-inspired Smackulator project. Download these sounds, drop them into a drum rack and turn up the compressor and you’ll have beats dirty enough to go up against Parris Mitchell and DJ Deeon.
Not all of the production gear on Wolfers’ website is downloadable. His regular “cyberpunk e-zine” Order of the Shadow Wolf is another Legowelt wormhole to get lost in, collecting features on everything from how to make paranormal voice recordings to movie reviews. One issue even tells you how to make your own analog spring reverb unit for $5. All you need is a spring, some old laptop speakers, two wooden satay skewers, wires, inputs and outputs and a wine crate to make a “huge psychedelic thunder sound.”
Not a sample pack, but the next best thing: a guide from Wolfers’ e-zine on making your own electronic voice phenomenon (EVP) recordings, The practice of capturing unexplained sounds from beyond the grave in the background of audio recordings. All you need is a portable cassette recorder, cassette tape, headphones and a “sinister place to record.” Once you’ve done that, Wolfers suggests you “take a blunt” to relax, before filtering the recordings with your audio editing software. It’s questionable whether you’ll encounter any ghostly voices, but it’s worth a try if only to give the same old R&B vocal samples a rest.
Read next: How to make a Legowelt track